|Audience emerging from Sadler's Wells after the performance|
Monday, 5 December 2016
The Peony Pavilion
The National Ballet of China completed a short season at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London on Saturday. I attended the mesmerising final matinée. Although previously unknown to me, the ballet is a shortened version of a famous story in Chinese literature. An epic Chinese opera has been transformed into a two-act ballet blending Western and Chinese influences.
Chinese literature is not well-known in the West. The programme's synopsis was greatly appreciated by the audience. It helped us to understand that the three principal characters on stage conveyed different aspects of Du Liniang. The dancing, choreography and intense colours of the production were mesmerising. The stage bore minimal yet striking scenery. The colour palette was equally minimalist: white, red, an intense blue and black. The costumes were both sumptuous and graceful by contrast.
The Kunqu opera singer was intriguing. Chinese opera has a very distinct sound. The beautiful Chinese singing was regrettably just a stream of sound to the largely Western audience. Jia Pengfei still succeeded in conveying a wide range of emotions in the story. Her performance was excellent. It was like being offered the best of an unfamiliar cuisine for the first time. It offered a great foretaste that left you wanting to understand, experience and appreciate more fully in future.
Act II Scene 2 is particularly striking after the dreamy sequences of the first Act. The stage is black to denote the Underworld. The dancers are largely dressed in black. The only relief is the intense red of the Infernal Judge’s long beard. Here punishment fits the crime. An arrogant man sits on the judge’s chair, but leaves the stage humbled on all fours as a dog.
Our heroine returns to the world above. The stage and its costumed dancers are a vivid peony-red. The wedding procession is accompanied by triumphal music. Peony petals fall from above onto the stage. They form a spectacular feast for the eyes at the finale.
The audience’s ovation continued for a long while – especially in appreciation of the main performers.
A few red peony petals remained in front of the curtains on stage at the end - lingering reminders of a memorable performance and spectacle.
Karen Andrews is a freelance French to English translator, transcreator, content writer and editor. She has a strong background in marketing and project management.
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