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 Post subject: National Ballet of China in California
PostPosted: Mon Sep 19, 2005 3:46 pm 
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From the SF Chronicle.

Quote:
National Ballet of China fuses Peking Opera flair with bland Western choreography in 'Red Lantern'

Rachel Howard, Special to The Chronicle

Monday, September 19, 2005

The ballet was certainly entrancingly gorgeous in its U.S. premiere Friday. Yimou was charged not just with adapting the libretto of his hit film, but also with direction and lighting design, and his eye for beauty misses no detail. When the house lights dim, two dozen huge lanterns glow like burning hearts. From the richly appointed period costumes by Jerome Kaplan to the ornate panels by set designer Zeng Li, everything looks silken and luminous.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 19, 2005 4:07 pm 
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From the Contra Costa Times.

Quote:
'Red Lantern' misses nuance

By Mary Ellen Hunt

TIMES CORRESPONDENT

Watching any kind of a Zhang Yimou production, whether ballet, opera or film, is a treat for the eyes. When the lights came up inside the web of red paper lamps suspended onstage in the National Ballet of China's dazzlingly color-soaked reinterpretation of the Zhang's "Raise the Red Lantern," there was an audible gasp from the Cal Performances audience at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley.

The auteur behind such chromatic wuxia films as "Hero" and "The House of Flying Daggers," Zhang -- who rewrote the scenario and directed the production, but did not choreograph the steps -- takes the same painterly approach that he applied to his three-strip Technicolor films. While his ballet version of "Raise the Red Lantern" has the visual imagination and elegance of his recent movies, it also suffers from serious revision of the original plot, which has melted away all the bite and grit that made Zhang -- who once sold his own blood to purchase a camera -- one of the leaders of China's gimlet-eyed Fifth Generation of rebel filmmakers.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2005 12:17 am 
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Opinions varied about the NBoC's "Raise the Red Lantern" in London, although everyone enjoyed the designs, the quality of the dancers and the strong theatricality of several scenes.

For myself, I agree with Rachel Howard and Mary Ellen Hunt that the choreography is not on the same level as other aspects of the production and that this reduces the overall impact of the work. Nevertheless, I was moved by the final scenes and it is clear that NBoC is already one of the great companies of the world.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2005 3:37 pm 
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I am looking forward to Wednesday evening's performance at OCPAC.
This is a wonderful opportunity to see the National Ballet of China. thanks for posting some of the reviews and editorials!


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2005 8:54 am 
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National Ballet of China [/I]Raise the Red Lantern[/I], Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA, September 17, 2005

What a bold experiment! The National Ballet of China invited the award-winning director, Zhang Yimou, to adapt his film, Raise the Red Lantern for the ballet stage. There have been a number of “novelizations” of films into books, but this is my first exposure to a film that has been made into a ballet. According to a company press release, the dancers, at first skeptical about the project, were quickly won over, and now treasure Raise the Red Lantern as a precious jewel in the company’s repertoire.

In front of a curtain displaying what look like approximately 48 large blocks, an old man appears carrying a long staff. He lifts the staff toward the blocks, illuminating what change into 48 lanterns. The curtain of lanterns rises, and the dancers enter carrying more lanterns, and form a circle in front of a backdrop of black lace panels. As they lower the lanterns, a reedy voice rises, so reedy that you are not sure that it is a human voice. It could be a stringed instrument. Other instruments support the voice in a contrapuntal rhythm. The dancers begin a ceremonial dance that derives its balletic quality from long-limbed ballonés and envelopés danced en relevé. There are no dancers with flagging technique. Each member of the company is to be admired in perfectly tailored costumes that never move against the choreography. Zhang Jian, enters, carrying a suitcase. She wears a dress with a white bodice and long-waisted fitted gray skirt. She picks up the contrapuntal rhythm, opening her supple spine in bright gestures suggesting that an awakening is imminent. She has been pledged to the master of the house as his second concubine.

The Second Concubine has entered a house where there are rivalries between the First Wife (Lu Na) and the First Concubine (Jin Jia), which reveal themselves as they dance a pas de trois with the Master of the House (Yang Lei). Lu Na, wearing a green silk 1930s pencil dress, dances with a chilling hauteur that succeeds in instantly diminishing the stature of her rival. The corps dancers arrive onstage carrying carved wood screens about half the size of their bodies. These are parried like shields, as the ensemble boxes each woman into her own private, minimally modular hell, demonstrating the machinations of the house, a motor wound around its insular politics and the whims of its master. If the story so far seems trivial or parochial, its gravity is established when a complement of soldiers appears onstage. Here is the muscle that can be counted on to enforce a suffocating social system granting no quarter to women. The soldiers dance in a ballet/martial arts style, informed by very Russian elevation in their jumps. It all works splendidly to portray them as cogs in a reliable and well-oiled machine, heartless and potentially unforgiving in response to any challenge to what is, after all, a 2000-year-old way of life

The Second Concubine is welcomed into the house by the women rivals, and then promptly raped by her new master. In the course of her stay, she runs into a former lover, an actor with the Peking Opera, with whom she takes up and makes up for lost time. She is observed in her activities and betrayed to her master by the First Concubine, whose roiling resentments have rendered her rotten ripe for being the agent of such malfeasance.

The eye and hand of film director Zhang Yimou are evident throughout, and yet, instead of stealing the show, he dresses its deftness in cinematic splendor. If it is not considered balletic “enough,” perhaps that is because it relies in large part on artful prop manipulation, and steps that are more like poses interrupted by movement, employing mimetic and operatic devices to tell the story. Swaying hips carry the theme of intrigue from scene to scene. Penchées and developpés are there to punctuate, rather than overwhelm, and so balances are held briefly because the story keeps moving, and the gorgeously stretched and sculpted feet of Zhang Jian spirit it to its tragic dénouement. Each segment is short, compact and deliberate, so that it has more the feel of an operetta than a story ballet.

Still, there is time given to “moments,” such as when the Second Concubine steps forward, dressed in an exquisite burgundy silk costume, embossed with gold rectangles. She is filled with longing, and takes the time to show us. Her longing will be violated and misappropriated in short order by the Master of the House, in a scene so richly dramatic that it may not have an equal in the dance genre. Parents who pride themselves on the vigilance with which they “protect” their young from scenes of sex and violence in the arts, may want to give themselves permission to allow their children to glimpse this one. It may not come this way again in life. A persimmon sash is used to loop the Second Concubine into the lair of the Master of the House. The action suddenly moves behind translucent rice paper screens, and they appear larger than life, as if they were shadow puppets of themselves. The silhouetted dancers engage in a struggle, where she desperately pulls away from him and claws the air hoping to find egress from his depredations. Anyone who has been the victim of sexual mistreatment is fully identifying and in the moment with the Second Concubine. The master conquers her, and they burst through the rice paper, her submission suffused by a river of persimmon silk that eclipses the stage in waves. The Second Concubine emerges from the center of it, drawing the now-hapless fabric to her, a futile gesture, because while luxuriant, it is fatuously incapable of offering solace or comfort, under the circumstances.

There are elegant touches, such as the two lovers dancing passionately, though unobserved, by elders seated around a table gossiping, as they play Mah Jong in an adjacent niche. When two couples dance in front of a daïs, in place of its skirt, there is a veneer of giant Mah Jong tiles. It is as if the characters on the tiles—with their obscurantist identities and authority—merit an exaggerated place of importance as ceremonial guests of honor, presiding over a feudal order that harbors chaos. To enact the execution of the lovers and their betrayer, soldiers bang giant batons against the backdrop. Each loud bang splashes a life-sized gash of blood-like red paint on the scrim, until the executed fall to their deaths.

If National Ballet of China comes to your town, see it! Bring as many generations as possible. The excesses of Maoism have been justly exposed and rejected. Among those doing the exposing and rejecting, there are some who would like to see a return to pre-revolutionary times, without knowing much about the feudal excesses that prompted the Chinese Revolution. It could be that they’ve metaphorically wandered into the movie after it has started. Raise the Red Lantern offers everyone a rare go at the many-storied prequel. Don’t miss it!


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2005 2:40 pm 
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I'm going, I'm going :!: :!: :!:


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2005 12:12 am 
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I went :!: WOW :!: I agree with you, Toba, on most everything. Even though some of the choreography seemed sub-par, the use of props and sets with excellent staging that forwarded the story. I spied many Graham moves integrated into the ballet. It was artfully used and well executed by the dancers. I was enthralled by the music choices which mixed traditional with newer orchestral pieces. The costumes and sets were magnificent. A powerful ending .................this is worth a visit!


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 25, 2005 9:14 pm 
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I just saw the Sunday matinee show at OCPAC with Zhu Yan as the 2nd concubine (Wow!), Meng Ningning as the 1st concubine, Jin Jia as the wife, and Huang Zhen as the master. Wow! What a wonderful theatrical experience, and what wonderful dancers! They move like classical dancers, and have great bodies for ballet. Their movement is so idiomatically balletic that I was taken by surprise. As others have mentioned, the production design was very good, but I thought the choreography more subdued than sub-par. It seems to me that the telling of the story was more important to the director than the dancing, along the same lines as Matthew Bourne's shows.

--Andre


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 26, 2005 11:39 am 
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I agree, Andrew. Well put--what you said about the ballet standard. This is an idiom that is informed by ballet (well-informed!), but goes deftly to a range of points on the performing arts spectrum. Sometimes one has to set aside those ballet opera glasses, and view what we see through a non-Western-biased lens.


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