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 Post subject: The National Ballet of China
PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2008 11:07 am 
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Location: London UK
Swan Lake
National Ballet of China
Royal Opera House, London
28th August 2008


This was to be the first time I had seen the National Ballet of China dance one of the classics. I had already developed a high degree of admiration for them after seeing their ballet Raise the Red Lantern (also at Covent Garden this week) at Sadlers Wells about five years ago but was curious to see what they would make of the most famous work of the world’s ballet repertoire.

The company’s Swan Lake is a production by Natalia Makarova, the second version of the ballet I’ve seen from her as she has also produced a Swan Lake for ENB in the past. First danced by the Perm Ballet in Russia three years ago, the Chinese acquired this production last year, so have had time to grow into it and even allowing for first night nerves most of the dancing was admirable. Generally speaking the ballet got better as it went along and the first act was without doubt the weakest with Makarova’s choreography for the waltz in particular seeming to lack form. The first and second acts run into one another without a break in this production and it was with the second act that the ballet came alive for me. Wang Qimin danced Odette with unashamed emotion that harks back to a different era when the great roles of classical ballet were about human feelings rather than excuses for technical excesses. She has the most expressive of bodies capable of depicting suffering and despair by the lifting of an arm and the curve of her arabesque. Her anguish washes over you as she relates her sad story to the prince whose sudden appearance fills her with hope and fear at the same time. Siegfried was danced by the tall handsome Hao Bin whose blank passivity bothered me in the first act, but in the second he came alive and became a man transformed by love.

Act three began unpromisingly with the solo for Siegfried that usually closes act one, uncomfortably moved to the ballroom and described as a Sarabande with six couples dancing in the background. This was followed by perhaps the longest entry and dance of the fiancées that I’ve ever seen, but the national dances picked up the flagging pace with the Czardas and Mazurka both taken a cracking pace with clear, rapid footwork. As Odile, Wang’s face became a mask of hard voluptuousness, alluring but cold, leading on the hopelessly duped and besotted Siegfried with a display of glittering technical prowess. At the end of the act there was a real sense of both panic and impending doom as the hapless Siegfried realizes the awful consequences of his actions and rushes headlong back to the lake.

The final act was just stunning with Ashton’s staggeringly beautiful choreography for the corps de ballet that he created for Robert Helpmann’s RB production of Swan Lake in 1963 restored to the Opera House stage once more. And how beautifully these Chinese dancers performed it: as with the second act, their impeccable uniformity framed the action to perfection and marked them out as a world class ensemble. The final pas de deux was danced with an air of quiet acceptance of their fate, with sorrow mingled with forgiveness. Driven apart by the relentless Rothbart, Odette rushes back to Siegfried’s arms and dies. The lake floods and he carries her into the water to join her in death.

Although I had a few reservations about certain production details and I didn’t much care for some of the costumes of Galina Solovyeva, some things could be put right, in particular the poor lighting that did little for Peter Farmer’s sets. Not all of Makarova’s choreographic tinkerings came off, but there is a sense of foreboding throughout and the entire ballet was so well danced that the evening as a whole became one to remember. But the star of the evening was without doubt Wang Qimin as she staked her claim to being a Swan Queen of the very highest calibre.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 6:26 am 
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Joined: Sun Oct 24, 1999 11:01 pm
Posts: 19975
Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
I saw the Wednesday matinee on 30th July and like you, Mary, was delighted by the final act corps de ballet choreography which was the highlight for me.

I saw Zhang Jinn as Odette/Odile and Sheng Shidong as Siegfried. Both dance with clean, precise steps, but there was a real lack of chemistry and both dancers had floppy wrists, breaking their line for me.

Galina Soloveya's costumes didn't help the elegance of the court dancers and I was puzzled that the princesses, or "Fiancees" for the NBoC, all had identical costumes that didn't allow differentiation.

I was pleased that Makarova's production dispenses with the Jester and also the happy ending, both introduced in the Soviet era. Overall it was the excellent corps that stole a performance that I appreciated, but didn't quite catch light for me.


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 Post subject: What the papers said
PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 9:09 am 
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Joined: Wed Jun 06, 2001 11:01 pm
Posts: 1639
Location: London UK
The Times
http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/ ... 424574.ece

The Independent
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-enter ... 80235.html

The Guardian
http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2008/jul/30/dance


And finally some interesting background about the company from the Daily Telegraph:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jh ... ina126.xml


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Aug 10, 2008 4:30 am 
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Posts: 19975
Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
“Raise the Red Lantern”
National Ballet of China
Friday, 1st August, 2008
Royal Opera House, London


The ballet, “Raise the Red Lantern”, comes with an unusual pedigree: not only is it an adaptation of a film, but both these interpretations have the same director, Zhang Yimou, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is a key ingredient in its success. Not only do we get crystal clear, yet innovative story-telling methods, but an astonishingly rich visual palette from one of the leading film directors working today. And now, since the National Ballet of China brought the ballet to London, Zhang Yimou has directed the spectacular and artistically satisfying Olympic Games Opening Ceremony from Beijing..

In the programme notes, the director explains the necessity of reducing the story to its key elements to accord with a dance framework: a beautiful young woman is sent against her will to be the second concubine of a rich Master, but unexpectedly encounters her former lover, a Peking Opera actor. The two meet in secret to renew their relationship, but are observed and betrayed by the jealous first concubine, who, rather than reinforcing her position by her betrayal, finds she is undermined; in anger, she shreds the red lanterns that announce which of his wives the Master will choose each night, and seals her own execution alongside the lovers.

The narrative unfolds employing classical ballet, Chinese dance sometimes raised on pointe and Peking Opera, accompanied by an eclectic score by Chen Qigang to match these varied styles. The designs by Zeng Li are both beautiful and serve the drama well: paper walls burst open by the new bride as she seeks in vain to escape her lustful Master; gaming tables transform into mahjong tiles as a backdrop to a passionate pas de deux. The final scene of stylised execution has the Master's soldiers furiously beating a white background with long poles, ending in blood red pads. As the crimson marks multiply with the sharp crack of contact with the board, the three prisoners collapse at the front of the stage – a disturbing and unforgettable scene, augmented by a final, slowly thickening snowfall.

However, the choreography by Wang Xinpeng and Wang Yuanyuan is of variable quality: the female corps de ballet sections are often dull, but the choreography for the male corps is the most effective macho dancing I have seen, enhanced by perfectly synchronised performances. While there are too many développés and spins for the principals, the dancers generate much emotion, whether it is the violence of the wedding night, the passionate duets for the illicit lovers, the anguish of the first concubine, played by Meng Ningning, or the reconciliation of the three before their execution. Zhu Yan as the Second Concubine steals the show with her clean, elegant dancing, exquisite line and powerful stage presence.

Overall, with its dramatic and visual qualities, combined with the high performance standards of The National Ballet of China, “Raise the Red Lantern” is one of the most successful ballet theatre productions of the past decade.

Although set in the feudal society of 1920's China, when the Master has absolute power over his family and servants, there is a deep resonance for me in the human rights concerns of the work: individual freedom and justice. Zhang Yimou was asked in the programme interview why he always favours historic stories. He responded cautiously: “...it is more difficult when dealing with present day topics.” Whereas a work dealing with some of the many human rights problems of present day China would be out of the question, related themes from the Imperial era can be safely addressed, without drawing the attention of the government censors. I look forward to the day when a great artist like Zhang Yimou has the freedom to address the full range of themes and issues which concern him.


Last edited by Stuart Sweeney on Thu Aug 21, 2008 1:01 am, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Aug 10, 2008 6:01 am 
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Joined: Tue Jun 10, 2008 6:54 pm
Posts: 163
Location: Sacramento, CA
Stuart Sweeney wrote:
And now, since the National Ballet of China brought the ballet to London, Zhang Yimou has directed the spectacular and artistically satisfying Olympic Games Opening Ceremony from Beijing..


A bit off-topic, but I saw that ceremony on tape (I recorded it off the NBC broadcast) and was totally blown away by the massive scale plus extraordinary precision of that opening ceremony. I really like the "movable type" sequence and that big group of Tai Chi practitioners moving in great precision. 8)


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