by Liang Xizhi
LONDON, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) -- Dancers of the National Ballet of China (NBC) on Tuesday staged the Peony Pavilion, one of the most famous love stories in China, at London's Sadler's Wells Theatre.
The Peony Pavilion tells the story of Du Liniang, a girl from a rich family who falls asleep next to a peony pavilion and dreams of meeting a young scholar, Liu Mengmei. The play was written by Tang Xianzu in 1598, the same year as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, to which it is often compared.
Originally performed as a Kunqu Opera in a 20-hour cycle, director Li Liuyi and choreographer Fei Bo have redrawn it as a two-act fusion ballet that combines Western classical ballet with conventional Far East influences.
NBC artists successfully presented the 400-year-old story that advances through dreams and visions, and across the boundaries between life and death.
In the dream, the couple quickly fall in love, but Du's sleep is broken when a flower petal falls on her. Awake, she becomes preoccupied with her dream and is quickly consumed by love sickness, dying shortly afterwards.
As her ghost descends to the underworld, it is decided that she was indeed supposed to marry Liu and her ghost appears to her lover, who by chance is now sleeping in the same garden. She asks Liu to exhume her body and return her to life, but when he does he is arrested for being a grave robber. At the end of the play, Liu is pardoned by the emperor.
Christina Lawrence, a local drama critic, told Xinhua that she had seen the performance of Swan Lake and Raise the Red Lantern by NBC in London many years ago, and the Chinese actors' superb skills had left a profound impression on her.
"Both the plot arrangement and dancers' acting in the performance of the Peony Pavilion are ingenious, the singing of Kunqu Opera is also very beautiful," she said.
Alistair Spalding, artistic director of the Sadler's Wells Theatre, also expressed his appreciation for the Chinese artists' performance.
"The Peony Pavilion is one of the most spectacular performances as part of the theater's Out of Asia 2 season," he said. He added that he hoped China's leading ballet company would come back to the stage next year to bring more performances to the London audience.
Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, said at the end of the performance that this year coincided with the 400th anniversary of the death of two famous playwrights in China and Britain, Tang and Shakespeare. He also said he had watched many performances of the Peony Pavilion before, but it was his first time enjoying it in the form of a ballet, which was really amazing.
The choreographer, Fei Bo, said the Peony Pavilion was a homage to life and love, and the bold imagination of Tang had made the work outstanding and meaningful.
"In the adaptation of the Peony Pavilion to ballet, the biggest innovation of NBC is to focus on Du Liniang. Three actress play the same character through different aspects," he said.
"The original Kunqu Opera of the Peony Pavilion is famous for its beautiful singing and libretto. It is a very interesting exploration to know how to transform these lyrics into body language to stage a ballet," he added.
Fei said both Tang and Shakespeare had made successful interpretations about love. The main difference between the two playwrights was that Tang used the bold imagination of Chinese traditional culture to describe resurrection in the Peony Pavilion, while Shakespeare chose death to depict love in eternity in Romeo and Juliet.
NBC was founded in 1959 and Pyotr Gusev, the celebrated Russian ballet artist, laid a solid foundation of classical ballet for the company. For over 50 years since its formation, the NBC has served as a cultural envoy of China, giving thousands of performances across the world.