Chinese ballets come to Lincoln Center
The Big Apple is in for a couple of ballet treats.
The Red Detachment of Women, the first full-length Chinese ballet created after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and The Peony Pavilion, a romance based on a 400-year-old epic masterpiece of Kunqu opera, will take the stage at Lincoln Center next month.
With the combined talent of the National Ballet of China (NBC) and the National Ballet of China Symphony Orchestra, two ballets, representing distinctly different periods in Chinese history, will be performed at this summer’s 20th edition of the Lincoln Center Festival in New York.
“The ballets are two of the companies’ most successful and popular pieces around the world,” said Nigel Redden, director of the Lincoln Center Festival.
“We are very honored to be invited by the Lincoln Center Festival, one of the world’s most renowned performing arts events, and to bring to New York audiences two works from our repertoire that reflect the innovation and development of ballet arts in China over the past 50 years,” said Feng Ying, head of NBC.
Recognized as a milestone in modern ballet, The Red Detachment of Women was created in 1964 based on a novel, which was subsequently made into a featurelength film.
It is best known in the West as the ballet performed for US President Richard Nixon on his visit to China in 1972.
The ballet tells the story of a peasant girl who rises from servitude to join a crusading, all-female battalion of Red Guards to defeat the evil landowner who once enslaved her.
Over the past five decades, NBC has staged nearly 4,000 performances in China and around the world.
“It’s rare to see female ballet dancers wearing military uniforms on the stage even in the West,” said Feng.
The other ballet, The Peony Pavilion, was premiered by NBC in 2008 in Beijing.
It is one of the most famous love stories in the Chinese canon, written in 1598, the same year as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, to which it is often compared.
Teenager Du Liniang falls asleep by a peony pavilion and dreams of meeting Liu Mengmei, a young scholar, and falling in love with him. But when she awakens, she becomes lovesick and dies. Her ghost descends to the underworld where it is decided that she was indeed supposed to marry Liu.
She returns to the garden and asks Liu to exhume her body and return her to life, but when he does, he is arrested for being a grave robber.
Feng said, totally different from the former ballet, “director Li Liuyi, China’s renowned play director, designed three figures for the heroine, to express her different spiritual planes, which help build the character more richly and stronger.”
Meanwhile, “a modern choreographic vocabulary and succinct but powerful stage design have been adopted, which will bring a more romantic atmosphere and a more immersive feeling to audiences,” said Feng.
Founded in 1959, NBC found a successful path for the development of Chinese ballet fusing styles of the classical and the modern by staging Western ballets and creating works of its own with distinct national characteristics
“A mission of the festival is to bring New York audiences exceptional artists and companies who they may rarely or never get to see,” Redden added. Hong Xiao in New York contributed to this story.