In heading to The Lowry for The National Ballet of China’s production of The Peony Pavilion , I knew could expect excellence but had no other preconceived idea. I guess the introduction to the evening prepared for something different, the choreographer introducing his cast and the story was quite different, enigmatic and totally charming. I felt closer to the story already. Often described at the Chinese Romeo and Juliet, The Peony Pavilion tells the story of a young girl, Du Liniang who falls into a slumber and dreams of falling in love with a young scholar, Liu Mengmei.
The opening solo dance was effortless and quite beautifully abstract, stunning choreography from Fei Bo . A central square which changed throughout the play as dreamspace or prison or a solitary confinement was a minimalist design which made the lines across the stage so clean.
The set was stunning, for most of the play there was a huge branch which embodied the back half of the stage sitting on a high diagonal which gave a poetic presence of absence, confirming the nature of seasonal change when leaves leave before new buds can grow.
The costumes were stunning especially the chinese opera singer Jia Pengfei who moved like a geisha and gave the most interesting performance of the evening, she dressed and undressed seamlessly describing time or drawing a warning. They were jaw dropping with elaborate, finely detailed embroidery of classical chinese flowers at times she took shape of rose through the movement of her material. The tiny chiffon layers of the ensemble followed the whipping of pirouettes or lame duck sequenced complex choreography.
There’s a sense the company is moving with this piece into a modern classical style, a mixture of classical contemporary techniques interwoven into the ballet, the theme of marrying pointe work with bare feet wasn’t as interesting choreographically as it may have tried to be.
The second half gave rewarding performances in a lead male solo and ghost duets . The huge cast gave a warm performance, the stage rained with peony petals, changed into a forest environment where the ensemble played with trailing green neon light in a poi like chained ball which left resonance in the space as they moved.
It was a charming portrayal of the story, striking and utterly captivating.