Breathtakingly beautiful, a story of dreams and lost love, snowflakes and rose petals, and told in a sensational synthesis of Oriental and European dance and music, the National Ballet of China’s The Peony Pavilion is a production more than worthy of any great international arts festival.
The most famous of all Chinese love stories was first performed as a 16th century opera. Classical ballet in China dates only from the 1950s, so the collision of cultures in this stunning production is both daring and revelatory.
The sleeping Du Liniang finds her ideal lover, Liu Mengmei, in her garden, thanks to the Flower Goddess, a cloaked beauty of insouciant inscrutability and authority, who glides around the stage as if on castors; she then loses him in the underworld, then finds him again.
The music is familiar Chinese opera style, with added percussion and sudden diversions into Debussy, Ravel, Holst and Prokofiev. Yet, magically, it all sounds consistent with itself, and the graceful sensuality of the corps de ballet seems to cast a spell not only over the audience, but over the orchestra pit, too.
Spiritual life is at one with nature in this fairyland of legend and post-consciousness, and the choreography of Fei Bo, the musical arrangements of Guo Wenjing, and the direction of Li Liuyi, all weave a world of sighs, colours and exhalations that pierce the heart.
It is hard to express how impossibly moving this all is, not least in the size of the company, and the orchestra, which combine in one of the most thrilling and spectacular climaxes I’ve ever seen on a dance stage.