Choreographer Fei Bo’s story of Lady Du, from the 16th-century epic The Peony Pavilion, is told as a dream: possibly ours, as well as hers. For as she trembles, her sleeping senses awakening with longing for Mengmei, a man she has never even met, there is another underlying dream at work. It’s about marrying seemingly disparate ideas: of melding Chinese traditions, in music, movement, costume and symbolism, with a modernity that embraces not just the West’s classical ballet and music, but the boldly effective minimalism of Michael Simon’s set.
Trained in both modern dance and classical ballet, Fei has given The Peony Pavilion all the pointe shoe beauty an audience could wish for, but without the pomp and ceremony often associated with narrative ballets. The National Ballet of China principals are a force to be reckoned with and, as the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics proved, Chinese dancers do unity like no other, with the 20-strong corps de ballet wafting across the stage as one.
This is fulsome, romantic stuff, with choreographer Fei Bo using the basic moves of classical ballet with a modern Chinese twist which adds an athleticism to the lovers’ duets. There is no mistaking the symbolism when Liniang removes her pointe shoe in mid duet and caresses her foot. It is a moment of extreme intimacy recalled in a later scene as the white clad corps de-ballet appear with only one - red - pointe shoe.