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National Ballet of China in DC, Oct 4/8 '05

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The Kennedy Center 2005/2006 ballet season begins tonight with Beijing's National Ballet of China performing a mixed bill that includes "Yellow River Concerto," "Giselle Act II," and shorter works. The troupe will also perform "Raise the Red Lantern" on Friday & Saturday. Many of China's spectacular competition winners from recent events in Varna, Shanghai, & Moscow, are here, e.g., their main ballerina is Zhu Yan, who won in 1998 Varna; the gorgeous soloist Wang Qimin, who won gold at Moscow 2001; Nagoya 2002 gold medalist Meng Ning-Ning and her partner, Yu Bo. Their corps de ballet includes Wu Haijan and Li Jun, who won top honors in Jackson 2002. The list goes on. Washington is in for a treat.

Anyone going, beside myself? Let's discuss performances here.

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The opening was last night but I'm still catching my breath this morning after witnessing the energy and power of the National Ballet of China performing "The Yellow River"! And you thought that Lander's "Etudes" has the ultimate socko/show-off finale? How about 24 men simultaneously performing Russian split jumps, facing the audience in four rows?! "The Yellow River" brought the cheering audience to its feet. The beautifully flexible Zhang Jian led the women and Sun Jie was the top 'rivoltade master' among the men.

The evening began with an intriguingly odd staging of Giselle Act II, e.g., Willis wearing veils throughout the first half of the Pas des Willis; new choreography for Myrtha's big solo; Albrecht ends the ballet standing stage-front-center, slowly dropping a bouquet of lilies. Surely the oddest note was the pounding -- not merely tapping -- of the corps ladies' pointe shoes. Despite such distractions, the willowy Wang Qimin created magic as Giselle, with Albrecht-Li Jun's partnering making her appear as a feather. Wang Qimin first impressed me when I witnessed her 2001 triumph at the Moscow Int'l Ballet Competition. Her delicate phrasing, musicality, tender emotions were already in evidence then but now -- four years later -- she is a total artist. Her special beauty -- glorious 'boneless' arms, long and thin neck, set on fragile shoulders -- recall the portraits of Olga Spessivtseva. Wang Qimin made my night. Kudos, too, to the tall and elegant Zhu Yan as Myrtha, making the most of her oddly rechoreographed solo.

Also on the bill were two competition-like modern pas de deux, the second of these being a martial-arts stylized duo "Piercing the Heart" (nicely performed by Jin Jia and Hao Bin). I honestly cannot confirm the title of the initial pas de deux. According to the printed programme, it was "Remembrance" set to Bach's "Air on a G String"...but what we saw last night was a poignant bedroom duo set to a French female vocalist's pop tune. So what was it? Whatever it was & whoever danced it -- it was wonderful!

I'm seriously tempted to buy a ticket for tonight's lone reprise of this program -- just to see "Yellow River" one more time. Awesome!

p.s. - Alas, Wang Qimin won't be reprising her Giselle tonight. Instead, the cast lists Zhu Yan -- the taller ballerina who danced Myrtha last night -- in the lead. This mixed bill will not be performed after tonight. The NBofC performs Raise the Red Lantern on Friday night and Saturday afternoon/night. Wang Qimin is scheduled to dance the lead in Red Lantern on Saturday night only.

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You're very lucky to be seeing Wang on Sat. night, Koshka! Please let us know how it goes; I'm only able to see the opening of Red Lantern (Fri night), with Zhu Yan (last night's Myrtha & the titular company 'prima') in the leading female role.

I did not realize that the run is close to being sold out. Good for the Chinese ballet.

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The opening was last night...

Random thoughts about the October 4 performance...

Giselle Act II, I loved Wang Qimin. Otherwise, I thought it was a routine (high international standard) performance. It's very hard, artistically, to do Act II without Act I, because all the character development goes on in Act I.

Second perf. was a modern pair dance, set to a French chanson (I wouldn't call it a pdd because it was so far from the classical, although I admit this is a matter of definition). To me, this was the most interesting dance of the evening, because its choreography and style was much more explicit than I would have expected from the usually much more conservative Beijingers.

Third perf. featured a pas du trois for couple + a sword (love hurts?); traditional music, compact dancing.

Yellow River, for me, tried too hard to please. Xian Xinghai's score is a not particularly successful hybrid of East/West, and the dance choreography is more athletic than artistic - with the very honorable exception of the pdd, that featured all the classical moves but done in an excellent modern (crisp) style!

Soloists of the company would, in my opinion, be very welcome anywhere in Europe or the US!

Due to schedule conflicts, I won't be able to see "Red Lantern" but hope others will review it here - it is the company's signature piece.

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..... "Red Lantern"...it is the company's signature piece.

Thanks for your review, Mike. 'Red Lantern' is a recent signature work but I'm not sure that it has supplanted 'Red Detachment of Women' as THE signature of the NBofChina. It's too bad that the dimensions of the Eisenhower Theater do not allow the performance of 'Red Detachment.'

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So did anybody see "Red Lantern?"

I really liked the "Trilogy" of modern dance companies from China (Sunday Oct. 9 performance) so will say a few words about them here (if this is not the right place, because they are really modern dance rather than ballet, please redirect me to the appropriate forum!).

The Three Companies are Beijing Modern Dance Company, Guangdong Modern Dance Company, and City (Hong Kong) Contemporary Dance Company. I enjoyed all, but thought the Guangdong company was the most impressive. Beijing and HK danced beautifully; their dances were mostly about "the search for expression," and somewhat retro. The folks from Guangdong, on the other hand, seemed to have already found their expression!

Guangdong danced excerpts from "Upon Calligraphy," which is based on various types of Chinese script. The choreography expresses emotions that are found in the different types of calligraphy: a martial-arts-inspired section for "the strength of regular script," a spinning and twirling dance for the freedom of cursive script, etc. I found it a great work of modern dance - kudos to choreographer Liu Qi.

Modern dance is in very good hands with companies like this!

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Mike, I saw 'Lantern' and enjoyed it very much as dramatic theater. It reminded me very VERY much of the best of the Boris Eifman works. In fact, some 'images' are taken straight out of Eifman, e.g., the long red silk cloth is straight from 'Red Giselle.' A couple of the pas de deux reminded me of Kenneth MacMillan's 'Mayerling.' All in all, it was powerful theater with indelible images, if not great ballet.

I'm sorry to have missed the moderns & am grateful for your recounting of the programme here.

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I think long red silk cloths have made their appearances in ballets for quite awhile; I'd guess this has Chinese theater/opera roots too. I wasn't reminded of either Eifman or MacMillan though -- too restrained -- and the choreography itself was quite bland, off-the-shelf ballet. I liked some of the effects in "Red Lantern" very much -- the shadow puppet theater deflowering, the way violence was depicted in an indirect way.

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I saw Red Lantern Last night in Brooklyn. Amazing. Act I was the best drama I have ever seen in a Ballet.

Music was recorded mostly (some live Chinese Opera music) but pitch perfect. KUDOS to NBC and Zhang Yimou.

If you are in NYC this weekend: GO GO GO!!!!! Subway to BAM (BAM.org) is worth it.


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It's been at least 20 years since I have seen this Company--known then as the Central Ballet of China. They performed "The Red Detachment of Women" and a third rate 'Swan Lake".--but, as they say: "They've come a long way, baby".

Overall, I found "Red Lantern" to be good production; the choreography was simplistic and a bit monotonous and there was little or no batterie. The dances for the female corps are like most of what can be seen on CCTV. The use of all the

rhythmically stomping men and the people walking aimlessly in the back ground brought Jooss to mind. The production was beautiful (if that is what you yearn for at the ballet) and I particularly liked the second act with the Peking Opera and the very inventive mah-jongg dance.

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