Dance review: The Peony Pavilion
By KELLY APTER
IF THIS year's Edinburgh International Festival is all about east meets west, then Festival director Jonathan Mills has found the perfect melting pot in The Peony Pavilion. Based on an ancient Kun opera, written by Tang Xianzu (China's equivalent of Shakespeare) in 1598, this ballet adaptation brings together old and new forms, eastern and western styles and quite possibly the best looking set and costume design you'll see all Festival.
Tang's original work takes 20 hours to perform, but choreographer Fei Bo has reduced it to a far more palatable one hour 40 minutes. Resulting in a 'cut to the chase' version which, although lacking sub-plots and additional main characters, still gives us the essence of Tang's story.
Falling asleep under a peony tree, a young girl dreams of a handsome scholar. Unable to find him in real life, she pines away and dies. A happy ending is secured, when the Infernal Judge in hell agrees to return her to earth so the lovers can be united.
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.
Although the scene in hell lacks the exquisite subtlety of the rest of the ballet, and the inclusion of extracts by Debussy, Ravel and Prokofiev feel less appropriate than Guo Wenjing's original music, these are small points. What we'll remember most is how Emi Wada's costumes and Michael Simon's set wrapped Fei's steps up in the most beautiful and stylish package imaginable.