The stage is set

Updated: 2011-04-19 08:47

By Chen Jie (China Daily)

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 The stage is set

The ballet adaptation of Peony Pavilion has an impressive and modern setting, while its premiere in 2008 received mixed reviews. Photos provided to China Daily


The Edinburgh International Festival will have a Chinese flavor this year, as three of the country's leading companies will make their debuts. Chen Jie reports.

Three of China's leading arts companies will debut at the prestigious Edinburgh International Festival this summer. National Ballet of China (NBC) will perform its original production, Peony Pavilion, a ballet adaptation of the 400-year-old, 20-hour-long Chinese Kunqu Opera; Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe will retell the familiar tale of Hamlet, setting it in China and giving it an acrobatic and elaborately costumed Peking Opera treatment; while Taiwan's Contemporary Legend Theater will deconstruct another Shakespeare story, King Lear, into a one man tour de force by the celebrated actor Wu Hsing-kuo.

Pianist Li Yundi, guitarist Yang Xuefei and New York-based Chinese choreographer Shen Wei - who co-created the Opening Ceremony for the Beijing Olympics - will perform; while the music of composer Tan Dun, Bright Sheng and Chen Yi will also feature at the festival.

The strong Chinese presence is part of the Scottish capital festival's celebration of Asia's culture and its influence on the West.

"European artists, explorers and philosophers have drawn inspiration from the Far East for centuries," says Jonathan Mills, director of the Edinburgh International Festival.

"Our program this year builds bridges between the cultures of Asia and Europe. It is inspired by artistic links and shared influences between China and Europe that span centuries, and by the desire to build new connections between our cultures and communities.

The stage is set

"I hope that lovers of music, dance, theater, opera and visual arts from across China will join us in Edinburgh this summer to enjoy the festival and experience first hand their influence on the culture of the world."

Mills' vision dates back to 2007 when he discussed with Zhao Ruheng, NBC's former president, about the possibility of bringing an original Chinese ballet to the festival.

In 2008, Zhao commissioned composer Guo Wenjing, director Li Liuyi and the company's young choreographer Fei Bo, to adapt Peony Pavilion. Written by Tang Xianzu (1550-1616), one of China's greatest writers and a contemporary of Shakespeare, it is one of the most famous love stories in Chinese literature.

Rewritten by director Li, the two-scene ballet describes how the beautiful Du Liniang falls asleep by the peony pavilion and dreams of Liu Mengmei, a lover she has never met. She wakes in despair and asks the Flower Goddess to find her love. Unable to find him, Du dies of a broken heart and is forced to turn to the Infernal Judges of the Underworld for help.

Composer Guo Wenjing creates an enchanting and passionate original score, incorporating references to Debussy's Daphnis et Chloe, Holst's The Planets and Prokofiev's Scythian Suite.

Guo was among the first generation of Chinese composers to systematically study Western music at Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music, after 10 years of "cultural revolution" (1966-76).

He says the most difficult elements of the ballet are the two pas de deux between Du and Liu. One is the first scene in which the lovers embrace in the dream and the other is the last scene in which the ghost of Du makes love with the living Liu.

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