Tours en l'air organizes ballet-themed escorted holidays to see the best companies perform great ballets in beautiful places. You can join a trip from anywhere. A highly knowledgeable balletomane who has enjoyed 100s of performances in over 20 cities around the world,I speak English, French, and German, and am a Travel Industry Council of Ontario certified Travel Counsellor. I also teach ballet appreciation courses.
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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dream of the Red Chamber

Last night I attended a performance of the Beijing Friendship Dance Company in what was billed as a "fusion of Chinese folk dance and classical ballet". I don't know anything about Chinese folk dance, so I can't say how unlike it this was, but it didn't strike me as being very balletic, apart from the occasional fouette turn, tour a la seconde, or grand jete tossed in sometimes incongruously. The women were not on pointe. The story is of a young man who loves one woman but is tricked into marrying another. It is also supposed to show his rebellion against the strictures of feudal society, but this was definitely not clear from the ballet. There was not much character development through the choreography. Bizarrely, the synopsis in Chinese and fractured English ("Witnessing the Wang Xifeng punishing a servant girl for the engaged herself secretly, Baoyu is vexed and worried") was read out over the music at the beginning of each scene.
The costumes were colourful and beautiful and the high point for me was a lovely fan dance for the corps.
As for the music, by Su Cong, it was a strange mishmash of western classical, Chinese, what sounded like country and western at some points, and pop. There was no transition from one chunk to the next. Su Cong has apparently composed for a lot of movies, and this was evident in the score. The steady electronic bass thumping was most irritating. This was exacerbated by the fact that the music was a recording and played too loud. Su Cong seems to have never met an instrument he didn't like, and he put them all into this ballet. At one point near the end I found myself wishing the music would stop.... and then it did! Just at the dramatic high point of the ballet, when the hero discovers he's been tricked and launches into an anguished solo. Kudos to Zhang Jin for carrying on with full intensity, with no music to back him up. Then the stage went black, backstage voices were heard followed by the sound of a CD being fastforwarded; the lights came back on and Zhang Jin had to start again towards the end of his solo.
Another bizarre thing happened during the curtain calls. After all the dancers had taken their bows, the choreographer and company director, Zhao Ming, came on... and proceeded to do a long grand allegro variation. A man of about 50, he seemed determined to prove he could still do grands jetes en tournant, any number of pirouettes, and many other tricks. The crowd went wild. What a limelight hogger! The valiant Zhang Jin looked on straightfaced but I am sure he was thinking, "Hey, how come he's getting all the applause? I'm the one who kept this ballet afloat when the music died!!!"

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