Grands Ballets Canadiens
Raise the Red Lantern
The National Ballet of China to present Raise the Red Lantern
This week Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal has invited The National Ballet of China to present Raise the Red Lantern, a luminous adaptation of the acclaimed 1991 movie of the same name, directed by Zhang Yimou, who also wrote the libretto, designed the lighting and signed the stage direction of the ballet.
I was completely stunned by the elaborate sets and opulent, traditional Chinese costumes worn by the cast of over seventy dancers and musicians. A perfect blend of Western classical ballet and Eastern culture, the ballet corps combined classical ballet, traditional dance, acrobatics mime and Peking opera in a tragic tale of love, jealousy, and death.
In the opening act, we see on a dimly lit stage an old man who raises his cane to light over a dozen red lanterns. Accompanied by the light sound of twinkling bells, the lanterns gradually rise like the ascending curtain and reveal a space on stage for the dark blue, clad corps de ballet to perform the dance of the red lanterns. We then follow the story of the young nineteen year old Songlian, who is brought to the home of the wealthy Chen family to be the fourth wife or third concubine. Throughout the piece, the red lanterns hanging in the courtyard becomes the visual leitmotif of the lady with whom the master intends to spend the night with. Vicious jealousy ensues between Songlian and the resident concubines who are all vying for the attention of the much older master as well as fighting over the possibility of bearing him a son. The plot thickens when Songlian develops a romantic relationship with one of the household attendants and is caught in the act by the second concubine…
Compared to the original film and short novella on which the film was based: Wife and Concubines by Su Tong (b. 1963), the ballet has a very simple premise. In fact it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the piece struggles to capture the plot details and the moral tone of the film, and instead tells a much simpler story of tragic love.
The score was an interesting blend of both Western and Chinese music. Some scenes directly used music from the Peking Opera, but much of the score combined Chinese instruments and melody with the dissonant effects of Western modernism. There was a heavy use of Chinese percussions that heavily marked rhythm. The music was not always used to define a mood, but rather functioned more as a basic rhythm for the dance steps. A distinct musical pattern for both male and females was developed in the arrival of the new bride and introduction to the master scene. Here the music and the dance blended nicely to move the narrative along.
The costumes were numerous, colorful and representative of the persona of each character. The older concubines were dressed in orange and green which could suggest their jealously. As the youngest and prettiest new addition to the household, Songlian was dressed in an elegant, bright fuchsia Chinese qipao. The form of the traditional qipao is meant to accentuate the length and curves of the up-right female figure. As the costume had to be adjusted for ballet, it sported an exceptionally long slit on the side of the leg that was very suggestive and slightly erotic, especially when the dancer had to lift her legs to jump.
The strength of the entire piece was in its stunning colors and visual patterns. I was most impressed by the way in which Zhang used his skills as a filmmaker to create a visual spectacle. Several elements of Chinese culture were presented and glorified, such as the bringing of the marriage sedan chair, a night at the Peking opera, an elaborate mahjong dance number and a flight scene involving numerous panels of Chinese wall paper and red silk.
Since its premier in 2001, the ballet has already created a positive impression in over a dozen countries. Raise the Red Lantern will now be seen in Canada for the first time as part of a historic tour of the National Ballet of China. Be one of the lucky few to see this stunning performance and be fully emerged in a world of stunning Chinese Visuals.
Hurry before the run of the show ends and the lights of the red lanterns burn off for the evening …
For more information and show times please visit:
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens http://www.grandsballets.com