Ravishing innocence seeps from the being of the National Ballet of China’s Peony Pavilion, the story of young Du Liniang who falls in love with the handsome Liu Mengmei in a dream and, on waking, is prepared to return to her dream - and death - to find her love.
Opening the stage right up to both accommodate the 46-strong company and to create a feeling minimal space, designer Michael Simon uses bold splashes of imperial colours between swathes of black and white. The corps de ballet is in a different monochrome for each of the six scenes, moving like insects beneath and around gigantic peony flowers.
Depth in characterisation for Liniang is provided by a trio of performers who take her role. Zhu Yan dances the white-clad Du Liniang, with Lu Na as her sensual side the red-clad Flower Goddess Liniang, and singer Yu Xuejiao as the blue kimonoed Kunqu Liniang, who pronounces her moral side in the keening notes of the Kunqu opera style.
This is fulsome, romantic stuff, with choreographer Fei Bo using the basic moves of classical ballet with a modern Chinese twist which adds an athleticism to the lovers’ duets. There is no mistaking the symbolism when Liniang removes her pointe shoe in mid duet and caresses her foot. It is a moment of extreme intimacy recalled in a later scene as the white clad corps de-ballet appear with only one - red - pointe shoe.
Much depends on Guo Wenjing’s score, however, which quotes Debussy, Ravel, Respighi, Holst and Prokofiev. Although framed in minimalism, it brings huge waves of emotion until, in the end, it carries the full weight of the ballet as the dancers are reduced to a parade of colour.