In The Peony Pavilion, the National Ballet of China layers western ballet and traditional Chinese arts. The clash of styles can be startling. Kunqu opera singing overlaps with a lush burst of Debussy. A heroine in pointe shoes pleads with a fierce god in crimson beard and silk robes.
The ballet is based on a Chinese love story. Du Liniang dreams of love, then dies of a broken heart when she wakes up. Taking pity, the gods of the underworld return her to life, to be united with her dream lover.
The storytelling is sometimes confusing. The staging is striking. Emi Wada's costumes range from delicately-coloured chiffon dresses to sumptuous embroidered robes. Michael Simon's design puts stark props – a branch, a huge peony – on a bare stage. Guo Wenjing's score quotes western composers, but brings in Chinese flute and voice.
The dancers share a fluid, floating style, all smooth lines and long phrasing. Fei Bo's choreography uses conventional ballet steps, with some distinctive touches. Du Liniang's lover removes one of her pointe shoes, stroking her foot; she and the corps often dance with one foot bare. Wang Qimin was a touching heroine, waking sensuously from her dream.
Kunqu opera performer Yu Xuejiao was dazzling as Liniang's alter ego, wrapped in gorgeous silks and moving in a purring glide.