National Ballet of China

October 11, 2005

Wang Qimin as the Second Concubine and Li Jun as the Peking Opera Actor in Zhang Yimou’s
Raise the Red Lantern.
Photo by Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhoto

National Ballet of China
Next Wave Festival

Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY

October 11–15, 2005

Reviewed by Rose Anne Thom


Stunning visual imagery distinguished Raise the Red Lantern, a ballet Zhang Yimou created for the National Ballet of China, based on his highly successful 1991 movie. But little of it emerged from the ballet’s choreography by Wang Xinpeng and Wang Yuanyuan, which was unsurprising since the choreographers were listed second to the director in the program.

This was definitely Yimou’s ballet. The focus on sumptuous but tasteful sets and glorious costumes provided his narrative with a vibrant and evocative environment. Group dances that drew on Chinese traditional forms or used performers from the Peking Opera served his vision successfully. But although the dances depicting the romantic turmoil—involving a master, his wife, his first and second concubines, and the latter’s lover—managed to convey the intricacies of the characters’ relationships, they failed to develop choreographically beyond a few signature motifs for each one. The level of invention rose momentarily in a powerful solo for the first concubine, when she discovers that her rival has a lover. Twisting limbs against torso, her body plunged into and out of the ground, conveying her jealous malevolent passion. But the soloists’ dancing did not match the power of masses of women carrying red lanterns, or henchmen utilizing martial arts in preparation for the lovers’ capture. Nor for that matter did it match the blood splattered on backdrops and snow falling on corpses.