National Ballet of China

November 24, 2004

National Ballet of China
Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong

November 24–28, 2004

Reviewed by Kevin Ng


Celebrating its 45th anniversary with a national tour, the National Ballet of China presented the full-length Sylvia along with an all-Balanchine program that finally puts Hong Kong on the world map of celebrants of the greatest choreographer of the 20th century’s centennial. (Regrettably, Hong Kong Ballet no longer performs his works.)

Of the three Balanchine works given, The Four Temperaments was the most vibrantly danced. Staged by New York City Ballet’s Nilas Martins, it made an ideal showcase for the company’s strengths. Several young dancers looked particularly attuned to the Balanchine style: Meng Ningning, who led the Sanguinic movement with Sun Jie, dancing incisively on a big scale, and Zhu Yan, who was radiant as Choleric.

Both principal dancers also impressed in Serenade, Zhu expressive in the waltz and Meng joyful as the Russian ballerina. The corps de ballet’s mechanical dancing in Serenade, however, gave the performance a lackluster feel.

The corps showed far more spirit in Theme and Variations. In the second-cast principal role, Zhang Jian danced lucidly and with assurance in her debut, and the first-cast ballerina, the sublime Zhu, conveyed every nuance of Balanchine’s choreography with her eloquent, silken dancing. Long-limbed, fine-boned, musical, and endowed with an exquisite line, Zhu has delicacy and strength and could easily fit into New York City Ballet.

The company’s Sylvia, Lycette Darsonval’s version based on Louis Merante’s original 19th-century choreography for the Paris Opéra Ballet, was restaged for them by several POB ballet masters. Set to Delibes’ enchanting score, the ballet’s enticing variety of dances makes up for the flimsy story about a shepherd, Aminta, who falls in love with the beautiful nymph Sylvia, who is kidnapped by the crude but lovestruck hunter Orion. Zhu, whose pure, classical temperament makes her ideal for the title role, danced it gorgeously on opening night. Her solos and third-act pas de deux sparkled with technical fireworks. Li, as Aminta, also dazzled in his third-act solo. But this historically significant production, despite sets lacking in grandeur, had more to applaud than its principal dancers. The corps women made the ensemble sections a vision of beauty and harmony, and the National Ballet’s Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Zhang Yi, performed sumptuously.