Liaoning Ballet company presents "The Last Emperor" at the Tianqiao Theatre in Beijing.
The Liaoning Ballet company from northeast China have finally brought their ballet "The Last Emperor" to the capital after years of international tours. The ballet is part of the ongoing China International Ballet Gala Season in the capital.
Being one of the most important ballet companies in China, side by side China Central Ballet and Shanghai Ballet, Liaoning ballet carries the task of creating ballets not only with a Chinese scope but also regional characteristics.
Qipaos and pointe shoes are the dress code here. Courtiers dancing before a throne that is teetering on the edge of collapse. A three-year-old Puyi takes the throne as the last emperor of China.
"The Last Emperor" traces the life of Puyi from childhood and marriage, to his imprisonment during the Japanese invasion and subsequently becoming an ordinary citizen in the new Republic.
The linear chronology is often interspersed with moments of flashback stitched together through montage. Based on the original novel by Neville John Irons and drawing from Bertolucci's acclaimed movie, choreographer Ivan Cavallari creates a fusion of Chinese elements and stereotypes set to a Western sensibility.
Because we had the foreign audience in mind when we first created this ballet, we invited a Western director to stage it and he has brought a fresh interpretation of the Chinese emperor," said Liaoning Ballet company's director Qu Zijiao.
But piecing together Chinese elements without making them into a collage of visual cliches can be a daunting task. And so is striking a balance between form and storytelling. While something more physical could've created more naturally inspired choreography, Cavallari chooses reading as the activity in the student-teacher scene. As a result, viewers may find themselves hovering above the real drama buried beneath.
Liaoning Ballet's continuous spring of original work owes much to its dancers. Liaoning province is regarded as the cradle to some of the best male dancers in the country
Principal dancer Lu Meng first played the role of the young Puyi at the age of 17, and has grown up with the character.
"Having matured over the years, it's become less intuitive and more challenging for me to play someone younger than my actual age now. So I have to dig deeper into the role. And Puyi too, because of the socio-political turmoil, is someone who continues to re-examine himself and his life," Lu said.
In addition to performing its classic repertoire, Liaoning Ballet is also tasked with creating an original ballet each year. The company usually chooses Chinese stories and subsequently embellish it with traditionally Chinese elements before adapting it into a balletic language.
"The challenge for us dancers is actually whether a foreign audience, as well as Chinese audiences, can understand and appreciate these new trials," Lu said.
"The Last Emperor" is part of a rich line-up of 30 performances at the Tianqiao Theatre as part of the 1st China International Ballet Gala Season, running from November until the end of the year.
The ballet season also celebrates Tianqiao's 60th anniversary, its stage having been graced by the likes of Pavarotti and the Royal Ballet. With "The Last Emperor", the theatre is poised to become the ultimate venue for dance in the country's capital.