`Peony Pavilion' back by demand

By Diane Baker  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fri, Sep 14, 2007 - Page 15

The Kaohsiung City Ballet (KCB, 高雄城市芭蕾舞團) has gone back to the classics for this year's tour. Not the Western ballet canon, but a classic of Chinese literature: The Peony Pavilion, Mudanting (牡丹亭).

Mudanting is the love story of Du Li-niang (杜麗娘), the daughter of a top official, who falls in love with a man she meets in a dream and then pines away when she is unable to recapture the enchantment of that dream. There is a happy ending, but not before facing ghosts, a trip to hell, life-risking adventure and all the other good elements of a romance.

Mudanting was and remains the most popular of Ming Dynasty plays. Popular as a Chinese opera, it has also been an inspiration for countless painters and poets.

It was the inspiration for two contemporary dance programs in Taipei this year, including one by dancer/choreographer Lin Hsiang-hsiu (林向秀). Lin also worked as a choreographer on the KCB ballet, which is touring the country this month and next.

Lin was responsible for all the duets between the main character Du Li-niang (杜麗娘) and her lover, as well as some of the solos. Even though Lin is a disciple of the Jose Limon technique, she has a strong grounding in ballet. She said she stuck to the classical technique, though with a twist.

"Some of the lifts may look like they are straight out of Giselle or Swan Lake, but there is a shift - a flexing of a foot or a hand, so it's a little different. There is one where the dancer wraps her foot like a hook around her partner's neck that is more like something you would see in ice skating," Lin said.

"Each main character has a signature musical theme that the composer gave them, and in my choreography they each have a signature movement," Lin said.

"The ballet is very true to Mudanting. The artistic director, KCB founder Chang Hsiu-ru (張秀如), really wants the audience to know the story through dance," Lin said.

"[Chang] had a very clear idea of what she wanted, the format of the show and what the story was to be. We all met so many times before we actually started to work on the show," Lin said.