|Yu Xuejiao and cast. Photo: Stephanie Berger
This production, with adaptation and direction by Li Liuyi and choreography by Fei Bo, premiered in 2008 as a highly reduced version of what can be a 20-hour opus. We are grateful for the savings of 18 hours, but in the course of trimming it, the fragments and threads left to tell a complicated, layered tale aren't adequate. But what lingers in the memory are the striking sets and scenography by Michael Simon. A suspended square platform that raises, tilts, and transforms into a mirror. A giant fallen tree, massive crumpled peonies. Snake-like brushstrokes—ink black and neon—on the cyc. Emi Wada's gorgeous costumes—notably featuring wide-legged jumpsuits for the women, and scarf-hem dresses—are appealingly chic, although frequently obscure the expressiveness of the dancers' legs.
|Ma Xiadong, Zhu Yan, and Yu Xuejiao in The Peony Pavillion. Photo: Stephanie Berger
A scene of rowdy peasants is an example of the dance-as-subject-matter ilk. The (mostly) men carouse, act jaunty, and hack around, pulling the language toward descriptive rather than metaphorical, which soon follows when shadows—silver cloak clad men—waft around the periphery, setting a supernatural aura.
|The Peony Pavilion. Photo: Stephanie Berger
|Lu Di and Zhang Jian in Red Detachment. Photo: Stephanie Berger
|Photo: Stephanie Berger
|Zhang Jian and company. Photo: Stephanie Berger
Ma Yunhong created the stage designs, from gloomy slave prison to utopian coconut grove, complete with a projected sunrise and blue sky. The music, credited to six composers, is anthemic, bombastic, and yes, patriotic. One wonders how some of the numerous elders in the audience felt while viewing fare on which they were raised. Indeed, a nearby man began talking toward the stage during a number, as if transported to another time and place. He was perhaps acting out what some felt, and others of us could only imagine.