lanternThe National Ballet of China’s has brought their sumptuous production of Raise the Red Lantern to the Arts Centre and it’s a beautiful production that’s well worth seeing.

Zhang Yimou’s film Raise the Red Lantern was banned in China when it was released in 1991 so it’s slightly incongruous that the communist government has now endorsed a ballet production by the same director for the country’s national ballet company.

The story is quite simple – a young peasant woman becomes an unwilling concubine of a wealthy man and is effectively imprisoned in her gilded cage, competing for the affections of the master with the other concubines. In a departure from the film storyline, she begins a secret love affair with her childhood sweetheart, a Chinese opera singer, which leads to an inevitably tragic end for both of them as well, as for the first concubine who betrayed their secret to the master.

The production was marked by numerous impressive sets incorporating mah jong tables, rows of lanterns and embroidered Chinese screens, brightly embroidered silk costumes and the effective use of theatrical devices to lend emotional effect.  RM particularly liked the dancing shadows scene, which emphasised the looming power of the master over the frightened powerless young girl, whilst I thought the representation of bloody lashes on the pure white screen was shockingly evocative.  I also enjoyed the music, a meshing of Chinese operatic cymbal-clanging crescendos and Western orchestral violins. As for the dancing, overall the technique and expression were excellent, with the lead ballerina Zhu Yan particularly captivating as the innocent and tragic heroine.