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As part of a cultural exchange between the Paris Opera Ballet and the National Ballet of China, the Chinese company presented a mixed programme last weekend with a French flavour. The highlight was the premiere of a new ballet entitled Entrelacs, created by Kader Belarbi, a former étoile of the Paris Opera Ballet.
Fittingly, the ballet, with a simple backdrop of white scrolls at the back of the stage, has a Chinese sensibility. Belarbi draws inspiration from the landscape paintings of the classical Chinese artist Shi Tao. The stage is conceived as a canvas, with the space being filled by brushstrokes represented by the dancers’ bodies. The three lead couples, dressed in unitards of different colours, dance to melancholy music by Arvo Pärt in the first section. Zhu Yan, the company’s senior ballerina, was particularly fine, dancing expressively, with due weight and dignity.
The second allegro section, to music by Iannis Xenakis, is for six other couples, who move energetically to and fro like waves. The final section, set to Pärt again for the three lead couples, is slightly long-winded; the choreography lacks development. Overall, though, there is much to enjoy in the piece.
Another highlight was the guest appearance by Aurélie Dupont, an étoile of the French company, who danced in Act 3 of Don Quixote. Rudolf Nureyev, then director of the Paris Opera Ballet, mounted his version of this classic for the Chinese company in 1986. Dupont wasn’t quite at her scintillating best in the grand pas de deux, though she was strongly partnered by Sheng Shidong, who valiantly danced Nureyev’s over-fussy choreography for his solo, in spite of the occasional mis-step.
The best dancing came at the start of the programme – Act 2 of Giselle. This version by Anton Dolin was staged decades ago for the Chinese company but has been slightly modified since. The corps de ballet was at its very best, splendidly uniform in its upper body carriage. Wang Qimin and Li Jun were sublime as the leads.
Wang was an exemplary Giselle, her dancing pure and poetic; Li, her chivalrous partner, was a suitably ardent Albrecht. The two are the finest partnership in the company now and they gave the pas de deux great emotional resonance.
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