Who knew ballet would go down such a treat with a boisterous child? The little boy sitting in front of me flings his arms about gleefully with abandon. I’m reminded of myself during a very fun Red Bull-laden night out a couple of months ago. Omitting Mr Happy Arms, the audience appear entranced but not consistently focused on the Shanghai Ballet’s latest work, Echoes of Eternity. The story is ambiguously put together and fed through Patrick De Bana’s choreography passionately but it lacks real power.
After the company’s production of Jane Eyre three years ago, they return for a season of work on the Coliseum’s stage. Inspired by the ancient Chinese poem, Song of Everlasting Sorrow, Echoes of Eternity details the romance between the powerful Emperor Ming and his favourite concubine, Lady Yang. Ending in tragedy, legend has it the relationship led to the downfall of the Tang Dynasty.
Jaya Ibrahim’s set is initially a stripped back affair, focussing completely on the principal dancers and allowing us to see the bare bones of the stage. The story’s progression sees Ibrahim’s work evolve and come alive through colour. There are some beautiful moments with James Angot’s lighting design creating silhouettes that evoke raw emotion and power.
De Bana gives the dancers a real challenge with various different techniques and actually very little that is traditional. At the same time, it is clear to see they have much room to be freely expressive with their movements. Often it is as though they are in their own magical world; a beautiful sight to occasionally behold, but it contributes to the lack of connection one feels with them and generally the whole piece.
The dancers are wonderful, particularly Wu Husheng’s Emperor, Qi Bingxue’s Lady Yang, Zhao Hanbing’s Moon Fairy and Zhang Yao’s Gao Lishi, whose feline movements are quite beautiful. The rest of the cast as a collective however, fail to work well in unison and unfortunately appear clumsy and unfocused.
Agnes Letestu’s costumes and particularly in Act Two’s opening sequence are exquisitely presented. There’s nothing spectacular here but the colours, when merged are lovely.
The biggest strength in Echoes of Eternity is its simplicity. The score, featuring music by Henryk Górecki, Armand Amar and Philip Glass among others is a real highlight, but conversely, the moments where the music quietens, leaving only the sound of pattering feet are the most curious.
Ambiguous in style and story, Echoes of Eternity isn’t an easy watch, especially if you’re not used to the art form. The music and the various techniques adopted however, make it an interesting and obscure viewing.
Echoes of Eternity is playing at the London Coliseum until August 21.
Image by Chen Wen.