‘Red Lantern’ to be raised in Korea

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Oct 16, 2012 - 19:02
  • Updated : Oct 16, 2012 - 19:02
National Ballet of China to stage Zhang Yimou’s ‘Raise the Red Lantern’

China’s leading ballet troupe the National Ballet of China will be in Korea this week to stage its original ballet “Raise the Red Lantern,” directed by the country’s best-known filmmaker Zhang Yimou.

The production is based on Zhang’s famous 1991 film of the same title, which starred actress Gong Li as a young woman who becomes one of the concubines of a wealthy man during China’s Warlord Era. Zhang reworked this masterpiece into a ballet which premiered in Beijing in 2001.

The upcoming show in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, is being staged in celebration of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and China. The Chinese troupe previously performed the piece in Korea in 2008. 
A scene from National Ballet of China’s “Raise the Red Lantern.” (The Goyang Cultural Foundation)

The plot of the ballet is somewhat different from that of the film. In the movie, its protagonist Songlian gradually loses her sanity after enduring constant competition with other concubines, vying for the husband’s attention.

After learning that she cannot receive the luxurious treatments ― including the sensuous foot massage and having brightly lit red lanterns ― unless her husband chooses to spend each and every night with her, Songlian feigns pregnancy to garner most of his time exclusively.

In the ballet, however, the young woman isn’t interested in winning her husband’s attention. She is in fact in love with a young Beijing opera singer, whom she used to date before being forced to marry the wealthy man. The plot develops as the man’s second concubine, jealous of Songlian and the love she gets from their shared husband, spies on Songlian and her secret lover.

Songlian and her lover are eventually caught by her husband, as the other concubine informs him. Yet to her surprise, the second concubine gets nothing from her husband but a slap on the face. Bitter and angry, she tears down all the red lanterns in the courtyard. Infuriated, the husband and master punish both women.

The ballet incorporates elements of Beijing opera, as well as Chinese shadow puppet play, to intensify its dramatic effect. The music is composed by Chen Qigang, who served as the music director of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games’ opening ceremony in Beijing.

Zhang said he decided to make his 1991 film into a ballet for three different reasons. “I thought the plot of the movie would work well as a ballet piece,” he said through a local PR agency.

“And I thought both cineastes and ballet fans would enjoy it. And lastly, I think it was very interesting to combine the Beijing opera and ballet together. I’d always wanted to see some kind of fusion performance of the Beijing opera and some kind of Western theater or dance.”

The National Ballet of China was first founded in 1959, and its early members were trained by former Soviet Union master Peter Gushev. Their repertoires consist of Western classics including the “Swan Lake,” “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Giselle,” and original pieces such as “Raise the Red Lantern” and “Song of the Yimeng Mountain.”

The troupe’s three principal dancers ― Zhu Yan, Zhang Jian and Wang Qimin ― are sharing the leading role as the young concubine secretly in love with the Beijing opera singer.

“Raise the Red Lantern” runs from Oct. 20 to 21 at Goyang Aram Nuri Arts Center in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province. Tickets range from 20,000 won to 90,000 won. For more information, call 1577-7766 or visit www.artgy.or.kr.

By Claire  Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)