NEW YORK (AP) ― When the noted Chinese Ming Dynasty opera “The Peony Pavilion’’ came to Lincoln Center in 1999, the production lasted 20 hours, divided into six episodes.
Now this tragic but redemptive love story is back at Lincoln Center ― this time in dance form, and considerably shorter: two hours, including intermission.
Whether your tastes run to the long or short version of the tale, the China Jinling Dance Company provides an entertaining evening, full of vibrant colors, lush costumes, and traditional Chinese dance: Highly stylized, full of flexed feet and striking poses, with a healthy dose of acrobatics thrown in.
On opening night Thursday, it was fascinating to hear snippets of Chinese everywhere one turned at the David H. Koch Theater, where this production, first performed in 2008, is being seen for the first time outside China. The troupe’s visit from Nanjing was arranged by the China Arts and Entertainment group, part of the Ministry of Culture, and organizers did considerable outreach in the local community.
“The Peony Pavilion’’ has been referred to as China’s “Romeo and Juliet,’’ and indeed, the opera was written by Tang Xianzu at roughly the same time as the Shakespearean play ― the very end of the 16th century.
The story centers on the young and beautiful Du Liniang, who falls asleep in the peony pavilion of her father’s garden and dreams of a handsome scholar, Liu Mengmai. They have a passionate encounter, and when she awakes, she pines so miserably for her dream lover that she becomes deathly ill.
Before she dies, though, she draws a self-portrait, which Liu Mengmai then buys at a market. Her roaming spirit finds him and they unite in love, but she is transported to the netherworld nonetheless by the Messengers of Death. Tortured there, she still somehow manages to convince the Infernal Judge to release her back to the world of the living ― where she is reunited with her lover. The happy pair marry.
On opening night, Hu Qinxin was injured and unable to play Du Liniang; her understudy, Xu Xinyu, was delicate and expressive in the role, and her partner, Han Bo, also an understudy, earnest and ardent as Liu Mengmei.
Brightly painted backdrops and costumes were full of eye-popping colors: pink for the heroine, yellow for the hero, reds and golds for the Infernal Judge, greens for the Spring God.