China's Central Ballet Troupe, which has just completed six days of performing classics like Swan Lake and Raise the Red Lantern in London, has won a lot of praise from Britain's cultural circles.
The performances by the Chinese national ballet group at the Royal Opera House (ROH) over the past few days were held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Swan Lake to China.
The troupe is indeed not new to London's cultural circle, as its rendition of Raise the Red Lantern was warmly welcomed back in 2003 when they performed at Sadler's Wells.
However, this time marked their first appearance at the world-renowned Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. The staging of the two entirely different styles of ballet produced respectively by legendary ballerina Natalia Makarova and Chinese film director Zhang Yimou was met by full-house audiences crying "bravo," accompanied by resounding applause.
Tony Hall, chief executive of the ROH, hailed the House's growing relationship with China in the year of the Beijing Olympics by presenting "the debut of the magnificent National Ballet of China in performances of Swan Lake and Raise the Red Lantern."
Lilian and Victor Hochhauser, who were instrumental in introducing the Central Ballet Troupe to the ROH during its summer season, claim both performances "reflect the unique and inspired blend of Chinese culture and history and Russian classical dance."
"They are simply superb," said Lilian, who has helped stage ROH's summer season over the last 15 years or so. "We always choose top quality performances for the ROH."
Months before the shows, British media had reported on the upcoming ballets to be performed by the Chinese troupe, while media reports streamed out steadily during and after the performances.
A Guardian report called Wang Qimin, who performed the roles of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake, "an uncannily supple dancer, with a technique so precise she can create whatever physical metaphors she chooses."
"Ripples of sorrow traveled in delicate undulations along her spine, her feet beat a terrified flutter. But it was the look of destroyed blankness on Wang's face that was so arresting, suggesting that all memory of being human had been erased from her. For the rest of the evening, Wang performed equally beautifully -- her diminutive body possessing an expected grandeur of scale and power," ran the review after the first night's show on July 28.
The Financial Times dwelled on the repertory. "We are to see not only that the Chinese troupe is a fine classical ensemble in the most sacred of balletic fare, but that the company is also able to make works that reconcile the demands of its national identity and theatrical traditions with the exigencies of the western dance-manner it has embraced," says its reviewer who has reported on the Central Ballet Troupe for decades.
According to the report, "the company is a strong, assured ensemble. These dancers have not put on the academic manner as a convenient disguise: the style is theirs by right, and they speak its language with authority."
The Financial Times critic also picked out Wang Qimin as "an artiste of marvelous gifts, exquisite voice, unerring sensibility, most refined physique. The role lives and flowers in her performance."
"Looking at this first appearance in our national ballet house," says the report, "we have to recall that ballet in China is the fruit of 60 years of aspiration and endeavor. As with so much from China's four millennia of artistic creativity, we marvel and rejoice."
Zhao Ruheng, artistic director of the troupe, could not be more emphatic about the importance of their ROH debut.
"For ballet dancers of my generation, performing at the Royal Opera House is a dream come true."
She said there is great pressure from Chinese audiences now requesting more and more new Chinese productions.
Wu Xun, cultural counselor at the Chinese Embassy in London, said that by presenting a precise and complete interpretation of Swan Lake, which is widely known to western audiences, the Central Ballet Troupe is edging ever closer to becoming one of the world's top-class companies.
Their performances, staged on the eve of the Beijing Olympics as part of the "China Now" celebrations across Britain, presents audiences with an integration of Chinese culture, both traditional and modern, with the western classics, Wu added.