Based on Bai Juyi’s poem The Song of Everlasting Regret about the loving relationship between the 8th century Chinese Emperor Li and his concubine Lady Yang, Shanghai Ballet’s Echoes of Eternity is not without its flaws. It’s far too slow in places, the narrative is not always clear, the eclectic choices of music don’t always suit the drama and there’s an awful lot of repeated choreography. However, taken as a whole, it ain’t too bad.
It has a reassuring tempo built into its structure that lets the thin narrative gently ebb and flow in the manner of a Chinese Opera. Similarly, props are rarely used and the staging is minimal so all attention is tightly focussed on the dancers.
And those dancers are pretty good. Although there’s no great chemistry between them, the regal lovers of Wu Husheng and Qi Bingxue were elegant, graceful and appropriately poised. The male and female corps were forceful and purposeful but best of all was Zhao Hanbing as the unfathomable Moon Fairy. She had a uniquely disconcerting method of movement involving bandy legs, twisted arms and a tilting head that was never less than compelling to watch.
Agnès Letestu’s costumes were another joy to behold. The former Paris Opera Ballet étoile has designed stylish modern-looking garments that also suggest the ancient setting of the story. Furthermore they enhanced the dancers’ movements and added a further feeling of lightness in the loose flapping of sleeves and skirts.
The lighting was soft and sensitive to the tale and there was an all-round feeling of everything working well. It was one of those shows where you came out thinking ‘I enjoyed that.’
Shanghai Ballet’s Echoes of Eternity runs at London’s Coliseum until 21 August 2016 and tickets can be found on the ENO website.