Part of Sadler's Wells' Out Of Asia 2 season, the 16th century epic The Peony Pavilion is one of the most enduring love stories in Chinese literature. Originally performed as a Kunqu Opera in a 20-hour cycle, it is redrawn by director Li Liuyi and choreographer Fei Bo into a pioneering two-act fusion ballet, combining Western style choreography with traditional Chinese influences. First premiered in 2008, the work features an eclectic postmodern score that references Holst, Prokofiev and Debussy.
I was able to interview Fei Bo before the National Ballet of China travelled to London to perform it.
Q: I know it is a difficult thing to do, but can you tell us a little about how your choreographic process works?
Fei Bo: I don't always follow the same process during my creation [process]. Sometimes my ideas come from music, sometimes from stories. For a new theme, of course, it always starts with an impluse. A certain point [of inspiration] would urge me to put it into a choreography. Then, I will do my preparation and research on the theme or the story that I plan to work on. I will dig into the story, analyse the characters and look into the characters for something universal in humanity.
Fei Bo: When I start my work with dancers, I don't necessarily need a very concrete idea. But there must be 'will' [a need or desire to produce], to make a move. And by following this will, a creation will gradually come out. If it is a storytelling ballet, I will have the basic dramatic structure. But I welcome [the arrival of] new possibilities during the creation process. Sometimes, something comes up during rehearsals which makes a big difference. By retaining an open mind and allowing new possibilities, we sometimes get more than we expect.
Q: I understand that you use Eastern perspectives to converse with Western art. The Peony Pavilion is certainly an example of this. Can you share how your thinking about this process has evolved over the years?
Fei Bo: Yes, I have been exploring in this in recent years. But I think we should not put too much attention simply on whether it is a western or eastern art form. In China, it is acknowledged that for many years we are educated in more or less westernized education. It is a result of globalization and cultural integration. My wish to localize ballet art has something to do with my reflection on the dominant position of western art in the global context. After all these years of creation, I realize that we must find our way back to our own culture and work on ourselves. What we learn from western art forms is more like a tool or a method. It enables us to step back and take a careful look at ourselves. Distance helps us to discover the uniqueness of our own culture.
Q: Can you share your memories of the first time you realised or decided you wanted to become a choreographer? If not, can you share your memories of when you were first aware that you wanted to be involved in dance?
Fei Bo: I grew up in a traditional Chinese opera family. I've always been familiar to the theatre stage. My interest in dance came from a dance style called 'Disco', which was very popular among young people in the 1980s in China. At that time, just a child, I was totally fascinated by Disco from the very first time I saw my aunts and uncles dancing. I could watch them dancing all day without getting bored. I didn't really understand their dance, but their happiness infected me, and so I just bounced around after them with great joy. I think this was when I start to like body languages.
Fei Bo: I did my first choreography for the graduation exam of my middle school. Normally we chose from existing repertoires for exams. But this time our teacher encouraged us to create something. So I did! It turned out that I was the only one in the class who did this. The freedom and happiness I felt at one moment during that exam was so strong it has stayed with me. I really enjoyed it. After this first creation, I started, little by little, to choreograph more, and slowly realised more and more pictures that had come from imagination, from my head.
The Peony Pavilion is at Sadler's Wells from 29th November to 3rd December. Book it here.
For more see their website www.en.ballet.org.cn
I will be posting photographs and a short review on my blog dancetog.com
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