Shanghai Ballet’s A Sigh of Love

March 27, 2024 22:20

The Shanghai Ballet last toured Hong Kong in 2013, bringing its signature work “The White Haired Girl”. Last weekend it has returned to perform as the closing programme of this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival.

The Shanghai Ballet, currently led by Xin Lili, is not however as well-known as the Beijing-based National Ballet of China which just performed here in January. The work that the Shanghai company brought to Hong Kong this time is “A Sigh of Love” created in 2006 by the French choreographer Bertrand d’At to celebrate the Year of France in China. The story of this two-act ballet, which lasts for two hours, is about extra-marital love. It was written by Professor Cao Lusheng from the Shanghai Theatre Academy.

The taped music is an assortment of Chinese music, jazz, and Mandarin popular songs. The most famous song is Zhou Xuan’s “An Era Like Flowers” which is actually the Chinese title of this ballet. This ballet however bears no relation to the famed Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai’s 2000 movie “In the Mood for Love” which also has the same Chinese title “An Era Like Flowers”.

Set in Shanghai in the 1940s when the financial capital of China was at its most prosperous, the author Mr. Li falls in love with the wife of his neighbour, Mrs. Wang. Ironically, their respective spouses, Mrs. Li and Mr. Wang, also have an affair. Mr. Li and Mrs. Wang continue their meetings but are finally separated when escaping from the Japanese bombings in World War 2. After the war, when he finally sees her again, from a distance however, she is holding her son.

The scenery and costumes are designed by the famous French designer Jerome Kaplan who has worked with many ballet companies. The décor tries to recreate Shanghai architecture of that period including a shikumen. A rickshaw appears in the street scene. There is a scene set in the renowned Paramount Ballroom in Shanghai. The colourful qipaos worn by the female lead roles are beautiful.
Bertrand D’At was not over-ambitous and just tried to narrate the story by simple means. The story unfolds logically. There are various duets charting the development of their relationship. The vocabulary is however narrow and consists of a lot of lifts. The bedroom duet at the end of Act 2 is the climax, just before the couple are separated during the bombing of Shanghai by Japanese war planes which is realistically depicted by a soundtrack.

D’At has also created two additional characters representing the illusions or alter egos of Mr. Li and Mrs. Wang. The ballet ends with a duet by this illusive couple. D’At’s choreography for this ballet is generally effective.

In the Saturday afternoon cast, Xu Jingkun was handsome in the lead role of Mr. Li. Wang Jiali was moving as Mrs. Wang. Yan Qingchen stood out as the gossipy citizen. “A Sigh of Love” is overall a good theatrical production full of expressiveness and historical flavour. And this ballet, which is actually set in Shanghai, should be shown more on the Shanghai Ballet’s overseas tours.

Photo - courtesy of HK Arts Festival

veteran dance critic