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Madame Butterfly Wraps up the 5th Beijing International Dance Festival
    2007-12-24 22:52:43     CRIENGLISH.com

Madame Butterfly by Northern Ballet Theatre

Northern Ballet Theatre, one of the best loved and most traveled dance companies in Britain, has brought another theatrical success to China with "Madame Butterfly." And this unexpectedly moving production wraps up the 5th Beijing International Dance Festival. 

"Northern Ballet Theatre from Britain is particularly recognized as a company that can tell a story very successfully by ballet and by movement. So the challenge for us is a challenge we are recognized for achieving very well -- that is, to tell a story with a great deal of drama, passion, and tragedy when it occurs."

That is Nigel Gaynor, conductor of the Northern Ballet Theatre orchestra, highlighting the strengths of this world-renowned dance company.

Based on Puccini's famous opera, Madame Butterfly tells a story of lost and forbidden love. But enterprising choreographer David Nixon has created a production that evokes something more than just Puccini in point shoes.

Against Puccini's orchestral score, backed by classical Japanese music, Nixon creates movement which combines and contrasts a traditional ballet vocabulary with the spikier gestures and rituals of kabuki and martial arts.

Nixon's wife inspired the choreography, according to conductor Nigel Gaynor.

"I should mention that the artistic director, David Nixon, he is married to Yoko Ichino, who was a very famous ballerina in her own career. She is American, but she is second generation Japanese, so she has also spent a great deal of her life learning about Japanese culture. And David created Madame Butterfly originally [based] on his wife, Yoko Ichino. And between David's knowledge as a choreographer and her ability, they are resources of great inspiration for the dancers as well."

From the stunning opening moment, when a stylized geisha shimmers into view behind a fan of chrysanthemum blossoms, the ballet tells Butterfly's tragic tale with piercing poignancy.

Butterfly's father is a disgraced samurai who sells his daughter to a marriage broker moments before committing suicide. Butterfly enters the geisha world armed with her only possession, her father's sword.

An American naval officer, Pinkerton, and some friends are being entertained in a geisha house when the officer is bewitched by one particularly beautiful geisha. Goro, the marriage broker, tells him that the young girl in question, Butterfly, can be purchased as a "bride."

Madame Butterfly by Northern Ballet Theatre

Butterfly is little more than a child, and believes this will be a true marriage. She betrays her religion and adopts her husband's Christian faith, vowing to commit herself to him forever.

The marriage broker, Goro, takes Pinkerton to a hilltop lover's nest in the picturesque gardens of a Japanese villa under some cherry blossoms, which symbolize purity, tolerance, and the pursuit of perfection in Japanese culture.

The wedding ceremony is arranged. Butterfly's arrival in a litter, hiding modestly behind an elaborate fan, is where dancer Chiaki Nagao proves her star quality and expressive resources as Butterfly.

Butterfly and Pinkerton's ceremony is interrupted when the Bonze, a Japanese holy man, arrives to denounce Butterfly for converting to Christianity. He declares her an outcast and the guests all depart.
Butterfly prepares for her wedding night, and though she is shy and has been disgraced, she soon finds freedom in the arms of her lover. At dawn, Pinkerton departs for his ship, and Butterfly's patient vigilance begins.

Butterfly bears Pinkerton a son. Three years pass, and then, as if in answer to her longing, Pinkerton's friend Sharpless appears with a letter from him. Pinkerton has no plans to return. Butterfly's worst fears have come true. She shows Sharpless the little boy, and he assures her that he will notify Pinkerton.

As spring emerges, the cannon in the harbor announces the arrival of Pinkerton's ship. Butterfly begins her preparations for his arrival. Dressed in her wedding kimono, Butterfly waits for her husband all night. But when dawn comes, there is still no sign of him.

Pinkerton shares an intimate moment with his American wife, Kate, before meeting his friend, Sharpless, who reminds him of the difficult situation ahead. They arrive at the hilltop, but as memories of the enchanting night he spent with the fragile Butterfly overwhelm him, Pinkerton flees, leaving Kate.

Butterfly hears the commotion outside and runs from the house in search of Pinkerton. But instead of finding her husband, she finds Pinkerton's wife, and confronts her own bitter destiny.

Though filled with grief and desperation, Butterfly accepts Kate as Pinkerton's wife, and surrenders her child, her last reason for living, into Kate's arms. Alone, deserted by father, husband, religion, and child, Butterfly returns to the only other thing she knows: her culture. In Japanese culture, freedom from dishonor can be found through ritual suicide.

Her father's samurai sword, her only inheritance, frees Butterfly at last.

The ballet begins and ends with the stylized suicides of Kabuki theatre and Butterfly's final, bitter solo is a far cry from that of the typical heroine.

The feather-light Chiaki Nagao scores a personal triumph in the role of Butterfly by covering the extensive emotional ground in a delicate, yet decisive style.

"I'm gonna finish my career as a dancer in China. So I am very pleased, and I am gonna try everything on the stage for my last day for Chinese audiences."

The sets and the costumes are authentic enough to have a distinct Japanese feel, but light enough that they don't restrict the dancers in their movements.

The production, featuring some of Puccini's better-known melodies, has enflamed Nixon's heart.

"I thought the performance was wonderful. It was very moving. All the dancers were very professional and gave the audience a true feeling of the joy and the sorrow of the production."

The music is divine, the action exquisite, and the drama of "Madame Butterfly" an immortal masterpiece.




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