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UPDATED: October 31, 2014
The Red Dress
The award-winning tale of childhood sweethearts comes to New York's Lincoln Center, giving audiences a glimpse of the beautiful wedding traditions of southern China
By Corrie Dosh


"It was very pretty to look at, the costumes and set design were quite lovely," said Chad Slaton, of New York, adding that he was unfamiliar with southern Chinese wedding traditions. "It was easy to understand the story through the dancers; very sweet."

"I especially liked the dance of the girls washing in the village river, all dressed in a rainbow of colors," said Sarah Puka, of New York. "Although, I would have told the girl to stop waiting for her lover and go find a career."

Puka said she had seen the 2013 collaboration between CAEG and the Lincoln Center The Silk Road, which takes place in the western deserts of Xinjiang.

"It's amazing to me how different the two pieces are, despite both taking place in China. I think sometimes we forget how large China is and that it isn't a monolithic culture," she added.

Saccharine dreams

The love story was sweet, perhaps a bit too sweet for New York audiences. In contrast to the excellent Visions + Voices series underway at New York University's Skirball Center, the choreography was presented without any modern edge.

Maidens floated through the village, carrying lotus flowers through a fog of dry ice. A goddess floats above the action, with swirling, fluttering long red sleeves. The young man leaps with delight at capturing the heart of the young maiden – though no resistance was offered on her part. Beyond the excellent set design, the performance lacked the driving energy that audiences have come to expect from modern Chinese ballet.

Live orchestration would have aided the effort to wow audiences. As it was, the pre-recorded soundtrack was too loud at times, prompting viewers to seek seats away from the speakers. The high-pitch of the tradition erhu sounded too harsh to evoke the plaintive longing of the maiden.

The main characters also lacked chemistry, and one wondered just how special was the love between the young couple that induced the maiden to wait years for the return of her lover – as friends settled happily around her and other young men returned from the city. Yue'er seemed more in love with the idea of wearing her beautiful red dress, rather than in love with the wandering A'yong. In the end, that was the main critique of the performance itself – more interested in the idea of marriage than in love and romance. The audience fails to connect with the characters and is left with just a pretty picture of southern China in the 1920s.

As the lock closes and descends, the pretty tale of the two lovers ends.

The performers of the Ningbo Performance & Arts Group achieves their goal of giving a global audience an often unseen view into the world of southern China, even if a more emotional connection could have been made.

Like Yue'er, one can wait and dream of a reunion with CAEG's next collaboration at Lincoln Center.

The author is a contributing writer to Beijing Review, living in New York City

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