Princess Zhaojun is a rare staged historical spectacle with a heart and that heart is the title character performed on the night I attended by the luminous Dou Shuaifang who commanded the stage of the David H. Koch Theater as the heroic woman who, according to the subtitle of the ballet, “brought together a nation.”
Produced in New York City by the China Arts and Entertainment Group Ltd., Princess Zhaojun was performed by the members of the China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater. It was directed seamlessly by Kong Dexin, written with as much subtlety as possible by Yu Ping and brilliantly choreographed by four artists—Tian Ye, Tian Zhuang, Jia Guozhu and Wu Sha—whose collective ability to find emotion even in the movements of large groups of dancers was uncanny.
Wang Zhaojun (Ms. Dou) lived during the period of the Han Dynasty in the court of Emperor Yuan (49 BC – 33 BC) who ruled a nation, now Inner Mongolia, constantly invaded by the Xiongnu. The leader of the Xiongnu, Huhanye Chanyu (played by a noble Zhu Yin, combining dignity with warmth) proffered peace.
Wang Zhaojun, one of the Emperor’s concubines, bored with her life in the palace, volunteers to marry him to cement the peace accord. She goes off on her adventure with her loyal servant Xiang Xi (the quietly elegant Yu Yu), her eyes suddenly opened to the beauty and ugliness of the world beyond the Emperor’s palace.
Wang Zhaojun’s adventures en route to her intended; her marriage ceremony; how she nobly dealt with an epidemic; and how she ruled over a peaceful, prosperous land for many years made up the main storyline of Princess Zhaojun.
Add in scenes of hand-to-hand combat, battles and lots of floating choruses of ladies in a mind-boggling array of flowing, colorful period costumes (designed by Yang Donglin) and this epic was filled to the brim with a balanced combination of drama, dance, scenery, music (music director: Zhang Qu) and dazzling lighting and projections (by Ren Dongsheng who also designed the sets that were stunning, but not overwhelming).
Princess Zhaojun was a pleasant surprise after some recent ersatz manifestations of Chinese culture. Here onstage at the Koch were real human emotions expressed in the unlikely form of a theatrical manifestation of a piece of history: an epic performed by a company of individuals who always looked human, even when in groups of swaggering soldiers or lovely courtesans which filled the stage.
Princess Zhaojun (March 21-24, 2019)
China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater
China Arts and Entertainment Group Ltd.
David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, Broadway at 63rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-496-0600 or visit http://www.DavidHKochTheater.com
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission