Their strong training alone could never have redeemed the choreographically flabby four-part program offered Saturday evening at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. So the principals in Central Ballet of China unleashed a secret weapon: love of dancing.
Whether depicting characters in story ballets or focusing on displays of technical and stylistic mastery, these dancers never took their notable skill and beauty for granted but exuded a sense of deep personal involvement, as if each passage represented the culmination of their careers.
Obviously, this approach proved incredibly seductive to an American audience that gets little more than icy expertise from its home-grown ballet, and it transformed every choreographic sow's ear into a dazzling silk purse.
To be rational, the banal Liu Tingyu score and undistinguished Jiang Zuhui choreography for the wedding act of "New Year's Sacrifice" deserved derision--mostly for adding diversionary local color and character comedy to deep-think about oppression of women in traditional Chinese society.
But with Wang Shan making each movement the essence of agony and Sun Jie changing from boyish innocent to passionate hero before our eyes, this 1980 vehicle touched levels of metaphor that the Royal Ballet "Swan Lake" kept trying to reach early this summer--and never did.
In a similar if less incandescent partnership, Li Chunhong and Liang Jin expertly fused the mix of classical adagio conventions and slinky modern dance platitudes in Norman Walker's 1990 duet, "Before the Wedding Chamber," making each touch and exchange of weight an expression of need and trust in their relationship.
Besides a decent command of early Romantic style, Li Yan, Li Li, Du Naxin and Hou Honglan brought unexpected reverence to Anton Dolin's "Le Pas de Quatre."
Suddenly this familiar reconstruction of a 19th-Century star divertissement became a statement of heritage, of a debt to the past.
A rough and energetic performance of the last act from Rudolf Nureyev's graceless and finicky version of "Don Quixote" completed the program. In the leads: Feng Ying, a mature ballerina with a distinctive sensuality; and Xu Gang, a firebrand with the same pouty glamour as the National Ballet of Canada's Rex Harrington.
The heat and authority of their pas de deux confirmed that the Chinese know the secret of creating star dancers. Less certain: whether they can create ballets worthy of such stars.