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SILK ROAD – Peacock Theatre, London.

silk road, peacock theatre, sadler's wellsThe stage is perpetually filled with a riot of vibrant colours – the costumes are truly magnificent and the performers move with grace, elegance and poise, silently traversing the stage.

The narrative centers round a father and daughter, whose lives are changed forever once they come to the aid of a Persian business man in the desert on the Silk Road. It is ultimately a love story, portraying the notions of peaceful trading along this historic route. The real low point is the protracted death scene, but the finale sequence is a brilliant ending – a particular highlight is the astounding silk dance routine by lead performer Li Li in the role of Ying Niang; the choreography is stunning in it’s simplicity and our eyes are transfixed by the fluidity and colours of the two silks, which are attached to her costume – her arms seem to extend through to the very tips of the silks, an exquisite moment.

Visually this piece is a feast for the eyes, however as an overall performance it is not as slick or precise as I had anticipated; several obvious errors obstruct the flow of the piece.  The curtain comes down after each act, breaking the flow making it haltingly episodic. This coupled with the sudden disjointed changes in the lighting and soundtrack render us unable to generate a lasting engagement with any of the characters or gain a comprehensive grasp of the narrative; in fact without the very useful plot break down in the programme, I would have been lost.

silk road, peacock theatre, sadler's wellsThis is the UK premier of Silk Road, performed by the Gansu Dance, Drama & Opera Ensemble, with approximately 30 (or maybe more) performers – the majority of whom are on stage at the same time, displaying a feat of stage management and choreographic skill. They have created a modern production of “China’s most eminent piece of historical dance-Theatre” and it definitely conveys to the us that this is a narrative which is inherent in Chinese culture, known and enjoyed by people of all ages.

However, this production needs to be much smoother in it’s delivery, the use of setting and props, as well as blending the lighting and sound into the performance, keeping in time with the performers rather than several beats behind on occasion. Although saying this, Silk Road does give the audience a wonderful showcase of Chinese performance art, with all of the performers truly working as an ensemble to deliver a story that is full of emotion.

The overall atmosphere they create is almost like a kinetic version of the paintings on which this production is based on and inspired by. This is one to watch if you enjoy the visual spectacle over a solid plot line, but either way you will definitely have a colourful experience.

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Reviewed 11/01/14

By Emily Jones

11th – 12th Jan 2014
Peacock Theatre, London, WC2.

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