Shanghai Ballet's 'The Butterfly Lovers' is a Visual Stunner at Touhill Performing Arts Center

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

Dance St. Louis, the venerable institution that brings major dance companies and performances to St. Louis, scored a coup when they recently brought in the Shanghai Ballet to perform “The Butterfly Lovers” at Touhill Performing Arts Center for the company’s first time in St. Louis. The company—one of only five ballet companies in China and widely considered one of the world’s best—presented a production full of stunning, rich tableaus for a visual feast of color, form and movement.

Shanghai Ballet Butterfly Lovers Photo courtesy Dance St. Louis

Shanghai Ballet “The Butterfly Lovers”
Photo courtesy Dance St. Louis

Often compared to “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Butterfly Lovers” is the fairytale story of a young couple, Zhu and Liang, as their love blossoms only to reach a tragic conclusion. It’s based on a legend that stretches back 1,400 years to the Tang Dynasty. The choreography, by Shanghai Ballet Artistic Director Xin Lili, premiered in December of 2001 at the Shanghai International Arts Festival. The company performs with a Western classical ballet style, but with a strong Chinese influence, enough so that one is left with a dynamic picture of the Chinese culture. The choreography is also extremely fascinating to watch.

Shanghai Ballet Butterfly Lovers

Shanghai Ballet’s “The Butterfly Lovers” Photo courtesy Dance St. Louis

The ballet has consistently been hailed for its elaborate costumes and sets and rightly so. Scenes unfurl like giant tapestries, explosive in color, emotion and promise, and each set offers a magnificent reference to each of the four seasons, during which the four acts of the ballet take place. The choreography achieves a deep tenderness, while offering the dancers moments to let their athleticism shine.

The production was, for the most part, stunning, especially visually. There was an odd lack of energy with some notable timing issues—something you don’t expect with one of the world’s great dance companies—but over all, it was a beautiful, touching show.

Next up for Dance St. Louis is Ballet Memphis’ production of “The Wizard of Oz.” For more information, visit the Dance St. Louis website.

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