China's History Leaps to Life through Ballet Poignant Tale Told with Lavish Details

Article excerpt

Byline: Ivette M. Yee, Times-Union staff writer

When Pu Yi was 2, he became the golden Emperor of China. But his pampered life in the Forbidden City soon gave way to a harsh life in a Chinese jail cell, where he spent a decade.

The poignant story of the last Manchu ruler is portrayed in the Hong Kong Ballet's performance of The Last Emperor at 8 tonight.

The performance begins when Pu Yi becomes emperor in 1906. Three years later, China became a republic and the imperial rule of over 3,000 years was no more. The ballet expresses the conflict inside and outside the Forbidden City during the troubled period.

With more than 160 lavish costumes, decadent scenery and an original score, The Last Emperor depicts the majesty of China while sharing a crucial piece of the country's history.

"This is kind of a special production for us. We debuted it in 1997, and it marks the hand-over of Taiwan to China," said Stephen Jefferies, artistic director for the company. "It has become our signature ballet and a favorite in China. It also has worldwide appeal, so much so we just can't fill all the requests."

Jefferies said part of the show's appeal lies in the dancers' costumes and in the sets.

"The costumes and the sets are also the stars of the show," he said. "I wasn't trying to play with fire here, I just wanted to get the most authentic costumes and sets possible. …