Mongolia comes to Lucca

A turquoise silken sheet covers the entire stage and undulates like waves lapping against the shore of a coral island, unfolding radiant goddesses who float sensuously fluttering fans and unravelling stoles before the eyes of an enchanted audience. The music is ethereal, the lighting magical, the dancers’ costumes vibrant. Their faces have an oriental beauty that light up with consummate grace and each following dance episode fills the spectators with ever more wonder. Where are we? In some pagodaed capital of the east? By sleepy oriental lagoons? Within the jungled precincts of a Cambodian temple? No…The Mongolian Royal ballet has reached Lucca!

On its first visit to Italy the Ballet presented a spectacular show at the Teatro Del Giglio bringing to life ancient symbols traditions, customs and historical episodes from alluring and mesmerizing east-Asian countries. The journey started in Mongolia, travelled to Thailand and Korea, arriving in Japan where it recreated the atmosphere and spirituality of Shinto and Buddhist ceremonies and, of course, those Kodo drums. We witnessed the Golden Dragon, the Sacred Peacock and the Legong dance of the celestial nymphs from Bali, that quintessence of femininity and grace. Imperial court dances were performed to ward off evil spirits and bad fairies.

Traditional and modern choreography mingled together to symbolize women’s grace and beauty, enact tales of love and courtship, the strength and courage of heroes, the boundless energy of horses galloping across the vast terrains of Mongolia. That country of the big blue sky I had visited in 2008 and experienced the immensity of its sparsely populated mountains, its icy lakes, its fierce and friendly nomadic populations, its incredible history from the largest empire ever founded to the most brutal totalitarian repression. I could, thus, truly relate to this evening and recognised many of the symbols I had first met in that amazing country which spreads out like a vast petrified sea.

During the interval some members of the audience while applauding the company’s consummate choreographic skills thought that the show should have been more “traditional” in its contents. I saw their point since on my last visit to Ulan Bator at an afternoon in the national theatre I heard a virtuoso performance of Rossini’s Thieving Magpie overture played on the characteristic horse-headed fiddles and saw amazing acrobatic and contortionist displays. There was, indeed a contortionist act in the ballet. Incredible as it was I did not feel it fitted into the scheme of things and I also suspected that the youthfulness of that artist (at age twelve) might have raised a few eyebrows in the anti- child exploitation lobby.

Pace that, the Mongolian Royal ballet presented a quite magnificent show that left the audience enraptured and gasping for more. Even if one did not know all the ins and outs of esoteric belief systems or was not acquainted with particular myths and legends the dancers exquisite movements communicated untold emotions and transported us to fabled lands. Indeed, coming out of the theatre’s foyer into the christmaslandia of Lucca’s Piazza Napoleone with its renaissance palaces, bauble-stalls, ice-skating rink and happy congregations of shoppers came as quite a culture shock!

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