What to see at the NCPA dance festival this November

This month's programme is the richest of the year

The Sleeping Beauty
Beijing’s National Centre for Performing Arts' dance festival runs from September through December, but November usually boasts the broadest programming spectrum. Those who eschew contemplative, spiritual pieces like Rice can catch China’s fastest-rising ballet company, the Liaoning Ballet, doing Swan Lake – and unlike many touring companies, technical expectations will be met. Top off your fairy tale fix with The Sleeping Beauty, courtesy of the stratospheric Mariinsky Ballet (formerly the Kirov). Remember that nothing is longer than a sloppy classical ballet – watching random soloists falling out of their turns in already forced divertissements can sap anyone’s strength. For fans of tutus and toe shoes, these two shows are good investments.

This month’s modern dance comes from Italy and China. Even though calling Aterballetto Italy’s best modern dance company is like naming the warmest spot in Antarctica, the company remains famous for its contemporary-meets-classical aesthetic, as well as the fluidity and physical courage of its dancers, who often throw themselves into harm’s way. This time Aterballetto brings a triple bill that includes Antitesi (antithesis), which explores choreographer Andonis Foniadakis' fascination with all things opposite, best illustrated by the wildly diverse score that ranges from baroque to contemporary music. Here he hopes to contrast the 'beauty of the past' with the 'agitated, dynamic, uncertain and violent reality' of the present day.

The second piece is Phillippe Kratz’s liquid L’Eco dell’Acqua, inspired by Goethe’s poem 'Song of the Spirits Over Water', which examines man’s destiny. Finally, there’s Johan Inger’s quirky Rain Dogs, set to the melancholy strains of Tom Waits. Inger draws the title from a dog that has wandered far from home, only to find the rain has washed away the scent so he cannot return. 'When the search for a meaning loses all points of reference,' says Inger, 'uncertainty and disorientation seem to make it impossible to return to what was and is no more.'

The most exciting name in Chinese modern dance, the Tao Dance Theatre returns to continue its 'number' series, this time presenting 8 and 9. Meditative and featuring endless repetition, these works do not always use the dancers' boneless bodies to their best technical advantage, which has drawn ire from some international critics. However, in terms of creative courage and breaking norms to challenge an audience already resistant to modern dance, company founder and choreographer Tao Ye is leagues ahead of his national counterparts. 'I concentrate my artistic efforts on the repetition ritual of the natural sequence of the body,' he says. 'Through repetition, the variations of movement are reduced and progress towards a state that is pure and minimal in form... keeping the same and coherent movements challenges the will of the dancers... and the viewers’ concentration.' Accept the challenge – it’s worth it.

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