The Painting on the Wall from the Ballet Preljocaj. Photo by Jean-Claude Carbonne

This year’s Le French May Arts Festival, now in its 26th year, opened early this month with a performance by the Ballet Preljocaj, which made a welcome return to Hong Kong.

“The Painting on the Wall” choreographed in 2016 by Angelin Preljocaj, features just 10 dancers from the company.

This ballet, which lasts 75 minutes and has no interval, is adapted from The Mural, a tale from the 1740 Chinese classic Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling.

The work explores the ideas of transcendence and illusion, and the linking of parallel realities.

The Painting on the Wall from the Ballet Preljocaj. Photo by Jean-Claude Carbonne

Two travelers – Chu and Meng – arrive at a temple on a rainy, windy day. A hermit inside the temple shows them a magnificent fresco painted on a wall. The fresco shows a group of girls in a wood filled with pines. One is picking flowers and particularly beautiful. Chu is attracted to her and fascinated by her long loose dark hair. He stares at her so intensely for so long he feels as if he is transported inside the painting to join her. His happy adventure, which ends with him marrying the girl, lasts for several years until some warriors chase him out of this world of the painting.

After his return to the real world, he is surprised to find out his friend Meng only “lost” him for several minutes. When they look again at the fresco, they discover that the girl’s hair is now in a magnificent chignon, which is the symbol of married women.

Preljocaj’s “The Painting on the Wall” is an absorbing and theatrical spectacle, full of imagination and originality. The ballet consists of duets, solos, and ensemble dances. The narrative is more or less clear. However, I could not work out the meaning or relevance of several group dances in relation to the story. The spooky ending was imaginatively conveyed.

The Painting on the Wall from the Ballet Preljocaj. Photo by Jean-Claude Carbonne

Preljocaj’s choreography is effective and fluent. His best choreography is in the duets for the two lovers, which are full of expressiveness and tenderness. The wedding duet is simply conveyed by two bouquets of red flowers. The opening joyful duet for the two men traveling together was, by contrast, exciting.

The ensemble dances are full of vigor, energy, and high spirits. A group dance at the end evokes Le Cirque du Soleil, which, coincidentally, is currently touring Hong Kong. Silk fabrics drag the five women up and down, as if they were phantoms.

All the 10 dancers were excellent, led by Mirea Delogu and Jean-Charles Jousni in the main roles. Nicolas Godin’s electronic music was conducive to the dancing. Azzedine Alaïa’s costume designs, and Constance Guisset’s atmospheric stage designs were outstanding.