Hong Kong Ballet has a fine tradition of presenting a choreographers’ showcase nearly every year, thus enabling company dancers as well as other local choreographers to create short pieces. I remember an excellent collaboration between the Hong Kong Ballet and the Hong Kong Dance Company several years ago in this showcase program.
This autumn there were seven pieces, four of which were created by the company’s own dancers. This year’s overriding theme is supposedly Hong Kong, our city that inspires all the seven choreographers. But at the end of the program, the overriding impression gained from this city is regrettably one full of nervousness, anxiety, and sorrow. This is especially the case after watching the three pieces in the second half of the program.
This year the quality of the pieces is reasonably good. The first piece Nine Dog Nine by local based choreographer John Utans is cheerful and makes for a suitable opener. Funny Cantonese dialogue about hamburgers forms part of the soundtrack, and there is even participation from an audience member. The cast is for three couples. Li Lin danced impressively a solo full of contortions. And towards the end there is a combative male duet.
Another piece by an outside choreographer is A Work with Hong Kong Ballet by a former CCDC dancer, Yang Ho. Ping-pong balls were thrown onto the stage in the beginning to be picked up gradually by Liu Miao-miao. No discernible theme is detected, and the various diverse threads just don’t cohere.
The final outside choreographer is Nguyen Ngoc Anh and his piece Evol, which ends the first half, is very theatrical and the most outstanding piece of the evening. A doll astronaut clad in silver is suspended on high throughout. The five dancers are clad in eye-catching golden metallic costumes. The music is propulsive, and the lighting is exciting. Dancers showed off their high extensions; Jun Xia was particularly impressive. But what does all this have to do with Hong Kong? I guess the dancers may represent our city’s skyscrapers. The astronaut doll however is destroyed in the end which seems ominous.
Jun Xia also appeared in the following piece Enlightening by company dancer Yui Sugawara. This piece is also in a similar vein, full of edginess. It is brief and quite good. Naomi Yuzawa was quite expressive as the main woman. Lucas Jerkander also impressed.
More conventional however is Panta Rhei by Hui Ka Chun, which depicts a love triangle. Li Lin again danced well. Less satisfying is Days Gone By by Jonathan Spigner. Only the closing image is most memorable, which is just a lighting illusion. The dancers’ heads are all invisible. Again I cannot detect any relation to Hong Kong.
The final piece Keep Watch by Li Jiabo is quite theatrical. Dancers are divided into a black ensemble and a white group. Shen Jie and his lover Liu Yuyao are the central white couple. But they are separated in the end by the black ensemble and Liu dies at the end.
It would be more worthwhile, however, if the best pieces of each showcase can be repeated in later seasons as part of the company’s mixed programs. It is a pity if they are not seen again after that year’s choreographer’s showcase.
Singin’ in the Rain, which opened at the APA in late September for a long run, is a most enjoyable and uplifting experience. Simplicity and all the old production values shine brightly in this 2012 London production directed by Jonathan Church. This two and a half hour long production is a faithful homage to the 1952 MGM movie of the same name. The movie is immortalized by Gene Kelly’s brilliant solo in the famous song that gives the film the title - twirling his umbrella while splashing water and tap dancing through the puddles.
The story is quite straightforward. The silent movie stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont suddenly have to adapt when Hollywood begins to switch to talking movies. However Lina has an awkward squeaky and high-pitched voice. Don meanwhile falls in love with an aspiring actress Kathy Selden whom he meets by accident. Don and his sidekick Cosmo then think of the idea of dubbing Lina’s voice with Kathy’s voice in order to save their movie The Dancing Cavalier. The first half ends with the famous song, “Singin’ in the Rain”, which is reprised at the end of the show. The shorter second half ends happily with the success of the movie and the recognition of Kathy’s talent.
This production is enhanced by Andrew Wright’s choreography which is excellent throughout. Don’s love for Kathy is first expressed in the song, “You Were Meant for Me”. Set at sunset with Kathy perched on a ladder in a studio, this duet is quite touching. Wright’s simple and effective choreography conveys the warmth of this song. In Act 2, the “Broadway Ballet” number set to the song, “Gotta Dance”, is most spectacular, while also showing the conflict between Don’s love for Kathy and his professional relationship with Lina.
The “Good Morning” song for Don, Kathy, and Cosmo is cheerful evoking good camaraderie. The “Moses Supposes” song with the diction coach is lively and good fun. Specially filmed footage of The Dancing Cavalier, the film the characters are supposedly shooting, is also ingeniously incorporated into the stage action.
The Hong Kong cast was outstanding. I was fortunate to have seen the former Royal Ballet star Adam Cooper as Don Lockwood in the original London 2012 production. Duane Alexander was no match for his dancing, but was still impressive on his own terms. He exuded plenty of charm and humour. As Don’s best friend Cosmo, Steven van Wyk was down to earth and human. Taryn-Lee Hudson was hilarious as the bitchy Lina Lamont. The best performance was from Bethany Dickson as Kathy. She conveyed innocence, warmth and tenderness. Above all, she had charisma. All in all, this was a most delightful and life-enhancing production.
Kevin started reviewing dance in 1997. He has contributed to many publications including The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal Asia, Hong Kong Economic Journal, Time Out Hong Kong, Moscow Times, Ballet Review (New York) and Ballet 2000 (Italy).
Hong Kong Ballet: Choreographers’ Showcase 2015
Date: Friday, 2 October 2015, 8pm
Venue: Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Singin’ In The Rain
Date: Saturday, 26 September 2015, 7:45pm
Venue: Lyric Theatre, The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts
Photographer: Conrad Dy-Liacco
Photo provider: Lunchbox Theatrical Productions