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[Eng] End of Year

Romeo and Juliet

Hong Kong Ballet’s third program this season was a long overdue revival of the excellent production of Romeo and Juliet by the renowned Dutch choreographer Rudi van Dantzig who passed away three years ago. This 1967 production of the Shakespeare classic, acquired by the previous artistic director John Meehan, is one of the best ballets staged by the company in the last decade; this latest revival was staged by Andre Lewis.

Van Dantzig’s production is darker and more morbid in tone than the other well-known versions created in the same decade, notably Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s version for Britain’s Royal Ballet starring Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in its première. A gigantic Death figure appears frequently in the town square scenes in Act 2, as if to foretell the imminent deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, as well as the deaths of the two star-crossed lovers at the end. Furthermore, Juliet also dances with the ghostly apparitions of Mercutio and Tybalt, in a scene in Act 3 that lingers for too long however.

Compared to other versions, van Dantzig’s version is actually the most dramatically coherent and logical, and also avoids excessive melodrama, which is commendable. The final death scene is short and full of urgency, and is followed by a moving reconciliation between the two families. The street scenes are full of buzz and vigor. Additional details are added in this production, for instance two servants are seen kissing outside Juliet’s bedroom in Act 1. The wedding scene of Romeo and Juliet is lengthened to include a short dance for the couple. However, the balcony pas de deux is not as transcendent and emotionally soaring as in the MacMillan version.

The title roles were danced in the first cast by Li Jia-bo and Liu Yu-yao. Liu is currently the most outstanding female principal dancer in the company. Her artistry is in full bloom and she is dancing at the height of her power. She was less convincing as the adolescent Juliet, but her acting gradually acquired depth. She was ecstatic in the balcony duet, and her death scene was moving. Ideally Liu needs a taller partner than Li. Li lacked nobility and charisma as Romeo, but he compensated with his heartfelt acting.

The supporting roles were also strongly cast. Shen Jie was a vivacious Mercutio. Lukas Jerkander was handsome as Paris. Jin Yao danced authoritatively as Lady Capulet, while Li Lin was convincing as the evil Tybalt. The sets and costumes designs by Toer van Schayk are sumptuous. However, the lighting should be brighter at times. The Hong Kong Sinfonietta was superb under the baton of Gerry Cornelius.

1. Romeo & Juliet by Rudi van Dantzig Dancers: Liu Yu-yao and Li Jia-bo Photographer: Maggie Mok

The Nutcracker

For the Christmas season the Hong Kong Ballet presented The Nutcracker as usual. This production by Australian choreographer Terence Kohler is now in its fourth season. I have reviewed before in these pages the pros and cons of this production, and do not wish to repeat my view. Briefly, the main change to the story line is that the Drosselmeyer gifts Clara a dollhouse instead of a nutcracker. In Act 2 the Sugar Plum Fairy is replaced by a Ballerina doll who has been frozen earlier by the Rat King and is rescued by Clara and Fritz.

My repeated viewing this year confirms my opinion that this production is dramatically superior to the company’s old production by Stephen Jefferies. The performance that I saw after Christmas was led by guest principal Jurgita Dronina and Li Jiabo. Li’s performance as the Nutcracker has improved since the first season when I last saw him in this role. Dronina was technically invincible, but somehow lacked warmth in personality.

2. The Nutcracker by Terence Kohler Dancers: Jin Yao, Wei Wei and Hong Kong Ballet Dancers Photographer: Conrad Dy-Liacco

L’Amour Immortel

L’Amour Immortel, premièred by Hong Kong Dance Company in late November, was choreographed by its artistic director Yang Yuntao. It’s an homage to the famous 1987 Cantonese film A Chinese Ghost Story starring Leslie Cheung.

The plot is about a poor scholar, Ning Caichen, falling in love with Nie Xiaqian who is a beautiful ghost. She is also smitten with him. Nie, however, is controlled by tree demons but she cannot bear to obey their command to destroy Ning. Moved by their love, the warrior Yan Chixia leads Ning into the underworld to try to rescue Nie. They finally succeed to bring Nie back to the mortal world. But it’s too late, as Nie is destroyed at sunrise. The work, lasting under two hours, is divided into two acts.

Tang Ya and Chen Jun were impressive as the two lovers. Their pas de deux in the temple in Act 1 was finely danced. Their solos were also well danced. Chen Rong was convincing as the comic figure Yan the warrior.

Yang’s choreography is pretty effective. The main duet for the two lovers in the temple is actually quite balletic and with a number of lifts. Nie’s solo with her holding a long white fabric is good, as is Ning’s solo holding a lantern. The ensemble dances – for the warriors, as well as for the ghosts – are pretty exciting too.

3. L’ Amour Immortel by Yang Yuntao Dancers: Tang Ya and Chen Chun Photographer: Henry Wong

Ballet Performances in 2015

At the start of the New Year, it’s time to look back on the ballet programs shown in Hong Kong in the past year. Hong Kong Ballet’s premières of Pinocchio and Carnival of Animals deserve praise. But by far the greatest ballet performances were those by Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, which participated in this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival. Their three performances of Balanchine’s masterpiece Jewels definitely surpassed all other ballet offerings in Hong Kong this year. Their opening programme The Flames of Paris was also sensational. Hong Kong Arts Festival certainly deserves praise for bringing to Hong Kong the greatest ballet companies in the world over the years.

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Kevin Ng

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).

Romeo & Juliet

Date: Saturday, 21 November 2015, 7:30pm

Venue: Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

The Nutcracker

Date: Saturday, 26 December 2015, 2:30pm

Venue: Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

L’ Amour Immortel

Date: Saturday, 28 November 2015, 3pm

Venue: Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre


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