This year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival closed spectacularly with an exciting performance of The Sleeping Beauty danced by the Mikhailovsky Ballet from St. Petersburg, Russia. This production of the 19th century masterpiece was by Nacho Duato, the well-known Spanish choreographer who was the artistic director of the Mikhailovsky company before he joined the Staatsballett Berlin in 2014.
1. The Sleeping Beauty Choreographer: Nacho Duato, Dancers: Leonid Sarafanov and Polina Semionova Photographer: Nikolay Krusser
Duato has trimmed down this classic to only two and a half hours. So perhaps this 2011 Duato production is more suitable for beginners to ballet than for experienced ballet-goers. The most outstanding components of the production are the lavish designs for the sets and costumes by Angelina Atlagic. The Rococo period costumes and sets are just sumptuous. The backdrop for the forest scene in Act 2 is particularly beautiful. The lighting, however, could have been brighter at times especially in Act 1.
Duato’s choreography is definitely not an improvement over the original choreography by Petipa, who created this classic in 1890 in St. Petersburg for the Imperial Theatres. Duato added some unnecessary embellishments, mostly in the form of twisting of the arms, tilting of the head, and he frequently uses off-balance steps. The cutting out of Princess Aurora’s solo in Act 1 is particularly regrettable, since it diminishes the ballerina’s role, forfeiting an opportunity for the ballerina to make an impression with the audience early on in the ballet.
Nevertheless, the dancing of the Mikhailovsky company was of a good quality. The stars in the leading roles were the highlights of the production. As Prince Desire, Leonid Sarafanov, formerly a star of the Mariinsky Ballet, was the best part of the production. Duato had in fact created this role on him in 2011. His dancing was clean, stylish, and was exemplary for its technical precision and ease of execution. He was noble in his dancing and his acting.
His Aurora on the closing night was Polina Seminova, a principal of the American Ballet Theatre and also a regular guest of the Mikhailovsky. Blessed with a well-proportioned body and a beautiful long line, Semionova was radiant as the princess. Her dancing was polished and sparkled brightly. Their partnership was an exciting one. Two nights earlier, Sarafanov had also partnered Angelina Vorontsova who, however, lacked authority as Princess Aurora.
Praise was also due to the bone-thin principal dancer Ekaterina Borchenko who was graceful as the Lilac Fairy. As the evil fairy Carabosse, it was a treat to see Faruhk Ruzimatov, a former star of the Mariinsky Ballet who has started dancing character roles of late. He was absorbing in the role. Sabina Yapparova shone as Princess Florine in the Bluebird duet. Peter Ferenac conducted the Hong Kong Sinfonietta.
Duato’s production of The Sleeping Beauty was actually the only ballet program in this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival. Compared with the diverse dance offerings in the past two festivals, this year was pretty thin in terms of dance content. Also it would have been better if the Mikhailovsky could have shown another program to display its range. Nevertheless, Hong Kong doesn’t host many visiting Russian ballet troupes, and so this tour by Mikhailovsky to the Arts Festival is most welcome.
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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).
Date: 17, 19 March 2016
Venue: Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre