1. Serenade, Choreographer: George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust,
Dancer: (Front) Tan Yuan Yuan
Photo Credit: Tony Luk
The Hong Kong Ballet ended the current 2015/6 season on a high note with a mixed program including two world premieres. As usual, the company’s last program of the season in spring is normally a mixed-bill instead of a full-length ballet.
The program opened with Balanchine’s 1934 early masterpiece Serenade that was first staged by Judith Fugate from the Balanchine Trust for the Hong Kong Ballet two years ago. Hong Kong Ballet used to have a sizeable Balanchine repertory under the former artistic director John Meehan including Theme and Variations, Concerto Barocco, and Rubies. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the case in the past eight years under the current artistic director Madeleine Onne. Onne prefers the modish European choreographers such as Nacho Duato and Jorma Elo.
This time the company’s guest principal, Tan Yuan Yuan, danced the waltz ballerina in Serenade. Tan, a principal of the San Francisco Ballet, normally appears with Hong Kong Ballet once a year in spring. This year it was welcome to see her dance with company members instead of with a partner brought in from San Francisco. Tan’s performance on the opening night was, however, rather bland and lacked poetry.
The ‘Russian’ ballerina was joyously danced by Jin Yao who was even more Balanchinean than Tan. She danced on a big scale and was extremely musical. It’s a pity that this ballet was danced to taped music this time instead of live orchestral accompaniment. No surprise perhaps that the corps de ballet danced rather mechanically. This revival did not match the high standard of the company’s performances two years ago when it was led by Liu Yuyao as the waltz ballerina. Judith Fugate didn’t come again to Hong Kong this time, and it was left to Tang Min, the company’s ballet mistress, to rehearse the company in Serenade.
The better of the two world premieres was created by the Taiwanese choreographer Edwaard Liang, a former New York City Ballet dancer. Liang is currently the artistic director of Ballet Met. Entitled Sacred Thread, the choreographer mentioned in the house program notes his inspiration from traditional Chinese weddings as well as the uncertainty and freedom of relationships. Set to propulsive music by John Adams, Liang’s choreography is certainly musical and full of vitality. Casual gestures are often used by the corps de ballet dressed in bright-colored clothing. The joyful and folksy first part reminds me of Jerome Robbins’s West Side Story Suite for the New York City Ballet.
2. Shenren Chang, Choreographer: Fei Bo
Photographer: Conrad Dy-Liacco
The leading couple, excellently danced by Liu Yuyao and Li Jiabo, seem to have an uneasy relationship, as shown by their tense pas de deux in the middle of the work. He tries to subjugate her at one point. The leading couple then joins the corps de ballet in the finale which seems to be a wedding celebration. However, it doesn’t feel all that joyful and lacks an emotional resolution. I wonder if the choreographer wants to depict a traditional Chinese arranged marriage.
The other premiere was created by the Chinese choreographer Fei Bo, whose most famous work is The Peony Pavilion created in 2008 for the National Ballet of China. Shenren Chang, set to music by Chinese composer Wen Zi, supposedly expresses the Chinese concept of unity of mankind and universe in the spiritual realm. There is a dominant goddess figure who leads mankind in a journey from darkness to light that symbolizes hope. So the dancers appropriately wear white leotards in the end instead of the black worn in the beginning.
Jin Yao was superb as the goddess, dazzling in a sinewy solo showing off her long line, and in a duet. The choreography for the small corps de ballet is well crafted, and full of energy. This dark piece is theatrical, but it is slightly muddled at times. In the middle, another female dancer seems to collapse for some unknown reason. And in the end, Jin Yao is left alone in darkness instead of in light.
Hong Kong Ballet also presented Over There, an earlier piece by Fei Bo featuring two young unknown guest dancers from the National Ballet of China. This short and slight pas de deux is rather sentimental, about an unforgettable place in one’s memory, depicted by smoke in the wings. It was nevertheless danced with high spirits by Zhan Xin-lu and Wang Ji-yu. Overall, this was an ambitious program with mixed results.
3. Carlos Acosta - A Classical Farewell.
Photo provided by LCSD
Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta’s farewell program A Classical Farewell was rather disappointing, in that the star only appeared in two showcase numbers out of the 12 numbers that evening. Yes, he also appeared as one of eight dancers in the final number Majisimo. But he should have danced more, as the majority of the audience who bought tickets must have expected to see him more, instead of his group of backup Cuban dancers who were average and none too outstanding.
The first half consisted of five classical numbers. Acosta, in his early forties, was still suitably dazzling in the Soviet pas de deux from Diana and Acteon choreographed by Agrippina Vaganova. The contemporary choreography for the second half was, however, pretty forgettable. Acosta’s performance didn’t lift the banal choreography by Ben van Cauwenbergh for the solo Le Bourgeois. The comic solo was quite funny, but it was a pretty slight solo nevertheless. I don’t understand why Acosta could not have picked a more substantial solo or duet by other contemporary choreographers.
Acosta’s own choreography was shown only in one number – the pas de deux from his new production of Carmen for the Royal Ballet last autumn. It was full of drama and danced with conviction by Laura Rodriguez and Luis Valle. But the evening wasn’t a well-conceived farewell program for Acosta who didn’t dance enough.
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).
Serenade and More
Date: 10 June 2016 Time: 7:30pm
Venue: Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Carlos Acosta - A Classical Farewell
Date: 2 July 2016 Time: 7:45pm
Venue: Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre