Hong Kong Ballet Swan Lake, Original Choreography: Marius Petipa & Lev Ivanov, Additional Choreography: John Meehan, Carlo Pacis, Selina Chau.
Photo Credit: Tony Luk
Swan Lake by Hong Kong Ballet opened its new 2016/7 season in late August with the most famous of ballets - Swan Lake. This was a decent production tailor-made by the previous artistic director John Meehan to suit the limited resources of the company.
The choreography, based on an old American Ballet Theatre production, adheres mainly to the traditional Petipa/Ivanov text used by most Western ballet companies. The additional choreography by Meehan and his team, however, is not as good.
The highlight this time was the guest principal dancer Jurgita Dronina from the National Ballet of Canada. She was excellent in the double role of Odette/Odile. As the White Swan, Odette, she was meltingly tender and lyrical. Her dancing was musical, and had weight and gravitas. And as Odile, the Black Swan, she was dazzling in her technical fireworks that she accomplished with ease and smoothness, especially the final series of turns around the stage.
Dronina, however, deserved a better partner than Li Jiabo who was only making his debut as the Prince. He didn’t yet have the strength to conquer the technical virtuosity. His solo dancing lacked shape and polish, and he looked flustered. He hardly got off the ground in his jumps. Jonathan Spigner outshone him in his solo in the Italian dance in Act 3.
Also among the supporting performances, Liu Miao-miao Liu impressed in her solo in the Act 1 pas de quatre. The national dances were performed without much style. But the 18 corps de ballet of swans, though lacking uniformity, danced with spiritedness. Peter Farmer’s handsome sets wore quite well after all these years. This was an encouraging start to the Hong Kong Ballet’s new season.
Hong Kong Ballet announced in early August that its present artistic director Madeleine Onne will not renew her contract next year after its completion. Time flies. Onne has been directing the company for eight years already. I wasn’t so fond of the productions that she brought early on by European choreographers. But some of the productions are excellent, such as the Nutcracker by Australian choreographer Terence Kohler.
The Dream of the Red Chamber was a praiseworthy attempt to create a signature ballet for the company for overseas touring. Unfortunately, it was entangled in a scandal of so-called “self-censorship”, which was a pity. It is theatrical and showed off well Li Jiabo and Liu Yuyao in the leading roles. Pinnochio last year was a delightful ballet for children, as was Ratmansky’s Carnival of the Animals. My main criticism was of the lack of Balanchine ballets built up by the previous artistic director Meehan.
In terms of dancers, Jin Yao and Liu Yuyao blossomed under Onne’s directorship. It’s a pity that Huang Zhen, a princely classical male dancer, left the company. Also regretted was Kostyantyn Keshyshev who should have been promoted earlier. The company always lacks a good classical princely male dancer.
Reveries of the Red Chamber
Hong Kong Dance Company premiered a new production entitled Reveries of the Red Chamber. This two-hour-long production consists of three works choreographed by different choreographers including Yang Yuntao, its artistic director. All three works are only very loosely related to the literary classic The Dream of the Red Chamber. In fact, all three works are better appreciated as abstract pure dance.
Yang’s creation was Blanc, an intense solo well danced by himself. It’s an overly long meditative solo, which according to the program notes is about the rediscovery of one’s life. What this has to do with the novel is anybody’s guess. The closing work While the Dream Unfolds is by Helen Lai. The choreography is fluent and has urgency. The 12 dancers are meant to portray Jia Baoyu and the different women in the novel, but it’s not at all clear.
The opening work The Enigma of a Stone by Hoyingfung at least is slightly more related to the novel. It takes place in 2047 in Guangzhou on an evening when all the stones turn black. A bare-chested male soloist is in the center of the stage with a big stone. A commotion begins when a figure dressed like an emperor rises into the sky. A monk as well as a narrator on a wheelchair are also in the cast. Perhaps the stone soloist was trying to express the conflict between the worldly and spiritual nature of Jia Baoyu. This work is theatrical and is the best of the three.
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: 28 August 2016 Time: 7:30pm
Venue: Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Reveries of the Red Chamber
Date: 6 August 2016 Time: 7:45pm
Venue: Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre