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[Eng]Camellias, Showcase, and Midsummer

Lady of the Camellias, Choreographer: Val Caniparoli, Dancers: Lucas Jerkander, Jin Yao. Photo Credit: Conrad Dy-Liacco

Lady of the Camellias

In November, Hong Kong Ballet presented the Hong Kong première of Lady of the Camellias, choreographed in 1994 by the American choreographer Val Caniparoli. Based on Alexandre Dumas fils’ novel and set to Frédéric Chopin’s music, this three-act ballet relates the tragic story of the courtesan Marguerite and her lover Armand.

In Caniparoli’s production, the narrative is pretty straightforward and the action is easy to follow. Act 1 starts with Marguerite’s chance meeting with Armand and ends with their bedroom duet. Act 2 opens with a party in a country garden in the summer. Then Marguerite is visited by Armand’s father who forces her to leave Armand. Act 3 ends with a melodramatic solo by Marguerite before her death.

Caniparoli’s choreography is too basic. There are not enough variations in the steps. In the duets for instance, the big soaring overhead lifts occur too frequently. So after a while they become predictable and dull. The ensemble dances are repetitive as well.

The duets are soupy. That said, the final pas de deux towards the end of Act 3 for Marguerite and Armand is pretty moving. And the group dance in Act 2 provides some exciting solos for the male soloists. Both Li Lin and Shen Jie dazzled in their solos.

The scheme of Caniparoli’s choreography is fairly formulaic; in essence it’s a series of one classical dance after another. Some mime or character dancing would have been welcome as contrast.

As in the past, the excellent company performances of the Hong Kong Ballet transcended the dull choreography. In the title role of Marguerite on the opening night was Jin Yao, celebrating the 20th anniversary of her dancing career. It’s an ideal role for a ballerina and perfect for her. She has now blossomed into a sophisticated dance actress. Her performance in the role was superlative.

She was strongly partnered by Lucas Jerkander, a talented Swedish soloist dancing his first big role with the company. Jerkander was a handsome Armand, and he was superb in his acting and dancing. He has more classical potential than any other male dancer in Hong Kong Ballet at present, and should be given more leading roles in future.

Dan· Sheng, Choreographer: Chen Jun, Dancers: (from left) Gao Ge, Dong Yu-xin, Dong Rui-xue, Liu Miao-miao. Photo Credit: Conrad Dy-Liacco

Choreographers Showcase 2016

Hong Kong Ballet also has a tradition of presenting a choreographers’ showcase nearly every year. The eight pieces in this year’s collection in late September were neatly divided into four pieces for each half of the program.

The evening opened with Re…, created by company dancer Hui Ka-chun. It takes place in a sitting room. The dancers play with chairs, as well as play a game with a water flask. Then tension starts to build gradually, before all the dancers make peace and embrace each other at the end. This piece, however, lacks focus. Better and more interesting is the next work Shogun, choreographed by Ryo Kato, a soloist of the company. It explores the rituals of the shogunate. Li Jia-bo looks striking as the chief shogun in red. His duet with Yuh Egami is fairly exciting. A good contrast is provided by a female combative duet.

Passion Flower by Jonathan Spigner features three men and a woman. The men enjoy themselves with wine. I find this piece trivial. Follow Your Heart by Li Lin fortunately made more of an impact. Xia Jun stood out in a sinuous solo that is pretty feminine; and Liu Yu-yao impressed as his muse. StHEy by Leung Chun-long seems to show a woman suffering from schizophrenia. Two female dancers represent the dancer’s multiple personalities. It is all pretty conventional and predictable.

The final work created by company dancers was Night Thoughts jointly choreographed by Li Jia-bo and Hong Kong Dance Company dancer, He Chao-ya. Xia Jun again impressed in this piece set in moonlight. The central duet for Ye Fei-fei and Ryo Kato has some big lifts, and is quite tender. The dancing for the ensemble is energetic. However, the piece drags on slightly. Justyne Li, a former company member, created a male solo for Hui Ka-chun full of contorted steps. This piece entitled Dance Internship I, which shows Hui being electrified, is enhanced by some effective lighting.

I have saved the best piece till last, which is by Chen Jun, a principal dancer of Hong Kong Dance Company. Dan· Sheng explores the hua-dan (young female) and wu-sheng (male martial arts) roles in Chinese opera. Jin Yao was most expressive as the opera diva. This allusive piece explores the contrast of the sexes and successfully conveys the mystique of Chinese opera.

Oberon and Titania with Fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Choreographer: John Neumeier. Photo provided by Leisure and Cultural Services Department

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare’s classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a number of ballet adaptations. Hong Kong audiences have already seen several versions in the past two decades. Hong Kong Arts Festival has presented versions of Midsummer by John Neumeier for Hamburg Ballet and also another production by Jean-Christophe Maillot for the Monte-Carlo Ballet. The best version is actually George Balanchine’s 1962 production for the New York City Ballet, which America’s Pacific Northwest Ballet danced here in 2000. La Scala Ballet also danced this version here in 2006.

In early October in Shatin, Royal New Zealand Ballet made its first tour here with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This company is of a similar size to Hong Kong Ballet and numbers over 40 dancers. The choreographer is Liam Scarlett, a young residential choreographer of London’s Royal Ballet. This two-hour long two-act production suits perfectly the small size of the company. As expected, this version of Midsummer cannot match Balanchine’s masterpiece. But it is a well-crafted and light-weight version. It puts more emphasis on the humans than on the fairies. The two pairs of human lovers are more prominent than in other versions, and their jealousy and mistakes are conveyed in a longer drama that, however, is slightly long-winded. Also the small band of rustic actors led by Bottom have more dancing.

The narrative is clear and more detailed. I am impressed by the human warmth conveyed in this version, especially at the end that sees the Indian changeling boy asleep in the center of the stage, laid down by Oberon and Titania in the forest where they first found him in the beginning of the ballet. This is touching, as this boy can continue to enjoy his own Midsummer night’s dream. Scarlett also brings out more the rich drama of Shakespeare’s play. His dance theatre approach is the opposite of Balanchine’s pure-dance approach. Scarlett’s choreography is proficient throughout, and the various duets are tender. The duet for Titania and Bottom is most comical. The male solos for Oberon and Puck are energetic. The climactic reconciliation duet for Titania and Oberon is full of lifts and is heart-warming.

The cast that I saw was excellent. Joseph Skelton was a commanding Oberon, while Lucy Green was a delicious Titania. Alexandre Ferreira was mischievous as Puck, and Paul Matthews was an endearing Bottom. The dominant set, which is effective, is a metallic construction. Looking back, this is the best overseas ballet program presented by the LCSD since the Royal Ballet’s 2008 Hong Kong tour. Since then, LCSD hasn’t been as consistent in presenting renowned overseas ballet companies as the Hong Kong Arts Festival, which is a pity. As Hong Kong Ballet’s performances aren’t so frequent, ballet-goers do need a supplement from overseas companies.


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).

Lady of the Camellias

Date: 4 November 2016 Time: 7:30pm

Venue: Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Choreographers' Showcase 2016

Date: 24 September 2016 Time: 8pm

Venue: Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Date: 8 October 2016 Time: 7:45pm

Venue: Auditorium, Sha Tin Town Hall

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