Choreographer: Terence Kohler, Dancers: (from right) Liu Yu-yao and Wei Wei.
Photo: Conrad Dy-liacco.
During the Christmas season, many ballet companies worldwide perform The Nutcracker. This ballet classic was premiered in 1892 in the Mariinsky Theatre (then known as the Imperial Theatres) in St. Petersburg in Russia. A good production of Nutcracker still yields its rewards on repeated viewings. Without counting, I must have seen no less than 25 different productions of Nutcracker in the past 40 years since I first attended ballet in London.
Cinderella can be another viable Christmas offering, but it just cannot compete with Nutcracker in terms of the box office. So, it’s no surprise that for this Christmas season the Hong Kong Ballet presented The Nutcracker again as usual. This existing production by the Australian choreographer Terence Kohler is now in its fifth year. Kohler used a different libretto by fellow Australian Clair Sauran that is original and works reasonably well. The sets and costumes designed by Jordi Roig are lavish.
Briefly, the main change to the traditional story line is that the magician Drosselmeyer gifts Clara a doll house instead of a nutcracker. It’s in the doll house that the Christmas Eve party and the subsequent battle between the rats and the Nutcracker’s army take place in Act 1. 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 her brother Fritz. This version also introduces an additional character-like Clarchen who is Clara’s favorite doll. She is performed by a student, and in Act 2 has a delightful solo in the Waltz of the Flowers.
Kohler has made some minor revisions again this year, which has tightened the narrative. My repeated viewing this year confirms my opinion that this production is dramatically more convincing than the company’s previous production by Stephen Jefferies. Kohler’s choreography is satisfying overall. However, I wish that he could have retained Ivanov’s great original choreography for the Act 2 grand pas de deux instead of substituting his own steps.
The performance that I saw in late December was led by company principals Liu Yu-yao and Wei Wei. Liu and Wei were exemplary in the grand pas de deux in Act 2. Liu’s perfect long line was shown to best advantage here. Her dancing was radiant as well as grand. There was an inevitability in her steps that were impeccably executed. Wei Wei on this occasion was above his form, dancing and partnering most nobly.
Company performances were strong. In the supporting roles, Jonathan Spigner stood out as Fritz, dancing vivaciously with high spirits. Shen Jie dazzled as an Italian doll. And the Hong Kong Sinfonietta was impressive under the baton of Andrew Mogrelia.
As it’s the end of 2016, I look back on the ballet offerings in the past year that unfortunately were not particularly rich. The Mikhailovsky Ballet from St. Petersburg danced Nacho Duato’s unusual production of The Sleeping Beauty during the Hong Kong Arts Festival. Leonid Sarafanov as the Prince and Polina Semionova’s Aurora were the only good points of the production. Another visiting company was the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Liam Scarlett’s choreography for A Midsummer Night’s Dream suited this small company perfectly. While it’s no match for Balanchine’s great production, it’s a good light-weight production.
Hong Kong Ballet’s best premiere this year was The Lady of the Camellias. Though Val Caniparoli’s choreography was forgettable, the company’s dancing redeemed it. Jin Yao was splendid in the title role. Another revelation was Lucas Jerkander’s Armand. This Swedish soloist has more classical potential than any other male dancer in the company and should be given more princely roles in future. The company has been continuously weak in terms of male principal dancers.
Furthermore, Hong Kong Ballet looks forward to a new exciting direction from another artistic director after the 2016/7 season.
The Sleeping Beauty
Choreographer: Nacho Duato, Dancers: Leonid Sarafanov and Polina Semionova
Photo: Nikolay Krusser
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).
Performance: The Nutcracker
Date: 17 December 2016
Venue: Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre