Hong Kong Ballet’s New Season
Don Quixote; Choreographers: Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky; Dancer: Iana Salenko; Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco
Hong Kong Ballet opened its 2017/2018 season with the famous 19th century warhorse Don Quixote. This season is also the company’s first under the artistic directorship of Septime Webre. Webre, who made a short pleasant speech before the performance, is the former artistic director of the Washington Ballet. The programs for this season had been planned already by the former artistic director Madeleine Onne, including this 2014 shortened production of Don Quixote.
The traditional three-act versions of Don Quixote in both Russian and Western ballet companies last for over three hours, including two intervals. This trimmed down version, which admittedly suits the limited resources of a smaller-sized company like Hong Kong Ballet, lasts for only two hours including an interval. No doubt the production, which was again presented this year in the summer holidays, is more suitable for students and younger members of the audience.
Hong Kong audiences have in the past two decades experienced a fair share of productions of Don Quixote from prestigious overseas companies. The most recent, and the best in my view, was the Mariinsky Ballet’s sublime production in the 2010 Hong Kong Arts Festival. The Mariinsky’s rival, the Bolshoi, also toured here with its production in 1999.
The Hong Kong Ballet production was staged by Nina Ananiashvili, the former star of the Bolshoi Ballet. Act 1, as in most other versions, ends with the innkeeper’s daughter Kitri running off with her lover, Basilio. Act 2 contains all the other four scenes – the gypsy encampment scene to where the lovers have escaped, the Don’s vision scene in which he sees Kitri as his ideal woman, the tavern scene in which Basilio fakes his suicide to trick the innkeeper to agree to his marriage with Kitri, and then finally the wedding divertissements scene.
The choreographic text remains rooted in Petipa. Some cuts have sensibly been made by Ananiashvili to suit the resources of the company. She has fortunately retained the most famous set pieces. In Act 1, we still see the dances of the toreadors, as well as the street dancer’s solo ending with her zig-zagging between the knives. The choreography for the Act 2 vision scene and the Act 3 duet are also still intact. However, the small corps de ballet of dryads in the vision scene, though augmented by students, makes the stage look rather sparse.
The cuts made are justifiable and are mostly of character dances that would have been too taxing for the company. The gypsy character dances have been cut. And in the tavern scene, the Arab and Oriental dances, which are so memorable in the Russian productions, have been excised. Fortunately, the wonderful fandango is still intact in the final wedding scene.
Act 2 is far too rushed, however. Another interval is necessary after the Don’s beautiful dream scene to provide a break in the audience’s mood before the dramatic tavern scene. It is not as if local audiences were in a rush to go home after two hours. The tavern scene is disappointingly brief. So, the denouement after the fake suicide doesn’t make the dramatic impact that it should.
The sets designed by Thomas Mika are simple and functional. His costumes attractive overall. The highlight of this revival was undoubtedly the guest star Iana Salenko, a principal of the Staatsballett Berlin. Her technical virtuosity was scintillating and breathtaking.
Her partner Shen Jie danced admirably as Basilio. Lukas Jerkander made the Don most human. Chen Zhiyao impressed as the Queen of the Dryads, and Li Lin was an energetic Espada. The company certainly commenced the new season in good form.
Demons; Choreographer: Ricky Hu Song-wei; Dancers: Lucas Jerkander (standing), Chen Zhiyao; Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco
Choreographers’ Showcase 2017
Hong Kong Ballet’s next program in September was the annual Choreographers’ Showcase, which this year included eight works, almost entirely by its own dancers. The overall mood conveyed by this year’s premières was unexpectedly grim and bleak. The exception was a short piece entitled Bubble Goose created by Jonathan Spigner.
According to the program notes, the theme was about indecisiveness or uncertainty. This was represented by an allegro duet, which saw two women mirroring each other. Though it’s not an exceptional piece, brevity is always a virtue that I value.
Another, better duet formed Demons by Ricky Hu. This powerful erotic pas de deux, which contained a lot of lifts, was superbly danced by Lucas Jerkander and Chen Zhiyao as the lady in red. At the end, Jerkander collapses on the floor.
Jerkander himself also created a piece for the evening. Same Old Joe was about a leukemia patient about to die. It’s full of recorded dialogue and video images. It’s perhaps a serious theme worth exploring, but the choreography wasn’t particularly memorable.
Fear was the theme of With-IN by Luis Carbrera, and set partly to religious music. Another depressing work was L’Espoir by Leung Chun-long. It depicted a community lost in despair and desperation before a bright upbeat ending that perhaps symbolized the light at the end of the tunnel. This average work reminded one of the bleak landscapes in Jiří Kylián’s works. A Rebel at Heart by Yang Ruiqi featuring seven female dancers was just a simple and forgettable group dance.
Infinity Awaits choreographed by Li Jiabo and He Chaoya from Hong Kong Dance Company seemed to have a story of a beautiful lady in cheongsam who was in love. However, her lover is attacked by a gang and never returns. The choreography was a skilful blend of ballet and Chinese dance. Li Lin was impressive as the gang leader.
The best work of this year’s Choreographic Showcase was The Bow by Li Lin. It’s a fluent work with imageries flowing smoothly. A sense of suspense was evident throughout. At the heart was a powerful pas de deux well danced by Ye Feifei and Wei Wei.
started reviewing dance in 1997. He has contributed to many publications including The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal Asia, Hong Kong Economic Journal, South China Morning Post, Time Out Hong Kong, Moscow Times, Ballet Review (USA), and Ballet 2000 (Italy).
Don Quixote Choreographers: Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky Staging and Additional Choreography: Nina Ananiashvili Performance: 26 August 2017 19:30 Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Choreographers’ Showcase 2017 Choreographers: Luis Cabrera, He Chaoya and Li Jiabo, Ricky Hu Song-wei, Lucas Jerkander, Leung Chun-long, Li Lin, Jonathan Spigner, Yang Ruiqi
Performance: 16 September 2017 20:00 Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre