Dos Gardenias Pas de Deux from Juanita y Alicia; Dancers: Venus Villa, Brooklyn Mack;
Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco
Hong Kong Ballet is currently on a high. In the first weekend of November, it presented an international gala of stars as well as artistic director Septime Webre’s new production of the classic Giselle. Hong Kong Ballet’s own dancers were dancing in both programmes alongside international stars in an exchange which has proved enriching and stimulating to the company and audience alike.
Among the seven international stars participating in this Gala, particularly outstanding were the pair from the American Ballet Theatre – Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo. They were dancing so harmoniously and in tune with each other in Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra Suite, that it was sheer bliss. Earlier, both stars were also dazzling in their virtuosity in the showpiece duet from Le Corsaire, also joined by the sensational virtuoso dancer from the Washington Ballet, Brooklyn Mack.
Cuban dancer Taras Domitro, partnering a somewhat bland fellow Cuban Adiarys Almeida, was exciting in the Don Quixote duet as well as the Act 3 black swan duet from Swan Lake. Regular guest dancer Tan Yuanyuan was superb in the white duet from Swan Lake, partnered by Matthew Golding. Hong Kong Ballet’s own dancers Ye Feifei and Xia Jun held their own in another excerpt from Le Corsaire.
The company also danced excerpts from three ballets performed earlier this year. Shen Jie danced energetically in the Beatles ballet From a Day In the Life choreographed by Trey McIntyre. The duet from Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet Rush was however too long in the context of this gala. Also suffering from longueur was an excerpt from Webre’s Alice In Wonderland.
The company also premiered a trivial and tedious work Sombrerisimo choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa featuring male dancers with black hats. What a waste of time. Another company premiere was a duet from Webre’s ballet Juanitia y Alicia. Venus Villa was expressive here, partnered by Brooklyn Mack.
The final number was cleverly concocted by Webre. It was an exciting excerpt from his ballet Alice In Wonderland which included all the stars of this gala. This gala was a triumph indeed for the company.
Webre’s new staging of Giselle, incorporating the beautiful sets designed by Peter Farmer for an earlier production, is fortunately based on the traditional choreographic text, and hence offers no radical departures such as the English National Ballet’s contemporary version shown here this summer. He added extra steps for the male ensemble in the villagers’ dance. My only complaint is that the traditional mime of Giselle’s mother foretelling her death should have been retained.
Jin Yao, the company’s esteemed leading ballerina, had made her farewell performance in the title role in the last weekend of October. In the following weekend in November, I saw two different casts, each of which commendably balanced a guest with a company principal. Ye Feifei was technically very strong, yet her acting was one-dimensional. Her mad scene slightly stretched credibility, as she seemed to have turned mad too quickly. Matthew Golding, a regular guest of Hong Kong Ballet, was her handsome Albrecht.
Much more satisfying was the cast of Wei Wei and the American Ballet Theatre principal Sarah Lane. Lane’s dancing was imbued with feeling and meaning. She was more earthy and convincing as the peasant girl in Act 1. In Act 2, she was beneficent as the wili trying to save her lover from death. Her acting was moving. Her body was well-centred, and her whole body was soft and yielding. Wei Wei gave the best performance of his career on this occasion.
In the other roles, Chen Zhiyao impressed as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Xia Jun danced with control in the peasant duet. The company’s female corps de ballet danced with more stylistic uniformity than before in the 19th-century classics, which was a notable achievement.
Giselle; Dancers: (from left) Sarah Lane, 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)
1st Annual International Gala of Stars
Choreographers: Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov, Twyla Tharp, Trey McIntyre, Anna-Marie Holmes (after Petipa and Sergeyev), Christopher Wheeldon, Septime Webre, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Tan Yuan Yuan
Performance: 2 November 2018 19:30 Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Original Choreography: Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot
Additional Choreography and Staging: Septime Webre, Charla Genn
Performance: 4 November 15:00 Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre