Le Corsaire; Choreographer: Anna-Marie Holmes; Dancers: (from left) Maria Kochetkova & Wei Wei; Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco
Hong Kong Ballet’s major première this season is Le Corsaire (the Pirate). Premièred at the Paris Opera in 1856, this three-act ballet was completely re-choreographed in 1899 by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg. It is from this production that present productions are derived. Le Corsaire, however, is not as popular as Petipa’s more famous classics such as Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty.
Hong Kong Ballet’s new production is by Anna-Marie Holmes who first staged this ballet for the Boston Ballet in 1997. Her production is the most well-known Western production, and is already in the repertory of a number of companies worldwide including the American Ballet Theatre and the English National Ballet. This latest version has been slightly shortened to suit Hong Kong Ballet’s resources.
Holmes strives to be as faithful as possible to Petipa’s 1899 choreography. She has however made some minor changes; she has also transferred the pas de trois of odalisques from Act 3 to Act 1. The famous set pieces – the pas de deux and the “Le jardin anime” dream scene - are still intact.
Inspired by Byron’s 1814 poem, the ballet’s flimsy story follows the escapades of a handsome pirate, Conrad, who journeys across the high seas to save his beloved slave girl, Medora. It is a swashbuckling fantasy tale of captive maidens and cutthroats, love and betrayal. In view of this shortened version, perhaps it is better not to worry too much about the logic of the story and just enjoy the feast of dancing offered by this ballet.
So how was the dancing? Hong Kong Ballet’s dancers were on their best form in this ballet which is not really in their natural style. This ballet really needs the larger-than-life flamboyant style of the top Russian ballet stars and companies to carry off successfully.
Fortunately, in the first cast of the lead role of Medora was Maria Kochetkova, a guest star from the San Francisco Ballet. She had a dazzling technique; her multiple turns were truly breathtaking. Kochetkova was radiant in the “Le jardin anime” scene. But she left one slightly cold in terms of expressiveness.
Wei Wei was lackluster as the chief pirate Conrad. Fortunately, Shen Jie had more presence as Birbanto who rebelled against him. In a later cast, Lucas Jerkander also impressed as Birbanto. And Xia Jun was excellent as the evil slave-trader Lankendem. Li Jiabo however was underpowered as the male slave Ali.
In the female roles, Ye Feifei danced sharply as Gulnare. Chen Zhiyao stood out in the trio of odalisques. The short storm scene at the end was vividly and theatrically presented. Hugo Millan’s colorful set and costume designs also enhance this production. By the way, is it still necessary for artistic director Septime Webre to speak before the beginning of every performance? He should be familiar by now after taking office last summer.
In the Event; Choreographers: Crystal Pite; Photo: Rahi Rezvani
Nederlands Dans Theater 1
The following week saw a welcome return visit by Nederlands Dans Theater after nearly a decade. The best of the four pieces shown are the opening and closing works. The opening piece, In the Event, by Crystal Pite is in this Canadian choreographer’s usual bleak style. Human suffering seems to fascinate this choreographer. In the beginning of the piece, a community seems to be watching over a corpse, and their dancing is deliberately slowed down as if frozen. And there seems to be a storm halfway through the work. The ensemble frequently arrays itself in different layers making some fascinating formations.
The final work, Safe as Houses, is by its current artistic directors Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot. It shows off the phenomenal technique of this company’s dancers. The cast is divided into two groups, attired in black and white. A partition in the middle is constantly rotating. The choreography is powerful and theatrical. The three duets at the end are mesmerizing, especially the final one.
Another work by Leon and Lightfoot was Shutters Shut, a very short pas de deux set to the repeated recitation of Gertrude Stein’s poem, If I Told Him, A Completed Portrait of Picasso. German choreographer Marco Goecke’s Wake up Blind, set to two songs by Jeff Buckley, is pleasant but not particularly outstanding. It would have been more fitting to have selected instead at least one major work by Jiri Kylian, the most famous choreographer in the company’s history. After all, Hong Kong Ballet had just performed two Kylian works last spring.
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).
Choreographer: Anna-Marie Holmes
Performance: 4 November 2017 19:30 Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Nederlands Dans Theater 1
Choreographers: Crystal Pite, Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, Marco Goecke
Performance: 11 November 2017 Auditorium, Kwai Tsing Theatre