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[ENG] REVIEW: HONG KONG BALLET – DON QUIXOTE

Text: Natasha Rogai

After many trials and tribulations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong Ballet (HKB) at last returned to the theatre at the end of October. When artistic director Septime Webre came out on stage to introduce the show and said how happy he was, after a ten month hiatus, to be able to say ‘Welcome to Hong Kong Ballet’, a spontaneous roar went up from the audience. With some seating restrictions still in place, tickets for this five show run were swiftly snapped up and the warmth of the reception showed how much it meant to people to attend a live performance again.

One of the classical repertoire’s most joyous ballets, packed with Spanish sunshine and virtuoso dancing, Don Quixote was the perfect choice for these troubled times and, despite a few caveats, this second revival of the great Bolshoi ballerina Nina Ananiashvili’s 2014 production certainly lifted the spirits.


Don Quixote; Dancers (from left): Amber Lewis, Shen Jie /

Photography: Edward So (Photo provided by Hong Kong Ballet)


Basically a trimmed down version of the Bolshoi’s current staging, it’s a no-frills affair which works well for a medium-sized company like HKB. Ballet purists may regret the cuts - the role of Espada is much reduced, most of the character dances are omitted (although in any case, nowadays only the big Russian troupes are equipped to do real justice to these), while the gypsy camp sequence is so truncated it becomes hard to follow and the Don’s tilt at the windmill simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, the focus on the classical choreography, love story and comedy, with a running time of just two hours, preserves the essence of the work and makes an entertaining, accessible show for general audiences.

Faced with only 21 days of rehearsal due to pandemic restrictions, as well as the need to integrate a number of new recruits to the company, Webre and his artistic team rose to the challenge and deserve much credit for staging the production so successfully. The overall standard of dancing was high and the dancers full of energy. It was particularly noticeable how well they brought out the Latin bravado and sheer elan this ballet demands, throwing off their inhibitions in a way which hasn’t always come easily to HKB.

A few changes have been made to the mime, mostly adding extra bits of comic business and it was good to see more animation and detailed acting from the ensemble as a whole. However, while this can enrich and add depth to narrative ballet, it does need to stay in the background and shouldn’t be allowed to detract attention from the dancing as occasionally happened here.


Don Quixote; Dancers (from left): Li Lin, Chen Zhiyao /

Photography: Conrad Dy-Liacco (Photo provided by Hong Kong Ballet)


I saw two out of three casts. The first partnered Shen Jie, already an outstanding Basilio, with Amber Lewis, who joined the troupe last year. Lewis is a little too tall for Shen - this jarred on the eye slightly in the grand pas de deux, but otherwise presented no problems, with even the two big one-handed lifts in Act 1 managed well. On the acting front this was an ideal pairing. Both artists have a natural flair for comedy and created an instantly recognizable relationship, with Lewis’s sharp-witted, no-nonsense Kitri clearly in charge of Shen’s sunny, happy-go-lucky Basilio.


Always an exceptional classical dancer, Shen has developed the confidence, charisma and dramatic skills to equal his harmonious line, effortless jumps and sure partnering and it was a pleasure to see him return, as a mature artist, to Basilio - his first leading role back in 2014. Lewis was a revelation, displaying strong technique throughout, including multiple fouettés with her hands on her hips and a couple of superbly controlled slow turns en attitude. Full of brio and attack as Kitri, she made a seamless change to refined classical style as the Don’s fantasy damsel Dulcinea in the vision scene. This was an impressively accomplished, polished performance and it was hard to believe that it was Lewis’s first Kitri – she promises to be a great addition to the company.

Also making their debuts in the leading roles (I saw them on their second appearance), Li Lin and Chen Zhiyao were beautifully matched physically and made a handsome couple, although they didn’t have quite the same intuitive rapport as Shen and Lewis. Their execution of the adagio section in the grand pas de deux was outstanding in its elegance and style. Chen danced with a lovely lightness and made a charming Kitri, radiant and playful, with a nice sense of mischief – this is the best thing I have seen her do so far. Li is at his best in more brooding roles – he’s a Tybalt to Shen’s Mercutio – and his Basilio was more macho than light-hearted. His dancing was frustratingly mixed - his turns were consistently dazzling, but he came to grief on the final manège in the grand pas de deux and while the first of the big one-handed lifts was sensational, with Chen poised aloft shaking a tambourine, the second went badly wrong. Accidents happen, but they shouldn’t happen twice in one performance, especially on such climactic moments.

Don Quixote; Dancer: Nana Sakai /

Photography: Conrad Dy-Liacco (Photo provided by Hong Kong Ballet)


Among the female solo roles, there were sparkling accounts of Cupid from Kim Eunsil and Nana Sakai, a deliciously flirtatious Mercedes from Wang Qingxin, a dancer who continues to improve, while Sakai and Dong Ruixue were a delight as Kitri’s friends. On the male side, Albert Gordon as Espada and Jonathan Spigner in the Bolero demonstrated exactly the right combination of power, control and panache in roles which can easily be over (or under) done. Garry Corpuz and Ethan Chudnow were touchingly dignified as Don Quixote, Wei Wei and Li Jiabo convincingly exasperated as Kitri’s long-suffering father.

Some portrayals were less well-judged. There’s a fine line between vivacity and vulgarity with Don Quixote as a ballet - Sancho Panza should be a loveable rogue with a genuine affection for his eccentric master, not a crude buffoon and it was disappointing to see talented dancers like Luis Cabrera and Kyle Lin Chang-Yuan giving such cartoonish interpretations.


Don Quixote; Dancers (from left): Jessica Burrows, Luis Cabrera /

Photography: Conrad Dy-Liacco (Photo provided by Hong Kong Ballet)


City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong gave a lively account of the score under conductor Judith Yan, who deservedly got a huge hand for having braved 14 days of quarantine to return to Hong Kong for the performances – the show must go on, indeed.

HKB has an ambitious programme lined up for the rest of the 2020/2021 season and I will look forward to seeing how the current ensemble develops if (pandemic permitting) the company can keep performing and re-building a cohesive team.




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Text: Natasha Rogai

is the dance critic of the South China Morning Post, the Hong Kong correspondent of international dance magazine Dancing Times and a recipient of the Hong Kong Dance Award for Services to Dance.




Don Quixote

Hong Kong Ballet

Choreography: Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorsky

Additional Choreography: Nina Ananiashvili

Performance: 31 Oct 2020 14:30 Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

1 Nov 2020 7:30 Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

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