[ENG] Review of Hong Kong Ballet, Romeo + Juliet
Text: Selina Tng
Dancers: Daniel Camargo (left), Chen Zhiyao (right) / Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco
(Photo provided by Hong Kong Ballet)
Shakespeare’s famous story of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, is transported from Verona in the 14th century to Hong Kong in the 1960s in Hong Kong Ballet’s new production Romeo + Juliet. Septime Webre is the choreographer, and Hong Kong Sinfonietta performs the score composed by Sergei Prokofiev. The dancers bring out an intense emotional charge throughout the ballet and the beautifully designed set by Ricky Chan evokes gentle nostalgia for old Hong Kong.
Romeo (Garry Corpuz) and Juliet (Ye Feifei) fall in love. Their union is barred as Juliet’s father (Wei Wei) has arranged for Juliet to marry Mr Parker (Forrest Rain Oliveros), who replaces Paris in the original story. Juliet secretly weds Romeo at a temple with Romeo’s teacher or sifu (Ethan Chudnow) and Juliet’s Amah (Zhang Xuening) as the witnesses.
A significant change in the characters is the replacement of Tybalt, who is Juliet’s cousin in the original story, with Tai Po (Leung Chun-long), who is Juliet’s father’s associate and Juliet’s mother’s lover. When Tai Po kills Romeo’s close friend, Little Mak (Albert Gordon), during a fight, Romeo takes Tai Po’s life in revenge and is forced to flee Hong Kong. When her father tries to force her to marry Parker, Juliet takes a potion which sends her into a deep sleep, leading others to presume she has died. She is still unconscious when Romeo returns and he takes poison when he fails to revive her. Juliet then wakes up, and finding her beloved Romeo dead, she kills herself too to join him in death.
Like them, Juliet’s mother (Wang Qingxin) is completely devastated by her grief at losing Tai Po. This relationship between Tai Po and Juliet’s mother reinforces the idea of forbidden love being ill fated, parallel to what befalls Romeo and Juliet.
Romeo + Juliet / Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco (Photo provided by Hong Kong Ballet)
Outside affairs of the heart, the scenes of kungfu fighting with bamboo sticks, knives and even umbrellas between the feuding factions until the defeated fall to the ground are spectacles that hold the audience breathless.
The set portrays the streets of Hong Kong in the 1960s. The backdrop displays poles joined and crisscrossed so as to suggest bamboo scaffolding, a reminder of the start of the public housing and construction boom during that period, and which remains a common sight in today’s Hong Kong. Neon signs advertising nightclubs, mahjong parlours, bonesetters, tea houses and bars are suspended above the stage. Street scenes with young male and female rebels having playful moments alongside TV or film crews at work shooting, recall the heyday of Hong Kong’s TV and movie industry.
Mandy Tam’s designs for cheongsams, tang suits for the elderly and Western suits for the youngsters add a touch of costume glamour. The colour red is a recurring emblem, with Juliet’s mother in a red cheongsam under a black cape, the backdrop of a dragon with eyes of red lights glaring at the dancing party of guests in red and black, Juliet’s bedroom with red curtains and red bedsheets, red bricks under the bridge as a reconstruction of the original balcony, and the red in the wedding ceremony at the temple and in the bridal chamber. This redness brings forth the motif of passion fused with love, and youthful vigour turning to blind fury.
There are some memorable scenes. There is tender affection between Juliet and her Amah, when Juliet shares her curiosity about love and marriage after learning of her engagement to Parker. Juliet’s emphatic rejection of Parker after she has secretly married Romeo, the Amah’s defence of Juliet against her father’s unrelenting coercion, and Juliet’s submission and despair make a heart wrenching scene. The passage where Little Mak rises, falters and falls repeatedly to defy impending death and kisses Romeo goodbye in dramatic style before he succumbs to his fatal wound, is both comic and poignant. Towards the end, Romeo drags Juliet’s lifeless body across the stage in anguish and desperation. The elation from their everlasting love lingers long after their death.
Selina Tng is an occasional contributor to dance journal/hk. She hopes to express the wonders of dance through words and to make words dance.
Romeo + Juliet
Hong Kong Ballet
Choreography: Septime Webre
Reviewed Performance: 20 June 2021 14:30 Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre