Painting on the Wall; Choreographer: Angelin Preljocaj; Photo: Jean-Claude Carbonne
Painting on the Wall
This year’s Le French May Festival, already in its 26th year, opened with a ballet program by Ballet Preljocaj making a welcome return to Hong Kong. The Painting on the Wall choreographed in 2016 by Angelin Preljocaj, features only ten dancers from the company.
This ballet, which lasts for 75 minutes without an interval, is adapted from a tale The Mural from the 1740 Chinese classic Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. Two travellers - Chu and Meng - arrive at a temple on a rainy and windy day. A hermit inside the temple shows them a magnificent fresco painted on a wall. The fresco shows a group of girls in a wood filled with pines. One of them is picking flowers and is particularly beautiful.
Chu is attracted to her, and fascinated by her long loose dark hair. He stares at her so intensely for so long that he feels as if he is transported inside the painting to join her. His happy adventure, which ends with his marriage to the girl, lasts for several years until several warriors chase him out of this world of the painting. After his return to the real world, he looks again at the fresco, and discovers that the girl’s hair is now in a magnificent chignon, which is the symbol of a married women.
The Painting on the Wall is an absorbing and theatrical spectacle, full of imagination and originality. However, I cannot work out the meaning and relevance of several group dances, in relation to the story. The spooky ending is theatrically conveyed. Preljocaj’s choreography is effective and fluent. His best choreography is in the duets for the two lovers, which are full of expressiveness and tenderness. The wedding duet is simply conveyed by two bouquets of red flowers. The opening joyful duet for the two male traveling companions by contrast is exciting.
The ensemble dances are full of vigor and energy, and high spirits. A group dance at the end evokes Le Cirque du Soleil, which coincidentally was also touring Hong Kong. Silk fabrics pull the five women up and down, as if they were ghosts.
All the ten dancers were excellent. It was disappointing that the program didn’t list the dancers playing the main roles. Nicolas Godin’s electronic music is conducive to the dancing. Azzedine Alaia’s costume designs, and Constance Guisset’s atmospheric stage designs are outstanding.
Whipped Cream; Choreographer: Alexei Ratmansky; Photo: Gene Schiavone
American Ballet Theatre, also making a welcome return to the Hong Kong, brought a brand new two-act story ballet Whipped Cream in March to close the Hong Kong Arts Festival. The choreographer is its artist-in-residence, Alexei Ratmansky. Whipped Cream, which is set to Richard Strauss’s score and lasts just under two hours, was only premiered last year by this renowned American company.
The ballet’s story starts with a boy and his friends receiving their first Holy Communion. As a celebration, they are then taken to a deluxe sweet shop. The Boy, however, becomes sick after eating too much of his favorite whipped cream, and is taken away on a stretcher to a hospital. Fortunately, he is rescued by Princess Praline who whisks him to her fantasy kingdom where he is celebrated by all kinds of creatures.
Ratmansky’s choreography is inventive and resourceful. In Act 1, after the Boy is taken away to the hospital, the focus shifts from him to two other main roles – Princess Tea Flower, and Prince Coffee, who loves her. Their duet is angular and intense. Princess Tea Flower’s long solo is full of off-balance turns. The ensemble dances for the various sweets are overly long, however. Act 1 ends with a dance by a white corps de ballet of women symbolizing whipped cream. This dance recalls the famous snowflakes waltz at the end of Act 1 of The Nutcracker.
Act 2 is better structured. The Boy reappears in the hospital with a big-head doctor. The brief section with the nurses each brandishing an oversize syringe is funny and witty. In the spectacular procession of droll characters and dolls led by Princess Praline, the giant snow yak is particularly eye-catching. The pas de deux for Praline and the Boy is warm and tender, the choreography is full of soaring lifts. Then follows a dazzling virtuosic solo for the Boy. Princess Praline’s solo has speedy legwork. The drama of the Boy’s escape from the cruel doctor and the nurses with the help of a trio of liquors is imaginatively conveyed. And the celebratory finale climaxing in the Boy’s crowning is a joyous feast of dancing.
In the first night’s cast, Daniil Simkin was endearing and captured the innocence of the leading role of the Boy. And his technical virtuosity was simply breathtaking. Who could forget him circling the stage with his acrobatic jumps and turns at the end of the ballet. Sarah Lane was radiant as Princess Praline. Mark Ryden’s imaginative sets and costumes are rich and lavish.
=== Kevin Ng 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).
Painting on the Wall Choreographer: Angelin Preljocaj Performance: 3 May 2018 20:15 Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Whipped Cream Choreographer: Alexei Ratmansky Performance: 22 March 2018 19:30 Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre