[中][ENG] 專訪香港芭蕾舞團藝術總監衛承天 Interviewing Septime Webre, Artistic Director of Hong Kong Ballet
衛承天 Septime Webre; 香港芭蕾舞團藝術總監 Artistic Director of Hong Kong Ballet;
攝 Photo: Calvin Sit
On opening night of Hong Kong Ballet’s Giselle, my friend rifled through the program and commented that, although this was her first main-stage performance, she felt that she already knew the company – in fact, she already had some favorite dancers. That sense of familiarity had developed over a season of attending the company’s pop-up events, open rehearsals, and educational forums, which have snowballed under the leadership of Septime Webre.
Earlier that week, I caught up with Webre, who is a little over a year into his tenure as Artistic Director. Interestingly, the Washington Post had just published an article about Washington Ballet, which Webre helmed for seventeen years before coming to Hong Kong, and for which he created a number of vivid story ballets.
Following are excerpts from our conversation, edited for clarity and length.
Carla: The Washington Post article describes you as a “showman” who “established a populist, of-the-moment style” that attracted newcomers to ballet, in contrast to your successor who is courting ballet aficionados and building a repertory to mirror that of the top companies in the world. What do you think of this characterization?
Webre: I do think I’m a populist but not one who dumbs things down. I believe that the definition of great ballet is broader than some directors might think.
Ballet is a fluid language that can be used to express a lot of different things. And I believe in ballet’s traditions – we’re presenting Giselle right now, and since I’ve been here we’ve presented Don Quixote and Le Corsaire, and next season we’re planning a Swan Lake – so I believe in this repertoire. But I also believe that audiences need to see themselves in the repertoire. They need to connect to it and they need to feel that it’s pertinent to their lives. And so, it’s important that the repertoire also reflects other things in addition to swans and peasant girls in Bavaria… that we use the language of ballet to reflect things that are a bit more connected to the lives of contemporary citizens of the world. And the language is as fluid as English or Chinese or Tagalog. The same language was used by Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson and Mad Magazine and a contemporary rap song. It’s important that we speak it fluently and in lots of different ways.
Even more specifically, I think ballet’s got to be open to everyone. And my philosophy in Hong Kong and at Washington Ballet was that we need to do all kinds of different ballets and that meant doing full length 19th century work, doing [George]Balanchine and [Jerome] Robbins, and it also means commissioning works of today. But the energy of the company needs to feel like it’s reflective of the energy of the city in which it lives.
In what ways are you doing this?
We’re doing pop-ups monthly – large-scale outdoor performances. Have you visited Tai Kwun [the restored Central Police Station and Victoria Prison compound, one of Hong Kong’s most important remaining historic buildings]? It’s outrageous. We’re doing a site-specific installation on a Saturday and Sunday [Nov. 17-18] that activates the whole place. It’ll be free to the public – [part of what we’ve called] Ballet in the City.
We’re also doing pop-up performances in the New Territories. We’re doing one in Central on a Sunday that will be narrated in Cantonese, English and Tagalog because that’s an area where so many Filipina domestic workers spend their Sundays. They’re an underserved population in the city, yet the city would stop without its domestic workers. We want to be pertinent and important to every aspect of the city.
We’re scheduling pop-up performances in various housing estates. We’re launching a project called Friday Night Barre in the MTR – because our process is so hidden from the world, we’re doing something to change that. We’ll install ourselves in different MTR stations on Fridays and literally do a forty-five minute barre with a live piano,