A ballet performance amid the protests

October 31, 2019 17:00
Matthew Golding and Chen Zhiyao in Hong Kong Ballet's Swan Lake. Photo: Keith Hiro

The civil unrest in Hong Kong has affected the performing arts scene in the city. The Hong Kong Ballet is among those feeling the pinch as its performances are mainly on weekends, when the street disturbances are at their peak.

In the past, the company's Swan Lake performances were easily sold out. But this season there were some empty seats, as evidenced by a Saturday night performance that I attended.

As the MTR stations were closing at 10 pm that weekend, Hong Kong Ballet cut short the performance so as to enable members of the audience to leave early. The overture in Tchaikovsky’s score was cut, as well as an intermission between Acts 3 and 4.

The following day, on Sunday, the afternoon performance was even more dramatic. No sooner had we returned to our seats after the interval anticipating the excitement of Act 3, did the artistic director Septime Webre and the executive director Paul Tam appear on stage announcing the cancellation of the second half due to the abrupt closure of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

Tear gas was fired by the police outside on Nathan Road during a confrontation with protestors. Needless to say, the night performance that Sunday also had to be cancelled. Fortunately, ticket holders of both performances can get passes for future performances.

I am making all these observations so that readers will understand why this review only covers one and a half performances of Swan Lake instead of two.

It has been several years since the ballet company last performed this most popular of the classics. The current production involves John Meehan, a former artistic director of the company, and his team. The attractive sets were designed by Peter Farmer, the late renowned British theatre designer.

The choreography for the white acts, based on an old American Ballet Theatre production, adheres mainly to the traditional Petipa/Ivanov text used by most Western ballet companies. The white swan Odette’s mime in Act 2 has however been excised. The choreography for the final act is effective. However, the choreography by Meehan’s team for the Act 3 national dances is less outstanding.

Two male guest stars no doubt helped to boost ticket sales of this current run of Swan Lake. Matthew Golding, a former principal of the Dutch National Ballet and a frequent guest of the Hong Kong Ballet, partnered Chen Zhiyao. Chan Chun-wai, a principal of the Houston Ballet, partnered Ye Feifei.

Matthew Golding, who has an appealing handsomeness as Prince Siegfried, was technically dazzling in the black swan duet. He lent more glamour to the Saturday evening cast than Chen Zhiyao. Chen was slightly lightweight in the double role of Odette/Odile. She was gentle as the white swan queen Odette, but did not show much flair. As the black swan Odile, her virtuosic technique had some rough edges and lacked polish.

In the other cast, Ye Feifei was better and more absorbing as the white swan Odette. Her phrasing was smooth and creamy. Chan Chun Wai was dutiful as her prince. It’s a great pity that the audience couldn’t continue to see them in the black act, after the second half of the performance that Sunday afternoon was abruptly cancelled.

The corps de ballet of swans was impressive in its uniformity, especially in the dramatic final act. Li  Lin and Shen Jie excelled in the Act 1 pas de quatre, and Kim Eunsil impressed in her solo. Do catch Hong Kong Ballet’s further performances of Swan Lake this coming weekend, as well as its international stars Gala.

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Corps de Ballet (left), and Ye Feifei and Chan Chun Wai in Hong Kong Ballet's Swan Lake. Photo: Keith Hiro

veteran dance critic