What's new in Hong Kong's ballet scene

August 12, 2016 17:32
Scenes from "Sacred Thread" (left) from Hong Kong Ballet, and "Reveries of the Red Chamber" from Hong Kong Dance Company. Photos: Conrad Dy-liacco, Cheung Chi-wai

Hong Kong Dance Company premiered last weekend a new production entitled "Reveries of the Red Chamber".

The two-hour-long dance drama consists of three works choreographed by different individuals, who include Yang Yuntao, the artistic director. The works are related only very loosely to the literary classic "The Dream of the Red Chamber" by Cao Xueqin.

In fact, all three works are better appreciated if audiences see them as abstract pure dance, without any thoughts whatsoever on their possible link to the famous novel.

Yang's creation was "Blanc", an intense dance solo performed by himself. It's an overly long meditative solo, which according to the program notes is about the rediscovery of one's life. What this has to do with the novel is anybody's guess. The choreography lacks variety however.

The closing work "While the Dream Unfolds" is by Helen Lai, a former resident choreographer of City Contemporary Dance Theatre. The choreography is fluent and has urgency. The twelve dancers are meant to portray Jia Baoyu and the different women in the novel, but it's not at all clear.

The best was the opening work "The Enigma of a Stone" by Ho Ying-fung, which at least is slightly more related to the novel.

It takes place in 2047 in Guangzhou on an evening when all the stones turn black. A bare-chested male soloist is in the center of the stage with a big stone. A commotion begins when a figure dressed like an emperor rises into the sky. A monk as well as a narrator on a wheelchair are also in the cast.

Perhaps the stone soloist was trying to express the conflict between the worldly and spiritual nature of Jia Baoyu.

The work is theatrical. However, it must be said that Hong Kong Ballet's 2013 production "The Dream of the Red Chamber" was more outstanding than the latest three-part offering.

Serenade and more from Hong Kong Ballet

Last month, Hong Kong Ballet presented a mixed program including two world premieres. The program opened with Balanchine's early masterpiece "Serenade". The company's guest principal Tan Yuanyuan danced the lead female role, without much flair however. The second female lead role saw a joyous performance from Jin Yao.

It's a pity that the performers danced to taped music instead of accompaniment by a live orchestra. The corps de ballet danced mechanically as a result.

The better of the two premieres was by the Taiwanese choreographer Edwaard Liang. Entitled "Sacred Thread", the choreographer mentioned that his inspiration was traditional Chinese weddings and the uncertainty and freedom of relationships.

Liang's choreography is certainly musical and full of vitality. The lead couple, excellently portrayed by Liu Yuyao and Li Jiabo, seems to have an uneasy relationship, as signified by their tense duet in the middle of the work. The finale, which signifies the wedding, doesn’t feel that joyful. Perhaps it's a traditional arranged marriage.

The other premiere was by Fei Bo, whose most famous work is "The Peony Pavilion" for the National Ballet of China.

"Shenren Chang" supposedly expresses the Chinese concept of unity of man and universe in the spiritual realm. There seems to be a goddess figure in a fine dance by Jin Yao. She leads mankind from darkness to light which represents hope. The dancers wear white costumes in the end instead of black. The piece was slightly muddled at times. In the middle, a female dancer seems to die for some unknown reason.

Hong Kong Ballet also included an earlier piece "Over There" by Fei Bo, featuring two guest dancers from the National Ballet of China. This duet is about an unforgettable place in one's memory. It was danced with high spirits by Zhan Xinlu and Wang Jiyu.

 (Chinese only)

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veteran dance critic