Hamburg Ballet shows delight HK audiences

April 03, 2019 17:07
Aleix Martínez as Beethoven in Neumeier's The Beethoven Project. Photo by Kiran West Photography

The final week of the Hong Kong Arts Festival last month saw two more programs of the Hamburg Ballet, which had opened with its artistic director John Neumeier’s production of “The Nutcracker” in the previous week. It is a sumptuous treat by the Arts Festival this year to show local audiences the wide range of Neumeier’s unique choreographic style.

First was Neumeier’s “Beethoven Project”, which was newly premiered in 2018. This two-part work, lasting nearly three hours, has an unusual structure. The first half is set to four different works by Beethoven, culminating in excerpts from the composer’s only ballet “The Creatures of Prometheus”.

In this first half, Neumeier hints at the life and relationships of Beethoven. A red-clad lady seems to represent his muse or lover whom he never married. And a soldier figure represents Beethoven’s nephew who went to join the war. And brief jarring electronic music at one stage signifies Beethoven’s deafness. These excerpts suffer from longueur, however.

Much better is “The Creatures of Prometheus” section. Neumeier has changed the story and we see instead Apollo and his muses. The climax of this section is a harmonious English dance that evokes a peaceful and harmonious community.

The second half is set to the composer’s Symphony No. 3, or better known as the Eroica. It is possible to miss the first half, and just to watch this second half which is a joyous pure dance ballet on its own. The heart of this Eroica symphony is the second slow movement “Marcia Funebre” with a sombre and intense pas de deux seemingly set among the ruins of war. The scherzo third movement is exhilarating, while the final movement sees some impressive patterns for the corps de ballet and the whole cast.

The Hamburg dancers were excellent as usual. Aleix Martinez, who was almost onstage for the whole duration of this long work, was magnificent in the leading role of Beethoven. Also in the leading roles were Anna Laudere and Edvin Revazov, who were most expressive in the sombre duet in “Eroica”. Revazov also dazzled as Apollo in “Prometheus”.

The final Hong Kong program was a gala entitled “The World of John Neumeier”, which proved a suitable upbeat closing finale for this year’s Arts Festival. Lasting three hours, it is a long and substantial gala. Neumeier himself is the narrator charting his career from his first experience with dance as a child up to his career as a choreographer. Lloyd Riggins is the dancer representing Neumeier. There are 13 separate items in this gala selected from Neumeier’s most well-known works.

The big group dances made more impact in this gala. The “Christmas Oratorio”, which ended the first half, was uplifting, providing a contrast to the preceding somber excerpt from “St. Matthew Passion”. And in the finale from “Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler”, the corps de ballet displayed eye-catching V shaped patterns with their arms.

The legendary Russian star Vaslav Nijinsky is a big part of Neumeier’s dance world, and it’s fitting that he paid homage to him. But the excerpt from his ballet “Nijinsky” just went on for too long.

Alina Cojocaru shone in the duet from “Lady of the Camellias”, partnered by Alexandr Trusch. Edvin Revazov and Silvia Azzoni were most expressive in the moving duet from “Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler”. But the most memorable duet in this gala was the one which Neumeier created to celebrate fellow choreographer Maurice Bejart’s 70th birthday. Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Bridge over Troubled Water” was superbly danced by Ivan Urban and Alexandre Riabko.

Award-winning “Le Corsaire” shines at local town hall

The following weekend it was back to normal with a regular program presented by the Hong Kong Ballet. They revived Anna-Marie Holmes’ fine production of the 19th century classic “Le Corsaire” (The Pirate) in Tuen Mun Town Hall. The drama was certainly alive in the Sunday matinee performance. The final storm and shipwreck scene was most theatrical.

Wei Wei was dashing as Conrad, and dazzling in his technical virtuosity. Venus Villa was radiant as Medora and danced full out. Garry Corpuz was impressive as the slave trader Lankedem. The corps de ballet danced vividly the colorful Enchanted Garden dream scene in the final act.

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Wei Wei and Venus Villa in Hong Kong Ballet’s Le Corsaire. Photo by Conrad Dy-Liacco
Alina Cojocaru and Alexandr Trusch in Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias. Photo by Kiran West Photography

veteran dance critic