Hong Kong’s dance premieres delayed by pandemic

March 26, 2021 08:26
“Beyond the Line”  Photo:  Conrad Dy-Liacco

Hong Kong Ballet’s latest production “Five by Six” is a highlight of its current “turn(it)out festival”. This production featuring five premieres by six choreographers was originally scheduled to be performed at the West Kowloon Cultural District at the end of January. But as the venue was still closed at the time, the premiere was delayed until last weekend when it was streamed online. Online viewing of this 75-minute programme lasts until 4 April, together with other programmes in this online festival.

The opening piece “Handelwerk” was created by the American choreographer Stephen Shropshire who has just commenced a three-year residency with Hong Kong Ballet. A male soloist Albert Gordon appears in both the beginning and the end of the ballet, which seems like a dutiful exercise consisting of solos and duets. The duets are more memorable, especially the first duet for Ye Feifei and Jonathan Spigner, and the second for Chen Zhiyao and Garry Corpuz. The camera’s angles sometimes distract from our focus on Shropshire’s choreography which however is average and not particularly memorable overall.

Artistic director Septime Webre’s “Second Movement” is set to the second movement of Mozart’s famous “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”. It depicts a woman at the end of her life looking back to her past as well as looking forward to her future. Chen Zhiyao danced the leading woman, again partnered by by Garry Corpuz who respresents a dark angel figure. The choreography is not particularly memorable either.

“Galatea & Pygmalion” choreographed by the local duo Justyne Li and Wong Tan-Ki is set to Philip Glass’ music and explores the relationship between the creator and the sculpture. Shen Jie was outstanding as the sculptor. However, the sombre duet for him and Nana Sakai is long and repetitive.

The closing piece “Sombrerisimo” by the Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is a playful and jolly work featuring six male dancers in black bowler hats. Though trivial, it is a rousing closing work.

I have saved the best piece till last. It’s an excerpt from the Vietnamese choreographer Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s “Beyond The Line”. The décor is striking, and the music is quite exciting. Nguyen’s choreography is the best in this whole programme. It is a clever fusion of Asian and Western influences. A dark combative male duet is well contrasted by the succeeding more flowing female duet, before the four dancers perform together.

Similar to the Hong Kong Ballet, Hong Kong Dance Company’s performances last year have been cut due to the closure of local theatres necessitated by the Covid pandemic. The company has been absent from the stage since last summer when it gave ten performances of the popular dance musical “A Tale of the Southern Sky”. At the end of February, it finally performed in the Shatin Town Hall. Its premiere was a 90-minute narrative work “The Moon Opera” choreographed by the mainland choreographer Wang Yabin, which has been delayed for a year due to the pandemic.

The story is about a famous Peking Opera star Xiao Yanqiu who is fired by her company before the premiere of “The Moon Opera”. Many years later, when her financial supporter revives the work for her, she is too weak to perform and has to see her student take her leading role. This ambitious work is divided into 14 scenes. The choreography is effective. Hua Chiyu was impressive in the leading role.

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Jonathan Spigner & Ye Feifei in “Handelwerk” Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco
HK Dance Company “Moon Opera” Photo: Chi Wai

veteran dance critic