Hong Kong Ballet’s glittering "Jewels" a triumph

May 25, 2021 10:01
Daniel Camargo & Ye Feifei in “Diamonds” Photo: y Tony Luk

Full-house audiences enthusiastically welcomed the Hong Kong Ballet back on stage last weekend for its first programme of live performances this year. All five performances of the company’s premiere of “Jewels” at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts were sold out.

“Jewels” is a three-act ballet created in 1967 by George Balanchine, the greatest ballet choreographer of the 20th century. It is in fact the first full-length abstract ballet in history. The choreographer was inspired by a chance visit to the high jewellery boutique Van Cleef & Arpels on Fifth Avenue, New York.

“Emeralds” set to music by Faure pays tribute to France, the birthplace of classical ballet. “Rubies” set to Stravinsky salutes America, Balanchine’s adopted homeland where he founded the New York City Ballet. And the final part “Diamonds” set to Tchaikovsky’s third symphony is Balanchine’s homage to his roots and upbringing in the Imperial Ballet of Russia in St. Petersburg.

This Balanchine masterpiece has become an international hit in the past two decades, being in the repertory of every top ballet company in the world including the Royal Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet. Local audiences last saw this triptych in 2015 danced by the Bolshoi Ballet. Hong Kong Ballet premiered only the second part “Rubies” in 2008.

This new Hong Kong production staged by the Balanchine Trust has been eagerly awaited, after its postponement from last year due to the Covid pandemic. Diana White is responsible for staging both “Emeralds” and “Diamonds” this time, while “Rubies” is staged by Paul Boos. The original sumptuous costumes by Barbara Karinska have been faithfully reproduced.

The first part “Emeralds” evokes the Romantic era of ballet. Chen Zhiyao danced lyrically with freshness as the first ballerina; her arm movements were light and breezy. She was well partnered by Garry Corpus in the first duet. Yang Ruiqi was expressive as the second ballerina. The whole cast was admirable.

In contrast, the highly energetic style of the second part “Rubies” is perhaps the hardest part for the Hong Kong dancers to bring off. The corps de ballet women’s high battements bring to mind the high kicks of a chorus line of women in the Broadway musicals. Amber Lewis was joyous in the ballerina role, dancing the witty choreography with an effortless ease. Shen Jie dazzled with his technical bravura, and Wang Qingxin was eye-catching as the tall female soloist.

As expected, the dancers felt most at home in final “Diamonds” section which is the closest in style to the Petipa/Tchaikovsky classics that the company performs regularly. Ye Feifei was excellent as the “Diamonds” ballerina. She was pure and radiant in the long and exposed duet, one of the greatest in Balanchine’s oeuvre. The guest star Daniel Camargo was outstanding as her handsome cavalier, and hugely exciting in his dazzling virtuosity, especially his spectacular series of multiple pirouettes which was impeccably danced.

The first night was a triumph for the Hong Kong Ballet, especially the corps de ballet’s confident performance in “Diamonds”. The company was on top form, dancing with an eagerness and joy as if being renewed in Balanchine’s masterly choreography. The closing polonaise with an extended finale was glorious.

Some cast changes later in the weekend were also rewarding. In “Emeralds”, Daniel Camargo was elegant as the first cavalier, while Ye Feifei was glamorous as the second ballerina. As she was exiting the stage on pointe at the end of the second duet, she seemed to be floating on the clouds. Albert Gordon’s airy jumps in the trio were a delight.

In “Rubies” Zhang Xuening impressed as the female soloist. In “Diamonds” Chen Zhiyao danced with a softer tone as the ballerina, and Garry Corpus impressed as her cavalier. Wei Wei also shone in the male lead role in another cast. The City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong provided good accompaniment under the baton of the guest conductor Robert Reimer, with Rachel Cheung as the pianist in “Rubies”.

After this sold-out season, “Jewels” should be revived by the Hong Kong Ballet in the not too distant future. It is an excellent showcase for the whole company. And Balanchine’s masterpiece never ceases to yield new rewards on repeated viewings.

-- Contact us at [email protected]

Garry Corpus, Chen Zhiyao in “Emeralds”  Photo:  Conrad Dy-Liacco
HK Ballet in “Rubies” Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco

veteran dance critic