Carmina Burana opens Hong Kong Ballet’s new season

October 18, 2022 10:09
HK Ballet dancers in Carmina Burana  (Photo: Tony Luk)

Hong Kong Ballet’s offering this autumn was a spectacular double-bill programme “Carmina Burana” last weekend, jointly presented with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

“Carmina Burana” is a cantata composed in the 1930s by German composer Carl Orff. For his text, Orff turned to a collection of 24 medieval songs and poems discovered in 1803 at a Bavarian monastery. In these profane lyrics of minstrels and monks, Orff expressed the human longing for sensual pleasures persisting through the capricious turns of the wheel of fortune.

“Carmina” was created by the present Hong Kong Ballet artistic director Septime Webre when he was the director of the American Repertory Ballet. After he moved to direct the Washington Ballet, he also staged this production for that company. Webre’s choreography for Orff’s monumental score has also combined some elements from Virginia Woolf’s novella ”Orlando” as reflected in the Victorian era frock-coats and the 1930s costumes.

The Hong Kong Philharmonic Choir and the Hong Kong Children’s Choir also joined forces for this premiere. A choir of grey-attired monks is lined up in formation on three tiers of scaffolding on the front and two sides of the stage. An eye-catching massive wheel with Fortuna (the goddess of fortune) in the centre is seen in the beginning, and is to reappear again at curtain fall having turned a full cycle.

Webre’s busy choreographic style is shown to good advantage in this ballet which is almost non-stop action. This entertaining one-hour-long work consists of a good variety of solos, duets, and ensemble dance. The various pas de deux are effective. The final duet seems to suggest Adam and Eve. The solos for the male soloist are dazzling in virtuosity.

The choreography for the ensemble dances is full of fun and vitality. Particularly exciting is a dance which each of the male dancers is paired with a red broom. Another male ensemble dance with chairs is boisterous. A section with three gigantic women unloading male courtiers from their skirts, amidst a confetti of red petals, is hilarious. Another section sees a giantess in a ball gown who brings to mind the Mother Ginger in “The Nutcracker”.

The opening night was strongly cast. Ye Feifei, the company’s top ballerina,was meltingly soft and tender in the final passionate duet, with Garry Corpuz superb as her partner. Ye and Corpuz were ecstatic in the black duet earlier on. Xuan Cheng, who has just joined the company this season, and Yonen Takano were expressive in the moonlit duet full of soaring lifts.

Albert Gordon sparkled with his speed and lightness in his virtuosic solos. He was especially memorable in a self-flagellating solo with religious symbolism. Kim Eunsil shone in a solo which seemed to depict Orlando.

“Carmina” was preceded by another premiere by Ricky Hu, the company’s choregrapher-in-residence. “The Last Song” is set to an assortment of Bach’s music. The two male lead roles represent Oscar Wilde and his muse. The theme is the search for an unattainable ideal and beauty.

The duets are intense. Hu’s choreography for the corps de ballet is fluent. This dark work, which ends with the death of the muse and the Wilde figure’s ascending a staircase, is too relentlessly gloomy. Luis Carbrera stood out as Wilde, while Kyle Lin impressed as his muse.

A final word of praise for the excellence of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Lio Kuokman, the Chorus and the three vocal soloists. Hong Kong Ballet’s “Carmina Burana” is a winner, a timely celebration of human endurance and vitality during the current difficult times in the world.

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Albert Gordon in Carmina Burana  (Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco)
Luis Carbrera in The Last Song  (Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco)
2	Garry Corpuz & Ye Feifei in Carmina Burana  (Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco)

veteran dance critic