Maribor Ballet opens Hong Kong Arts Festival

February 17, 2023 13:24
Maribor Ballet in “Radio and Juliet”  (Photo: Damjan Svarc)

After a hiatus of three years caused by the pandemic, the Hong Kong Arts Festival can finally resume hosting overseas companies. And what a relief it is to local audiences. This weekend the opening performance of this Festival, now in its 51st year, is given by the Ballet of the Slovene National Theatre Maribor.

This medium-sized troupe is not among the most prestigious of European ballet companies. Of more interest is its artistic director Edward Clug, a Romanian choreographer who has gained prominence in Europe in recent years. Maribor Ballet’s opening programme showcases two works by Clug.

“Radio and Juliet”, created in 2005, sets Shakespeare’s famous tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” in a bleak dystopian era. It has been performed in stars galas elsewhere in Europe besides in Maribor. The title refers to the music which is by the British rock band Radiohead. It opens with a short black and white movie which shows Juliet in an interior. The movie is then followed by Romeo’s entrance onto the stage.

This Clug version seems to be a series of flashbacks in Juliet’s memories. The narrative is less important than the dancing. However, the key dramatic high points are obvious, such as the masquerade ball, the two lovers’ clandestine wedding with a priest, the street fighting scenes. The ending as expected sees Juliet in horror after her discovery of the dead Romeo.

Clug’s choreographic style is jerky. Limbs bend at sharp angles, elbows fold with a lot of rotating arm movements, and spines arch quickly. The ensemble scenes for the six male dancers are exciting, contrasted by the lyrical solos of the two lovers. However Clug’s vocabulary is narrow in range, and the choreography becomes predictable and repetitive after a while, and does not sustain interest for the 50-minute length of this piece. Lighting is generally effective in this piece with minimal design. Tijuana Krizman Hudernik impressed as Juliet, well matched with Tamas Darai as her Romeo.

The second half is Clug’s later work “The Rite of Spring” created in 2012. It is more coherent as a whole and makes a more powerful impact than “Radio and Juliet”. The original version by Nijinsky depicted a ritual sacrifice in a pagan society. Clug’s version uses an unexpected element. Early in the ballet, two big bucket loads of water unexpectedly fall onto the dancers. The wet puddle enables the women to glide smoothly across the stage repeatedly. At one point, each of the men drags his female partner on the stage like a broom, which is inhuman though.

Towards the end, another rain of water falls and lasts for over five minutes. At the end, the female victim selected to be sacrificed, powerfully danced by Asami Nakashima, is abused by the group. After her solo, she dies of exhaustion, and her body is just brutally pushed across the stage by the crowd.

In its second programme this weekend, the Maribor Ballet will present Clug’s full-length ballet “Peer Gynt” based on Ibsen’s play.

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Maribor Ballet in “The Rite of Spring” (Photo: Tiberiu Marta)

veteran dance critic