Hong Kong Ballet Gala & Great Gatsby

November 07, 2023 10:45
Daniil Simkin in Le Corsaire (Photo by Conrad Dy-Liacco)

Hong Kong Ballet’s annual international gala of stars is long overdue. The last one was held in 2019 just before the pandemic to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary. This year’s gala was in two acts and featured five guest stars – Marianela Nunez from the Royal Ballet who first guested with the company in June, Daniil Simkin, Constantine Allen from the Dutch National Ballet, as well Fang Mengying and Chen Zhuming from the National Ballet of China.

Daniil Simkin, who last appeared in Hong Kong ten years ago with the American Ballet Theatre, won the loudest applause on the opening night. He danced the pas de deux from “Le Corsaire” at the end of Act 1 with company soloist Kim Eunsil. Simkin still has star quality in spades. His exciting coupes jetes round the stage were simply breathtaking. His beautiful line and arched back were memorable. Kim held her own, dancing sharply. In Act 2, Simkin also dazzled in a contemporary solo “Les Bourgeois” set to French songs by Jacques Brel and choreographed by Ben van Cauwenbergh. Unexpectedly he lit a cigarette to enjoy towards the end of the solo.

Marianela Nunez danced the pas de deux from the classic warhorse “Don Quixote”, which she had just danced with the Royal Ballet in London last month on the opening night of its new season. Her dancing was delicious and musical; and her virtuosity was sparkling, especially in her series of fouettes at the end. Her partner was company soloist Alexander Yap whose multiple pirouettes were impressive. It would have been even more pleasing for her audience if Nunez could have danced one more solo or duet.

Constantine Allen from the Dutch National Ballet was stylish in the black pas de deux from “Swan Lake” partnering Wang Qingxin. Fang Menying, a National Ballet of China principal, was a revelation in the “Giselle” pas de deux. She was light and airy and danced with expressiveness. Her partner Chen Zhuming was bland however.

This year’s gala as usual had its share of duds. Fei Bo’s duet “Permanent Yesterday”, which was also danced by the National Ballet of China couple, was forgettable. “Inside Out” choreographed by Le Wang was a bore. And “The 61st Second” by Ye Li with frequent blackouts was clichéd.

“New Work” by the Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis, set to music by Depeche Mode for two couples in black, was better. Ricky Hu, Hong Kong Ballet’s choreographer-in-residence, contributed three pieces. “Notturno” set in darkness to Chopin’s music was too long-winded.

Hu’s best piece was the closing item “Monica” set to a song by the late Cantopop star Leslie Cheung. It’s lively with some pleasing patterns for the corps de ballet. Unexpectedly at the end, the five guest stars also joined in before the curtain was brought down to close this Gala. Just what they made of the Cantonese song is anybody’s guess.

Hong Kong Ballet’s second programme in this past fortnight was artistic director Septime Webre’s spectacular production of “The Great Gatsby”, excerpts of which were also performed in the Gala. First premiered by the company in 2019, this two-act ballet lasting for two hours is full of energy and has an easy pop appeal. It is extremely theatrical, but seems at times more like a musical than a ballet, due to the large amount of singing and dialogue. The tap dancing solo in Act 2, though exciting, tends to slow down the narrative.

The narrative is generally clear and straightforward. Act 1 has a steady momentum. Act 2 starts with a flashback to the first meeting between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, which is well depicted. The tension at the end of Act 2 from the New York Plaza Hotel scene till the car crash is stifling. The tragic ending when Gatsby is shot dead by George is succinctly presented.

The choreography is formulaic, and the duets are effective. The golf duet in the beginning of Act 2 for Jordan and Nick is good fun. The first duet for Tom and his mistress Myrtle depicting a telephone conversation is imaginative. The best is the ecstatic dream pas de deux at the end of Act 1 for Daisy and Gatsby. The two New York street scenes are colourful with various characters including nuns, sailors, and policemen.

The whole first cast was excellent. Alexander Yap was handsome in the title role and danced admirably. Ye Feifei was glamorous as Daisy, and was most tender and expressive in the duets. Garry Corpuz impressed as Tom, and Wang Qingxin shone as his mistress Myrtle. Yonen Takano was intense as George, while Ma Renjie was pleasant as Nick.

In the second cast, Albert Gordon danced cleanly but lacked weight and charisma as Gatsby. Nevertheless it was good to see Lucas Jerkander, a former soloist of the company, returning as a guest to dance Tom.

Tanki Wong danced impeccably his tap solo in Act 2. The Blues singer E. Faye Butler won the loudest applause all evening for her superb rendition of “I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl”. James Seol was impressive as the narrator. The jazz music score, compiled and composed by Billy Novick, was magnificently performed by his own troupe, Billy Novick’s Blue Syncopators.

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Maranella Nunez & Alexander Yap in Don Quixote duet  (Photo by Tony Luk)
Ye Feifei & Alexander Yap in Great Gatsby (Photo by Conrad Dy-Liacco)

veteran dance critic