Male Stars shine in Hong Kong Ballet’s new Swan Lake

June 03, 2024 06:00

“Swan Lake” is undoubtedly the most famous of the ballet classics, and is a guaranteed box office success everywhere. Marius Petipa’s landmark 1895 production for the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia is the definitive version of this classic. Hong Kong Ballet’s last production of this classic was back in 2007 and staged by John Meehan, the company’s artistic director at the time; and so a new production is timely.

This new production of ”Swan Lake”, which was premiered last weekend, is by Yuri Possokhov, the choreographer-in-residence of the San Francisco Ballet as well as a former principal dancer of that company and also the Bolshoi Ballet. To further boost ticket sales, Hong Kong Ballet has invited two well-known ballet stars to lead the first two evenings in the first week – Matthew Ball, a principal of The Royal Ballet; and Constantine Allen, a principal of the Dutch National Ballet who participated in the company’s international gala last autumn.

Possokhov’s focus in this new production, which lasts for over 2 hours 40 minutes with only one interval, is on Prince Siegfried more than on the Swan Queen. The White Swan and Black Swan are mere figments of his dream. The tiresome Jester, who normally appears in Soviet productions instead of Western productions, has a major role in this production, and has extensive dancing.

Possokhov’s innovation is to add a psychoanalytic twist. The Jester, who is bitter that Prince Siegfried will soon marry and leave him, transforms himself into the sinister sorcerer Von Rothbart who then creates hallucinations of swans to lure the Prince to the lakeside in Act 2 where he falls in love with Odette, the Swan Queen. In Act 3 Von Rothbart conjures up Odile, the Black Swan, to make the Prince forget about Odette. It is a clumsy scenario and not convincingly presented.

Possokhov has added his own choreography for this production. The Prince’s solo dancing has been expanded, especially in Act 1. The Prince’s friend Benno is also quite prominent in this production and dances in the Act 1 pas de trois with two female friends, and also in the Act 3 ballroom scene. Von Rothbart has a solo in the Act 3 ballroom scene. 

In Act 2 the White Swan pas de deux mostly retains the original Petipa/Ivanov choreography from the landmark 1895 production, though Odette’s mime has been excised.

In Act 3, The Black Swan duet is based on Soviet versions. Four national dances are danced in new choreography on pointe shoes instead of character shoes. There is not enough differentiation in choreography between the Hungarian dance and Polish dance. In view of the size of the company, the number of national dances could have been cut down.

Possokhov’s choreography for the corps de ballet of swans in the Act 4 lakeside scene is pleasing. The ending however is convoluted. Odette and Von Rothbart disappear into a cave, and the heartbroken Prince jumps off the cliff to drown himself. Before the curtain fall, the Prince and Odette are reunited in the afterlife.

On the opening night, Matthew Ball was a stylish and elegant Prince. Ball’s technique was clean and his virtuosity was dazzling. His acting had intensity. As the Swan Queen, Ye Feifei displayed her usual technical power, but her characterisation was slightly muted.

The drama was far more alive on the second night led by Wang Qingxin and Constantine Allen. Wang gave an outstanding performance. She was expressive as Odette, and glamorous as Odile which suited her more. Allen’s acting was vivid and naturalistic, and his dancing had a largeness of scale and a generosity of spirit. Their Black Swan duet was superbly danced with a joyful abandon. Allen’s virtuosity was brilliant.

Garry Corpuz was menacing as the evil Von Rothbart, while Basil James impressed as Benno. Wang Zi as the tireless jester was loudly applauded. The company gave strong supporting performances. The costume designs are by Sandra Woodall. The costumes for the Queen Mother and her entourage are too garish however.

The set designed by Alexander Nichols is functional. The colour scheme in Act 1 is too greyish and dull for the Prince’s birthday celebration. Fortunately, the décor is more palatial for the Act 3 ballroom scene. The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra was excellent under the baton of Lio Kuokman.

photo:Dancers – Constantine Allen & Wang Qingxin (by Conrad Dy-Liacco)


veteran dance critic