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Hong Kong Ballet returns with its annual Choreographer's Showcase

Hong Kong Ballet’s annual Choreographer’s Showcase is a great insight into the future of the city’s dance scene. Artistic director Madeleine Onne tells Josiah Ng what pieces to catch at this edition

Between groups like Hong Kong Ballet, the Hong Kong Dance Company and the City Contemporary Dance Company, the innovation and preservation of dance in our city is alive and, literally, kicking. And there’s probably no event that shows just how healthy our local scene is than Hong Kong Ballet’s annual Choreographer’s Showcase. This is a three-day series of pieces that isn’t just about classic ballet. It’s a showcase of new works by the city’s rising dance-makers in all areas of the art.

HK Ballet brings together nine choreographers for this year’s edition at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Each of them have tailored a piece for the showcase, assembling a mix of local and international talents. “In the past few years,” says artistic director Madeleine Onne, “we have invited choreographers from different backgrounds to work with us and, this year, we continue to do so.” The lineup of choreographers includes Guangdong Dance School alumnus He Chao-ya, who is collaborating with Shanghai native Li Jia-bo, as well as Jonathan Spigner from the USA, the man behind Passion Flower, a celebrated piece about spontaneity and living in the moment.

The whole point of the showcase is that the movers and shakers in our city’s world of ballet and contemporary dance can spot creative talents and, perhaps, nurture them in the future. It’s all about these creatives staging exciting and modern pieces that will catch the eyes of the experts and thus lead to an even healthier dance scene in the years to come. In 2014 and last year, the showcases were sold out. There’s expected to be much interest again between September 23 and 25 this time round, especially among Hong Kong’s loyal ballet fans.

This year’s pieces look to explore any and every theme under the sun. Classic themes pervade pieces such as Ryo Kato’s Shogun and Jun Chen’s Dan·Sheng. Hailing from Saitama, Japan, Kato was named as one of HK Ballet’s soloists earlier this year and his piece aims to capture life in the Land of the Rising Sun in the 16th century, as well as the constant battles for the leadership of the country during that era. Jun Chen, principal dancer of the Hong Kong Dance Company, paints a portrait of a Chinese dancer, alternately incorporating different elements of Chinese opera into his work.

There’s plenty of introspection on the menu at the showcase as well. Dance Internship by former Hong Kong Ballet dancer-turned-independent Justyne Li plays the dancer-faced-with-the-monotony-of-everyday-life card. She also explores the presence of inner demons and the effect that both demons and boredom can have on the artistic process. “It’s certainly thrilling,” muses Onne, “to see how the choreographers with a more contemporary background work with our classically trained dancers to create new works.” All the pieces performed over the three nights should showcase what our city has to offer in terms of contemporary choreography at the highest level. “It’s every artistic director’s dream,” says Onne, “to have a homegrown choreographer such as Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon. There’s so much potential for this with Hong Kong Ballet.”

Sadly this is Onne’s final showcase as artistic director of Hong Kong Ballet.  “It’s definitely emotional for me,” she tells us. “The dancers have grown to be immensely important to me, both as artists and individuals.” Onne has been with the ballet since 2009 and over the years she’s expanded the company’s repertoire to include a diverse array of international works, as well as seeing the rise of many local careers alongside the importation of a raft of huge talents from overseas. “It is, of course, a bit painful to know that for every project we do, I get closer to my farewell,” she adds, before letting us know she’s heading to the USA to take the role of director of the Houston Ballet Academy.

While the news is sad for us, Onne remains forward looking. “There’s a great future for dance in Hong Kong,” she asserts. “I’m sure that when I visit Hong Kong again in 10 to 15 years, there’ll be a vibrant and hugely varied dance scene here.”

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