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Interview: Yuri Ng on Cinderella and spreading the word about ballet

"I want to demonstrate that ballet is not that strange, lofty or inaccessible."

Yi-Chun Wu
In the wake of this winter’s massively successful Swan Lake, Hong Kong Ballet is partnering with choreographer and Yat Po Singers director Yuri Ng to continue its Ballet Classics For Children series in the shape of Prokofiev’s Cinderella. With the composer’s score, a romantic story and stunning choreography based on choreographer David Allen’s interpretation of the production, Cinderella is the perfect introduction to ballet for young Hongkongers. Yet Ng is going above and beyond. In addition to including narration to help inform children of the story, the production includes a Japanese narration (different performances have different languages), courtesy of Hong Kong Ballet resident dancer Shunsuke Arimizu. We speak to Ng to learn more about what he has in store...
 
Hello Yuri! How is choreographing Cinderella different when it’s targeted at kids?
The original purpose of this series and particular production was to draw people in who hadn’t had much experience with ballet before. We have a narrator who is not only talking about the story but about the different core elements of ballet, like costumes and stage changes. For example, one of the ugly stepsisters is a narrator, so it feels like there’s someone on the inside bringing people in, to point out the different types of music at the ball, like whether there’s a mazurka or a waltz playing. It’s all been meticulously planned out and timed but the rhythm is relaxed and engaging, so people can get a sense that Prokofiev’s music, far from being jarring, is quite approachable in its own way. 
 
You’ve done many ballet education productions to help others better understand the art form. Why this particular focus?
I wouldn’t necessarily call it education, as much as it is an outreach to the general public who may originally have zero interest. I want to demonstrate that ballet is not that strange, lofty or inaccessible, that it can actually be a means of escape and rest. We want the audience to come away with a sense that they can do anything through our productions. People will see a performance and ask ‘how do they do this and that?’ and we hope that inspires people to say ‘okay, there’s always a way to make something happen’. That process is an exciting one, indeed.

When did you first become passionate about ballet?
In the 1970s, thanks to a South African choreographer with the Hong Kong Ballet Group named William Morgan. Back then I was a kid and I saw the archive photos of his ballets, which consisted of dancers wearing Chinese dress but with pointe shoes. I had never seen something like that in my life! At the time I only knew about Chinese forms of theatre and didn’t know what things like ‘ballet’ or ‘pointe shoes’ were, so I was intrigued and it stuck in my mind.
 
Returning to Cinderella, there’s a show that involves Japanese narration. Is there a particular reason behind this performance?
If there are to be three languages involved, two of which are Cantonese and English, what would you assume to be the third language? Probably Putonghua, because of the local community. That would be a natural option to enlarge the audience. But for a story like Cinderella, we don’t necessarily need that, so there was room for me to take a risk. Also, I proposed a Japanese narration because there are a lot of Japanese people involved in Hong Kong’s ballet community, especially youngsters who are just starting to learn. They speak English during lessons but if there’s a Japanese narration, in addition to the presence of a Japanese dancer like Shunsuke Arimizu, who has been with us for many years and will not only be dancing but also narrating one of the shows, I think that’s a wonderful way to connect with that community.

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