Once the most popular entertainment in our city, there’s a fresh push to make Cantonese opera great again.
Hong Kong Ballet’s final performances of this season were a mixed programme entitled Carmen and More. This also happens to be the last programme under Madeleine Onne, the Ballet’s current artistic director, who is set to leave.
It’s a pretty intense evening, overall. Let’s begin with Carmen, the most publicised premiere of this programme. It’s a new work choreographed by two of the company’s dancers, Yuh Egami and Ricky Hu. Both have made decent progress in the past few years as ‘resident choreographers’, their best work to date being Bolero in 2015. This new production of Carmen is given a modern twist, being set in a garment factory. Carmen’s former lover Jose poignantly tells the story in a series of flashback as he revisits the now abandoned factory.
The ballet’s novelty is quite attractive at first, but the drama becomes too melodramatic towards the end and Carmen’s murder. The ending – with Carmen lifted on high after her death – is rather clichéd. But the group dances for the factory workers are vivid and the choreography for the duets effective. The first cast was excellent. Ye Feifei was sexy and alluring in the title role and Liang Jing engrossing as the older Jose. As the young Jose, Li Jiabo’s obsession with Carmen and jealousy were powerfully expressed. Lucas Jerkander was suitably handsome as the factory owner with whom Carmen falls in love.
This ballet was preceded by a revival of a 2014 ballet by Finnish choreographer Jorna Elo entitled Shape of Glow. Set to Mozart and Beethoven, this work was created specially for Hong Kong Ballet. It is set in darkness and the 16 dancers are attired in identical navy and black tights. Elo’s choreographic style, derivative of William Forsythe, feels slightly dated now.
The first movement is for the whole cast, while the second consists of three duets. The final third movement lacks structure and focus and is too diffuse to make a strong impact. Shen Jie and Luis Cabrera were particularly dazzling among the male dancers while Li Jiabo and Liu Miaomiao stood out among the duet pairings.
The programme was completed by the company’s premieres of two Jiri Kylian ballets in the final third, which were linked by a hilarious video. Both ballets are set to music by Mozart. Though not to my taste, Kylian is certainly one of the most important European choreographers today.
Sechs Tanze is a 1986 work featuring six seemingly nonsensical acts of harmless good fun. The dancers are all dressed in 19th-century European costumes and wear wigs. The ballet, a comic one which ends with a snowfall, comes across as trivial.
Better is Kylian’s 1991 work Petite Mort, a work in the repertory of a number of ballet companies worldwide. This is by far the best work of the entire evening. Kylian has an undeniable theatrical savy and is a master choreographer. According to the programme notes, the theme of this work is that life is short and death is never far away. The first section sees the male dancers brandishing their swords, and the women are later seen wearing black false crinoline dresses. A huge swathe of fabric is used to create changes in scene. Three moving duets end the piece solemnly.
The performances were excellent in this piece. Jin Yao and Wei Wei, Lucas Jerkander and Ye Feifei were all superb in their duets. Saturday night’s performance also ended with a moving onstage tribute to the outgoing director, Onne, from the entire company. This was fitting as, under her leadership, Hong Kong Ballet has definitely grown in international reputation.