Ballet freshens up sugar plum world

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 December, 1997, 12:00am

This Christmas, the Hong Kong Ballet believes it has solved the perennial puzzle of The Nutcracker. Every year, the Ballet sells out for this show about a little girl falling asleep on Christmas night and dreaming up a sugar plum world.

The company takes Nutcracker off the repertoire at its peril: but how, doing the same thing every year, does it manage to keep it fresh? The answer, it hopes, is to present an entirely new version of the old chestnut.

'This time everything has changed and is much more exciting,' said artistic director Stephen Jefferies, speaking in the midst of rehearsals he described as 'chaotic'.

He was unwilling to give too many secrets away about the all- new scenery (designed by Peter Farmer), costumes and choreography.

'But it is fast-paced and more sophisticated than earlier productions, which were too card-like,' he said.

Mr Jefferies was just working on the battle scene, with rats and soldiers and a lot of stage gunpowder.

'It's pretty realistic; I think everyone is going to be surprised.' The show will be staged at the Cultural Centre Grand Theatre on December 14 and 16-21 at 7.30 pm, with matinees on December 20, 21 and 23.

On the more modern side of dance, Willy Tsao, director of the City Contemporary Dance Company, took his inspiration for the company's Christmas show from a rather unlikely source: Bluebeard's Castle, the story of a murdering duke and the seven doors of horrors.

In Papa Whitebeard and his Rainbow Castle, our hero - who could be described loosely as a Canto-Santa - is rather a different character, however. When a poor Hong Kong boy wakes up with no presents on Christmas morning, Papa takes him to his palace and invites him to open six rainbow- coloured doors in turn - each leading to different adventures.

But are there not 'seven' colours? 'Yes,' acknowledged marketing manager Clementine Chan. 'But blue and indigo are almost the same. And, anyway, we had six choreographers.' With input from local choreography celebrities Tsao, Ringo Chan, Pun Siu-fai, Helen Lai, Mui Cheuk-yin and Yuri Ng, Papa Whitebeard promises to be one of the highlights of the season.

What a shame the three performances are in the New Territories only: in Tsuen Wan on December 13, Sha Tin on December 20 and Tuen Mun on Christmas Day.

The language is Cantonese but - if the company's most recent children's show, Journey to the West, is anything to go by - there should be enough magic in this dance show to sweep most young people along with them.

The Hong Kong Players have opted for a very traditional pantomime this year, with performances of Cinderella - written by Peter Swingler and directed by Ian Robinson - running right through December (evening shows on December 11-14 and 17-20, with matinees on December 13, 14 and 20).

This is always a popular one and seats are limited at the Arts Centre's Shouson Theatre, so contact Urbtix (2734 9009) early for tickets.

A less well-known panto is promised from the Landing Lights Players: Hickory Dickory Dock will play at the little-known Haeco Theatre, Concorde Road, near Kai Tak, with evening shows on December 5, 6, 11-13; matinees on December 6 and 13, 2 pm and 7 pm; December 7, 2 pm.

Tickets cost $75 and information is available on 2719 3977 or 2735 0123.

Christmas is not Christmas without a few great masses and smaller carol services.

The Hong Kong Bach Choir will be performing Mozart ('Great' Mass in C Minor) and Stravinsky (Symphony of Psalms) on December 11. Jerome Hoberman will conduct the choir and the Hong Kong Sinfonietta: soloists are Katusha Tsui-Fraser, Rosaline Pi, Alex Tam Tin-lok and Albert Lim Chun.

On the same evening, the annual Carols for Hospices concert will present the first big carol concert of the season, at St John's Cathedral, starting at 7.30 pm, while the Cecilian Singers will host their own Christmas evening in the Cathedral on December 17.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Oratorio Society's annual Christmas music concert is scheduled for December 21 in the Cultural Centre Concert Hall.

While the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra tends to come into its own at Chinese New Year, the ensemble is also adding its own percussive spark to the Christmas season this year.

A concert on December 20 has the slightly terrifying title of Synergy in Chinese Music but organisers promise it will be more fun than its name.

It features top Chinese percussion soloists appearing as guests in the Cultural Centre Concert Hall.

'Drums are very festive in Chinese music, so we thought we'd do a really celebratory concert over the weekend before Christmas,' a spokesman said.