Arts review: Don Quixote defies storm and injury as whole cast dazzles with electrifying energy
Slightly delayed by Severe Tropical Storm Pakhar, and displaying true “the show must go on” spirit, the company gave its all, with virtuoso performances from principals and debut dancers alike
Hong Kong Ballet’s new season opened with a baptism of fire (or rather flood) for new artistic director Septime Webre courtesy of Severe Tropical Storm Pakhar.
For the first time since 2008, on Sunday a No 8 signal coincided with a company production, in this case Don Quixote. Luckily the warning was downgraded just in time for the matinee to go ahead, albeit at 4.45pm instead of 2.30pm, giving the dancers barely one hour’s break before going back on stage for the 7.30pm performance.
This is “the show must go on” with a vengeance and huge credit goes not only to those on stage but all the company’s staff for making it happen with typically Hong Kong resilience and determination.
This is the first rerun of Nina Ananiashvili’s lively 2014 staging of Don Quixote – good as it was then, it was even better this time: sharp, vivid and tight, with electrifying energy from the whole ensemble.
While the company’s technical standards have long been high, in recent years it’s sometimes felt as if there was too much emphasis on technique and it was refreshing to see the dancers performing with more freedom and connecting more strongly with the audience.
As if the wrath of nature wasn’t enough, disaster of a different kind struck when principal Shen Jie injured himself at the end of Saturday’s show, leaving guest star Iana Salenko of Berlin Ballet without a partner for the final performance. Senior principal Wei Wei stepped in and it’s a tribute to the experience and professionalism of both artists that you’d never have guessed they’d had only a few hours rehearsal.
Salenko showed why she’s an international superstar – a small blonde firework of a ballerina, her effortless virtuosity was thrilling and her acting delightful. A guest of this calibre always lifts the company and Wei was galvanised, partnering impeccably and dancing with new-found élan.
At the matinee the home team’s Ye Feifei gave Salenko a run for her money in a performance packed with dazzling dancing, her earthy, feisty Kitri neatly contrasted with a grandly classical style as the Don’s fantasy damsel Dulcinea. Her partner Lia Jiabo looked a different dancer than on his debut in 2014, dancing with brio and doing a fine job of the partnering, complete with all the spectacular one-handed lifts that are a feature of this ballet.
There was a wealth of good dancing in solo roles. Some performances were already familiar from the 2014 run – Li Lin’s smoking hot Espada, Naomi Yuzawa’s exquisite Cupid and Yuzawa with Dong Ruixue as Kitri’s friends were a pleasure to see again, while Gao Ge’s assurance as the Queen of the Dryads and her seductive Street Dancer showed how much progress she has made in the past three years.
There were impressive debuts from Chen Zhiyao as the Queen of the Dryads and Tirion Law Lok-huen as Cupid. Others who stood out were Zhang Xuening, Xia Jun and Nana Sakai.
Don Quixote is a ballet where the character roles are key and the production was enriched with an abundance of comic detail by performances such as Lucas Jerkander’s deliciously daft Don, Yuh Egami’s endearing Sancho Panza, Ricky Hu Songwei’s irascible Lorenzo and Jonathan Spigner’s gloriously over the top Gamache.
Despite the weather woes, this was an auspicious beginning to Webre’s tenure and bodes well for the company’s first production of another lighthearted 19th century classic, Le Corsaire, later this year.
Hong Kong Ballet
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre
Reviewed: Aug 27 (4.45pm and 7.30pm)