US ballet troupe brings bravura to arts festival

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 February, 2013, 5:18am

Dance Gala Programme 1
American Ballet Theatre
Cultural Centre Grand Theatre

American Ballet Theatre began their series of performances under the Hong Kong Arts Festival with a high-energy mixed bill that showed the company in sparkling form.

Mark Morris's Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes made a charming, light-hearted opening to the programme.

It looks less innovative today than upon its creation in 1988, but its airy choreography is still pleasing and its play on classical steps is subtle.

The young cast danced well, with Joseph Gorak making a strong impression.

The most anticipated piece was Alexei Ratmansky's Symphony No 9, created for the company only last October.

It was a rare opportunity to see a major new work danced by its original cast, and demonstrated again Ratmansky's affinity for the composer's music.

Symphony No 9 presents a special challenge due to its abrupt transitions between lively, even brash fast sequences and darker moods. Ratmansky does not quite overcome the challenge of the jarring contrasts but deals magnificently with the often frenetic pace, responding to the music with choreography that combines rapid, complex footwork with lush, upper-body movement.

It remains to be seen what place the piece will occupy in Ratmansky's oeuvre but it deserves to be seen more than once.

It was superbly performed, with outstanding work from Herman Cornejo, Simone Messmer, Polina Semionova and Craig Salstein.

Fittingly, from America's official national ballet, the high point of the evening was the pas de deux from George Balanchine's exuberant Stars and Stripes set to military band music by John Philip Sousa.

It was performed with bravura by the scintillating Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin, whose virtuosity, finishing and joy in dancing are reminiscent of the young Baryshnikov.

Fireworks were missing from the Black Swan pas de deux - the only let-down in an otherwise excellent programme.