Reviews: In Search of Hui Sin and Trpceski's Rachmaninov
In Search of Hui Sin
Shouson Theatre, HK Arts Centre
This new production from contemporary group DanceArt is a collaboration with theatre director Ho Ying-fung which purports to offer a modern take on the ancient Chinese folklore The Legend of the White Snake.
The programme notes say the intent was to explore various questions surrounding the relevance and reimagining of the story in a 21st-century context. It's an interesting idea, but after 90 minutes of slow motion with no discernible plot, little sense of theatre and certainly no dance, the only important question was: "When is this going to end?"
The Legend of the White Snake is a tale of love triumphing against the odds. Two supernatural beings, White Snake and Green Snake, transform themselves into beautiful women to live among humans. White Snake falls in love with a young man called Hui Sin. She becomes his wife until their happiness is destroyed by the monk Fa Hai, who hates White Snake and reveals her true form to her husband. Decades of suffering and struggle follow before the lovers are at last reunited.
DanceArt's piece follows the traditional story, albeit in a rudimentary way. Bizarrely, the only "contemporary" aspect is provided by Man Liu, who is presumably Hui Sin (identified only as "He"), and Gabbie Chan, identified as "She", who have modern clothing and mobile phones. Far from being presented in a contemporary light, White Snake (Yvette Huang) and Green Snake (Su Shu) sport cheongsams and stylised make-up, while Francis Leung as Fa Hai wears a traditional monk's costume.
While Huang, Su and Leung all posture effectively, they never do more, and the other two dancers add little beyond occasionally rolling on the floor or running round the stage.
The agonisingly slow pace, repetitious movement and minimal interaction among the cast may be due, at least in part, to the decision to favour improvisation over set choreography. But when it comes to staging a show for a paying audience (as opposed to an experimental workshop), actual choreography is essential to create coherent and stimulating work. Sadly, In Search of Hui Sin was neither.
The best things about the evening were the vocals by voice artist McNugget and the pipa playing of Lam Tsan-tong.
Hong Kong Philharmonic
HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Sergei Rachmaninov's three symphonies and four piano concertos have always carried question marks regarding his skill. All the works are cast in minor keys, but their popularity is not so uniform.
It looked as though this Hong Kong Philharmonic concert had drawn a short straw in having to sell both the First Symphony and the Fourth Piano Concerto - works that commit the unforgivable sin of being largely unmemorable.
It is to conductor Perry So's great credit that he managed to scrub up the pieces to a level of slick impetus without descending into empty showmanship, turning what could have been a two-hour yawn into dynamic show.
The Fourth Piano Concerto experienced major revisions between 1926 and its final reincarnation in 1941, but never managed to win over audiences of the day.
The first movement has little sense of where magnetic north lies; it doesn't progress musically or structurally. The second movement suffers not so much from the fact its naive tune resembles Three Blind Mice or Two Lovely Black Eyes, as from the lack of any convincing development.
So's response was to generate a forthrightness from the orchestra that put it on an equal, if not dominant, footing with soloist Simon Trpceski. Having the Macedonian's keyboard bravura grouting the orchestra's vibrant bricks of sound worked a treat.
The First Symphony was received so badly at its premiere in 1897 that it plunged the 24-year old Rachmaninov into depression and a years-long writer's block. History has inclined to accept that the conductor was drunk and the work was ahead of its time.
There was no such negativity here. Liberties may have been taken with speeds and dynamic levels, but no one cared. The downside was that, by the finale, this zappy mode of attack started to wear a bit thin, even though So's baton was still fully charged, at one point flying into the violins. Altogether, an opinion-testing evening.