The Dream of the Red Chamber
Hong Kong Ballet
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre
Reviewed: October 26
It probably sounded like a good idea at the time: a ballet based on one of China's greatest literary classics, The Dream of the Red Chamber.
Originally staged for Germany's Dortmund Ballet by that company's artistic director, mainland-born choreographer Wang Xinpeng, The Dream of the Red Chamber is not so much a disappointment but an artistic disaster.
Cao Xueqin's epic 18th century novel depicts the fortunes of the House of Jia. Wang and Christian Baier - who is responsible for concept and story - have extracted the novel's central story of the family's son and heir Pao Yu.
Born with a magic stone in his mouth, which gives a running mythical theme to the book, Pao Yu (Li Jiabo) is in love with his fragile cousin Dai Yu (Liu Yuyao, right) but is forced to marry another cousin, Pao Tschai (Zhang Siyuan).
Dai Yu dies of sorrow and Pao Yu, unable to forget her, becomes a monk.
The ballet makes a reasonable start. A prologue evokes the mysterious stone, brilliantly danced by Ricky Hu. Act one tells the story clearly up to the wedding of Pao Yu and Pao Tschai.
Things go downhill in Act two, which focuses on Dai Yu's decline and death. Although Liu is ideally cast, her emotional intensity and beauty of movement cannot overcome the repetitive, unimaginative choreography.
If the first two acts suffer from banal choreography and weak structure, nothing could have prepared the audience for act three.
Wang abandons narrative for an existential exploration of Pao Yu's grief. Here, we have the ballet's best sequence, with fast, co-ordinated movement superbly executed by the company's men and a spectacular solo by Li. If only it had ended there.
Instead, a seemingly endless succession of extras in elaborate historical costumes perform a catwalk parade. Then emerge a bunch of energetic dancers in green bodysuits - are they meant to be caterpillars? Frogs?
The production finally closes with an inane epilogue.
It is a credit to the company's dancers that they performed this abysmal work with total professionalism.
What a pity they were asked to do so.