Review: Marco Polo

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 9:39am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 9:45am

Marco Polo
Nice Méditerranée Opera Ballet
HK Cultural Centre Grand Theatre
Reviewed: May 16

Italian choreographer Luciano Cannito's production is inspired by fabulist author Italo Calvino's novel Invisible Cities, rather than the historical life of the 13th century Venetian merchant-explorer. The result is a non-narrative piece which, if too confused to be satisfying, offers good choreography, excellent dancing and a rare return to the stage by the great French dancer Eric Vu-An, the troupe's artistic director.

In Calvino's complex and surreal work, Marco Polo visits the court of Chinese Emperor Kublai Khan and tells him about the cities he claims to have visited on his travels. His lyrical descriptions of these imagined cities are interspersed with exchanges between emperor and explorer, who do not share a spoken language.

Unfortunately conveying abstract, intellectual concepts of this kind is not something dance does well and Cannito fails to overcome this problem. For those not familiar with Calvino's book, the ballet consists of unrelated scenes that jump abruptly from period to period and style to style. While the relationship between the two men is intriguing, these scenes give little clue to a bemused audience as to what Polo's stories represent.

Nonetheless, the ballet is entertaining, if uneven. Cannito's choreography is notably musical, and responds well to Mario Sciavoni's lively score, making good use of classical technique in a modern style. The colourful, anachronistic designs by Jean-Pierre Laporte capture the playfulness of Calvino's imaginary worlds. The best section is the city of Zobeide, led by the stunning Céline Marcinno, in which the theme of desire is cleverly evoked with the dancers dressed in underwear, with a sly reference to the classic Crazy Horse number Legmania.

In the title role, Alessio Passaquindici acts well and shows an elegant classicism but cannot help being eclipsed by Vu-An as Kublai.

One of the most celebrated dancers of his generation, Vu-An created the role of Marco Polo more than 20 years ago and today, aged 50, has moved to that of the ageing emperor. Possessed of a strength, fluidity and technical prowess which belie his age, his immense stage presence and innate artistry are a pleasure to watch.

Natasha Rogai