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From circus to Shakespeare: Hong Kong Arts Festival 2016 line-up announced

UPDATED: It's a festival 'in, of and for Hong Kong', event director Tisa Ho says as she sets out eclectic 32-day programme featuring over 1,000 artists

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 October, 2015, 11:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 October, 2015, 1:37pm

Serious arts aficionados in Hong Kong get out their wallets when advance sales for the Hong Kong Arts Festival are announced, whatever the quibbles about repertoire or ticket prices. The festival's 44th edition is eclectic indeed, comprising genres from circus to Shakespeare.

Tisa Ho, festival executive director, announced the line-up of programmes she said are "in, of and for Hong Kong". The festival will last 32 days, from February 19 to 20 March 2016, and will feature 50 performing groups and soloists, 24 venues and over 1,000 artists in total.

The Arts Festival continues to present big names in the face of rising costs, despite having seen no increase in government support over the past six years.The festival gets about a third of its HK$110 million budget from the government, another third from box office takings, and the other third from sponsorships and donations.

Among this year's biggest names is superstar soprano Anna Netrebko, who is making her first appearance in Hong Kong.  Other than Netrebko, the Mikhailovsky Ballet of St Petersburg has stepped in, at the last minute, to replace the Berlin State Ballet in The Sleeping Beauty. Another blockbuster is The Royal Shakespeare Company's "King and Country", three Shakespearean history plays - Henry IV parts I & II and Henry V. One show that looks like it could sell out quickly is Rufus Wainwright's Prima Donna.

There are plenty of new works, including Chinese Lesson, a new play commissioned by the festival, and a youthful dance drama, Danz Up. The Intimacy of Creativity presents contemporary chamber music including music of Bright Sheng. There are some Hong Kong premieres, such as a production of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra by Teatro Regio Torino and Jane Eyre by Bristol Old Vic and the National Theatre of Great Britain.

Peter Brook's Battlefield, a piece with contemporary resonance, is a drama based on Indian epic the Mahabharata. Chinese opera offers unusual selections, with both the Jingju Theatre Company of Beijing's The Artistry of Zhang Junqiu and Cantonese Opera's Li Bai, the Immortal Poet.

Promising cross-cultural performances include Macbeth performed in Cantonese, directed and adapted by Tang Shu-wing. Early music fans will be eagerly awaiting the Watermusic programme from Concerto Copenhagen, and jazz fans will also not be disappointed, with offerings including the "Adios Tour" of the Buena Vista Social Club from Cuba and the return of 2014 festival hit Roberto Fonseca, partnering Malian singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara.

As for the circus, Compagnia Finzi Pascia will perform The Truth, inspired by a Salvador Dali work; the Circa ensemble and Debussy String Quartet will combine in Opus, a celebration of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich featuring 14 dancer-acrobats; and Thomas Monckton and Finland's Circa Aereo will present The Pianist, a comic presentation about a recital that never starts.

Ho was keen to stress the festival was "not a random collection of good stuff", saying: "The festival has to be an integrated whole ... It has to be driven by a certain sensibility, and the sensibility is one of Hong Kong.”

Advance ticket sales commence on October 8.