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Arts preview: 'The Merry Widow' is a marriage of two cultures

Mabel Sieh

 

The Merry Widow

Hong Kong Ballet

The Hong Kong Ballet last staged The Merry Widow, an adaptation of the operetta of the same name by Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehar, six years ago. It was a very different company then, recalls ballet master Liang Jing who danced one of the lead roles.

"In 2007, the dancers were older and more mature; now we have younger dancers with good figures and techniques, but not as experienced in life," says the 43-year-old Hunan native.

Liang sees the need to guide the Chinese dancers to express a deeper level of emotions in their acting. "With their age and cultural background, they feel embarrassed by kissing a dance partner," he says, citing an example. "I help them to emerge into their roles rather than thinking about themselves."

Adapted by John Lanchbery and Alan Abbott for ballet and choreographed by Ronald Hynd, The Merry Widow is a delightful love story between the wealthy widow Hanna Glawari and Prince Danilo. Their union ultimately saves their country from bankruptcy.

The 1975 Australian Ballet production was brought over by the then artistic director of the Hong Kong Ballet, John Meehan, who was the original Danilo, a role that made him an international star. Owing to an injury, Meehan is unable to return to the city to help the company rehearse the show.

Stepping into his shoes is John Kay, who has been with the Australian Ballet for 18 years, "scripting" dance movements. In two weeks, the 49-year-old choreologist helped dancers to perform the right steps.

"I'm here to help them understand the reason behind each gesture. The way you look at someone and touch someone carries different meanings. To bring the story to life, you have to see why you're doing what you do in a certain way," Kay says.

Both Kay and Liang promise the lavish production to be fun and full of laughs. The colourful costumes and sets, designed by Desmond Heeley, are borrowed from the Australian Ballet, while guest conductor Philip Ellis will lead the Hong Kong Sinfonietta for live music accompaniment.

"My grandmother took me to the show when I was 12, and I still remember it; it's a ballet you'll never forget," Kay says.

Grand Theatre, Cultural Centre, June 14-16, 7.30pm and June 15-16, 2.30pm, HK$140-HK$1,000. Tel: 2105 9724

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