A Ballet Soiree
Hong Kong Ballet
HK Cultural Centre Grand Theatre
November 2 (7.30pm) and November 3 (2.30pm)
The highlight of Hong Kong Ballet's new mixed bill, A Ballet Soirée, is the company's first production of a piece by celebrated Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato.
Created in 2002, Castrati is a work for nine male dancers, dealing with the phenomenon of "castrato" singers - men who were castrated as young boys to preserve their uniquely beautiful singing voices. Hugely popular during the 17th and 18th centuries, the castrati were the superstars of their day, although whether the adulation they received or their artistic triumphs made up for what they had lost is another question.
Duato's work addresses the dark side, centring on the fear and anguish of a boy about to be initiated into this bizarre brotherhood. Set to music by Vivaldi (who composed for the castrato voice) with modern sections by Karl Jenkins, Duato's choreography combines strong movement with an androgynous quality as disquieting as it is distinctive.
Castrati teeters on the turgid but was carried off triumphantly. The company's men have always shone, and the chance to work with a leading choreographers had galvanised them. They danced with extraordinary speed, power and intensity. Shen Jie gave a searing portrayal of the youth about to be sacrificed and Yo Takahira's astonishingly fluid solo was a stand-out.
The programme's other premiere, Dancing with the Wind by Li Jun, showcased the company's women to far lesser effect. The relentlessly pretty choreography is competent, but sorely lacking in substance or originality. Kudos goes to Gao Shuainan for bringing a welcome touch of gravitas.
The programme closed with a re-run of Balanchine's Theme and Variations. After a lacklustre first night led by a badly below-form Jin Yao, the following day's matinée was lifted by Ye Feifei in the lead role. Every inch the star, Ye danced with sublime assurance, making light of the technical difficulties.
She was ably partnered by Zhang Yao, who the previous night was hilarious in Christian Spuck's Le Grand Pas de Deux.
Rounding out the bill was guest star Tan Yuan Yuan in two pas de deux designed to show off her lightness and plasticity. She was partnered impressively by fellow San Francisco Ballet principal Vito Mazzeo.