Hong Kong Ballet closes season with final bill of mixed success

Programme of Balanchine, Fei Bo and Edwaard Liang puts the old with the new, not always successfully

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 5:00pm

Hong Kong Ballet closed its 2015/16 season with the second run of a Balanchine masterpiece, Serenade, teamed with new works by mainland choreographer Fei Bo and Edwaard Liang from Taiwan.

While commissioning new pieces is essential, it’s also a gamble – sometimes you win the jackpot (as the company did with Bolero last year), sometimes you strike out. Here the result was 50/50, with the honours going to Fei’s exotic, visually stunning Shenren Chang.

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The programme opened with Serenade. One of the most beautiful ballets ever made, its magic is hard to capture and this time it eluded the company.

There were some outstanding moments, notably Jin Yao’s flying jumps and sparkling footwork in the first cast and, in the second, Jessica Burrows and Li Jia-bo’s splendid execution of the slow turn en arabesque where the ballerina’s partner turns her by her supporting leg.

Overall, however, this rerun didn’t measure up to the company’s first performances of the ballet in 2014. The ensemble sections didn’t achieve the perfect harmony the piece demands and the principal casting was uneven.

Shenren Chang (Harmony between Gods and Men) is Fei’s first piece for the company since A Room of Her Own in 2011, and showed a new maturity to his choreography.

It opens with a striking image of a woman in white sitting cross-legged on a throne made from the curled-up body of a male dancer. This Buddha-like imagery is explored further as another dancer appears and all three line up and use their arms to evoke statues of six-armed deities before moving into an adagio where the woman is lifted and manipulated between the two men.

In the following sequence, Stone Age humans encounter the woman, and they seem to regard her as a god. Their earthbound, apelike movements make a strong contrast with the soaring lifts and extreme extensions of the first scene and the finale, where the whole ensemble is translated to a higher sphere.

The piece may not break new ground – the choreography is strongly reminiscent of Béjart’s Bhakti – but it is well-crafted, it features some spectacular partnering and its “oriental” aspect should make it a hit for the company overseas.

It is enhanced by Wen Zi’s powerful score, which combines electronic music with the traditional seven-stringed Chinese guqin and Mak Kwok-Fai’s dramatic lighting.

It was danced superbly by the entire cast, with impressive interpretations of the lead role from both Jin Yao (spikier) and Liu Yu-yao (more sinuous).

The programme also included a shorter piece by Fei, Over There. An elegiac duet set to a hauntingly beautiful song by Sainkho Namtchylak, it was performed with profound feeling by Zhan Xinlu and Wang Jiyu, two talented young dancers from the National Ballet of China where Fei is resident choreographer.

Liang’s Sacred Thread portrays a young couple forced into an arranged marriage by their families. The central sequence consists of one of the complex duets for which the choreographer is known and demonstrates his ability to create ingenious lifts and imaginative transitions.

Unfortunately, the ensemble scenes are weak – groupings are incoherent and Liang fails to take advantage of the company’s high technical standard – many steps are so simplistic that they are like a high school show.

Monotonous music by John Adams and ill-judged costumes by Bridget Steis do nothing to help. Kudos goes to Liu Miao-miao and Li Lin, whose intelligent, expressive dancing as the unhappy couple rose above the material and lifted the piece at the second show.

Serenade And More

Hong Kong Ballet

Reviewed: June 10 and 11 (matinee) at Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre