Review: National Ballet of China’s Giselle – dazzling Act 2, but Hong Kong return had its disappointments

Troupe’s female corps de ballet were brilliant, and 20-year-old Qiu Yunting is clearly destined for stardom, but a lacklustre Giselle and plodding score took some of the shine off

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 1:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 4:45pm

After a lengthy absence, the National Ballet of China has returned to Hong Kong as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of the handover. While both its strengths (good technique, beautiful bodies) and its weaknesses (acting, musicality) have seemingly changed little in the decade since it was last here, an impressive crop of talented young dancers promises well for the future.

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The company’s production of Giselle is supposedly the version that was staged for the American Ballet Theatre in 1940 by Sir Anton Dolin, one of the most celebrated Albrechts of his time (although he is not credited in the programme, nor are the designers).

It’s a classic, conventional production and while there are a few minor departures from the text generally used today, the essential choreography (Marius Petipa’s reworking of the original Romantic ballet by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot) is the same.

The costumes were pretty, although Giselle should not be wearing such a transparent skirt – she’s not that kind of girl.

The old-fashioned sets, however, take up too much space, again demonstrating how badly Hong Kong needs a theatre with a bigger stage for ballet and opera.

The company shone in Act 2, with immaculate dancing from the female corps de ballet as the vengeful Wilis and an outstanding performance from Qiu Yunting – a 20-year-old soloist clearly destined for stardom – as their queen, Myrtha.

Myrtha is one of the most technically demanding roles in the classical repertoire and Qiu’s effortless virtuosity – footwork, balances, jumps – together with her elegant style and beautiful line were breathtaking.

However, like Hamlet and The Prince of the Pagodas, Giselle’s success depends on the title role. In this, Wang Qimin, now the company’s top star, was disappointing.

She was at her best in Act 2, where the extended pas de deux showcased her exceptional lyricism of movement. However, in Act 1 she failed to bring the character to life (the “mad scene” had too much tossing of hair, not enough emotional power) and her dancing lacked the exquisite feet and soaring jumps essential for this role.

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Wang also lost time with the music on a couple of occasions, not helped by the leaden conducting of Zhang Yi, who produced a heavy-handed, plodding account of Adolphe Adam’s score from the National Ballet of China Symphony Orchestra.

Ma Xiaodong was a fine Albrecht, dancing cleanly, partnering well and producing some genuinely moving acting. There was also good work from Li Zhuangzhuang as Giselle’s rejected lover.

While Act 1 lacked the dazzling impact of Act 2 (the corps de ballet sequences looked too busy, partly because of the lack of space on the stage), there was good dancing from Wang Ye and Wu Sicong in the peasant pas de deux, and from Giselle’s friends. Acting honours went to Lu Na for her thoughtful, sympathetic portrayal of Albrecht’s fiancée Bathilde.

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In addition to two shows of Giselle at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre last weekend, the National Ballet of China will be performing two gala programmes in Sha Tin and Tuen Mun on June 6 and 8, respectively.

Giselle, National Ballet of China, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre. Reviewed: June 3