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2018 in review

2018 Hong Kong dance in review: a look back at the highs and lows – and what 2019 has in store

  • No fewer than three productions of Giselle, the farewell appearance of Jin Yao and an epic performance of Yuri Grigorovich’s Spartacus were highlights
  • But a puzzling season from Hong Kong Dance Company was a disappointment
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 December, 2018, 6:15pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 December, 2018, 6:15pm

For ballet lovers in Hong Kong, 2018 was the year of Giselle, with no fewer than three productions on offer.

English National Ballet thrilled audiences in a sold out season of Akram Khan’s modern version, distinguished by stunning theatricality, powerful dancing and an ingenious re-imagining of story and score. Milan’s La Scala Ballet brought their fine traditional production to Macau, with stand-out performances in the leading roles by Vittoria Valerio and Claudio Coviello.

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A new staging by Hong Kong Ballet saw the farewell appearance of Jin Yao, who gave a flawless performance in the title role, partnered magnificently by guest artist Marcelo Gomes.

Out of many good performances through the run (there were six casts in all, a testament to the company’s remarkable strength in depth) Shen Jie and Venus Villa gave an especially impressive interpretation of the leading roles, beautifully danced and profoundly moving.

Throughout the year Hong Kong Ballet continued to drive forward under artistic director Septime Webre, who fulfilled his promise to create a buzz around the company, launching “Ballet in the City”, a new programme of “pop-up” site specific work around the city and developing numerous audience outreach activities.

In the theatre, if a triple bill of modern work – Wheeldon, Ratmansky, McIntyre and The Beatles – fell a little flat, Webre’s Alice (in Wonderland) was a spectacular show for all the family, and the Asian premiere of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s delightful Sombrerisimo allowed the troupe’s superb male dancers to shine.

City Contemporary Dance Company staged innovative collaborations with local a cappella group the Yat Po Singers (Requiem HK) and with Australia’s highly respected Expressions Dance Company (Seasons), where the two companies’ respective artistic directors, Dominic Wong and Natalie Weir, choreographed for each other’s dancers.

In Come Across, Korean guest choreographer Kim Jaechuk’s high energy Jangdan thrilled the audience and Noel Pong’s enthralling Nuts’hell was a return to top form for one of Hong Kong’s most talented choreographers.

A puzzling season from Hong Kong Dance Company left one wondering where the city’s flagship Chinese dance ensemble is headed.

Many productions featured overseas groups, restricting opportunities for the company’s own dancers – two out of three programmes in the 8/F Platform series, first set up to nurture choreographers within the troupe, consisted entirely of choreography and performers from abroad. A well-received piece by Xie Yin, Four Seasons was the only Chinese dance piece in a triple bill with companies from Korea and Taiwan. Waiting Heart, a minimalist deconstruction of classic Cantonese opera Legend of the Purple Hair Pin showed artistic director Yang Yuntao focused on experimentation.

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The bedrock of the company’s repertoire is full-length narrative productions on Chinese themes – this year saw just one example, Liu San Jie, a co-production with a mainland Chinese company. Reminiscent of the “ethnic dance” shows hapless tour groups in China get taken to in its adulterated version of traditional culture, although partially redeemed by one beautiful duet towards the end, this was a disappointing choice.

In addition to English National and La Scala, a bumper crop of overseas ballet companies included the Hong Kong Arts Festival offerings of American Ballet Theatre in Alexei Ratmansky’s sparkling if superficial Whipped Cream, Zurich Ballet in Christian Spuck’s turgid Anna Karenina and superstar couple Svetlana Zakharova with her violinist husband Vadim Repin in the charming Pas de Deux for Toes and Fingers.

Scottish Ballet offered solid family fare in Hansel and Gretel while surprise of the year was an under-publicised appearance by Korean National Ballet in a suitably epic performance of Yuri Grigorovich’s Spartacus – it’s to be hoped we can see more of this high quality company in the future.

On a sombre note, 2018 saw the dance community lose one of its leading lights: Dr Thomas Townsend Brown Jnr, or Tom Brown as he was always known.

His untimely death from cancer at the age of 70 leaves a gap no one else can fill – in a career of over 30 years in Hong Kong, he made a truly immeasurable contribution to the development of local dance.

This includes teaching at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts almost from its inception, co-founding the Hong Kong Dance Alliance and starting the Hong Kong Dance Awards as well as the city’s only dance publication, dancejournal/hk.

Responsible for nurturing, supporting and inspiring generations of local choreographers and dancers, it’s hard to imagine where dance in Hong Kong would be without him. He is deeply mourned and will be greatly missed.

Looking ahead to the first months of 2019, the Arts Festival looks back on the careers of two legendary choreographers now in their 70s, John Neumeier and Lin Hwai-Min, with performances by their respective companies, Hamburg Ballet and Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Theatre.

City Contemporary Dance Company’s veteran dancer, Qiao Yang, celebrates her career in Almost 55 while some of her younger colleagues try their hand at choreography in Dancers’ Homework.

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Hong Kong Ballet presents Webre’s The Great Gatsby, complete with live jazz, tap dance and designs by Oscar winner Tim Yip while Hong Kong Dance Company visits the culture of China’s far West in Ode to the Silk Road.