Dance review

Review: Hong Kong Ballet Choreographers' Showcase 2015

Dancers from troupe show real promise as choreographers, but only one of three guest choreographers plays to its classical dance strengths

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 October, 2015, 4:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 October, 2015, 4:03pm

Hong Kong Ballet’s choreographic showcase programmes are a vital means of identifying and nurturing creative talent within the company. They always offer much to enjoy, and the 2015 edition was no exception, if not as fine a vintage as 2014. This time, in addition to its own dancers, the company invited three outside choreographers from contemporary dance backgrounds to contribute pieces to the programme, the theme of which was “Hong Kong”.

The high point of the evening was guest Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s Evol, inspired by the city’s ultra-modern architecture. One of Anh’s trademarks is his imaginative design concepts – here, a metallic mannequin hangs above the stage and explodes in a shower of glitter at the end. A dazzling piece in the manner of William Forsythe, it was danced with spectacular daring and energy by a cast of five, with Xia Jun and Gao Ge the stand-outs. This was the only piece to put the women on pointe and showed Anh’s readiness to engage and experiment with classical technique.

The most substantive work from the home team was Li Jia-bo ’s dark, dreamlike Keep Watch, set to music by Arvo Pärt and performed movingly by Liu Yiuyao and Shen Jie. It’s a complex piece, featuring striking stage effects, which could be developed further.

Two young dancers showed real promise as choreographers. Yui Sugawara’s Enlightening was impressively accomplished, with strong structure and excellent use of space, while Kenneth Hui Ka-chun’s Panta Rhei evoked the daily struggle of life in a crowded city through bold, dynamic movement with much demanding partnering.

Jonathan Spigner’s Days Gone By had a strong middle section that brought out the best in his dancers but overall needed a sharper focus.

Unlike Anh, the other two guest choreographers made frustratingly little use of the possibilities offered by the dancers’ classical training. John Utans’ Nine Dog Nine opened with some amusing word-games in Cantonese then petered out in a succession of repetitive movement patterns.

Yang Hao’s A Work with Hong Kong Ballet felt like an exercise in pointlessness. There was little or no actual dance, other than a solo by Shunsuke Arimizu that was repeated three times. Why Yang felt it necessary to cover the stage in multi-coloured ping-pong balls is anyone’s guess but something so potentially dangerous to the dancers made uncomfortable watching, especially as not all the balls were removed before the next piece began.

While Hong Kong has a number of platforms for contemporary choreographers, when it comes to ballet Hong Kong Ballet is the only game in town other than student shows. That makes it all the more important for the company to develop innovative choreography based on classical technique, and it would be good to see more emphasis on this aspect in future editions of this excellent programme.

Choreographers’ Showcase 2015, Hong Kong Ballet, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Studio Theatre. Reviewed: October 2