Hong Kong Ballet
Hong Kong, Cultural Centre
25, 26 May 2012
This review has appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal
Hong Kong Ballet’s final offering this season was “Giselle” at the end of May. This is a good production by the former artistic director, John Meehan, and much more satisfying than his “Swan Lake” since more of the traditional choreography is intact. The sets are actually inherited from an even earlier production and were designed by Peter Farmer.
As expected, the opening night was danced by the guest principal, Yuan Yuan Tan, from San Francisco Ballet, who normally appears once every season with the company in May. It’s a great pity that this time Tan couldn’t bring one of her partners from San Francisco such as Damian Smith; she was instead partnered by Hong Kong Ballet’s own principal Zhang Yao. It seems a waste to fly her all the way to Hong Kong for only one performance, which not surprisingly was the only performance of this run which was sold out. Couldn’t she give at least a second performance to satisfy the box office demand?
However this performance didn’t show Tan at her best, unlike her past appearances in works by Christopher Wheeldon and Edwaard Liang. Technically she was as usual iron-clad. Emotionally she was at her best in Act 2, most dignified and ethereal as a wili. In Act 1 Tan lacked innocence and fragility: she appeared too mature to convince as the peasant girl tricked by her lover. Her mad scene, however, was well-paced and built up to a shattering climax. Sadly during her solo in Act 2, one of her pointe shoes became loose and she had to adjust it.
Zhang Yao was competent enough as her partner. The company sorely lacks good classical danseurs in the principal rank at present, especially with the departure of Huang Zhen at the end of this season. Actually there is an obvious potential principal dancer in the Ukranian coryphée dancer, Kostyantyn Keshyshev. He has so far danced leading roles in “The Nutcracker”, “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty”. Unfortunately Keshyshev sustained a bad injury last autumn, and has since missed several programmes this season.
On the following Saturday afternoon, after Tan’s performance, Keshyshev made a remarkable debut as Albrecht, partnering Zhang Si Yuan who was also dancing Giselle for the very first time. Both dancers were so confident, and assured, that it was hard to believe that they were actually making debuts. Zhang gave a sincere and deeply-felt interpretation with emotional weight, and was pretty strong technically. Keshyshev’s dancing and characterization were no less fine. So unexpectedly this new partnership’s performance turned out to be more satisfying than Tan’s on opening night. I would also rate this double-debut performance as the single most exciting performance of the company’s entire 2011/2 season. Artistic director Madeleine Onne should capitalise on their success and give both dancers more leading roles in future.
In the supporting roles, Dong Ruixue in particular impressed in the peasant pas de deux. The corps de ballet of wilis danced at their best, though they still had room for improvement in uniformity.
The programming this past season had been safe but lacking in variety, though fortunately this will be remedied next season. However earlier this week, as the Hong Kong Ballet commenced their summer holiday, it emerged that approximately nine dancers have resigned from the company. This is equivalent to a fifth of the company which numbers just over 40. In addition Cecilia Wong, the deputy executive director, has also left. I don’t recall such a large turnover in the company before.