Hong Kong Arts Festival:
Lyon Opera Ballet: Quad bill
Les Ballets De Monte Carlo: Le Songe (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui: TeZukA
Hong Kong, Cultural Centre, Grand Theatre
A version of this review previously appeared in
the Hong Kong Economic Journal.
The final ballet programme in this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival was Les Ballets de Monte Carlo in Le Songe (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) choreographed by its artistic director Jean-Christophe Maillot. Local audiences had in the last decade already twice watched Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, presented by the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2000 and by La Scala Ballet in 2006. This 2005 version which lasts over two hours is inferior to Balanchine’s great version and Ashton’s The Dream.
Maillot was ambitious in trying to fit in more of Shakespeare’s play into his ballet than Balanchine or Ashton did. There are more scenes depicting the rustics who are rehearsing a play. And the scenes for the two pairs of mortal lovers are quite dramatic and realistic. And he also used music by two contemporary composers in addition to Mendelssohn. However Maillot failed in giving an emotional heart to the ballet. None of the duets – for the human lovers, as well as the final pas de deux for Titania and Oberon – are memorable or provide a heart-stirring experience. Also the ensemble dances don’t make much impact either. The episodes involving the actors are boisterous and noisy enough, but become tedious and repetitive after a while.
This staging is quite colourful and at times brings to mind the Cirque du Soleil’s style. Puck riding in a big flower machine is quite effective. The two leading roles were quite strongly cast. The company’s leading ballerina, Bernice Coppieters, cut a lovely long figure as Titania, though somewhat lacking in emotion. Jerome Marchand danced Oberon with authority. Nevertheless this ballet didn’t show the troupe at its very best. I had been more impressed by the company last time when they toured here in 1997 with a mixed programme including Balanchine’s Who Cares?. I wish that the Monte Carlo troupe had brought instead the more interesting mixed-bill programme that they had presented in New York just before Hong Kong.
Earlier on, after the Hamburg Ballet which opened this year’s festival, local audiences also saw the return of the Lyon Opera Ballet. Their mixed programme consisted of two ballets by Benjamin Millepied, a ballet by Maguy Marin, and best of all, Balanchine’s masterpiece, Concerto Barocco, staged by Nanette Glushak.
Barocco was only added last December by this company whose repertory is mostly danced in bare feet instead of pointe shoes. The Lyon troupe is actually a modern dance company instead of a ballet company as implied by their name. The lighting however was too dark throughout. It’s an honest account by the company performed without much flair. Mariane Joly was respectable as the first ballerina. As the second ballerina Julia Carnicer however was too hard-edged. The corps de ballet seemed to be struggling with Balanchine’s choreography.
Benjamin Millepied is now pretty well known due to his appearance in the film Black Swan last year. The better of his two pieces was his Bach piece, Sarabande, for four male dancers, which is not unlike Jerome Robbins’ A Suite of Dances. The work consists of solos, pas de deux, trios and quartets. It is extremely musical and conveys a palpable joy in dancing as well as camaraderie. And the two musicians – the flautist Wilson Ng and the violinist Eric Crambes – were superb, which unavoidably highlighted the inadequacy of taped music for the other works in the programme, especially for Balanchine’s Barocco.
The other Millepied work, This Part in Darkness, set to contemporary music is dark and tense, evoking the stress of city life. The duets are all harsh. Maguy Marin’s Grosse Fugue however was a bore. Created for four women attired in red, it seemed to be about a competition. But it’s totally tedious and pointless. The dancers of this company were less outstanding than those of the Hamburg Ballet, and nobody stood out in particular. Actually it’s nearly 20 years since the Hong Kong Arts Festival hosted the Paris Opera Ballet. Their return is long overdue.
An innovative modern dance programme entitled Tezuka was presented by the Belgian choreographer, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. It’s his homage to the Japanese cartoon master, Osamu Tezuka, the Japanese equivalent of Walt Disney. This 2 ½ hour-long show with an interval suffers however from longueur. The ten dancers are dressed in a variety of costumes.
Dancing is only one of the components of this production which also includes calligraphy, music, spoken dialogue in different languages and martial arts on stage. There are also frequent video projections of pages from Tezuka’s comic books. I didn’t find Cherkaoui’s choreography so outstanding. The choreography is however more substantial in the second half where there are more solos, duets and group dances. This second half commences with a particularly intense duet about the relationship between a priest and a Japanese boy who is a murderer and who is abused by the priest. And there is a long female solo towards the end which seems to depict the end of the world.
After the predominantly European flavour of this festival with all four visiting dance companies being from Europe, audiences can look forward to seeing the American Ballet Theatre in next year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival.