Lyon Opera Ballet
Concerto Barocco | Sarabande | This Part in Darkness | Grosse Fugue
at the Hong Kong Arts Festival
Hong Kong, Cultural Centre, Grand Theatre
9 February 2012
A version of this review previously appeared in the South China Morning Post
Lyon Opera Ballet’s appearance in this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival offered some strong dancing in a programme which could have been better chosen. The best thing about it was the chance for Hong Kong audiences to see work by Benjamin Millepied, the New York-based French dancer and choreographer who sprang to fame beyond the dance world for his work on the film Black Swan.
The word “Ballet” in the Lyon company’s name is somewhat misleading. Although the dancers are classically trained, the repertoire is 100% modern and consists largely of contemporary dance. This background showed when they tackled the only true ballet on the programme, Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco. While competent technically, the dancers lacked the elegance, musicality and lightness essential to this 20 minute masterpiece. This is also a ballet where you can’t afford to ignore aesthetics. The two ballerinas who represent the duo of violins in Bach’s music were so ill-matched physically (one was a head taller than the other) that it jarred on the eye. The piece was performed far better by Hong Kong Ballet in the 2009 Arts Festival.
The troupe looked much more at home in the two works by Millepied, Sarabande and This Part in Darkness. The lighthearted four man Sarabande was the more satisfying of the pair. There were plenty of pyrotechnics, an enjoyable touch of competitiveness between the dancers and some interesting changes of pace. The solo flute and violin music by Bach was played live by two musicians (the excellent Wilson Ng Wai-sai and Eric Crambes), who are neatly integrated into the action on stage. This Part in Darkness had some good moments, particularly in the duets, but better structure and less repetition are needed to make it as substantive as it sets out to be. The choreography would have looked much better danced on pointe – the use of bare feet seemed almost perverse in this instance.
Millepied’s choreography is notable for its fluidity and musicality and while modern, is rooted in classical technique. He certainly has something to offer, especially if he can develop his own distinctive voice further – at the moment his influences (Robbins, Balanchine, Forsythe) are a little too obvious.
Both pieces were extremely well-performed, with outstanding work from Karline Marion, Raul Serrano Nunez and the dazzling Randy Castillo.
The fourth piece on the bill was Grosse Fugue by Maguy Marin, one of Europe’s most acclaimed experimental choreographers. Four women run around the stage and jump alone or in unison. Occasionally they do a shambling walk or collapse and lie flat on their backs. None of this activity seems to bear much relationship to the Beethoven music which accompanies the piece. Performed with energy by the dancers and received with rapturous applause by some of the audience, this is either genius at work or less fun than watching paint dry, depending on your point of view.