Carlos Acosta: A Classical Farewell

Date: June 30 & July 2, 2016
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

Petipa – Swan Lake White Swan Pas de deux
Bournonville – La Sylphide Act 2 Pas de deux
MacMillan – Winter Dreams Pas de deux
Fokine – Dying Swan
Vaganova – Diana & Actaeon Pas de deux
Stevenson – End of Time
Mollajolli – A Buenos Aires
Van Cauwenbergh – Je ne regrette rien
Van Cauwenbergh – Les Bourgeois
Acosta – Carmen
Reinoso – Anadromous
Garcia – Majisimo

A Classical Farewell is Carlos Acosta’s farewell from the classical dance stage. The production, which Acosta takes across the world before he closes his illustrious dance career, features his handpicked selection of young Cuban dancers. While Acosta is the main bill, in reality he only appears in three of twelve pieces, leaving the bulk of the hard work to his compatriots. The overall effect could not be considered underwhelming, however, as the male corps effused Acosta’s dancing shadows and female corps gave us glimpses of Marianela Nuñez and Tamara Rojo, both of whom were Acosta’s frequent and favorite partners in Covent Garden.

At 43, Acosta could no longer hang as high and as long as he could in the past. His sauté fouetté, in particular, found such a short hang time that his landing was at times found ahead of the beat. But that was not to say Acosta lost one of his prized virtues in dancing – his crisply perfect timing, as he would quickly find the necessary adjustments to re-synchronize with the taped music. In the only classical piece he performed – the Diana & Actaeon divertissement – his movements were liquid, and his stance was always picture perfect. He used his extended and still-extremely flexible limps to shape beautiful contours. When his body lines were carefully positioned at rest, one could see great sculptures of body art, as if Acosta was not only performing as a dancer on stage but exhibiting as a sculptor in a museum. Laura Rodriguez, benefiting from Acosta’s enormous hands and rock-solid lifts, danced the Diana part with an expressive, carefree abandon. Her greatest liability, as was the case with the other female soloists though no fault of their own doing, was that her limb extension was not far enough to produce the most elegant lines that we came to expect at major houses; but they surely worked hard to make up for the deficiency with good effort and focus. In Acosta’s other solo piece, Van Cauwenbergh’s “Les Bourgeois”, Acosta danced to the eponymous Jacques Brel song in the style of Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof”, or Falstaff. In this instance, Acosta showcased not so much his dancing prowess as his talent for drama and comedy, and revealed what could possibly be a viable career of dramatic choreography and feature production ahead.

Dancing closest to the shadows of Acosta was Luis Valle, who moved his body with great rhythmic precision and exceptionally powerful legs in “Carmen”, where he danced with Rodriguez. The pair moved seamlessly, and well reminded the audience of Acosta and Rojo of the yesteryear. Acosta’s choreography was sensual, intense and dreamy, quite in the same stylistic vein as Martha Clarke’s “Chéri”. The rest of the dancing was fine, but Ely Regina Hernández’s rendition of Van Cauwenbergh’s “Je ne regrette rien”, to Edith Piaf’s music, stood out, not merely because of her rhythmic acumen but because her body strength allowed her to execute some extremely memorable body lines full of charisma and style, as if Sylvie Guillem did Pina Bausch.

José Garcia’s “Majisimo” rounded out the evening. Created in 1965 for the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, this divertissement combines classical techniques with Hispanic flair. Here, the corps seemed genuinely most comfortable. While Acosta had the leading role, the star potential of Enrique Corrales, Javier Rojas and Luis Valle really shone through. Corrales might have been a weak and unsteady Siegfried, but he was brimming with smile and confidence in this particular endeavor. The three could be seen occasionally out-hanging Acosta in mid-air. They seemed to relish their stage presence, even next to the dancing giant that was Acosta. This evening, as it turned out, might be better remembered for the bright potential future of Castro-era (or post- Castro-era?) Cuban ballet than as Acosta’s farewell from stage. The audience might not have expected this, but it might just be exactly what Acosta has planned all along.

Acosta in Hong Kong

Acosta in Hong Kong.

Advertisements

Paquita/Bolero/Le Carnaval

Date: May 30, 2015
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

Petipa – Paquita Grand Pas Classique
Preljocaj – Le Parc final pas de deux
Edwaard Liang – Letting Go (world première)
Yuh Egami & Ricky Hu – Bolero (world première)
Ratmansky – Le Carnaval des Animaux

Hong Kong Ballet

The Hong Kong Ballet’s 2014/15 season closes with a mixed bill, with works by Petipa, Preljocaj and Ratmansky, as well as two world premières by Asian choreographers. The programming is as vast as the cast bill luxurious: Jurgita Dronina, Principal at the Dutch National Ballet who is recently appointed Guest Principal Dancer of the HK Ballet, handles Paquita; Alice Renavand and Florian Magnenet, both big stars of the Paris Opera Ballet, team up in Le Parc; and Tan Yuan Yuan, Principal Dancer of the San Francisco Ballet and long-time Guest Principal Dancer of the HK Ballet, dances the female role in Edwaard Liang’s new work.

On paper, Dronina, 29, is one of the most gifted dancers in the world today. Joining the Royal Swedish Ballet at nineteen, she was promoted to Principal at 23. A year later, she became Principal at the Dutch National Ballet, where she remains since. Had her performance as Paquita in Hong Kong this evening been more compelling, she would have lived up to her resumé. Alas, she did not. Her initial entrance was marred with hesitation: in attitude, her working leg slouched; her legs looked heavy, and her arms lethargic. There was not enough stamina (certainly not enough for the all-consuming effort that is Paquita’s GPC), and her movements were not sharp. In Paquita’s signature fouettes, because Dronina could not manage to start with the right angular velocity, the final turns ground to a slow, uncomfortable finish. In the interim, she tried too hard to re-accelerate but ended up mis-aligning her hips and almost tipping over. When her focus seemed lacking, Dronina’s short limbs (at least by Russian standards, though no fault of her own) make any onstage adjustments that much more herculean. Wei Wei, dancing the role of Lucien, performed with neither grave mistake nor the sort of satisfaction-inducing excitement. In his main variation, he missed a few steps and finished his fouettés with shaky sauté landings. The four main soloists of Gao Ge, Dong Ruixue, Yui Sugawara and Naomi Yuzawa infused much-needed stability and generous excitement, especially the last two, while the rest of the cast caused no harm but was predictably average.

Le Parc was impressive not only because it looked fresh despite being over two decades old (created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1994), but because it stood out as a fine piece of theatrical choreography in contrast with Petipa’s GPC before and Egami/Hu’s work after (see more below). When Renavand and Magnenet danced, they moved with a weightless beauty, like feathers floating in a sleepy summer drift. Their bodies responded well to each other: when one body roared with physicality, the other retracted in submission. Comparing Renavand/Magnenet with the role-creating pair Guérin/Hilaire in 1994, the original pair effuses more sensual pleasure, while the current pair beams more melancholic sadness. It would be hard to deduce from the dancers’ chiffon tops that the piece explores facets of 17th century French nobility and social etiquette, yet there was no mistake that the two Paris Opera Ballet dancers were dancing a narrative of love. In one thrilling scene, they started kissing, followed first by Renavand embracing Magnenet’s upper body and then by Magnenet turning in position, swirling Renavand’s body around like a hammer throw. This rotating motion could have been vulgar or cartoonish, but in the hands of two experts of the art, in front of a dark-hued background, the pair danced as though two pieces of soft, white chiffons waltzed in mid-air with no earthly triviality or measly hindrance. Here, love flourishes, and fairytale ensues.

Edwaard Liang’s choreography found equally worthy interpreters in Tan Yuan Yuan and Liang himself. Tan’s lines, always perfect and sensual, moved around Liang’s body with a coy but sweet coziness. Her feet landed with precision and security, while her arms, visage and fingers embellished with pristine refinement. Tan’s execution dazzled with immaculate technique, but, in her trademark display, she did not flaunt them.

In Bolero, the choreography team of Yuh Egami & Ricky Hu seems to set the dance against a story in a psychiatric hospital, with the patient eventually succumbing to some sort of physical/mental condemnation. Imagine, as the music of Bolero gets louder and more complex, the patient becomes more agitated, with less and less self-control, and eventually incapacitated. Forcing a program onto Ravel’s formal work seemed awkward at best and sacrilegious at worst. (That being said, any sort of purely formal display will inevitably attract comparison with Maurice Béjart’s masterpiece, immortalized by Maya Plisetskaya.) In terms of choreography, there were a few snippets of juicy corp moves (dressed in black, with head gear) that placed emphasis on masculine prowess. The company’s male dancers executed well, with synchronized precision and a single-minded ability to project some sort of demonic powers. This type of choreography seemed inherited partially from Eifman’s brutal physicality and Ratmansky’s neoclassical motions with synchronized arms and feet, but the rest of the product (especially the choreography of the two leads) seemed lacking communicative power and expansiveness. The leads, Liu Yu-yao and Lucas Jerkander, executed the practiced moves with agile familiarity and thoughtful care, but looked as if they were unsure where to place or project their emotions. Movements were occasionally frantic but came with no inspiration; busy stage work was mechanically interesting but seemed distracting. Overall, the dancing was not particularly memorable (other than the corp parts with the demons), while the Bolero team seems to have over-designed the set and props.

Ratmansky’s Le Carnaval had some charming and corny moments, including deliberate onstage mistakes, as well as spoofs of well-known ballet choreography. As a whole, however, it failed simply because it begged for too much cheap (and juvenile!) laughs while offering very little thoughtful commentary by way of dance. Perhaps irony is exactly what the iconoclastic Ratmansky has in mind.

HK Ballet's season closing mixed bill.

HK Ballet’s season closing mixed bill.

Turandot (ballet)

Date: February 7, 2015
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Ballet

Choreographer Natalie Weir’s Turandot proves to be a reliable workhorse by returning on stage in Hong Kong for a fourth time, some twelve years after its premiere. Set in Puccini’s original music, the choreography mixes classical steps with a contemporary variety. After Turandot is first kissed by Calaf in the transfiguration scene, she pirouettes sprightly, but not without collapsing her rotating axis into the caring arms of Calaf, as if ready to be completely consumed by his love. When Calaf pronounces her transfiguration: “E amore nasce col sole!”, she would stand arabesque penché while gazing coyly at him, but not before rolling with him on the floor in raunchy, steamy lust. Playing the role of this transfigured Turandot was the elegant Zhang Si Yuan, who has recently been promoted to company principal. Her movements were calibrated but faithful, and by the look of her face she seemed to be truly absorbed in her character. As Calaf, principal dancer Li Jiabo had sturdy lifting arms and, while not a particularly high jumper, produced with unfaltering reliability. Another company principal Liu Yuyao danced to the music of what is one of the saddest roles in all of opera – that of Liu. While the namesake was a coincidence, her dancing portrayed a character with unbound will-power to do what is best for Calaf, while using her impeccably strong calf muscles to glide her relatively large body frame across the dance floor with fluidic beauty. Set designer Bill Haycock enlivened what is typically the most visually boring scene in the opera – the riddle scene – by using about a dozen corp members to form words by raising alphabet shapes, in an effort not unlike the sequential unveiling of a word in Wheel of Fortune. Haycock also did magic with Liu’s death scene by placing her on a podium and dropping from the lighting grid a long-running red silk onto her dying body. By omitting Puccini’s three stooges, Weir and Haycock also managed to streamline the story and focus on the love story.

Liu's death scene.

Liu’s death scene. Photo credit: Hong Kong Ballet.

Anna Karenina

Date: October 18, 2013
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

Choreography by Boris Eifman

Eifman Ballet

No one who knows anything about storytelling could seriously believe that choreographer Boris Eifman, in a two-hour ballet production, could manage to retell Tolstoy’s magnum opus about post-Crimean War Russian aristocracy in its full-fledged entirety. In this production, Eifman could not, but that was not his agenda. In his production notes, Eifman explains that he has cut out the various counterplot lines in the novel, and has made the Anna-Karenin-Vronsky love triangle the central focus of his ballet. By not directly commenting on hypocrisy, class struggle and social progress – all of which are among Tolstoy’s many central themes in Karenina – Eifman is set free to expound upon the inner desires and turbulences of the three characters.

The effect was mixed. Nina Zmievets, Oleg Markov and Oleg Gabyshev, the incredibly talented trio of dancers forming that love triangle, navigated Eifman’s hauntingly difficult steps with fluidic precision and boundless stamina. Absorbed in their own world, one could sense immediately that their energy was indeed feeding off each other. Zmievets particularly stood out with her carefully placed, fluidic lines, as well as her voracious athleticism. Markov’s despair in solitude, just as Zmievets’ Anna was about to leave his Karenin, was grievously captivating. But where Eifman offered very little in terms of dramaturgy, these characters did not have a substantial plot line to move along – the characters were left without real development other than fleeting displays of sensations. These characters might as well have been Juliet-Tybalt-Romeo. In passages where Anna and her lover expressed their love for each other, Zmievets and Gabyshev would often spin and gyrate in acrobatically challenging movements, as if their love was merely physical and delusional rather than lyrical and cerebral. In properly bloated passages, such as the masked ball scene or Anna’s death scene where the corps de ballet mimicked the incoming train, the dancers’ movements were even more clamorous, if not outright violent. Just when one thought Anna’s husband was about to confront his wife regarding her presumed infidelity, he feigned justice by plowing deep into Anna’s body, raping her. As the choreographic texture tilted towards the viscose, the dramatic balance moved towards, if unwittingly, towards bombastic physicality and little else. Were their desires and internal torments merely physical? Did Tolstoy have something else in mind?

Fast spins, high jumps, and long lifts are, when perfectly executed, all hallmarks of a gifted company, but they say very little about artistry and interpretation of an original work. Interpretative ballet is something more akin to enjoying a warm pot of tea in small, savory sips over a long afternoon than, as this Karenina turns out to be, downing successive shots of whole cream. The buffet of Tchaikovsky’s music was glorious, but they failed to link up to a coherent whole. For those who look for more than a perfect display of Russian acrobatics, the deficiencies here inevitably leave them yearning for more.

Eifman Ballet in Hong Kong.

Eifman Ballet in Hong Kong.

Sleeping Beauty

Date: March 15, 2013
Location: Shatin Town Hall, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Ballet

Sleeping Beauty, an opulent ballet-féerie, is not easy to stage. When executed well, however, it not only fills a company’s coffers but enlivens an evening with its lavish parade of choreographed dances, especially in Act III. The effort is spread fairly evenly throughout the company, but the spotlight is on the eponymous Aurora princess. Jin Yao, Hong Kong Ballet’s principal dancer, began her Aurora steps with some tentativeness, and did not look comfortably in control during her attitude derriere handshakes. This tentativeness could appear confusing dramatically, as if she was more apprehensive than coquettish while meeting her suitors, but proved more ominous as she would, in the piqué sequence in her subsequent variation, find her hands on the floor. The blemish, however, did not fluster her at all, as she picked herself up without losing a fleeting moment and marched on, finishing the variation with renewed urgency and dynamism. Her Act III was a revelation altogether. The briskness of her movements was matched with a beaming confidence and re-born conviction. Her four fish dives (including the picture-perfect end) in the adage was definitive and articulate. On her side, Friedemann Vogel leaped over mountains and found sturdy landings in a reliable display as Florimund. Vogel and Jin’s fluid partnership was all the more remarkable because Vogel is a guest dancer from Stuttgart and does not routinely collaborate with the Hong Kong Ballet. Perhaps he should. As Lilac Fairy, Zhang Siyuan was generous in presenting a graceful figurine and an adorable countenance. Wu Feifei was triumphant, displaying both impeccable technical prowess and a vivacious, almost prankish playfulness as Princess Florine. Li Jiabo did not find a lot of elevation as the fluttering blue bird, but nailed the monumental brisés voles with no hesitation. The rest of the company should find much to savor about their performance, as the sweet fruits of their rehearsals were evident in plain sight. The Garland dance could sometimes be stale to watch, but the dancers’ steps tonight impressed with crisp accuracy, and projected a high level of energy and sophistication that lifted the entire audience.

Jin Yao, in Sleeping Beauty.

Jin Yao, in Sleeping Beauty. Photo credit: Cheung Chi Wai (via Hong Kong Ballet’s website).

Romeo and Juliet with ABT

Date: February 27 to March 3, 2013
Location: The Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

February 27: Roberto Bolle and Hee Seo
February 28: Marcelo Gomes and Polina Semionova
March 1: Cory Stearns and Paloma Herrera
March 2 (matinee): Roberto Bolle and Polina Semionova
March 2: Herman Cornejo and Xiomara Reyes
March 3 (matinee): Alexandre Hammoudi and Hee Seo
March 3: Cory Stearns and Paloma Herrera

American Ballet Theatre

Hong Kong Sinfonietta (orchestra)
Charles Barker (all dates except February 28), David LaMarche (February 28) (conductors)

ABT has presented Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet for what seems like an eternity. Despite its age, Nicholas Georgiadis’s scenery and costumes remain pictorially perfect, like a fresh Canaletto townscape. While this realism leaves little for the imagination, this Romeo and Juliet aims to shock and awe through scenes after scenes of impressionable visual beauty.

On close up, the props and scenery show signs of age. Visually, the traveling set seems slightly smaller than the one used at the Met, especially in the upstage balcony areas. The stage width also seems slightly narrower than the one at the Met, making the ballroom scene feel a little squeezed, though ABT’s dancers moved, kicked and spun about with no signs of spatial congestion. The costumes, some of which dated back to ABT’s original premiere at the Kennedy Center some three decades ago, do not look its age, thanks in part to ABT’s current program to replace some of these dated wear, but mostly due to the expertise and meticulous upbringing of the Bruce Horowitz-led wardrobe department.

This MacMillan/Georgiadis endeavor focuses as much on dance as it does on acting. Choreography here becomes not just an art of coordinating dance movements but also a craft of managing a monstrous flow of non-ballet dancing actors. In the Act I and II market scenes, characters weave in and out of the stage in a complex array of motion, with traffic always nearby but never in the way of others. In the fight scenes, real épées whisk about in quick fury, with a hovering danger of actually hurting someone. In one evening, Sascha Radetsky, as Tybalt, was bloodied in his Act II fight scene, and, on more than one occasion, the épée simply snapped on stage. In big dance routines, coordination with Prokofiev’s orchestral moments remains paramount. When Prokofiev suggests death and the person is still lingering alive on stage, something becomes disconnected. The intricate tapestry of motion and action is the hallmark of this production. There may be occasional aberrations, but for much of the past thirty years this has been the same, day in and day out, thanks much to the in-house ballet masters and mistresses. ABT’s seven performances in Hong Kong were mostly identical in style and tone, differing only in sentimentality as the two principals offered their own renditions within MacMillan’s interpretative framework.

Five Romeos and four Juliets shared duties over seven performances. In the opening performance, Hee Seo was not even supposed to be there: she replaced Julie Kent, who was injured. Seo’s pinch-hit was remarkable because she just a few nights ago danced the demanding lead role, twice, in The Leaves Are Fading. Seo’s Juliet (Feb. 27; Mar. 3 mat) brimmed with a fountain of youth, whether making music for her friends during the mandolin dance or clowning around with her nurse. Her carefully placed emotions – from an Act I Juliet still reeling from the fresh taste of love to an Act III Juliet resolute in planning her faked death – demonstrated her maturity not just as a dancer but as a serious dramatic actor. A smooth dancer, Seo moved on stage like a marble rolling in melted butter.

What made Polina Semionova a special Juliet (Feb. 28; Mar. 2 mat) was that when she danced, she also presented a master class in the artistry of lines at rest and in motion. The arching of her body was a thing of wonder; her pointe work, always rapid but modest, looked like rain droplets kissing spring meadows. As a dramatic actor, Semionova had a clear sense of where her audience was. Without directly addressing downstage, her young Juliet would frequently start opening up towards her audience, only to recoil in shy humility, as if confessing bits, rather than the entirety, of her coyness.

Paloma Herrera and Xiomara Reyes were two reliable Juliets. Herrera’s Juliet (Mar. 1 and 3) was dramatically eloquent, whether radiating a childish happiness in front of her nurse or emoting horror in front of Paris. Her eyes, full of expressiveness, suggested a Juliet with boundless imagination. Reyes was brisk in movement and measured at rest. Her Juliet (Mar. 2) was characterized with such frailty that made one want to shelter her right away.

Roberto Bolle danced two performances as Romeo (Feb. 27; Mar. 2 mat). Bolle was a strong dancer with sturdy landings; in Bolle’s muscular arms, Seo and Semionova were airy and weightless. Bolle’s Romeo retained an air of gentle innocence even as the weight of Montague nobility consumed him. When Rosaline declined his advances, he responded with a dovish smile, as though nothing so trivial could possibly unnerve him. The Bolle-Semionova pair stood out because they proved to be proficient and naturally at ease with their routines, and when their bodies contacted, they found mutual reliance. Their final pas de deux was properly desperate and committed. The high level of artistry catalyzed the rest of the cast, which responded with a heightened focus and geared-up energy levels.

Gomes started his performance (Feb. 28) with heavy landings and awkward breaths, but recovered soon enough to deliver a serviceable balcony pas de deux. He seemed more at ease from then on, though neither dazzling nor suffocating. Cory Stearns’s boyish good looks undid him: he appeared too readily flummoxed by Rosaline’s rejection, and looked more confused than vengeful in his fight with Tybalt at the end of Act II. At times, Stearns (Mar. 1 and 3) looked like he was more infatuated than in love with Juliet. Dramatics aside, Stearns was a reliable performer, with brisk turns and mind-boggling elevation. His long arms also allowed him to lift Herrera with grace and clarity. Hammoudi (Mar. 3 mat) did not look at ease from the beginning, but calmed down enough to deliver a sultry performance with Seo in their balcony scene. In their respective pas de deux, Gomes’ performance was athletic and buoyant; Stearns’ was clinical and fluid; and Hammoudi’s was beautifully asphyxiating.

Finally, there was Herman Cornejo (Mar. 2). His aerials were superb and effortless, and his steps were steady and clean. Most spectacularly, his pirouettes were always executed with stunning velocity and a crisp finish. The pairing of Cornejo and Reyes, like that of Bolle and Semionova, was a revelation. Delicate and expressive, they didn’t merely dance the steps of Romeo and Juliet, but breathed the two Veronians as if their own. The pair seemed intoxicated by each other in both pas de deux, and when they looked at each other, their eye contact seemed tender and intuitive. Any spontaneous eruption of emotion was readily received and absorbed by the other partner, like two soul-mates in an intimate conversation. These two were also most attuned to Prokofiev’s music, always in fine synchronization.

The rest of the cast was solid. Daniil Simkin nailed his Benvolio steps without breaking a sweat, but always looked like he didn’t care too much for the role. Craig Salstein played a fiendishly fun-loving Mercutio who seemed destined to be betrayed by his wit and provocations. Susan Jones was vastly impressionable as Juliet’s nurse: when Capulet rejected her plea to alleviate Juliet’s circumstances in Act III, her display of dejection and helplessness was poignant and entirely believable. With Prokofiev’s brass raging furiously, it was only appropriate that Stella Abrera, as Lady Capulet bemoaning Tybalt’s death, went dramatically overboard in that short but consequential bit at the end of Act II.

The Hong Kong Sinfonietta had little feel for Prokofiev’s score. As the ancient grudge on that fair day in Verona broke into mayhem and Prokofiev’s music was supposed to soar with an apocalyptic urgency, the Sinfonietta barely nudged an impact. Mistakes littered throughout the seven performances, sometimes repeatedly and often deadly, in crucial moments such as the soaring trumpets at Tybalt’s death, the fast trumpet articulations at the beginning of Act II, and the horns at Capulet’s tomb. The mandolin dance, lacking bite, was anemic and unpersuasive. It was understandable that some dancers, already having danced in this production for the umpteenth time, put themselves in cruise-control mode, but it was simply unconscionable that the pit could not raise their game, never mind inspire those on and off stage.

Hee Seo, in Romeo and Juliet.

Hee Seo, in Romeo and Juliet. Photo copyright: the American Ballet Theatre.

Romeo and Juliet. Photo copyright: the American Ballet Theatre.

Romeo and Juliet. Photo copyright: the American Ballet Theatre.

Romeo and Juliet. Photo copyright: the American Ballet Theatre.

Romeo and Juliet. Photo copyright: the American Ballet Theatre.

Two Dance Galas with ABT

Date: February 21 and 23, 2013
Location: The Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

February 21: Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, Swan Lake Act III Pas de Deux, Pas de Deux from Stars and Stripes, Symphony #9
February 23: The Leaves Are Fading, The Moor’s Pavane, Symphony in C

American Ballet Theatre

Barbara Bilach (piano) (Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes)
Hong Kong Sinfonietta (orchestra)
David LaMarche (conductor)

ABT opened the Hong Kong Arts Festival with a pair of dance galas. The first evening began with Drink to Me With Thine Eyes, which features twelve dancers in thirteen snippets. Without music, Mark Morris’ choreography could look like a tacky gym video with funny leg movements and group pilates lunges. However, when coupled with Virgil Thomson’s piano music, played by Barbara Bilach, things started to get interesting: the musical textures seemed vividly re-imagined and radiated through rapid body movements. In Ragtime Bass, one of the snippets, lyrical passages in the tonic were represented by subtler, more ribbon-like motions, while a more rhythmically intense passage in the subdominant was realized via more overt, mechanical leg movements. Next were Paloma Herrera and Cory Stearns in Swan Lake’s black swan paired dance, where the two principals performed with a clinical precision but, albeit perhaps intentionally, lacked chemistry. In Stars and Stripes, Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin, a dynamic duo of gushing energy and endlessly beaming smiles, had plenty of fun and received the most thunderous applauses. Lane was rather tight and wobbly at the beginning, but as soon as she warmed up and her feet started carrying her, dancing with the joy of a child but the seriousness of a consummate professional. Ratmansky’s delectable choreography in his new Symphony #9 has no obvious narrative, but dazzles with pure athleticism, especially in the fourth movement, as Herman Cornejo turned and jumped with boundless energy, and in the second movement, where Polina Semionova and Marcelo Gomes nursed poetic sexual tensions via contemplative body lines and contact.

In the second evening, Hee Seo and Roberto Bolle led an admirable cast in The Leaves Are Fading, Antony Tudor’s poetic tribute to unrelenting youth. Bolle’s lines were statuesque and pensive, while Seo, notably graceful in feel and form, imprinted particularly with her exquisite lowerings from full pointe. Symphony in C, the evening’s anchor, was pure luxury, even in Barbara Karinska’s uninspiring black and white costumes. Stella Abrera and Eric Tamm were properly athletic and bouncy in the first movement, especially in the juicy petit allegro. Simone Messmer and Jared Matthews in the fourth movement were like two dancing architects, building up the stage into a gala of 48 dancers in robust and well-synchronized motions.

The Hong Kong Sinfonietta provided live accompaniment from the pit, with ABT’s Charles Barker and David LaMarche conducting the respective evenings. The Hong Kong group was mostly dutiful, but did show some weakness in the upper brass, particularly during Stars and Stripes. Redemption did follow, with a Symphony in C that raced to a spirited, feisty finish.

ABT's Symphony in C.

ABT’s Symphony in C. Graphic taken from: Hong Kong Arts Festival’s website.