Ballet and dance

Paris Ballet: Legends Mixed Bill

Date: May 11, 2017
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

Coralli and Perrot – Giselle Act 2 pas de deux, with Lucie Barthelemy and Alessandro Riga
Meehan after Ivanov and Petipa – Black Swan pas de deux, with Ge Gao and Ryo Kato
Robbins – In The Night, with Muriel Zusperreguy and Josua Hoffalt, Aida Baida and Esteban Berlanga, Agnes Letestu and Stephane Bullion
Cue – La Mort du Cygne (The Dying Swan), with Esteban Berlanga
Fontan and Sarrat – Carmen Toujours! pas de deux, with Lucie Barthelemy and Olivier Sarrat
Martinez – Les Enfants du Paradis pas de deux, with Aida Baida and Esteban Berlanga
Caniparoli – Lady of the Camellias pas de deux, with Yao Jin and Lucas Jerkander
Van Cauwenbergh – Les Bourgeois, with Alessandro Riga
Favier – Non, je ne regrette rien, with Agnes Letestu and Stephane Bullion
Prejlocaj – Le Parc final pas de deux, with Muriel Zusperreguy and Josua Hoffalt

Balletomanes in Hong Kong will certainly remember two of the pieces this evening: Les Bourgeois, danced by Carlos Acosta in 2016, and Le Parc, danced by Alice Renavand / Florian Magnenet in 2015. Van Cauwenbergh’s choreography is not so much dancing as it is acting, and here Riga romped the stage as a cigarette-smoking bombshell, with the sort of clownish smile and gestures that aroused delirious laughter in the auditorium. Aided by a younger and more flexible body, Riga’s rendition in contrast with Acosta’s felt less muscular and more natural. In Le Parc, Zusperreguy and Hoffalt’s flawless techniques would stand out more if only they did not beam with great chemistry, which they certainly did. Zusperreguy flowed just as graciously as Renavand (and Guérin – their inspiration), and seemed to enhance the role by adding a hint of nervousness and uncertainty, as if she is well aware of life’s reality even as the couple, in ecstasy, momentarily escapes from it. This display of insight was well in contrast with Jin/Jerkander in Lady of the Camellias. The Hong Kong Ballet pair displayed all of Caniparoli’s visual language while managing to find, seemingly, no chemistry between themselves. Jin’s Marguerite, often looking towards the audience, was more eager to please them than Jerkander’s Armand – something that was unfortunate, especially since the pair found good chemistry dancing together in Hong Kong Ballet’s full version back in October 2016. Alas, such was the fact of life with galas where getting into character could be a monumental task. In the Favier, Letestu and Bullion displayed great efficacy of movement and precision while dancing within the confines of a carpet barely larger than the average bathroom stall. Fontan and Sarrat’s Carmen Toujours! was perhaps one of the most exciting new choreographies I have seen lately. Physical moments switched back and forth between cruel violence and sappy tenderness, in deference to the wretched history between Carmen and Don Jose. In the frenetic scene where Jose was about to stab Carmen a la Sweeney Todd, the psychological intensity seemed most and appropriately intertwined with the visual physicality. It would have been perfect, if only the corresponding music was not the flower song, which opera lovers would find out of place. I look forward to comparing it against Yuh Egami/Ricky Hu’s new choreography for the Hong Kong Ballet later this month. Robbin’s In The Night looks and feels Parisian without actually programming as such. All three pairs’ dancing was precise, especially the dancing between Letestu and Bullion. The seasoned pair moved their legs cleanly without unnecessary jitters. Their dancing revealed not a word of flamboyance but a waterfall’s worth of human sensibility. Motions flowed with generous profundity of thought and conviction. Henri Barda, who for decades has been Robbins’ most trusted collaborator, colored the moment with delicious live rendering of Chopin’s nocturnes, among other music. His piano, situated in the pit area (stage right), was spotlighted loosely but prominently from above and was clearly programmed to be an equal partner to the dance proceedings onstage. His performance, full of voice and sentimentality, was worthy of the standing ovations the auditorium lavished him.

Robbins’ In The Night: Paris Opera Ballet legends in Hong Kong. Photo credit: Le French May website.

Chamber music and recital

Les Tambours du Bronx

Date: June 1, 2013
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

A collection of seventeen exquisitely fit men, some of them bare-chested and most of them with a French accent, provides all the necessary ingredients for an alluring concept, no matter what these men end up doing. Les Tambours du Bronx is exactly that, and these men make music by banging wooden sticks onto all sides of metal oil barrels, creating pulsating percussive sounds onstage. Their rhythm is executed in rehearsed precision, but by allowing occasional spontaneity through solos and improvisations, their music has a raw but authentic texture. Their sticking is highly choreographed, like the corps de ballet turning and jete-ing in unison. When these beats mixed with exhilarating electro synthesized music, the entire Grand Theatre in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre became one gigantic party room. Soloists took turns to lead the group, and by the end of the evening nearly every one of the seventeen had a chance to lead. When they did, they would roll their barrel to take center stage, and would instruct the rest to follow like a conductor in front of an obliging orchestra. The leader would call, and the rest would respond in true mantra of African call-and-response. Call patterns ranged from simple triplets to raging passages. Most of the rhythms, at the individual level, were neither patently novel nor truly sophisticated, but in unison the rhythm became a sure-fire locomotion. When various small groups broke away into different rhythms, and individuals further broke away from these smaller groups, the entire fabric was like a train speeding through an industrial town buzzing with traffic, factory noises, and hissing sounds from steam engines. Each rhythmic element remained rudimentary and basic, but when these elements wove together, a sophisticated rhythmic fabric emerged. As barrels got deformed after repeated stick attacks, the deformity changed, if ever so slightly, the tonal characteristics of the barrels, which in turn embroidered the fabric even more. At the end, the group invited the audience to join them on stage, and the uncoordinated efforts of the amateurs brought about a wimpy cacophony, thereby proving the existence of a fine line between random noise and robust sound, no matter how rough the tonal textures came about.

Les Tambours du Bronx

Les Tambours du Bronx.

Pop, jazz and rap

CHAT live in Hong Kong

Date: May 23, 2013
Location: Sheung Wan Civic Centre, Hong Kong.

French singer-songwriter Charlene Juarez, better known on stage as CHAT, lives up to her stage name. Her voice has a mesmerizing timbre, whose fragile sentimentality belies her secure delivery, just like a cat whisking freely but surely atop an endless maze of Parisian rooftops. In Les âmes soeurs, which appears in her latest album, Le Coeur, her musical notes are placed with a meticulous delicacy, not unlike a cat’s paw kissing the edge of slender roof tiles. While Juarez sings, she often works the keyboard with blistering attacks of fast arpeggios. L’insouciance, a number from her debut album Folie Douce, reads visually like a fast cat skipping up and down an undulating terrain of hot tin roofs. While her fingers are at it, she raps too – not in the traditional sense of chimed rhyming but in the form of a spindle rapidly spouting delicate lines of verbal goodies. She carries an airy blond hair over her gazing eyes and a gorgeous body that swings deliciously while she makes music, in such a natural way that she seems to enjoy her music much more than that spotlight moment onstage.

Unlikely as it may seem, the biggest distraction of the evening turns out to be her music. CHAT readily allows her harmonic arch to go momentarily haywire, which is fine, but the finale of her music almost always resolves to a simple tonic, often in the major key, and often in the root position in unison with the routines of a finishing bass and a concluding drum sequence. If anyone has played music with preset playing patterns on a drum machine that has a handy <end> button, an evening with CHAT sounds like a bunch of amateurs clowning about in a record studio. That sort of association is regrettable, because the rest of CHAT’s music is, for the most part, cerebral and soulful. Her song Le coeur, in her eponymous album, provides a pleasing exception: it ends not with a simple resolution but with a subtle inversion that seems to echo the waffling emotions described in the lyrics, thereby giving more body and meaning to the harmonics. Perhaps that should be her blueprint for future compositions.

The CHAT performance is part of Le French May.

CHAT live in Hong Kong.

CHAT live in Hong Kong. Copyright: CHAT and Le French May.