Hong Kong Ballet is currently on a high. In the first weekend of November, it presented an international gala of stars as well as artistic director Septime Webre’s new production of the classic Giselle. Hong Kong Ballet’s own dancers were dancing in both programs alongside international stars in an exchange that has proved enriching and stimulating to the company and audience alike.
Among the seven international stars participating in this gala, particularly outstanding were the pair from the American Ballet Theatre – Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo. They were dancing so harmoniously and in tune with each other in Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra Suite that it was sheer bliss.
Earlier, both stars were also dazzling in their virtuosity in the showpiece duet from Le Corsaire, joined by the sensational virtuoso dancer from the Washington Ballet, Brooklyn Mack.
Cuban dancer Taras Domitro, partnering fellow Cuban Adiarys Almeida, was exciting in the Don Quixote duet as well as the black swan duet from Swan Lake. Regular guest dancer Tan Yuanyuan was superb in the white duet from Swan Lake, partnered by Matthew Golding. Hong Kong Ballet’s own dancers Ye Feifei and Xia Jun held their own in another excerpt from Le Corsaire.
The company also danced excerpts from three ballets performed earlier this year. Shen Jie danced energetically in the Beatles ballet From a Day in the Life choreographed by Trey McIntyre. The duet from Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet Rush was, however, too long in the context of this gala.
The company also premiered a trivial and tedious work, Sombrerísimo, choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa featuring male dancers with black hats. Another company premiere was a duet from Webre’s ballet Juanita y Alicia. Venus Villa was expressive in this, partnered by Brooklyn Mack.
The final number was cleverly concocted by Webre. It’s an exciting excerpt from his ballet Alice in Wonderland that included all the stars of this gala. This gala was a triumph indeed for the company.
Webre’s new staging of Giselle, incorporating the beautiful sets designed by Peter Farmer for an earlier production, is fortunately based on the traditional choreographic text, and hence offers no radical departures such as the English National Ballet’s contemporary version shown in Hong Kong this summer. He added extra steps for the male ensemble in the villagers’ dance. My only complaint is that the traditional mime of Giselle’s mother foretelling her death should have been retained.
Jin Yao, the company’s esteemed leading ballerina, had made her farewell performance in the title role in the last weekend of October. In the following weekend in November, I saw two different casts, each of which commendably balanced a guest with a company principal. Ye Feifei was technically formidable, yet her acting was one-dimensional. Her mad scene slightly stretched credibility, as she seemed to have turned mad too quickly. Matthew Golding, a regular guest of Hong Kong Ballet, was her handsome Albrecht.
More satisfying was the cast of Wei Wei and the American Ballet Theatre principal Sarah Lane. Lane’s dancing was imbued with feeling and meaning. She was more earthy and convincing as the peasant girl in Act 1. In Act 2, she was beneficent as the Wili trying to save her lover from death. Her acting was moving. Her body was well centered, and her whole body was soft and yielding. Wei Wei gave the best performance of his career on this occasion.
In the other roles, Chen Zhiyao impressed as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Xia Jun danced with control in the peasant duet. The company’s female corps de ballet danced with more stylistic uniformity than before in the 19th-century classics, which was a notable achievement.