Dancers light up the floor, but shows are light on substance

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Hong Kong Ballet Dancers in Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush. Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco

Hong Kong Ballet closed its 2017/8 season in early June with a triple-bill program planned by both the present artistic director Septime Webre and his predecessor Madeleine Onne.

Webre’s contribution was the most publicized item in this program – the premiere of a Beatles Ballet by American choreographer Trey McIntyre entitled “A Day in the Life”. The title is taken from a song of the same name on The Beatles1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.

The other two ballets – by two of today’s leading classical choreographers – had already been chosen by Onne last year before she left office. Christopher Wheeldon’s “Rush” was the second premiere of this program. And Alexei Ratmansky’s “Le Carnaval des Animaux”, premiered by Hong Kong Ballet in 2015, was revived.

While it looked pretty impressive on paper, this program has turned out to be rather lightweight. “Carnaval”, originally created by Ratmansky for the San Francisco Ballet over a decade ago, is not one of his greatest works, compared with the “Whipped Cream” danced by the American Ballet Theatre in this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival. But it is a delightful ballet which provides a full scope for classical dancing. And it suits the strength of the Hong Kong Ballet.

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Hong Kong Ballet dancers in Le Carnaval des Animaux. Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco

Among the memorable sections are a jolly dance for two male horses, a section for jellyfish, and a parody of the famous solo “The Dying Swan”. Li Jiabo was a cute lion, Chen Zhiyao impressed as the ballerina in a pink tutu. However, some of the other characters’ costumes bear no relation to the animals listed in the program notes. Nevertheless, it is a ballet that pleased the children in the audience.

The Beatles ballet “A Day in the Life”, set to a medley of 12 classic songs by the rock band, is effective as a crowd pleaser, but lacks depth and subtlety. Trey McIntyre’s choreography, though full of energy, is repetitive and limited in range. Shen Jie and Li Lin both impressed in the two leading male roles in the Sunday afternoon cast. Shen Jie’s solo was particularly full-bodied. And Vanessa Lai shone as the leading woman.

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Dancer Li Lin in Trey McIntyre’s A Day in the Life. Photo: Trey McIntyre

The other premiere, Christopher Wheeldon’s “Rush” – originally created in 2003 for the San Francisco Ballet – is the best crafted work in this program. It has a clear formal classical structure, with a pas de deux in the middle movement of Martinu’s Sinfonietta La Jola. The two outer movements are for two main couples as well as a corps de ballet of five sub couples. The overall feel is, however, cerebral.

The main duet in the second movement, impressively danced by Li Jiabo and Ye Feifei, is dreamy and ecstatic, but occasionally detached. The original lighting design by Mark Stanley is excellent, with different shades of red and purple on the backdrop.

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Ye Feifei and Li Jiabo in Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush. Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco

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