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HONG KONG BALLET: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

HONG KONG BALLET: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST SHATIN TOWN HALL HONG KONG AUGUST 13-15, 1999

Since taking up his position as artistic director of the Hong Kong Ballet in January 1996, Stephen Jefferies (formerly a principal with the Royal Ballet) has expanded the company's repertory with a number of new productions, including his own productions of three nineteenth-century classics, Swan Lake, Giselle, and The Nutcracker.

A choreographer favored by Jefferies is London-based Domy Reiter-Soffer, who created Equus for the Dance Theatre of Harlem and The Emperor and the Nightingale (1997) for Hong Kong Ballet. In 1998 he revived his production of Lady of the Camellias for the Hong Kong company.

This August the company premiered his Beauty and the Beast. The new ballet follows Charles Perrault's tale about Belle, a young girl who sets out to rescue her father from the Beast. She takes her father's place as a prisoner in the castle and gradually falls in love with the Beast. Badly wounded in an attack by the villagers, Beast is saved by Belle's true kiss and is changed back into a prince.

Reiter-Soffer's overly literal approach in Act I crowds too many incidents into an hour. The stage is busy with endless entrances and exits and juggling of plates and oranges by the Beast's attendants, who are inexplicably clad in silver Star Wars-style costumes. There is some delightful dancing for minor characters such as Belle's two sisters and their fiances; and the first entrance of the God of the Winds, who resembles a character in a Japanese Noh drama, is unexpectedly hilarious. I do think that the choreographer can afford to edit out some of his material.

Act II is more coherent; it depicts Belle's gradual response to the Beast's kindness. It contains the best choreography in the work; with an homage to the great "ballets blancs" of the nineteenth century. A Forest Goddess, four angels, and an attendant corps de ballet elevate the audience to an otherworldly dreamland. In the dream, Belle receives a dancing lesson from the Goddess; this reminded me of Frederick Ashton's Cinderella when, at the end of Act I, the Fairy Godmother instructs Cinderella in the dances of the four seasons. Here the divertissements exude a romantic fervor; the pas de deux for Belle and the Beast is ecstatic, with some soaring lifts.

Act III contains a virile sword dance in Bolshoi fashion for Hercules, the two fiances, and the male villagers. The final tableau with a golden Bernini sunburst in the background is dazzling. Belle and the Beast (who has been transformed into a prince) walk slowly upstage to be blessed by the Forest Goddess and her four angels, who are suspended high in the air by wires.

Overall, Reiter-Soffer's choreography is slightly repetitive but serviceable. Most of it lacks a crucial third dimension which could add kinesthetic excitement.

As Belle in the first cast, Eriko Ochiai was technically proficient, but her steps lacked shading. She did not manage to bring out the emotional nuances of the role. Terasa Webster's dancing in the second cast had more variety and texture. Webster's long limbs had a freshness that captured Belle's youthful innocence. Despite her angular profile, which limits the believability of her characterization, Webster conveyed Belle's transition from aversion to a deepening love for the Beast.

Both Beasts danced the technically demanding choreography wholeheartedly. He Da-wei had more dignity, but the technical bravura of the young Japanese dancer Nobuo Fujino was more exciting. I was also impressed by Fei Leung as the Forest Goddess and Michael Wang as a vain, macho Hercules.

There was a range of instrumental colors and sonic patterns in the specially commissioned music by the local composer Man-yee Lam. The plucking strings, exciting percussive rhythm, and beastly growling noises served well both the dancing and the drama. Henry Shek conducted the Hong Kong Soloists, which gave a pleasing rendition of Lam's new composition.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:NG, KEVIN
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Geographic Code:9HONG
Date:Nov 1, 1999
Words:653
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