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Hong Kong Ballet

March 2, 2016
hong_kong_ballet_castrati_photo_by_conrad_dy-liacco

Castrati, Photography by Conrad Dy-Liacco

Dancing with the Wind, Castrati, In Light and Shadow

Reviewed March 1, 2016

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Hong Kong Ballet will perform Sleeping Beauty March 3 through 5, 8 p.m.)

Take three choreographers from far-flung corners of the world, and stage their works on a predominantly Chinese ballet company, accompanied by concertos, arias and overtures of a couple of 18th century European baroque composers as well as a modern Welsh conductor and you have a sometimes dynamic, sometimes disturbing and certainly a variety of entertainment.

Assembled by artistic director Madeleine Onne, the mixed repertoire of three works presented on the NAC stage by Hong Kong Ballet Tuesday featured the powerful dark and distracting Castrati by world-renowned Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato.

First created in 2002 as a work for nine male dancers, Castrati explores the meaning of masculinity and the sacrifice of the young “castrati” singing stars of their day in the 17th and 18th century. Set to the music of Antonio Vivaldi, who composed for castrati voices in the 1700s, and the modern-day celebrated Welsh composer Sir Karl Jenkins, Castrati highlights the strong male dancers of this company through several movements, including a striking, intimate duet and a solo by a standout dancer, whose name was unfortunately not featured in the program.

The dancers swoop urgently onto the stage clad in black fitted cloaks like bats or some Gothic creatures, juxtaposing excitement with disquiet. Their movements are sharp, bold and unapologetic. All in all it’s a brave, breathtaking work that ends with the solo dancer facing the audience with blood-stained palms.

hong_kong_ballet_in_light_and_shadow_photo_by_jamie_kraus

In Light and Shadow, Photography by Jamie Kraus

Sandwiching Duato’s work were Chinese ballet artist Li Jun’s Dancing with the Wind and Polish choreographer Krzysztof Pastor’s In Light and Shadow. The former, set to a composition of strings and woodwind instruments by Ah Yan, blends elements of tai chi, Chinese dance and Western-style ballet. Against a backdrop of five floating panels washed with abstract ink patterns, seven female dancers perform meditatively with decidedly feminine grace over a rather stretched time frame.

 

The final work sets a lyrical duet to an aria from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations, before layering the stage with some 18 exuberant colourful dancers who play with light and shadow to Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite. In Light and Shadow was inspired by a variety of Baroque dances and painters, such as Michelangelo and Rembrandt.

While Hong Kong Ballet’s dancers are precise and impressive, I must add that my friend who accompanied me to this presentation, a particular Baroque lover, felt the music choices for the works were not in sync with the choreography.

NOTE ON THE BALLET COMPANY: Hong Kong Ballet, founded in 1979, is one of Asia’s premier classical ballet companies, internationally recognized as representing Hong Kong’s unique character. While it does include a small number of dancers from other parts of Asia, Europe and North America (including Canadian Jessica Burrows), the majority of the troupe are Chinese.

First time at the NAC, Hong Kong Ballet’s debut on March 1 was the first day of a three-week tour of North America.

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