LAST EDITED ON 18-02-01 AT 08:06 AM (GMT)
The most significant dance company appearing in this month's Hong Kong Arts Festival is the White Oak Dance Project co-founded in 1990 by Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was making his first appearance in Hong Kong this weekend. The company also visited South Korea, and will perform in Taiwan and Guam on this Asian tour.
The programme seen in the three sold-out performances at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (as well as in the other Asian venues) consisted of five works by prominent American choreographers, which made for an enjoyable evening full of diversity. The first-night audience clearly loved it, as reflected in the loud curtain calls at the end. And it is typical of Baryshnikov's modesty nowadays that he took those curtain calls together with his six fellow dancers, and deliberately avoided any solo curtain calls. Hong Kong audiences this time seemed to get better value for money than the London audiences who saw the company at Sadler's Wells in 1999 (when I last saw the company), because Baryshnikov appeared on stage practically all evening with the only exception of the opening ensemble piece.
This interesting opening work "See Through Knot", choreographed last year by John Jasperse, emphasises the upper body. The dancers' arms sometimes ripple playfully like waves, forming various pleasing decorative patterns, while at other times their arms splay violently and mechanically. Their heads also wag at times to follow through the motion.
This work was followed by a delightful solo for Baryshnikov called "Peccadillos" (2000) choreographed by Mark Morris. Set to Satie's piano music for children played on a toy piano on stage, this work shows off Baryshnikov's highly articulate full-bodied dancing, especially his still impressive jumps, and above all his supreme musicality. There are some nice comic touches when Baryshnikov seems to impersonate a toy soldier making salutes, as well as some darker currents when he hits his chest repeatedly as if in desperation. Another section resembles a Baroque court dance, with some delightful legwork for Baryshnikov.
The third piece "For the love of rehearsal" (2000), choreographed by David Gordon, sees Baryshnikov interacting happily with his colleagues. This masterly work, for me the best in this programme, shows wonderfully the process of accumulation of scale and momentum in dance-making. A male solo for Keith Sabado in the beginning develops into an intensive duet with running steps. Then Michael Lomeka joins the mixed couple to dance a trio which sees them frequently rolling on the ground, before another woman enters to form a quartet. There are frequent changes in the pairings of the four dancers who frequently embrace each other. When the two male dancers dance together, one lifts the other in some unexpected high lifts at some points. This work is rich in emotional resonances. The climax has a sustained earthbound solo for Baryshnikov followed by an exhilarating finale which is a joyful communal celebration. Bach's music was excellently played by the cellist Alberto Parrini.
Baryshnikov also danced in Mark Morris' "The Argument" (1999). The various sections of Schumann's music depict different stages of the couple's love-hate relationship, with tenderness alternating with the quarrelsome moments. Emily Coates danced impressively as Baryshnikov's partner. This is a scaled-down version and is different from the version danced in London in 1999, when Baryshnikov danced with three female partners instead.
The final work was another ensemble piece for the whole company all clad in black costumes - Lucinda Childs' "Concerto" (1993) set to a pulsating score by Henryk Gorecki. Everyone including Baryshnikov danced frantically at break-neck speed in this exciting work which uses only a limited range of movement vocabulary. All in all, it was a rewarding evening.