LAST EDITED ON 16-09-01 AT 04:59 PM (GMT)
Hong Kong Ballet's artistic director Stephen Jefferies mounted a new production of "Swan Lake' in 1996 not long after he took office. This production was revived at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on Thursday with only partial success.
The opening night's performance did not measure up to the usual standards of the company as a regional company in Asia. There was an air of tentativeness which betrayed first-night nerves. The corps de ballet of swans, which was of different sizes and shapes, lacked a stylistic uniformity both below and above the waist. Raggedness showed in the upper body, especially in the arms. Their dancing was sloppy on this occasion. A common weakness pervasive in the company was musicality, or rather the lack of it. The dancers in general seemed to dance pose-by-pose, with no regard for phrasing to the music. Also the dancers' weak turn-out and inadequate classical technique made their dancing look small-scaled and strained in this classic.
In view of the Hong Kong Ballet's limited resources in having just over 40 dancers, it was wise of Jefferies to scale down the total number of swans in this production from the normal 24 to 18, as well as the national dances in Act 3. It is no loss that the Mazurka has been omitted altogether, since the company has no suitable character dancers who can do justice to it, as well as to the Czardas which has however been retained.
The merit of this production is in the choreographic text which is more or less faithful to the traditional choreography of Petipa/Ivanov especially in Act 2, which Jefferies, a former Royal Ballet principal, must have known from Sir Anthony Dowell's 1987 production for the Royal Ballet as well as the previous production. Jefferies' own choreography in other places, e.g. the Act 1 waltz and the whole of the last act, is pedestrian. Benno dances in the Act 1 pas de trois in this production.
The opening night's Swan Queen was danced by Zhang Jian, a young guest artist from the National Ballet of China, a finer classical company which undertook a successful tour to Copenhagen and Hong Kong last year with "La Sylphide". Miss Zhang has a pleasing long line. Her Odette had a gentle temperament; and as Odile, she dazzled in the famous series of 32 'fouette' turns by throwing in some doubles.
I wish she could have had a taller partner than principal Liang Jing who did not provide her with much emotional rapport. Liang tried to cram in too many difficult steps, for instance 'double assembles en tournant', in Siegfried's Act 3 solo, at the expense of a clean finish. (Siegfried does not have a variation at the end of Act 1 in this production.) Amuer Calderon's von Rothbart was one-dimensionally evil. There was some unnecessary over-acting in the supporting performances, which should be toned down.
Peter Farmer's set designs were tasteful though somewhat gloomy, due to the predominance of dark colours. I was reminded of his more recent sets for the Kirov Ballet's "Manon" which I saw in London in June. Dim lighting on the first night spoiled the final tableau which was meant to show Odette and Siegfried uniting in death.
(Parts of this review have appeared in the "South China Morning Post".)