LAST EDITED ON 11-10-00 AT 06:10 PM (GMT)
As part of its current Far East tour marking its 60th anniversary, the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) toured Hong Kong for the first time ever last week. Taipei follows Hong Kong this week, and the other cities that they had already toured were Singapore and Shanghai. The five performances at the Hong
Kong Cultural Centre - three of "Don Quixote" followed by two of the mixed bill last Saturday - provided the local ballet scene with a much needed touch of star-studded glamour. I haven't heard such thunderous applause from a local ballet audience, as that on the closing night, for a very long time.
GRAHAM'S DIVERSION OF ANGELS
The mixed bill opened with Martha Graham's "Diversion of Angels" (1948) which was an interesting addition to the ABT's repertory last year. This plotless modern dance work features three bare-feet female soloists who, according to the programme notes, are meant to symbolise three aspects of love. The white girl represents mature love; the red, erotic love; and the yellow, adolescent love. Graham's earthy choreography is of course full of non-balletic steps, which must have provided quite a challenge for the ABT dancers.
Saturday matinee's cast was slightly better than the evening's. As the white girl, the extremely talented Gillian Murphy danced with a fresh purity that was so ravishing. Sandra Brown's red girl showed off her beautifully arched feet in her long sustained extensions. And Erica Cornejo as the yellow girl danced an allegro solo with brio. The climax was a diagonal of jumps for the ensemble, and only the white couple remained on stage at the end.
Another work in the programme by a modern dance choreographer was Lar Lubovitch's "Meadow" which was created for the company last year. It was choreographed for a mixed ensemble of dancers clad in ocean-blue coloured costumes, and a lead couple who were given two pas de deux. The corps did endless wave-like formations which were not particularly interesting at all. The first duet was more earthbound and horizontal, while the second was more aerial with some upside down lifts. In the afternoon, it was marvellously danced by Yan Chen and Angel Corella.
However the piece didn't amount to much at all. The stage action was deliberatly blurred by a transparent scrim in the front of the stage for atmospheric effects, and the dark lighting did not help either.
PAS DE DEUX
Each performance included two classical pas de deux after "Diversion of Angels". On Saturday evening, the "Sleeping Beauty" pas de deux was stylishly danced by Irina Dovorenko and Giuseppe Picone (a former soloist of the English National Ballet). The tall Picone showed off his distinguished classical style. In his solo, he finished all of his double tours en l'air in a perfect fifth position, and later executed impeccably the series of double tours en l'air ending in arabesque. In the afternoon, "Beauty" pas de deux was replaced by Agrippina Vaganova's "Diana and Acteon" pas de deux from the Soviet era, starring Paloma Herrera and Jose Manuel Carreno. Carreno's nicely arched backbends in the air were thrilling, as were his diagonal of jumps landing on his knees. Herrera dazzled in her fouettees.
"Le Corsaire" pas de deux was danced in both performances. Picone danced the matinee with Susan Jaffe, while Angella Corella partnered a radiant Julie Kent in the evening. The latter was a perfect pair, Kent's calm dignity contrasting with Corella's flamboyance. Kent's pure classical dancing had poise, elegance and control. But it was Corella who brought the house down with his technical brilliance and his magnetic star quality.
Being a natural turner, Corella's whirlwind pirouettes, with his working leg progressing in three different levels, were quite a sight to experience, and worthy Olympic gymnastics too! Actually all his virtuosic steps were impeccably executed with an original flair. Even seeing him land on his knees at the end in homage to his ballerina was an excitement in itself.
THEME AND VARIATONS
The final piece in the mixed bill was Balanchine's masterpiece "Theme and Variations", decorated with a new balustrade backdrop and several chandeliers, which is different from what I remember from the New York Met. In the matinee, Julie Kent, strongly partnered by a technically tentative Marcelo Gomes, was sublime. Kent's beautiful long legs had great power in adagio, and she danced with an inner radiance. All her steps were perfectly phrased, and each phrase blossomed like a flower. Memorable was how blissfully she did those entrechats when lifted in the air by her cavalier.
The corps de ballet was not the most uniform, but did justice to this Balanchine jewel. The evening's ballerina was the young soloist Gillian Murphy, who danced expressively with sharp legwork. Maxim Belotserkovsky, her noble cavalier, impressed in the difficult series of double tours en l'air.
Last Wednesday, the Hong Kong season opened with Kevin McKenzie's 1995 production of "Don Quixote". Since I only saw the Kirov production of the same ballet in London two months ago, comparisons are inevitable.
A merit of McKenzie's production is that the role of the Don is dramatically more substantial. It was superbly danced by Victor Barbee who made the character more kindly and sympathetic than usual. Here the Don took an active part in the tavern scene to force Lorenzo to agree to Kitri's marriage to the 'dying' Basilio, thus adding more emotional impact to Basilio's faked death scene.
However there is less prominence given to character dancing than in the Kirov production. Mercedes (the same character as the Street Dancer in this production) does not have a solo in Act 3 in character shoes, nor is there a big duet for the Gypsy couple in the Act 2 tavern scene. The toreadors' dance in Act 1 is somehow less exciting than in the Kirov production.
I saw two casts - Paloma Herrera and Angel Corella on the opening night, and the young Ukranian husband-and-wife team of Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovksy two nights later. Herrera's dance powers seemed on this occasion to be less striking than my last viewing of her in New York several years ago. Corella again dazzled with his easy technical bravura and his trademark fast-spinning pirouettes. He was also a splendid partner, as seen in his two one-handed lifts of Kitri in Act 1, when he seemed to suspend Herrera in the air for far longer than normal.
I somehow prefer the Ukranian couple. Maxim Belotserkovsky was a dashing Basilio, full of charm. Dvorovenko's long line, fine-boned physique, and high extensions are aesthetically pleasing. In her last act solo, her echappees were so alluring when coupled with her play of the fan, and she also waved the fan overhead during some of her fouette turns in the coda.
Other outstanding performances came from Giuseppe Picone's Espada, Carmen Corella as Mercedes, and the two flower girls who were superbly danced by Oksana Konobeyeva and Michele Wiles whose airy jumps in her Act 3 solo had grandeur. The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra provided excellent accompaniment for both programmes under several ABT conductors.
This tour was a triumph for the ABT company. And the Hong Kong government's Leisure and Cultural Services Department deserves praise for bringing this top company, raising considerably the city's international cultural profile.
While I am writing this report, the ABT is performing in Taipei for a week before returning to New York for its annual City Center season in late October.