Appearing for the first time in the Hong Kong Arts Festival, the Bolshoi Ballet made a triumphant return to Hong Kong this week. The first ballet programmed was Alexei Ratmansky’s The Flames of Paris, created in 2008 when the choreographer was still the company's director.

Vladislav Lantratov (Philippe) © Damir Yusupov
Vladislav Lantratov (Philippe)
© Damir Yusupov

Ratmansky’s two act production, lasting two hours, is based on the Soviet choreographer Vasily Vainonen’s 1932 ballet set during the French Revolution. At its heart is a love story between two young revolutionaries, Jeanne and Philippe, culminating in Vainonen's dazzling wedding pas de deux. There is also a subsidiary couple; Jeanne’s brother Jerome is in love with the evil Marquis’ daughter Adeline, a new character added by Ratmansky. The two share a tender duet in Act II.

Ratmansky’s choreography is excellent, and offers a wonderful feast of dancing – classical as well as character dancing. The drama too is intense and gripping. In Act I, the narrative labours slightly in the beginning to establish the various characters of the complicated story. There's also a court divertissement – an extensive ballet Rinaldo and Armida complete with Amour, the Furies, and a Bride – which goes on for too long. After this “ballet within a ballet”, Act I ends ominiously with the courtiers hearing with fear the chanting of La Marseillaise by the revolutionaries and crowd outside the palace.

Act II is much tighter in pace and narrative. This whole act is simply a tour de force. The Revolution being in full swing at this point, Jeanne is seen waving a Tricolour flag and leading the crowds. In the square scene, with a guillotine in the centre, there are some delightful character dances for the townspeople, clowns and acrobats, culminating in the explosive Basque dance.

Mirroring Act I, there is here another divertissement, led by the same star couple, Artem Ovcharenko and Nina Kaptsova attired in classical Greek tunics, this time celebrating the Republic instead of the monarchy. The exposition of Adeline’s identity and Jerome’s failure to prevent her execution add more drama. Before the curtain fall, the approach of the revolutionaries towards the audience is quite a chilling image, especially with Jerome being nearly trampled over by the crowd.

Nina Kaptsova (Adeline) and Vladimir Neporozhny (Marquis) © Yelena Fetisova
Nina Kaptsova (Adeline) and Vladimir Neporozhny (Marquis)
© Yelena Fetisova

On the opening night here in Hong Kong, Vladislav Lantratov, a handsome danseur noble, was impressive as Philippe; and he was totally impeccable in his technical virtuosity.  But Ekaterina Krysanova as Jeanne lacked a fiery charisma, and her dancing was slightly subdued in technical bravura.

Vyacheslav Lopatin was a touching Jerome, while Anastasia Stashkevich elicited sympathy as his lover Adeline. Praise is also due to Artem Ovcharenko and Nina Kaptsova leading the divertissements in both acts.

The ballet certainly showed off the Bolshoi in top form.

****1