Hong Kong Ballet celebrated its 35th anniversary with a mixed programme last weekend. The most publicised was the last part of the programme - Act 3 of Swan Lake. To add some glamour to the occasion as well as box-office appeal, the troupe invited two stars from the Bolshoi Ballet, principal dancer Artem Ovcharenko and first soloist Kristina Kretova who guested in the first two performances of this run. Incidentally the Bolshoi Ballet will perform at the Hong Kong Arts Festival next March.

K Kretova as Odile and A Ovcharenko as Siegfried, in <i>Swan Lake</i> Act 3 © Conrad Dy-Liacco
K Kretova as Odile and A Ovcharenko as Siegfried, in Swan Lake Act 3
© Conrad Dy-Liacco

The black act is not from Hong Kong Ballet’s current production of Swan Lake (by former artistic director John Meehan) but Natalia Conus'. This none too tasteful production is based on earlier Soviet productions, and includes a tedious dance for a jester and four children. The national dances were also revised. The Neapolitan dance, for instance features a female tambourine soloist and four girls.  Prince Siegfried only appears – and perfunctorily – towards the end of the divertissements to dance with the six princesses and then Odile. Fortunately the Black Swan pas de deux follows Petipa’s choreography.

The Bolshoi couple seemed restricted by the relatively small size of the stage. Yet their dancing was superb and dazzling in technical virtuosity. Kretova executed the series of multiple fouettes of the coda brilliantly and Ovcharenko’s high jumps and effortless grands jetes were glorious. The troupe’s supporting performances were spirited.

Preceeding this was Nacho Duato's Castrati. Set to choral music by Vivaldi and Karl Jenkins, the piece is choreographed for one male soloist and an eight- strong male ensemble. It seems to depict a ritual in which the brotherhood of eight black-clad dancers have chosen the male soloist as their next victim to be castrated. It is, I feel, a tawdry and hollow piece. The steps are repetitive. with a lot of rolling around on the floor.  Solos, duets, quartets etc... succeed one another without, it seems, much purpose. Before curtain fall, the soloist has blood on his hands. Shen Jie was, nevertheless, quite impressive as the soloist. 

This piece seemed intent on showing off the troupe’s male dancers... But as a male showcase, Stanton Welch’s Clear, here staged by John Meehan, is far superior.

<i>Serenade</i>  Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust , Courtesy of the Hong Kong Ballet , Photo: Cheung Wai Lok, 2014
Serenade Choreography by George Balanchine
© The George Balanchine Trust , Courtesy of the Hong Kong Ballet , Photo: Cheung Wai Lok, 2014

The best part of this programme was actually the opening piece  – the company’s premiere of Balanchine’s early masterpiece Serenade , set to Tchaikovsky's score of the same name. This piece was last performed here during the New York City Ballet’s tour three years ago. Hong Kong Ballet has actually acquired a good Balanchine repertory under Meehan, including Theme and Variations and Concerto Barocco. In Serenade, the female corps de ballet was on top form. Liu Yu-Yao was both beautiful and expressive as the waltz ballerina and she's a natural Balanchine dancer with long ethereal lines. Wei Wei was her partner in the pas de deux. As the ‘Russian’ ballerina, Nina Matiashvili danced with bright energy, and the final elegy movement in which both Kostyantyn Keshyshev and Zhang Si-Yuan were commendable, was intense and moving.

This premiere of Serenade is definitely a triumph for the company, and should, as well as the other Balanchine masterpieces in Hong Kong Ballet’s repertory, be performed more regularly.