Paquita. Bolero. Carnival+

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May 29-May 31

Ahead of its world premiere, Amanda Sheppard speaks to Ricky Hu and Yuh Egami, choreographers of Bolero, about rhythm, Ravel and repetition

Commissioned by the legendary actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein, and written by Maurice Ravel, Bolero is one of the late French composer’s most iconic orchestral compositions. To use the famous piece for an entirely new ballet requires gumption, but it’s a feat that choreographers Ricky Hu and Yuh Egami are unfazed by. Bolero – aptly titled – debuts on May 29 at the Cultural Centre, as part of the Hong Kong Ballet's latest programme, Paquita. Bolero. Carnival+. The diverse programme, which includes Petipa’s seminal ballet, demonstrates the strengths of the dance form in contemporary and classical forms.

“It’s very popular music, so it’s a great thing to have [Ravel’s Bolero] in a programme, but it’s up to us to do it well,” explains Egami, who tells us that despite the piece having been commissioned in October, they have had limited rehearsals to truly do it justice. Time constraints aside, the music provides a certain vibrancy that energises both the choreographers and dancers alike.

For Hu and Egami, it was first and foremost the structure of Ravel’s music that provided the inspiration for their choreography. Unlike the composer’s more melodic lyrical compositions, Egami informs us, ‘this was experimental for Ravel. It wasn’t his forte. Suddenly there was this amazing sense of repetition’. In fact, Egami goes so far as to say, ‘for Ravel, this wasn’t really even music. It was about structure, and crescendo’.

The continual ostinato snare gave Hu and Egami inspiration for the piece. Rhythmically speaking, ‘when we see a gap, it always goes into another melody. That has to mean something – to us, it meant a scene change’. This takes the form of four scene changes to signify a change of perspective. They explain the purpose-built stage ‘is a bit like a Rubik’s cube – we wanted it to be able to transform with the crescendo of the music’.

Egami identifies a poetic element to the composition’s structure, and one that lent itself to dance. “We really researched it and finally got to the point where it felt close to our lives. The rhythm, it’s like a heartbeat.” This spurred the two to experiment with the dynamics of the production, playing on the notion of Groundhog Day. Repetition of the mundane is symbolised by the ploughing of the drums, with a very gradual increase in tempo, until both the music and the performance culminate in a climactic finale.

In the true spirit of repetition, this marks yet another collaboration between the two choreographers – Hu and Egami’s first co-production, White Lies, debuted at the 2012 Emerging Choreographers Showcase to critical acclaim.

“It always helps when you’ve worked together before,” explains Egami. Of Hu, he boasts, ‘his use of body is very unusual for ballet. He comes up with types of movement that I could never think of’. Hu adds, “We’re opposite people, but we turn each other’s visions into reality.”

With each choreographer honing entirely different approaches and strengths, the interplay between the two creates a unique piece. “When we choreograph, we use each other’s bodies and push each other to go further,” says Egami.

Neither Hu nor Egami have sought to tell a particular tale in Bolero. “What will be unique in our piece,ß” they explain, “is that we do have guidance in the story. It’s not completely narrative – not like the Nutcracker – but we have abstract scenes that audiences can connect their emotions to.”

Paquita. Bolero. Carnival+ HKCC, Grand Theatre, May 29-31. Tickets: $140-$1,000;


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