Review: Hong Kong Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet

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Hong Kong Ballet’s third programme this season is a long overdue revival of the excellent production of Romeo and Juliet by the renowned Dutch choreographer Rudi van Dantzig, who passed away three years ago. This 1967 production of the Shakespeare classic is one of the best ballets acquired by the company in the last decade, and this latest revival is staged by Andre Lewis. 

Van Dantzig’s production is darker and more morbid in tone than the other well-known versions of the story created in the same decade, notably Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s version for Britain’s Royal Ballet, starring Fonteyn and Nureyev in its premiere. A gigantic Death figure appears frequently in the town square scenes in Act Two, as if to foretell the imminent deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, as well as the deaths of the two star-crossed lovers at the end. Juliet also dances with the ghostly apparitions of Mercutio and Tybalt, in a slightly overdrawn scene in Act Three.

Compared to other versions, van Dantzig’s version is actually the most dramatically coherent and logical, and also avoids excessive melodrama, which is commendable.  The final death scene is short and full of urgency, and is followed by a moving reconciliation between the two families. The street scenes are full of buzz and vigour.  Additional details are added in this production, for instance two servants are seen kissing outside Juliet’s bedroom in Act One. The wedding scene of Romeo and Juliet is lengthened to include a short dance for the couple. However the balcony pas de deux is not as transcendent and emotionally soaring as in the MacMillan version.

The title roles are danced in the first cast by Li Jia-bo and Liu Yu-yao. Liu is currently the most outstanding female principal dancer in the company. Her artistry is in full bloom and she is currently dancing at the height of her power. She comes across less convincingly as the adolescent Juliet, but her acting gradually acquires depth as the performance progresses. She is ecstatic in the balcony duet, and her death scene is moving. Ideally, Liu would have suited a taller partner than Li who, despite lacking the complete charisma needed to be Romeo, compensated with his heartfelt acting.

The supporting roles are also strongly cast. Shen Jie is a vivacious Mercutio. Jin Yao dances authoritatively as Lady Capulet, while Li Lin is convincing as the evil Tybalt and Lucas Jerkander is eye-catching in his acting as the handsome Paris. The sets and costume designs by Toer van Schayk are sumptuous. However, we were actually struggling to see during some scenes and we felt the lighting could have been brighter at times. The Hong Kong Sinfonietta is superb, as ever, under the baton of Gerry Cornelius. Kevin Ng 

Romeo and Juliet Nov 20-22, Hong Kong Cultural Centre; hkballet.com

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