Review: Swan Lake

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Following the success of the Oscar-winning film Black Swan two years ago, ballet companies all over the world have been increasing their performances of Swan Lake, the most famous of the ballet classics.  Hong Kong Ballet is no exception.  In late August it opened its new 2013-14 season with ten performances of Swan Lake spread over two weekends - double its average of five performances for each programme.  However, to my surprise there were quite a lot of empty seats for the first Saturday matinee - normally a popular time for children.

This matinee was noteworthy for its debuts in both leading roles – the ballerina role of Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried.  Principal dancer Wu Fei Fei had actually danced half of the role before (the White Swan Odette) and makes her debut this time as both Odette and the Black Swan Odile.  In the White acts, she was initially rather strained in Act 2, but improved in the final fourth act.  Wu was more at home as Odile than Odette.  She was suitably sparkling in her technical fireworks in Act 3.  Coryphée Kostyantyn Keshyshev, making his debut as Siegfried, danced with confidence and assurance.  He’s by far the most princely and noble classical danseur in the company. 

The top principal rank of the Hong Kong Ballet has been pretty weak of late, and so it made sense for the company to invite a male guest star for two of the second week’s performances.  The guest is Kim Kimin, a Korean soloist of the renowned Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, who had only made his debut as Prince Siegfried in St. Petersburg in May. Kim is definitely a class above the company’s male dancers.  He partnered Zhang Si Yuan as the Swan Queen.

This cast was more outstanding, and again it was the Prince who drew more applause.  Kim’s spectacular virtuosity in his Act 3 solo was glorious.  His big and sky-high jumps were so effortless.  His acting was average though, but he was a strong partner.  Zhang was expressive as Odette, her acting heartfelt.  As the Black Swan she was dazzling in her virtuosity, throwing in double fouettes in her solo.

The company in general danced with more enthusiasm than polish, though there was noticeable improvement in the second week.  The corps de ballet of swans lacked uniformity in their upper bodies, and had rough edges occasionally.  Among the supporting performances, Candice Adea was impressive in her solo in the Act 1 Pas de Quatre.  And also praise for Jonathan Spigner in the Neapolitan dance in Act 3. 

This 2007 production was by the former artistic director John Meehan.  His choreographic text is odd, replacing the traditional Petipa/Ivanov choreography at times with less satisfying choreography.  For instance, the important mime in the duet in Act 2 explaining Odette’s transformation into a swan has been omitted, while the Queen’s brief mime in Act 1 asking Siegfried to choose a bride has been retained.  The highlight of this production are still the beautiful sets and costumes designed by Peter Farmer.

Kevin Ng

Swan Lake, Cultural Centre, urbtix.hk, Until Sep 1.

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