Hong Kong Ballet
Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
November 20, 2015

Liu Miao-miao and Wei Wei in Romeo and Juliet Photo Conrad Dy-Liacco

Liu Miao-miao and Wei Wei in Romeo and Juliet
Photo Conrad Dy-Liacco

Jade Li

Adapted from Shakespeare’s classical romantic tragedy, and combining traditional elements of Italian culture and classical aesthetics, Dutch choreographer Rudi Van Dantzig’s version of Romeo and Juliet (羅密歐與茱麗葉) is a choreographic masterpiece. It’s not only full of innovative dance, but also rich in dance vocabulary, allowing the dancers to show a wide range of performance skills.

Set in the Italian Renaissance, and danced to Prokofiev’s magnificent score, Romeo and Juliet gives the audience a splendid evening. Van Dantzig lays out the narrative clearly, with the two families being identified by the colors of their costumes: red for Capulet and blue for Montague. HKAPA (Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts, 香港演藝學院) students and children from excellent local Ballet schools add bustle to the marketplace scenes, and it is all beautifully staged. The action continues without a pause, with solos and group dances flowing in and out.

Designer Toer van Schayk’s sets are glorious; elegant and versatile, allowing for fast-paced changes of scene with no longeurs. The balcony scene is beautiful with a starry sky and the Capulet mansion is grand. Most striking of all is the set for the Friary scenes, dominated by a huge hollow iron cross on the door where the friars enter and exit.

The Hong Kong Ballet (香港芭蕾舞團) danced with dynamism. The choreography is musical and is pleasing to watch. The balcony scene always grabs people, but for me, the best moment comes in the duet for Juliet and Friar Laurence when she takes the potion. This section has some wonderfully dynamic, swooping movement around the stage and was performed with searing honesty by the dancers.

Liu Miao Miao (劉苗苗) is made for the role of Juliet. Her tiny and graceful frame is perfect. Her technique is steely and her performance moving. The moment in the pas de deux when she throws herself from a considerable height into Romeo’s arms was most touching. But her depiction of a child developing into a passion driven woman could have been clearer. Wei Wei’s (魏巍) characterization as her Romeo is more defined. He is an elegant dancer with quick movements. His devotion digs deep into Juliet’s heart.

Xia Jun (left) and Lucas Jerkander as Tybalt Photo Conrad Dy-Liacco

Xia Jun (left) and Lucas Jerkander as Tybalt
Photo Conrad Dy-Liacco

The intensity of different characters rises towards the climax. Wei Wei is a warm and gentle performer who communicates well with audience. However, while Romeo’s innocence is charming in the early scenes the character finds himself out of his depth when it comes to handling the later passion with Juliet.

There is an unfortunate drop in tension in the final scenes after Juliet takes the potion, however. In Van Dantzig’s production, Romeo does not take poison but instead runs towards her body and appears to hit himself on the pointed corner of the tomb. The build up to the tragic scene is also not long enough for the deep connection between the dancers to be shown. Indeed, the serious message of the ballet is almost ruined by the ending.

In fact, it was striking that really intimate emotion was somewhat lacking right through the evening. Often it felt as if the artists had taken the form but left the feeling. Yet love, loss, eroticism, anger, betrayal, chance, fate are all things audiences expect from the dances.

The rest of the cast also produced high quality dance. Elizabeth Ferrell as the Nurse is an attractive young companion to Juliet with excellent comic charm. Her tender response to Juliet’s apparent death is most moving. Lucas Jerkander (葉康達) has a sharp, quick, ambitious quality as Tybalt and acts up a long stormy fight with Xia Jun’s excellent Mercutio, who is quick-tempered and is ready to draw his sword at the slightest provocation. Xia Jun‘s (夏俊) performance was perfectly furnished with fast turns and precise jumps, all topped off by warm, communicative acting that made his death a true tragedy.

Despite its evident weaknesses, Hong Kong Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet has many delights. It also provides opportunities for young members to stretch themselves. It’s a ballet that appeals to a wide range of audiences and the performances this season can only broaden the appeal of ballet. They certainly earned great support from Hong Kong audience.