Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
August 27, 2016 (Liu Yu-Yao, Ryo Kato)
August 28, 2016 (Jurgita Dronina, Li Jia-Bo)
Joy Wang X.Y.
There is, perhaps, no better introduction to a company than Swan Lake and no better measure of a ballerina than Odette-Odile. This August, Hong Kong Ballet (香港芭蕾舞團) put up four different casts. I caught two of them.
There are many ways to dance this iconic role. Jurgita Dronina’s, touchingly intimate telling, emphasises the woman instead of the proud mystical creature of yore. When her wrists brush against the profile of her face it is less the caressing touch of a swan’s wings than a woman miming strings of tears. Here the narrative nucleus is located not so much in the contrast between swan and human, between the sacred and profane, than between two visions of femininity – one supremely confident, the other tenderly dependent. Subtly too she repositions the ballet’s central tenets. In turning Odette-Odile into a conduit for a master narrative of love she humanises this sublimely untouchable creature.
Yet while this parsing of love’s drama lends the narrative credence – the depths of her despair and later, the fullness of her courage is moving because it feels true – it tells us less about the inherent contradictions that Odette-Odile itself, as an autonomous role, can offer. What of the swan queen’s biography? What of history that exists beyond the bonds of this precise moment and this precise relationship?
But these are small quibbles. As Odette the liquid elasticity of her arms and back is always reaching upwards, stretching outwards as if pushing against an inevitable current; desperate for flight, yet always denied release. As Odile, there is the slinky, slithering use of her hips; the way she lowers herself into the ground as if drawn by a magnetic force field. If the white adage was let down by a slight lack of rapport – the tiniest of hesitation, a sense of both deferring to the other – between ballerina and orchestra (otherwise admirable) Act 3 was sensitive, musical.
Dronina’s Odile is disarmingly benign, drawing in Siegfred with the lightest of touches and then ripping him apart. In the ballet’s final climactic moments, she slows down, intertwines his hands with hers and then pulls her free leg slowly, purposefully into arabesque and without shifting her gaze starts to move backward. The more physical distance she imposes, the greater her attraction. This is nerve and magic.
She was partnered ably by Li Jia-bo (李嘉博), an eager Prince but one who missed the noble gravitas of the role. And without the elegiac Act 1 solo, Siegfried becomes more virtuoso than lyric hero.
Dronina’s guest appearance was the last in a series of Swan Lakes. The previous afternoon’s performance featured Hong Kong Ballet’s own dancers, Liu Yu-yao (劉昱瑶) and Ryo Kato (加藤凌). Liu has long lines and a lovely wingspan. She has beautiful moments particularly when her physical fragility opens up to reveal a sudden dam of hidden passion. But she lacks technical range and emotional complexity. Misery without mystery as Odette; brash, almost aggressive as Odile. And when dancers modify steps it is their job to convince us that those alterations are artistic choices and not technical necessities. Though Ryo Kato as Siegfried doesn’t quite yet register much of a presence, when he dances he flies lifting a performance with him. His dancing is handsome, strong, full of promise.
The principals were well supported by the rest of the cast in both performances. In general, the men in this company are endowed with airy jumps and clean lines. The women, less finished technically, have gracious épaulement and a pleasant directness. The corps is disciplined and the production, by John Meehan, shows them off effectively.