Global dance names and emerging local artists at the Hong Kong Arts Festival 2017

Hong Kong Arts Festival LogoThe dance programme at the 2017 Hong Kong Arts Festival is packed with quality performers. The headlines are naturally taken by the three big visitors: the Bayerisches Staatsballett and Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch from Germany, and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal from Canada. There much more too, though, including plenty of local dance-making talent on show in The Hong Kong Jockey Club Contemporary Dance Series.

Bayerisches Staatsballett and Staatsballett II with The Triadic Ballet and more

While there’s a lot of great looking dance at this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival, the most intriguing is surely The Triadic Ballet (3芭蕾), part of a mixed bill that’s mixed in every possible sense to be danced by the Bayerisches Staatsballett II (巴伐利亞國家芭蕾舞團二團) at the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts.

The Triadic Ballet was originally created in 1922 by Bauhaus pioneer Oskar Schlemmer, who once referred to the dance as a sort of “artistic metaphysical mathematics.” It was an experiment in which he reduced the human figure to basic geometric shapes, with abstract, rigid costumes restricting the dancers’ movement, giving them a very odd and specific quality; ‘choreographic constructivism’ if you want an academic sounding term. Don’t be put off, though, because it is also, as he called it, “a party in form and colour.”

Florian Sollfrank in The Triadic BalletPhoto Wilfried Hosl
Florian Sollfrank in The Triadic Ballet
Photo Wilfried Hosl

Unfortunately, Schlemmer’s choreography is long lost, the Staatsballett version being that created in 1977 by Gerhard Bohner, itself reconstructed in a new production by Colleen Scott and Ivan Liška in 2014. In fact, Bohner couldn’t have reconstructed the ballet faithful in every way, even if he wanted to, and that’s putting aside questions about whether it’s even possible anyway, for any ballet, given changes in bodies, training and more. All that he had to go on were some posed scenic photographs, contemporary reviews and Schlemmer’s own notes, plus the nine surviving costumes of the original eighteen that still sit in the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. There was no film and no other notation.

Those costumes were important, though, because they were Schlemmer’s starting point. Incredibly colourful or metallic structures made of padded textiles over rigid shells, they represent abstractions of the human body and determine the movement quality of the dancers, rather than the usual vice-versa. Bohner reconstructed them all using similar or identical material to give them the same movement quality, drawing on sketches and photographs for the nine that no longer exist. Just like Schlemmer, from them grew the choreography, new but with similar qualities.

Alisa Bartels, Alexander Bennett and Nicholas Losada in The Triadic BalletPhoto Wilfried Hosl
Alisa Bartels, Alexander Bennett and Nicholas Losada in The Triadic Ballet
Photo Wilfried Hosl

Also different to the original is the music. Schlemmer used compositions for piano and orchestra across three centuries but, wanting contemporary music, Bohner commissioned a new score from Hans-Joachim Hespos, in doing so also ignoring Paul Hindemith’s music for mechanical organ used for an abridged version of the ballet in 1926.

So, what can you expect to see? In short, quirky, unusual movement and colour, lots of it. The ballet comes in three colour-coded parts, each with a particular atmosphere: yellow is buoyant and burlesque, pink is ceremoniously-festive, and black is mystical. Costume-wise, look out for a woman wearing a bubble, a man who appears to be a marionette without strings, another who seems to have a snowdrift attached to him, two others whose heads peer out from huge golden balls, and more. Just as Schlemmer described his original, it really is a party.

Also on the Staatsballett II mixed bill is Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante (輝煌的快板), about which he said, “contains everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes;” Richard Siegal’s witty, jazzy, The New 45 (新45); and Nacho Duato’s Jardí Tancat (封閉花園), set the latter set to soulful Catalan folksongs sung by Maria del Mar Bonet, and full of the flavours and heat of the Spanish Mediterranean.

Bayerisches Staatsballett in La BayadèrePhoto Wilfried Hosl
Bayerisches Staatsballett in La Bayadère
Photo Wilfried Hosl

Prior to the HKAPA programme, the Bayerisches Staatsballett main company will perform La Bayadère (舞姬) across Victoria Harbour at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, best known for its moonlit procession of dancers in white tutus of the Kingdom of the Shades, one of the most famous scenes in all the classics. While the ballet may have a rather silly story (essentially a love triangle that rather naturally involves intrigue, jealousy and revenge) set in a very exotic, imagined India, it can’t be denied that it’s lavish spectacle.

Bayerisches Staatsballett, Grand Theatre, HK Cultural Centre; February 16-19; 2017.
Bayerisches Staatsballett II, Lyric Theatre, HKAPA; February 21-22, 2017.

Energy and fun

Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal (蒙特利爾芭蕾舞團) are noted for their energy and the way the jazz up and breathe new life into ballet. Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili’s Mono Lisa (非凡麗莎) is a favourite at galas everywhere. A very modern take on the classical pas de deux set to a modern, industrial score, it lets us in on a couple’s relationship. The dance is may be sensual and sometimes acrobatic, but there’s some fun along the way too. In contrast, driven by Pérez Prado’s joyful Cuban music, Galili’s O Balcao de Amor (古巴戀曲) is full of delightful absurdity.

Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal in Mono LisaPhoto Igino Ceremigna
Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal in Mono Lisa
Photo Igino Ceremigna

The programme is completed by Kosmos (都會即景), by former Béjart and Lyon Opera Ballet dancer Andonis Foniadakis, which takes inspiration from the rhythms, madness and energy of big cities; and former Paris Opera Ballet director Benjamin Millepied’s tension-filled duet, Closer (似遠還近), set to Phillip Glass’s minimalist solo piano piece.

Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, Grand Theatre, HK Cultural Centre; 3-4 March, 2017.

Two Pina classics

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch (翩娜包殊烏帕塔爾舞蹈劇場) bring two of the choreographer’s dramatic classics to this year’s festival. Set to snatches of melancholic Purcell arias, Café Müller (穆勒咖啡館) draws on Bausch’s childhood memories of the café her parents ran. Seen through the eyes of a young girl, it features a set of characters seemingly sleepwalking in and out of the deserted café, each laying their feelings bare.

Bausch’s The Rite of Spring (春之祭) is one of the few to match the Nijinsky version that caused such a storm in Paris in 1913. A dance of fertility rites in a world of powerful beings, it’s performed on a stage covered with earth. Another not to be missed.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Grand Theatre, HK Cultural Centre; March 8-11, 2017.

Pina Bausch's The Rite of SpringPhoto Zerrin Aydin Herwegh
Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring
Photo Zerrin Aydin Herwegh

A video game hits the stage!

That’s what is promised in Tetris (俄羅斯方塊) by Arch8 (拱8舞團) from the Netherlands. Enjoy as four dancers take the place of the blocks, flipping over, sliding under and piling on the top of each other. If you want some deeper meaning, it’s all about an exploration of individuality and team work, with the message that, through working with others, you can change the world to fit who you are. Or you can just enjoy the innovativeness of it all.

Arch8, HKJC Amphitheatre, HKAPA, March 10-11, 2017.

And there’s more…

This year’s Asia Pacific Dance Platform (亞太舞蹈平台-第九屆), the ninth in the series, brings two companies to the festival and two takes on a duet. Dual (雙) by Stephanie Lake Company (提芬妮蕾克舞團) from Australia features two solos, and two very contrasting and unrelated worlds. Dolap (櫃) by Taldans (土耳其) from Turkey also features two dancers – and a fridge, which we are promised becomes more and more active and determining. Does that make it a trio for man and machine? Go along and decide for yourself.

Dancing with a Refrigerator. Taldans in DolapPhoto Isabelle Meister
Dancing with a Refrigerator. Taldans in Dolap
Photo Isabelle Meister

Tap dance fans should head for HKAPA in late February where Michelle Dorrance and her own Dorrance Dance (多蘭斯舞團) present ETM: Double Down (電音踢躂), a work jammed with great solos, duets, and ensemble choreography. Add to that live music and electronic tap dance instruments courtesy of long-time collaborator Nicholas Van Young, and you have what promises to be a top evening

Finally, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Contemporary Dance Series (香港賽馬會當代舞蹈平台) features three interesting looking programmes starting with Dance Off (舞鬥), in which seven emerging choreographers have been given free rein to experiment and create new work. After that, Will you still love me tomorrow? Hong Kong Remix (明天你還愛我嗎?香港篇) is a first international collaboration for the HKJC Series built on the residency project of Italian choreographer Alessandro Sciarroni in collaboration with local dance-maker Mao Wei (毛維). The series is rounded off by Cecilia’s Rhapsody (西西利亞狂想曲), in which Blue Ka-wing (藍嘉穎), Ata Wong (黃俊達) and Rebecca Wong Pik-kei (黃碧琪) create works in response to Cecilia (西西利亞), the short story that launched the writing career of local author Dung Kai-cheung (董啟章), noted for his lyrical, dreamlike urban tales.

The Asia Pacific Dance Platform IX, Studio Theatre, HK Cultural Centre; March 7, 2017.

Dorrance Dance, Lyric Theatre, HKAPA; February 24-25, 2017.

Dance Off, Black Box Theatre, Kwai Tsing Theatre, March 24-26, 2017.
Will you still love me tomorrow? Hong Kong Remix, Studio Theatre, HK Cultural Centre; March 11-12, 2017.
Cecilia’s Rhapsody, Studio Theatre, HK Cultural Centre; March 18-19, 2017.

Don’t forget there’s more than dance. Next year’s festival sees a host of contemporary and relevant theatre productions, including The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family, a trilogy from New York’s Public Theatre. Top of the opera listings looks to be the Asian premiere of The Makropulos Case by the National Theatre Brno in the Czech Republic; and there’s plenty of other music too.

All performances may now be booked on-line, by post or fax. Over the counter bookings open December 10, 2016. For more details visit