Hong Kong Ballet/Romeo and Juliet, Shatin Town Hall, Hong Kong

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After its successful premiere of the Balanchine programme last autumn, Hong Kong Ballet’s second premiere this season under director John Meehan showed the company’s increasing strength as a dramatic ensemble.

This version of Romeo and Juliet, choreographed in 1967 by Rudi van Dantzig for the Dutch National Ballet, with lavish sets and costumes by Toer van Schayk, is less well-known than the other versions created earlier in the same decade – MacMillan’s 1965 version for the Royal Ballet, and Cranko’s for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1962 (premiered incidentally by the National Ballet of China last autumn). Van Dantzig’s innovations include a gigantic “death’” figure looming constantly in the Verona square, and the ghostly apparitions of Mercutio and Tybalt (now looking dated and clichéd) emphasising the darker aspects of Shakespeare’s tragedy.

Compared with the MacMillan and Cranko versions, van Dantzig’s is the more dramatically coherent and logical. It avoids excessive melodrama. The street scenes are the most theatrical and full of rich naturalistic detail. However, his choreography for the balcony pas de deux lacks poetry and doesn’t soar to the emotional heights of MacMillan’s version.

Faye Leung danced decently as Juliet on the opening night, though her acting was rather forced at times. Zhang Yao’s Romeo was tentative at first but gradually grew in confidence and intensity. The ballet only caught fire with the second cast, led by Jin Yao and Brett Simon, a talented young Australian dancer who joined the company only two months ago. Jin’s dancing was lyrical and luminous, and her acting was heartfelt and nuanced. She was touching as the adolescent Juliet, tender and ecstatic in the balcony duet, and particularly moving in the potion-taking scene.

Brett Simon was a real asset to the company. His dancing had power, his acting was natural yet intense, and he was a strong partner. The street scenes were vividly danced, the sword-fighting episodes were excellent. Izak David Claase was striking as Paris. Graeme Collins had dignity and weight as Friar Laurence, a meatier role than in other versions. Ayako Fujioka danced authoritatively as Lady Capulet.
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