Hong Kong Ballet

March 25, 2005

Hong Kong Ballet
Shatin Town Hall, Hong Kong

March 25–27, 2005

Reviewed by Kevin Ng


Irek Mukhamedov, the former Bolshoi and Royal Ballet star, has transformed Hong Kong Ballet with his new production of Spartacus. By tailoring his first story ballet to the 37-member company’s modest resources, he has enabled it to achieve a new standard of quality. The choreographer, who danced the title role in Yuri Grigorovich’s 1968 Bolshoi production, tells his story clearly and logically, adding a new character (Kricks, Spartacus’ best friend and ultimate betrayer) and making the most of a libretto based on Raffaello Giovagnoli’s novel. The simple but effective sets and colorful period costumes are by Charles Cusick Smith.

Grigorovich’s influence is unmistakable in Mukhamedov’s energetic, bold choreographic style. His choreography scores in the big moments of Khachaturian’s bombastic but alluring music (slightly rearranged and, unfortunately, taped). But dynamic crowd scenes and powerful duels—in the battle scenes, Mukhamedov creates the illusion of many people being onstage—relinquish the stage to kitschy moments, especially the victory celebration dance of the gladiators, who resemble a Broadway chorus line. The satyrs’ dance and Egyptian slave girls’ dance in Act I suffer from longueur.

The choreography for the duets is pleasant enough, though limited in vocabulary (perhaps the most visible evidence of his attempt to accommodate the company’s technical limitations). For example, in the pas de deux for Spartacus and his lover, Valeria (Phrygia in the Bolshoi production), Mukhamedov replaced the sensational Bolshoi trademark one-handed lifts with less demanding partnering. The sensual pas de deux for the Roman general, Crassus, and his courtesan, Evtibida (Aegina in the Bolshoi production), recalls the sexually charged interactions in Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon.

Nobuo Fujino, the company’s finest dancer (who joins Australian Ballet next season), danced the title role with heroic splendor, vibrating with intensity. He was technically impressive, especially in his jumps. Faye Leung was expressive as Valeria and Jin Yao glamorously evil as Evtibida, while Liang Jing made a lackluster Crassus. Artistic director Stephen Jefferies (who leaves his post next year) gave a masterful interpretation of the drunken, cold-blooded Roman consul Sulla.

For more information: www.hkballet.com