Dancing by moonlight

Dancing by moonlight

HK Ballet's young stars emerge from the shadows

November 04, 2012
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October 14, 2012
October 14, 2012
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Choreographer Kostyantyn Keshyshev (far left) with dancers  Rebecca Zhu and Izak David Claase.
Choreographer Kostyantyn Keshyshev (far left) with dancers Rebecca Zhu and Izak David Claase.
Photo: May Tse
There is nothing quite as graceful as two ballet dancers floating across a stage, their bodies echoing one another, and their movements conveying a thousand emotions without anyone speaking a word.

The Hong Kong Ballet will be putting its young and emerging talent on display in New Moon, a programme of seven pas de deux - or duets - each about seven to nine minutes long.

New Moon opens with Flower Festival in Genzano, a classic from the 19th-century choreographer and dancer August Bournonville. Company dancers and choreographers will perform five of the pieces, with acclaimed Canadian choreographer Peter Quanz rounding out the mixed bill with Luminous.

New Moon is based on phases of the moon, much like the new dancers and choreographers at the company, says artistic director Madeleine Onne.

Company dancer Kostyantyn Keshyshev will make his choreographic debut with Black and White. "It's called [that] because of who we are. There's this good side, and the side that comes out when we're angry or whenever things fall apart. I figured I might try and put that into dance," he says. "This duet is about people, relationships."

Keshyshev has looked inward to draw inspiration for his work. "I take the story, usually from my experiences from the past," says the Ukrainian-born, Canadian-trained dancer.

"Then I find music that will fit. Then I start taking dancers and see how they react to it. Then I start making the steps."

Keshyshev took fellow colleagues Izak David Claase and Rebecca Zhu on board to perform the dance routines. Both are foreign-born dancers - Hong Kong Ballet is a diverse bunch, with members hailing from China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Ukraine, South Africa and the United States.

South African native Claase realises he has come a long way from Johannesburg. Looking back, he knows some people - even friends - viewed his career choice with scepticism. But now that he is part of a top dance company, he and they are astonished by the doors ballet has opened for him.

The work that he and Zhu put into Black and White has brought Claase a real sense of accomplishment.

"Even today, for us to accomplish and understand the aesthetics of the movement [jazzy hip hop, as opposed to traditional ballet], because it's quite far removed from ballet, is quite an accomplishment," Claase says.

"Of course, it's rhythmical and all those things, but to train our bodies to move in a certain way, that was a big challenge."

As for the svelte Zhu, who was born in China, she understands the level of dedication and commitment involved in performing professionally.

Dancers have a fairly short shelf life, the group says, and few can maintain a high level, as a principal dancer, beyond the age of 35. Zhu offers advice for youngsters hoping to enter such a physically demanding career: "The most important thing is to practise. Some people have bodies more suited for dancing - more flexibility - but you just need to train and practise harder and you can make it."

As for the perception that ballet dancers are a snobbish bunch - very much perpetuated by films such as Street Dance - the trio say most dancers, regardless of style, respect what each has to offer.

"I don't consider myself a ballet dancer," Keshyshev says. "I consider myself a dancer."

"We're ballet trained," Claase says.

Keshyshev adds: "And I ... love any kind of dancing."

The Hong Kong Ballet will stage New Moon at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre from Sep 24-26.

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