Pointing in two directions

Pointing in two directions

The Hong Kong Ballet brings Eastern flavour to Western dance in its latest production The Frog Prince

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Illustration: Wilson Shieh
Hong Kong culture is seen as a successful blend of East and West, but ballet is still very much seen as a Western art form.

To help bridge this cultural gap, Hong Kong Ballet has, for several years, been producing original works that celebrate both cultures: for example, last year's Dancing With the Wind and 2011's Firecracker.

The company's artistic director, Madeleine Onne, says: "In order for a ballet company not to become a museum it is extremely important to [create] new ballets. It moves the art form ahead and develops the artists, as well as the audience."

She adds: "It's also important for each company to build up their special profile ... I think we should focus on the fact that we are based in Asia with the special culture of China and Hong Kong. Ballet is originally a Western art form, but if we use more Asian choreographers, music and themes, I believe we will be more attractive."

The upcoming production of The Frog Prince - A Ballet Chinois has the broad appeal Onne strives for. The story is loosely based on the famous (Western) Brothers Grimm story, and choreographer Yuri Ng, and associate choreographers Yuh Egami and Ricky Hu, were inspired to rethink what they thought they knew about their field of expertise.

"In many popular classic ballets from the past, men are presented as princes, and females as supernatural beings such as fairies. In The Frog Prince, [the lead] man is both frog and prince at the same time. We found this set-up extremely interesting, and it inspired us to restudy what ballet is, and why ballet is relevant."

The production has been given a distinctly Asian flavour: it's set during the Qing dynasty, and takes inspiration from a centuries-old art form.

"There is an art form called 'Chinoiserie', which began when Westerners started to learn a little about the East in the 17th and 18th centuries, but had limited access to Eastern cultures," the choreographers say. "There were lots of misunderstandings and [strange] interpretations that led to artists producing unique and elaborate art."

The style has been incorporated into the show.

For example, the set is inspired by "the Chinese Forbidden City and the Western ballet classroom", says set designer Leocampo Yuen.

Another very important part in any ballet is the costumes. Costume designer Bridget Steis says: "We drew from everything ranging from the evolution of ballet costumes, Chinese history and clothing from the turn of the 20th century, to the love of dark and twisted fairy tales.

"The playful look of Chinoiserie [is ongoing throughout the] performance, designed to draw attention to the misunderstandings of Chinese culture."

While creating a show from scratch can be daunting, it does give those involved the chance to let their imaginations run wild. As Steis puts it: "There's something wonderful about the freedom you have when creating from a blank canvas without [any existing ideas] of what a show or costume should look like."

Decide for yourself how successful the ballet company has been. The Frog Prince: A Ballet Chinois runs at the Cultural Centre from this Friday to Sunday.

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