Classics we know and love

A performance at the Hong Kong arts festival.

Many performing arts festival curators complain that whenever they present contemporary dance or works with which local audiences are not familiar, ticket sales take a plunge.

On the other hand, classical ballet productions like "Swan Lake", which always does in Thailand, no matter which European or American company is performing - are always among the best-sellers.

Bearing this in mind, it's not surprising that two of the top-selling shows at the 43rd Hong Kong Arts Festival were the Dutch National Ballet's "Cinderella" and the Gate Theatre's "Pride and Prejudice".

For this new version of "Cinderella" seen at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, the Royal Ballet's associate artistic director Christopher Wheeldon, while still using Sergei Prokofiev's score, opted for darker themes from the Brothers Grimm's tales and turned the story into less of a fairy tale.

In addition to making all the characters more three-dimensional, he replaced the mice with four characters in black costumes known as the Fates, thus reminding the audience that there's more to the classical tale than candy floss.

Anna Tsygankova's title character carried the show smoothly and poignantly and Larissa Lezhnina's stepmother as well as Emanouela Merdjanova and Victoria Ananyan's stepsisters were far more than the typical antagonists.

Julian Crouch's set, costume and mask designs were vibrant and well complemented by puppeteer Basil Twist's design of the highly realistic tree, which grew atop the grave of Cinderella's mother, and the carriage.

No doubt Hong Kong is not the only stop on the troupe's Asian tour.

In retelling Jane Austen's classic novel for the 21st century audience at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts' Lyric Theatre, director Alan Stanford, who also revised the adapted play by James Maxwell, wanted to focus on "human interaction", and the well-united ensemble of actors, led by Lorna Quinn as Elizabeth Bennet and Sam O'Mahony as Mr Darcy, more than realised his intention.

Their performance was as effortlessly pleasant as Bruno Schwengl's set and costume design, as if to remind the audience to whom we should in fact give credit for this timeless story.

Although it would have been nice to watch a less by the book, and more artistically and dramaturgically adventurous, interpretation, "Pride and Prejudice" will remain a fond memory of Hong Kong's arts fest.

The writer wishes to thank Hong Kong Arts Festival Society's Alexia Chow for all assistance.