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Delights in Hong Kong

Festival's 41st edition brings dance, music, theatre and opera from around the globe

I've been to the Hong Kong Arts Festival for six consecutive years now, and that's not only because the number of its edition reminds me of how old I am.

With a large number and variety of shows from around the world and a schedule that allows me to watch a show every weekday and two on weekends, I always find my visit to Hong Kong this time of year to be very fruitful and inspiring. And I still have time to enjoy dimsum and many Cantonese delights. With 95 per cent of the tickets sold every year, the Hong Kong Arts Festival has definitely struck the right chord with its audience.

For the 41st edition, festival executive director Tisa Ho introduces a theme that links the works - "how we see ourselves in others and how we're seen by others".

The theme runs through the local theatre productions, which are commissioned by the festival, as well as the family entertainment like MOMIX Dance Theatre's "Bothanica" as well as San Carlo Theatre's new takes on "La Traviata" and "Il Marito Desperato" from Naples," Ho says.

Another example is the Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang's new work "Chinglish".

"This is an American production, and the playwright is Chinese-American. This story of American businessman going to do a business in China, dealing with Chinese officials, was told from an American perspective. And so it's interesting for us in Hong Kong - part of China but also very international - to see how we're seen by others," Ho says.

Time magazine called "Chinglish" the best American play of 2011. "The play has so many scenes and the scene shifts very quickly - what's happening in the scene-change technique is also like a character. It's the same production that was on Broadway," Ho says.

As in recent years, the festival will present made-in-Hong-Kong productions of Peking and Cantonese operas - the former in collaboration with China's National Peking Opera Company.

A highlight is the Asia premiere of Robert Wilson and Philip Glass' revival of their of "Einstein on the Beach".

"I've waited for 20 years to see this," Ho says.

Another US blockbuster is the American Ballet Theatre's "Romeo and Juliet" by Kenneth MacMillan.

"This version is the most gorgeous of all. You always think of the ballroom scene after you hear Profokiev's music," Ho says.

UK's National Theatre will present "One Man, Two Guvnors", a new adaptation of Carlo Goldoni's "The Servant of the Two Masters", which has won critical acclaim and commercial success.

With boundaries between genres becoming increasingly porous, there are many multi-disciplinary productions that integrate visual arts and music. Among them are the Australian Chamber Orchestra's "The Reef", Mikhail Rudy's "Pictures at an Exhibition" as well as 1927's "The Animals and Children Took to the Streets".

"Fabulous Beast's 'Rian' is a fabulous dance production in which music is as important as the dance. Sharing the same stage, musicians and dancers take turn being centre-staged," Ho says.

The festival doesn't keep a tally of the balance between works from Asia and those from Europe and America.

"We don't work with percentages," Ho says. "We present works that make sense to our audiences. And some works, like 'Green Snake', a collaboration of Edinburgh Festival, National Theatre of China and HKAF, are neither East nor West."

Ho also notes that thanks to the Internet and smartphone apps, ticket booking from overseas has risen significantly this year. "People can book sitting at the next desk, as well as in the next town or country. We also get a certain level of interest from the US."

Many shows are already fully booked, including "The Animals and Children Took to the Streets", "Einstein on the Beach" and "La Traviata". But Ho has a trick for Thai fans - "Please e-mail us and we'll put you on our waiting list. You're always so very welcome."

GET GOING

- The 41st Hong Kong Arts Festival runs from February 21 to March 22.

- For more details, visit www.HK.ArtsFestival.org or download the HKAF app for your smartphone.


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