GBA Lifestyle News
City Living Section
By Gayatri Bhaumik | July 19th, 2021

Since joining the Hong Kong Ballet in 2017 as its Artistic Director, Septime Webre has transformed the company and engaged local ballet fans in an exciting new way.

Previously, Webre had served as Artistic Director of The Washington Ballet and the American Repertory Ballet, building a reputation for performances and showcases that were unprecedented in their scope and quality. He’s also spearheaded community engagement programs to bring the art of ballet to even more audiences.

At the Hong Kong Ballet, he’s been responsible for some truly spectacular performances, from classics like Balchaine’s “Jewels” and “Romeo + Juliet” to his own original interpretations, including a masterful staging of the literary classic, “The Great Gatsby.” We speak to Webre about working through a pandemic, creating new performances amidst social distancing, the future of ballet in Hong Kong, and his new staging of “ALICE (in wonderland).”

The pandemic has been rough, but we’ve worked through it

We were determined to continue to have a positive impact on our community and to ensure that the
art of ballet would make a difference during the pandemic. This meant three things: 1) we distributed
small pieces of dance flooring to our 48 dancers so that we all could continue to train and work from home during the toughest moments of the pandemic; 2) we began to develop a huge outpouring of digital content, which launched though our HKBALLET@HOME channel; and 3) we began to work on ballets we would present live as soon as theatres reopened.

We also created over 90 distinct new videos over the last 18 months. It was an immense volume of work available to the world for free. We also managed to stage three live productions: the 19th Century classic, “Don Quixote;” Balanchine’s masterwork, “Jewels;” and my new production of “Romeo + Juliet.”

“Romeo + Juliet” was a real labor of love

I moved to Hong Kong in 2017, and the production was my love letter to my new home. The early 1960s was a special period in Hong Kong—the city had become a vibrant and exciting place, with influences from around the world. There is a nostalgic glamour about the era which fit the classic tale like a glove.

We were also lucky enough to get international ballet artist Daniel Camargo to come to Hong Kong and guest star in the production. Daniel is a passionate and committed artist, and we were thrilled he was willing to quarantine for 21
days to join us both for “Jewels” and “Romeo + Juliet.” He’s an amazing dancer and a wonderful guy. We
had a great time with him.

Now’s the perfect time to revive the story of Alice in Wonderland

We’re excited to stage our new production of “ALICE (in wonderland)” in August. Alice reminds us to keep a child-like wonderment with us as we journey through life, and it’s also a tale of joy. We need more joy in the world after the last 18 months! I hope audiences rediscover the kid in all of them, and fall in love with ballet all over again.

I worked with Cirque du Soleil designer Liz Vandal on the production and the work is a dizzying journey through a wild world we created. The characters we know and love are present, but filtered through a decidedly funky, fashion lens.

We spent a good part of the pandemic preparing ALICE. Last year, we focused on it for several weeks. And, this summer, we will put it back together quite intensely. Alice is a big girl! And she demands a lot from all of us!

Ballet is a spectacular art, and Hong Kong is falling in love with it

Ballet shows the audience their best selves. When the curtain rises, audience members can see the version of themselves they could be. Ballet dancers are superhuman, and we serve as a metaphor for audiences, showing them how to live a full life of passion.

Ballet in Hong Kong has also evolved greatly over my time here. The Hong Kong Ballet is stronger than is has ever been, with the dancers bringing intensity, technique, and artistry at a new level to the stage. Furthermore, we’ve launched scores of engagement programs and are an integrated part of the cultural fabric of Hong Kong. The future is bright!

More from our Point of View series.