The Hong Kong Ballet’s Artistic Director tells us why ballet is a pliable language and how he plans to take the artform to new heights

After 17 years as artistic director at The Washington Ballet in Washington D.C., Septime Webre joined the Hong Kong Ballet as artistic director last July. Having grown up in a large, boisterous Cuban-American family, Septime is set to infuse some Latin soul into the company.

His first order of business with the Hong Kong Ballet this year? Lining up a stellar repertoire featuring the work of some of the greatest dance makers today including Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky and Wayne McGregor, but also some original work made for the Hong Kong Ballet which fuses the city’s special energy and culture.

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The Hong Kong Ballet is also connecting with its community by redoubling their efforts with underserved children all over Hong Kong, launching a workshop series for adults and kids, and presenting free pop-up performances all over the city.  Ahead of the Hong Kong Ballet Benefit on March 4, we spoke with Septime about this year’s fundraiser, the groovy Beatles theme and why ballet is an art on the rise. 

What shows should people be on the lookout for this year?
2018 is a killer year for us, with an exciting contemporary program featuring the music of the Beatles in June, my new ALICE (in wonderland) this summer, the launch of our new series called Hong Kong Cool, which celebrates Hong Kong’s emerging creative class in the fall, a new staging of Giselle in the fall, and a whole lot more.  

For those who are quick to dismiss ballet as an art form in decline—what do you have to say to them?
Ballet is a pliable language, just like Chinese or English.  Sure, ballet can be used to express the love of a prince for a swan, the joy of a child receiving her first nutcracker toy, or the astonishment of a princess awakened by a kiss. But it can also be used in bold ways that reflect the world we live in—and we’re doing that this spring with our sprawling, multi-dimensional project featuring the music of the Beatles.

What are you most looking forward to at the Hong Kong Ballet Benefit this year?
Enjoying great food, drinking great wine and watching great dance with great old and new friends.

What do you have in store for this year’s event, that is different from previous years?
This year is special. We’ve gone decidedly modern—and a little cheeky. We’ll feature the music of the Beatles, and I think we’ll really rock it out. The centrepiece of the evening will be a sneak peek of an amazing new work we’ll unveil later this spring, set to the iconic songs of the fab four. 

Why the Beatles theme?
In June, we’ll premiere ballet-world wunderkind Trey McIntyre’s audacious work, A Day in the Life, at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. It’ll be the closer of my first season at the artistic helm of the Hong Kong Ballet, so I wanted to close with a bang and make a statement about how ballet is an artform of today. Our Benefit takes its cue from this amazing new ballet.

What’s your favourite Beatles song?
Let it Be. It’s soulful and reminds us to let life have its way with us sometimes.

Who’s your favourite Beatle and why?
John Lennon, hands down. He had great values and an amazing outlook on life, and died way too young. Plus, he had cool glasses to boot. 

Along with the Hong Kong Ballet Benefit’s Organizing Committee, this year marks the debut of the Ambassadors program. Can you tell us more about this?
There is a fresh new energy surrounding the Hong Kong Ballet now—our studios and performances are crackling with freshness and fizz. As such, it seemed right to invite four of Hong Kong’s brightest young arts patrons to join us in the ballet cause. We’re thrilled that Beatrice Ho, Alison Chan-El Azar, Antonia Li and Claudine Ying have joined us as Ambassadors.

They’ll be advocating for our work in the community all year long, and also bring their special glamour to the proceedings at our Benefit on March 4. 

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