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Cultural Diversity on Display
Although the HK$58 million (US$7.44 million) budget for the 2003 Hong Kong Arts Festival is about HK$2 million (US$256,000) down from last year, it will still offer a program as rich and diverse as ever.

The annual festival will kick off on Friday and last until March 9. During the 24 days the festival will present 103 performances covering 36 different programs and two exhibitions.

"The festival showcases the city as a dynamic and vibrant cultural center and at the same time provides a special focus for the coming get-together of the best of the arts, both internationally and from Hong Kong," said Douglas Gautier, executive director of the event.

"It is a time of celebration and delight, but also a time to explore and discover new experiences."

The coming performances have already won warm response from the public as tickets to quite a number of the shows have sold out.

According to the organizing committee, the top best-selling performances include Li Yundi's piano recital, Cesaria Evora's dance, Edward Lam Dance Theatre's drama The Happy Prince, Eric Fung's piano recital, Stuttgart Opera's The Abduction From the Seraglio, Dee Dee Bridgewater's Jazz concert, the Junebug Symphony, Akram Khan Company's Kaash -- an Indian dance, and concerts from Orchestre National de France and Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker and Roy Hargrove's Directions in Music.

As usual, the festival offers audiences the opportunity to sample a premium choice of events and performances from the outstanding array of visiting international performers as well as an impressive contribution from Hong Kong artists.

This year, maestro Kurt Masur conducts the Orchestra National de France on their exclusive tour to Hong Kong. Legendary dance master John Neumeier brings with him the Hamburg Ballet to perform some of his signature works, while William Christie leads his celebrated ensemble Les Arts Florissants.

Jazz giant Hancock will join the festival with a tribute to Miles Davis and John Coltrane and world music sensation Cesaria Evora, the "barefoot diva," will captivate audiences with her inimitable style.

The festival also offers many examples of artists trying to make sense of our world -- the creation, our past, technological advances, human relationships, life and death.

The themes are examined in Steve Reich's Three Tales, Robert Lepage's The Far Side Of The Moon and Laurie Anderson's Happiness.

Audiences will also have the opportunity to see classics in a new light with the Stuttgart Opera's fresh interpretation of Mozart's The Abduction From the Seraglio and composer Mark Chan breathing new life into the Ruan Lingyu classic movie Little Toys.

This distinctive mix is further enhanced by the Hong Kong Arts Festival's consistent efforts to commission and create new works especially for the festival. This year's commissions include a version of Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince and a culinary Rite of Spring from Yuri Ng.

A number of artists from the mainland will also participate in the event.

Li Yundi, the youngest champion in the history of the Chopin International Piano Competition, will give two recitals. In addition, he will be the soloist at the first concert of Orchestre National de France, playing Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor.

The Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra will hold a concert titled The Magic Notes of Zhao Jiping, performing some of the renowned composer's representative works, such as the symphonic suite Raise the Red Lantern, dance drama music The Desert Smoke Suite and symphonic poem Monk Jianzhen Sailing Eastward.

Beijing Folk Rock -- Tales Of the People will feature Yang Yi and Wild Children, two active parties in the development of contemporary Chinese folk music. Yang is a singer who has been making a living by performing in the streets of many cities on the mainland, while Wild Children is a group whose style is deeply characterized with northwestern Chinese musical elements.

Two works of Nanxi (South Opera), a multiple-act drama that emerged in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, in the 12th century, will also be performed.

Combining dance and mime, popular tunes and local songs, Nanxi captivates with its strong story-lines and softly caressing, lyrical melodies.

Zhejiang Wenzhou Ou Opera Troupe will perform Sha Gou Ji (The Tale of a Dead Dog) and Zhejiang Yongjia Kunqu Opera Troupe will put on Zhang Xie Zhuangyuan (Scholar Zhang Xie).

In the category of traditional Chinese opera, the festival will also present the innovative Peking Opera King Lear, which is written, directed and performed by Wu Hsing-Kuo, a renowned Peking Opera and contemporary theatre artist from Taiwan. This adaptation of Shakespeare will be unique, in which Wu will take on all 10 roles.

The two exhibitions at the festival will be Lu Shoukun's New Ink Painting at the Hong Kong Museum of Art and War and Peace -- Treasures of the Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-AD 24) Dynasties at the Hong Kong Museum of History.

The festival will also hold a dance exchange programme showcasing works from South Asia.

It will run concurrently with a meeting in Hong Kong of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation from the United States. More than 40 grantees of the foundation, including representatives of important arts presenters and performing venues in the United States, will meet Hong Kong artists to explore possible tours, co-commissions and collaborations.

"As you will see, the 2003 festival program is rich and diverse, catering to different tastes and hopefully offering something for everyone, young and old," said Mona Leong, chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Festival Society Ltd.

"The world may seem to be full of problems, yet I am sure the festival, with all its superb programs, will help to relax and give fulfillment in the face of worries and anxiety."

(China Daily February 10, 2003)

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