Design Army’s Visual Refresh of the Hong Kong Ballet Takes a Leap Into a Surrealist Dreamland

'This new campaign flips classic ballet on its head'

Lefebure calls this image the 'Street Fighter meets Street Flyer.' The dancers are posed, martial arts-style, before the Ying Fat Buildings.
Design Army/Hong Kong Ballet

Design Army’s just given the Hong Kong Ballet, Asia’s premier ballet company, a visual refresh.

Led by Septime Webre, formerly of the Washington Ballet, the “Never Stand Still” redesign stars dancers from the company’s 2018/2019 season, shot throughout the city of Hong Kong.

But you’ve never seen Hong Kong like this—its temples and well-known eateries are revisited with colors that look almost painted on, while ballet dancers in the foreground are frozen in poses that seem nearly impossible.

“For great art direction to be seen, the key is to simplify elements so that creative can shine through,” Pum Lefebure, CCO and co-founder of Design Army, explained. “No copy is needed when it’s perfect. For this campaign we wanted the artistry to speak for itself and communicate two things: Hong Kong and ballet.”

Historical landmarks were mixed with a visual sense of how ballet has modernized—striking Tai Chi-inspired poses, for example, while creating contrasts to the city’s background. Makeup and the composition of hair also played a role: “We gored their hair to stick straight and mimic the Hong Kong skyline with the red fans”—as shown in the image featuring five dancers holding red fans below, Lefebure pointed out.

“The Hong Kong Ballet has always had a reputation for excellence and tradition, but has been conservative in previous campaigns, with more classic images and palettes typical of ballets,” she said of the brand itself.

“With Septime Webre, we saw this was an opportunity to shake things up. This new campaign flips ‘classic ballet’ on its head, delivering a wildly fresh new look and creative experience far beyond anything the ballet has done before.”

It’s also an effort to reach a new, more modern audience, and to change ideas about what ballet represents in the culture.

“When you think of ballet, you think of high-society and an older demographic,” said Lefebure. “But ballet is an art form that everyone can appreciate and enjoy, a form of live entertainment that at first might not be easy to understand. But once you learn how to appreciate the art of storytelling through movement, it frees your imagination.”

It’s a campaign that is accessible to anyone, whatever the age, she added.

The shot above takes place at the Mido Café and is inspired by Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love. It’s “a chic micro 1950s cafe that had an incredible graphic appeal and the perfect backdrop for a modern day romance,” Lefebure observed. “What makes this shot so surreal is that the cafe is so so tiny—the dancer must have kicked that ceiling 100 times! Glad Mr. Mido didn’t kick us out.”

Meanwhile, the header image—which Lefebure calls “Street Fighter meets Street Flyer”—features two ballerinas posed, martial arts-style, before the Ying Fat Buildings, a series of high-rise apartments.

“We wanted to communicate the strength that is in the lives of those who live there by having the dancers’ artistic energy showcased in streetwear,” Lefebure said. “This lets the athletics of ballet shine through. We then added some tension between our soaring dancers with a pose that is suggestive of both conflict and unity.”

Above, a ballerina poses in front of the Tin Hau Temple, legs fully split like a clock at 6 p.m.—”symmetry at its best,” Lefebure praises. “The auspicious red tutu and bobbed hair mimicking the temple’s round architecture is art direction on steroids. I call it photography by design.”

All images were shot in a day by photographer Dean Alexander. “It is key to find a photographer who has the same sensibility and vision—and understands your schedule,” said Lefebure. “We both knew when we got the image, then moved on to the next location; otherwise you are burning up time and budget.”

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