How Hong Kong Ballet Created Glorious Dance Ads as Charming as They Are Impressive

Design Army explains all that went into the 40th anniversary

With modern backdrops and a pastel aesthetic, Hong Ballet's new campaign feels fresh and vibrant.
Hong Kong Ballet

Swan Lake, this is not. And that’s the point (or, pointe?) of the new campaign for the Hong Kong Ballet from Design Army, about a year after the Washington D.C.-based agency rebranded the dance troupe with the tagline, “Never Standing Still.”

That slogan continues, and truer words were never spoken about these superstar athletes (and some strategically placed Chinese grandmas) in this delightfully watchable, instantly classic rainbow-hued ad, set to a “Bolero” remix and populated with hoops action, martial arts, lap dogs, hip hop, toe shoes, sight gags, spectacular dance and ‘grammable cityscapes.

“Hong Kong Ballet is committed to the notion that classical ballet can be of-the-moment,” says Septime Webre, the company’s artistic director, who choreographed the heritage-meets-pop-culture dance sequences. “I love the bold, graphic shapes the dancers’ bodies make in contrast to the surrounding architecture.”

Adweek spoke to Pum Lefebure, Design Army’s co-founder and chief creative officer, about the new work—celebrating the ballet’s 40th anniversary—shot from Victoria Harbor to the streets of Hong Kong to traditional banquet halls, with the ongoing goal of broadening the audience for the troupe and giving it a modern makeover.

Adweek: Tell us about the concept and the backdrop.
Pum Lefebure, CCO, Design Army: Hong Kong has a perfect mix of traditional and modern, but ballet in Hong Kong is often seen as traditional. My goal was to make ballet relevant for the modern audience.

I wanted to create something fresh and unexpected–a mix of elements that don’t normally go together. Basketball and ballet. Kung fu and ballet. Lion Dance and ballet. And of course pastels and neons. It’s those unexpected elements that make it fresh and memorable.

Color inspiration came straight from Hong Kong itself–the buildings piercing through the fog with the pops of colors definitely influenced the art direction.

To give it visual stopping power, we mixed the elements with curated art direction – we wanted to be distributive and artistic (like the traditional Chinese dancing lion, but we had one made in magenta). There are other moments of playfulness in the film as well, like invading a glitzy dim-sum banquet hall to dance on the tables while twirling fans, or taking over the iconic Hong Kong harbor with a neon troupe of hip-hop ballet dancers.

Where does this campaign fit in the rebranding you did for the client in 2018?
This is an important year for Hong Kong Ballet and we wanted to make a big splash for them. We did this by taking cultural elements that an international audience can relate to and mixed that with everyday life that the Hong Kong audience interacts with.

What can you tell us about the logistics?
Every single frame in the film is heavily art directed. From the clothing to the hot pink basketballs to the grandmas’ matching outfits, every single piece had to be coordinated with the next scene and location.

Design Army sketched out almost every single frame of the storyboard, which was the playbook for the shoot. At the shoot we need this playbook, as each team member is doing multiple roles. We’re juggling countless conversations with the choreographer, the director, stylists, music and also with the client to discuss how to push the film farther and do something bigger.

We are based in D.C., but for about three months we were working on Hong Kong time—which is a 12-hour difference—and then all of this had to be conveyed to the many different departments and collaborators. The entire team—everyone—all had to be on the same page and be organized in order to get the project done. When the day of the shoot arrives, there is no time to think or make decisions; it is time to execute.

What’s the creative process for conveying a message with no speaking roles?
Pure design is a bit like ballet. It’s visual storytelling without words. You have to let go of everything you know and let the story unfold through movement—body, finger, toes, face, expression. There’s no dialogue—just a feeling, an escape of joy and happiness that a dance can bring to our lives. Similarly, great design is told through color, composition, sound and rhythm. Visuals alone must capture the viewer’s heart. And if it’s good enough, that visual will stick with you forever.

Here’s a quick look behind the scenes at just one of the challenges—weather—that made the campaign’s production a complicated affair:

Client: Hong Kong Ballet
Artistic Director: Septime Webre
Featuring: Artists of Hong Kong Ballet
Creative Agency: Design Army
Pum Lefebure, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer
Jake Lefebure, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer
Senior Art Directors: Heloise Condroyer, Mariela Hsu
Art Director: Gaby Hernandez
Sr. Designer / Animation: Dany Vo
Director and Photographer: Dean Alexander
Editor: David Grossbach
1st Assistant Director: Erin Winebrenner
Director of Photography: Andrew Strobridge
Producers: Mikyung Kim, MKIM & CO, Vivien Wong
1st Assistant Camera for Video: Kevin Chuen
2nd Assistant Camera for Video: Terence Chan
Gimbal Technician: Wong Cheuk Ming
Camera Production Assistant: Dorcas Ho
Drone: Rex Ngan, Hong Kong Professional Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Association
Gaffers: Curtiss Li, Wong Wai Ming
Lighting Assistants: Theo Wong, Scott Wong, Sunny Sun, Au Tsan Wing, Michael Tang
Props Stylist: Billy Lau, Flow Films
Props Stylist Assistant: Joanne Wong
Backdrops: Hins Production,
Wardrobe Stylist: Christine de Lassus
Wardrobe Stylist Assistant: Lynn Serulla
Hair & Make up Director: Dale Johnson
Hair Stylist: Alistair Rae
Hair Assistants provided by BRUNEBLONDE: Cannis Chan, Sing Chan, Kid Lo, Marcus Leung, Andrew Hau
Make Up Artist: Megumi Sekine
Make Up Assistants: Marco To, Jacqlyn Tan
Sound Design: Nylon Studio, Sydney
Colorgrade: Parker Jarvie, Company 3, New York
Retouchers: Kristen Monthei
Casting: Michael Pizzuto, TruWest Talent Agency
Extra Actresses: Nip Chan, Chen Feng Zhen, Dahlia Tse, Sylvia Wu
Interns: Alex Tam, Annie Yuen, Lexie Peterson, Manliza Chan
Drivers: Provided by Sidney Van Service and Shing Fung Construction Material
Equipment: Cinerent, Rent a Pro, RentACamera
Venue Partners: Star Ferry, The Marine Department
Special Thanks: Mrs Deborah Hung

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