Dance in Alternative Spaces—Embracing the “Uncontrollable”
《Snark》（策劃：Andre Chan; 編舞／演出：廖月敏）
Snark (Curator: Andre Chan; Choreographer / Performer: Sudhee Liao)
／攝Photo：South Ho（照片由廖月敏提供 Photo provided by Sudhee Liao）
《自照湖》Narcissus' Lake／攝Photo：Ruby Ku（照片由陳偉洛提供 Photo provided by Chan Wai-lok）
後來在Art Central 2021，他在陳惠立個人展覽「寂寞更衣室2」中現場更衣，將一個私密空間錯置在公眾空間中，帶來奇特的觀感。「這個更衣室如果放在劇場中可能就會順理成章得多，現在很多戲劇上的處理已經會這樣，但當它被放在一個公共的，並且是這麼一個很多錢流動的空間，又變成另外一個質地。」
另類空間的演出也時常打破劇場的規範，將觀眾引入更加自然的狀態中。早前陳在大館監獄操場演出#非關舞蹈祭《Drink and Dance》，就邀請觀眾一起party（派對狂歡）。人們可以自由走動，「喝水，去廁所，organic（有機）很多，沒有那麼多的規範。」還可以現場打開手機，聽著自己喜歡的音樂融入表演者營造的氛圍中。在陳看來，劇場有其特定的規範和質地——觀眾入座，聚焦於舞台之上，進入一個奇異空間。戶外或特定場域的演出則具有不同的邏輯，空間的語境賦予演出獨特的質感，使得現場的體驗難以複製。
《動物園》Zoo／攝Photo：大館當代美術館Tai Kwun Contemporary（照片由廖月敏提供 Photo provided by Sudhee Liao）
正因如此，是否選擇於另類空間進行演出，選擇怎樣的空間，對兩人而言，受眾和目的很重要。劇場自有其特別質感，但有些演出若要搬入劇場，反而會有過分矯飾的感覺。比如#非關舞蹈祭《Drink and Dance》，對陳來說，要在劇場中營造一種親密的party感不僅吃力、貴，還不一定討好。「在監獄操場，比較熱，大家在一起離得很近，燈光不會太強，感覺就很party。但是進到劇場，如果要set出這種氛圍就很難。」冷氣、永遠亮著的exit（逃生）燈牌、挑高的天花板，都需要花費非常大的功夫來裝扮及轉化。「如果需要做一個lively（有活力）的東西就需要擺很多lively的setting（佈置）在裡面，而對我來說，這些材料在戶外可能直接就有了，不用再設置。」他又指出香港的劇院少有一種歷史感和獨特的語境，而在另類空間中則較為容易營造一種空間的錯置和矛盾感，從而引發思考。例如在大館的監獄中狂歡跳舞，可能會讓人覺得奇怪，但也會產生更多的想像與反思。
Dance in Alternative Spaces—Embracing the “Uncontrollable”
Original text: Wei Wei
Translator: Penelope Zhou
In recent years, an increasing number of dancers have started to perform in alternative spaces—from museums and coffee shops to galleries and outdoor plazas—as a way of giving their performances a different texture and context. Dancers Sudhee Liao and Chan Wai-lok are keen explorers of such unconventional settings, and have been involved in various alternative space dance productions. For them, using these unconventional venues signifies a bold attempt to subvert the meticulously artificial design and controlled environment that are characteristic of traditional stage performances.
Imbuing Artworks with Different Textures
Compared to the high costs and long waiting times involved in renting professional theatre venues, the affordability and flexibility of using alternative spaces is a major draw for Liao. In addition, she finds that the varying textures of these spaces often become a source of inspiration to her. “I prefer doing performances in galleries or other types of venues to conventional theatres, because I like to have more things to play with,” she explains. “Stage performances are often highly predictable and tightly controlled—you know what is going to happen when, it’s more or less set in stone. Whereas in alternative spaces, I get access to more materials to incorporate into the creative process.”
Liao recalls the first-ever outdoor performance she did, which took place in a long-vacant space inside an industrial building in Tai Kok Tsui. The location was not disclosed to the audience prior to the show. Instead, they were instructed to gather at a meeting point and were led to the building; they then had to climb up flights of stairs before entering the bare-boned space. It was a much more immersive journey compared to the traditional performance viewing experience. “The place had remained vacant for a long time. There were no people, no electricity, and a lot of filth! We had to clean it before we could do anything else in it—it was really dusty,” she laughs. As the small audience was introduced into the room, breathing the same air as the performers, an intimacy and a sense of “uncontrollability” permeated this atypical performance space. As for the performers, they needed to react to the unpredictable circumstances and adapt their pre-rehearsed movements to the actual environment through improvisation. For the audience, it was also an unfamiliar experience—Liao said that some spectators felt a little awkward and even baffled because they were not sure where to stand or how much distance to keep between them and the dancers.
「寂寞更衣室2」The Lonesome Changing Room 2／攝Photo：Chan Wai-lap（照片由陳偉洛提供 Photo provided by Chan Wai-lok）
Chan says that each unique space imbues a work with a different texture, thus creating a one-of-a-kind experience for both artist and audience. “Every venue attracts a different kind of audience, and different audiences talk about different things,” he says, giving the example of Hetero-Hong Kong, a multidisciplinary project featured in the 2017 HK-SZ Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism / Architecture. Chan took part in a work entitled Narcissus' Lake as part of the project, in which a performance space was built underneath a footbridge in North Point’s Watson Road Rest Garden. The space was covered in drapes with various holes in them, allowing people to stick their heads in and watch the show. “A lot of people from the neighbourhood came to see it, although they were probably confused about what I was doing. But I think the memory of that space will always stay with them,” he says.
During Art Central 2021, Chan was featured in local artist Chan Wai-lap’s artwork, The Lonesome Changing Room 2, where he had to change inside the titular changing room in front of viewers. This placement of a private space inside a public gallery created a curious juxtaposition. “If we had put this changing room on the stage, it would’ve been a lot more classic because we’re used to seeing private spaces in stage productions. But to place it in an actual public space, especially one where large sums of money are exchanged, gives the work a whole other dimension of meaning,” he feels.
Another interesting aspect of performing in alternative spaces is that it provides an opportunity to break traditional theatre conventions and offer the audience a much more natural experience. For instance, # DANCELESS complex Drink and Dance, a performance that took place in Tai Kwun’s Prison Yard, was an open invitation for the audience to join the party. People were free to walk around, “drink water or go to the bathroom, making the whole performance a lot more organic and spontaneous,” says Chan, co-creator of the project. They could also listen to their favourite tunes on their phone while enjoying the environment and collective experience. Chan observes that the theatre setting has its own rules and merits—the audience take their seats, eyes locked to the stage, ready to enter an imaginary realm. In contrast, performing in outdoor or other unconventional venues comes with a different logic. The context of the space itself lends a special texture to the show, making each experience impossible to duplicate.
Straddling the Line between Fantasy and Reality
For both Liao and Chan, the most fun part of using alternative spaces or creating site-specific works is the uncontrollable elements and unexpected dramas that arise. It is inevitable, for example, that in an outdoor show you have to deal with background noise and people interrupting the performance. The challenge of straddling the line between the make-believe world of dance and the surrounding reality is where the challenges, as well as the fun, lie.
“For instance, when you put on a show in a gallery, you encounter different kinds of people,” Chan chuckles. “During a performance in Tai Kwun, we had some senior citizens from public housings on a tour of the prison compound there. Some of them strayed from their group and somehow wandered into Tai Kwun Contemporary and saw our performance. They had no idea what was going on, you could hear them saying, ‘What kind of dance is this? Why are they standing there like ghosts? What a waste of money!’” As performers in situations like that, you need a lot of mental strength and faith in what you’re doing to be able to carry on with the performance. “On the other hand, it also compels you to ask some uncomfortable questions: Is contemporary art too far removed from ordinary people and communities? If so, then who is your target audience?” he says.
《Drink and Dance》Drink and Dance／攝Photo：Carman So（照片由陳偉洛提供 Photo provided by Chan Wai-lok）
Liao shares another Tai Kwun Contemporary experience of her own. When taking part in Eisa Jocson’s project Zoo, she and other dancers played various animals and walked around in character in the gallery. “We weren’t allowed to talk to people, but we could hear them making comments, judging our performance right next to us. Some of them were taking photos of us right up close,” she recalls. As the boundary between the audience and the performers became blurred, the reactions became remarkably varied and unpredictable—some viewers were not sure whether they were supposed to give any feedback, while others did not hesitate to interact directly with the artists. From drop-in visitors from the neighbourhood, to kids, families and arts professionals, a wide variety of spectators came and went, “and the nuanced relationships between different sections of society suddenly became very tangible.”
And that is why both artists agree that whether to use an alternative space and what kind of space to choose, largely depend on the show’s target audience and purpose. While the theatre has its own irreplaceable advantages, the formal, rigid setting may make certain types of performance feel contrived and affected. Take # DANCELESS complex Drink and Dance for example. Chan believes that it would have been much more expensive and difficult, as well as less effective, to create such a carefree party atmosphere in a theatre. “When you’re in the Prison Yard on a hot day, with everyone standing close together, and the lights are not too bright, you feel like you’re at an actual party. It’d be a lot harder to create a party vibe like that in a theatre setting.” Everything, from the air-conditioning to the always-on exit signs and high ceilings, would have to be altered or disguised. “To make something lively, first and foremost you need a lively setting. An outdoor venue brings that in itself and means I don’t have to do too much,” Chan says. He adds that compared to local theatres, which do not usually have specific historical associations with particular art forms or offer a unique context, it is easier to create a thought-provoking sense of juxtaposition or conflict through using alternative spaces. Dancing in an upbeat way in the Tai Kwun Prison Yard, for example, creates a bizarre experience that can provoke both wild imagination and profound reflection.
文化記者，愛舞之人。 Feature journalist, dance lover.