大型原創舞蹈詩《山水》即將在香港文化中心首次亮相，作為香港舞蹈團2021 – 2022新舞季的開篇之作，《山水》帶著對中國傳統文化的探索和對舞蹈藝術本質的追尋，再度令舞台升溫。
Creating Poetry with Bodies, Shan Shui in Movement:
Yang Yuntao, Artistic Director of the Hong Kong Dance Company and his Shan Shui: An Ode to Nature
Text: Qin Fanluo
Translator: Giselle Chan
(Photo provided by Hong Kong Dance Company)
The grand original dance poem Shan Shui: An Ode to Nature (“Shan Shui”) is to be premiered at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in May. As the Hong Kong Dance Company’s opening piece for dance season 2021 - 2022, Shan Shui lights up the stage through its exploration of Chinese traditional culture as well as its search for the essence of the nature of dance as an art form.
In this, Hong Kong Dance Company’s 40th anniversary year, the theme of the new dance season is “Move Within and Without”, while Shan Shui’s core message is “A Waltz of Nature’s Timeless Charm”. Both carry deep philosophical implications and infinite potential for abstract interpretation, which are worthy of in-depth consideration.
When dance meets Chinese Shanshui painting
Hong Kong Dance Company has been exploring the integration of Chinese and Western culture; its past work often used Hong Kong culture as a point of projection to include pop elements as well as traditional symbolism. This time Shan Shui returns to the fundamentals of exploring the essence of dance itself, searching for the relationship between forms of expression and internal messages in dance. Dance and shanshui paintings (literally meaning “mountains and water”, “Shanshui” is the traditional school of Chinese landscape painting using brush and ink) offer a beautiful encounter; two art forms in contrast with each other with their movement and stillness, tension and release. They outline the same spiritual essence regardless of the boundaries of each art form – the pursuit of meaning.
“Shanshui paintings were the projection of the spirit of traditional Chinese culture; it was by no means realistic, and artists did not aim to reproduce the scenery they saw, but rather to present their thoughts through illustrating what they saw. Their reflections on life and nature were hidden in the artwork. Dance is similar in many ways; it expresses meaning through the movement of body, and the messages expressed are often intangible; they are often abstract reflections. This is the main connection between the two.”
Artistic Director Yang Yuntao has always been devoted to exploring the unique charisma and traits of dance through the lens of traditional Chinese culture. As dance has so much Western influence, Yang has made a point of capturing the unique style of the East and presenting it through dance. The essence of the style is intangible; it cannot be manifested by merely dressing dancers in Chinese costumes and playing Chinese music. Yang would like to go beneath the surface and extract the inner spirit of Chinese culture, then implant it into dance itself.
Yang sensed an unusual vibe when he discovered Chinese shanshui paintings; he was enchanted by the enigmatic feeling of serenity permeating the exhibition hall. It was then that he perceived the existence of such a spirit. “The wholeness of Chinese art is a unique quality that attracts me. The cultural essence and values presented by shanshui paintings emphasize the pursuit of abstract concepts, which is a distinctive feature. When our dance is able to grasp this feature in terms of its vibe and feel, that’s when it will become Chinese dance - it is not to be categorized through mere appearance. My idea is for Shan Shui to convey this kind of characteristic.”
With this vision and belief, Yang embarked on the creation of his dance poem Shan Shui, and tried to use bodily language to express the vast yet detailed, simplistic yet enigmatic, spiritual world he saw in shanshui paintings.
When dance returns to its essential nature
Unlike dance theatre which focuses on storytelling, Shan Shui is more like free-flowing prose poetry that emphasizes the expression of the inner meaning of dance itself. It is structured through alternating solo, duo and group dances. The bodies of the dancers are like brushes that leave traces and splashes of ink on the stage. For the audience, viewing each scene is like seeing a different shanshui painting; they will be immersed in waves of movement, Chinese music and multimedia scenery.
To merge painting and dance while handling the tangible form and intangible philosophy of the dance was a huge challenge for choreographer as well as dancers. “When you return to the nature of dance itself, the expression of inner spirit becomes the most important thing. In order to convey the spiritual context, one has to control the body’s speed and power carefully.”
Over the past three years Hong Kong Dance Company’s Research Study on Chinese Martial Arts and Chinese Dance has brought elements of Chinese martial arts into the company’s dance training. It was a breakthrough for the existing patterns of bodily movement, and has strengthened the training of physical speed and power. By training the body to be powerful and graceful in turn, it has constructed a richer texture of dance. The results of this training have also brought benefits and more developmental potential to the creation of Shan Shui, through innovation in the use of body, footwork and technique in terms of forms of expression.
In fact, the crossover of dance and other art forms is not something new to Yang and Hong Kong Dance Company. The integration, development and contrast between dance and other art forms like calligraphy, martial arts, films and Chinese opera have brought unexpected revelations to audiences.
On the one hand, this was due to dance’s abstract nature as an art form which allows it to incorporate elements from different arts; on the other hand, the emergence of dance has always been inseparable from music and literature. In Preface to Mao’s Poetry, it is explained that dance originated from people not being able to express their emotions through mere speech; they then sighed but sighing did not suffice; then they sang, and when even songs were not enough, dance appeared. Therefore dance itself was equated with moving poems and vibrant paintings; it has always conveyed the emotions which fill the dancers’ hearts.
“The most valuable part of creating art is to start by facing oneself,” said Yang when sharing key moments in his creative process. “Like shanshui paintings, the greatest paintings in history often don’t simply depict the beauty of other objects; they reveal the moments when artists look inside themselves.” Similarly, only when readers and viewers of poetry, paintings and dance are able to see themselves and reach a certain spiritual stage, are they able to immerse themselves in these works of art and resonate with the meaning of the artworks. With this kind of emotional resonance appreciation of art finds its home.
As an artistic vessel of meaning, dance has always had its own ways of expressing human emotions. The combination and contrast of dance and shanshui painting has all the elegance and beauty of a poem; Shan Shui attempts to awaken paintings of ancient scenery of mountains and water that have slept for thousands of years, and depict their spiritual world with dance of eastern essence, transcending time. In this assemblage of dance, poetry, painting, philosophy and traditional art, artists and audience can seek rare authenticity by looking for their inner self. When they enter the theatre, audiences will experience the lush and vibrant colours of Shan Shui’s brushwork.
In this extraordinary time of the pandemic, there have been significant constraints on conditions for rehearsals and training; every performance on stage has become precious. I would like to express my heartfelt wishes for Shan Shui’s success; for it to bring a valuable artistic experience to audiences, and for the art of dance to flourish even under the most demanding circumstances.
Cultural journalist, screenwriter, working in film, theatre, performing arts creation and research
（照片由香港舞蹈團提供 Photo provided by Hong Kong Dance Company）
《山水》Shan Shui: An Ode to Nature
香港舞蹈團 Hong Kong Dance Company
導演／編舞：楊雲濤 Director / Choreographer: Yang Yuntao
2021年5月21日至5月22日 19:45 21-22 May 2021 19:45
2021年5月22日至5月23日 15:00 22-23 May 2021 15:00