Dancers and companies in Hong Kong are always busy filling up their schedules as much as possible in order to make ends meet, having time to reflect or refine a work, not to mention sufficient time for continuous creative development, is always a luxury.
Recently there were two dance work-in-progress presentations, one by local artists, while the other was by overseas artists in residence locally. Interestingly, both works were created through collaborations between artists, notably chorographers and lighting designers, from different backgrounds and expertise.
Local choreographer Abby Chan and lighting designer Christopher Mok presented Body-in-Progress: 聚光Dance．散光Show at the Unlock Studio on the 16 August, as part of the Unlock Body Lab Series. Without an official English title, the second part of the bilingual title could be literally translated into English as “a dance with convergent light, a show with divergent light”. The mix of languages in the title somehow also echoes the dynamic between the two mediums that could be identified in the piece.
Two male and two female dancers demonstrated various interactions between bodies and light, as well as shadows and reflections. A dancing shadow cast on the curtain between rehearsal area and the resting area opened the presentation. After that, the entire audience was invited to sit on one side of the rehearsal area to watch the rest of the show.
Throughout the presentation/performance, various illuminating devices were introduced, such as a small torch that could not only be run around one’s body, but also glow inside one’s mouth, and a LED bulb within a small balloon that flickers after being hit. Although the wall-mounted full body mirrors in the
studio were covered up, the dancers played a lot with reflections by holding up rectangular reflecting plastic sheets that acted as mirrors. These mirrors reflected images of each other as well as light, creating additional visual elements.
At first, I thought the presentation would demonstrate the discoveries of the artists in a more fragmented way, but with the help of local playwright Mann Chan as dramaturge, it turned out to be a relatively complete dance piece investigating the tension between two bodies/genders. After all, the visual
impact from lights and reflections in this collaboration among Abby Chan, Christopher Mok, and the dancers was made subtle yet effective, while another work-in-progress presentation by Arco Renz and his collaborators put sensual impact on focus.
Renz is the artistic director of a Brussels based dance company Kobalt Works. During his two residencies in Hong Kong: at the West Kowloon Cultural District in collaboration with City Contemporary Dance Company and at the School of Creative Media at the City University of Hong Kong, Renz developed part of his latest work EAST and held a work-in-progress presentation in the form of a lecture-performance at the Multimedia Theatre, Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre on 28 August, before taking the work back to Europe to finalize it for its premiere in Gwangju, Korea scheduled in early October.Renz choreographed and danced as a soloist in the extracts from this developing work. However, he alone could not do the presentation, but also had his collective creative force from South-east Asia, including artists from Japan and Vietnam. Japanese lighting designer Fujimoto Takayuki a/k/a Kinsei and Vietnamese Phu Pham a/k/a Dee.F live jammed with Renz’s movements using lighting and music respectively. While visual artist Lawrence Malstaf created an ephemeral environment of inflatable spheres on stage with Renz.Even though I am not familiar with Renz’s works, Kinsei is no stranger to Hong Kong audiences, both of his previous directorial works true /本当のことand Node / The Old Man of The Desert have been staged in Hong Kong. So I expected to see his stunning light design to dance with Renz’s solo moves. But without the signature LED light structures, Kinsei could only play with the standard tungsten lighting at the studio during the performance. The lighting effects therefore might not be as eye-catching as those produced by Kinsei’s usual high-speed LED structure, but the overall dance presentation was still very satisfying with the
fascinating live-mix soundtrack and the installations.
Five major developing sections from EAST were presented during the one-hour performance. According to the choreographer, the work started from the idea of re-visiting exotic oriental imaginations of the past. Nevertheless, there were only a few body gestures directly related to this general concept. Instead, how the sole performer reacted with different materials on stage drew most of my attention.
There was a scene in which Renz was holding a long bamboo stick with both arms straight downward and he started shaking it slightly, while the sound and lighting gradually built up with the oscillations. The movement on stage was minimal, but the energy conveyed by the performer and the complementing
dizzy audiovisuals came together and produced an intense atmosphere that was my favorite part of the presentation.
Work-in-progress Facilitates Creative Process
Not every production can become an instant classic or masterpiece. Many works need to grow during their run. However, due to limited resources (not only money, but time and space too), creative works often have a short life span - condensed development and rehearsal periods, limited move-in time, just a few performances, and then prepare to start, or even start working on, the next production, sometimes before the current show closes.
Local artists therefore seldom have the luxury to put much effort into research and development, and hardly allow themselves the time to refine and polish works before actually putting them up in the theatre. We should encourage more choreographers to present their unfinished work in work-in-progress presentations, getting feedback and generating discussions between the artists
and their audiences. This would be akin to play reading sessions, which are becoming more popular these days in the local drama field.
Certainly, without the generous support from Unlock Dancing Plaza, West Kowloon Cultural District, City Contemporary Dance Company, and School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong, the two productions I discuss above might not have been able to evolve as a result of these aluable presentations. An extended period of working does not guarantee a masterpiece, but it surely is a key in developing good works. I sincerely hope that more and more of these kind of activities can be held and the popularity of contemporary dance performance can increase through these casual interactions between creative minds and audiences.