Hong Kong Arts Festival Hong Kong Jockey Club Contemporary Dance Series (CDS) is an annual showcase of local choreographic talents, the largest in scale of similar series in town. This year, 11 new works were presented in the three programs of this fifth edition of CDS ranging in length from short pieces of about 10 minutes to works that lasted more than 30 minutes, choreographed by 12 emerging choreographers. Although I would not say they were all disappointing, there weren’t many surprises.
The two works in the first program were both quartets. Fragments by veteran dancer Lam Po, cleverly adopted different levels of the performing space in the Studio Theatre, making use not only of the stage, but also the passage on the balcony, as well as ladders hung from the upper grid above the stage. With the additional help of lighting, Fragments illustrates fragmented scenes or a man’s fantasies about a couple, the man played by Lam. The atmosphere was well set up and the whole piece was well executed, but a bit clichéd.
The second piece, Thea, by Ronny Wong, started with news-like notices being dropped on the audience from above that alluded to the death of a city and how to survive or face such a catastrophe. Except for his performance in last year’s CDS, I am not familiar with Wong’s style, but based on Thea, it seems to me that his movements lack sharpness. I am not sure whether this is the choreographer’s choice, but most of the gestures and movements are unclear, making the piece unpleasant to watch.
Mapping is the only collaborative choreographic work this year. Choreographers Tracy Wong and Mao Wei also danced in their duet with red balloons, big coats, and long wigs. It has an interesting idea - illustrating mapping by placing and removing red balloons on stage. But as the piece develops, the balloon idea is lost and it just becomes a duet of two people without faces. The concept of hiding and protecting identity certainly can be linked to navigating and tracing, but how this link can be made better to match the first part of the piece with its balloon play is an important consideration for the choreographers.
Wŏ mén, the second piece in the second program, is also a duet, but with two women. Choreographed by Cai Ying, it is also performed by her with Sarah Xiao. From the point of view of movement style, this piece is full of every day actions and gestures, rather than elegant movements. Sarah Xiao who wears a horse head helmet-mask throughout the dance declaims “You think I am dancing? It’s all improvised”, makes it more or less clear that the piece is more performance art than dance performance. I really enjoyed the liveliness in this work, especially when Cai Ying starts a robotic vacuum cleaner on stage and lets it dance; while the humorous actions of the horse-headed Xiao are effective as well.
1. Wŏ mén Choreographer: Cai Ying, Dancers: Cai Ying and Sarah Xiao
Photographer: Keith Hiro
The last piece on the program was Pied à terre by Yang Hao. Despite being a solo, Yang’s work is the most complete and complex of all. He not only performs as a lone guy in a closed space, but later, transgendered and dressed in gown, high-heels, and wig, s/he dances and sings joyfully for contrast. Yang also includes a conversation between himself in a video recording and his live self talking about the dance. Nevertheless, I felt that Yang tried too hard to present his idea directly - sometimes ambiguity is more striking than providing a thorough explication, particularly in art.
This is the second year that the third Program was designated as a Dance-off, a compilation of short and small-scale dances. The first three works before intermission were all duets, while the last three were solos.
The first piece, Morning Glory, choreographed by Ivy Tsui, who also created the short solo Frangipani for last year’s Dance-off, is a failed experiment. Unlike Frangipani, which focused on the subtle movements of the dancer, in Morning Glory Tsui, by triggering on stage motion sensors with hand movements, tries to works with composer Shum Lok-man who performs the music live. The choice of tangled strings overhead pulling / connecting each of them does not connect with the music playing gestures, and, compared to the strong image of being entangled, the music triggering gestures are not expressive enough.
Blue Ka-wing made a bold decision in her new piece Time Lag too, and the results are extraordinary. In previous works, she has put various media or elements together, but in Time Lag, she not only worked with Rain Chan, who is not her usual partner, but she also gave up live music and video projections in favor of simply creating a piece performed by a man and a woman on a bare stage. I really enjoyed this piece from start till finish, the bit with the ‘late’ dancer and the finger-counting gestures are well performed and rouse my expectations for her next creation.
The third piece Two, another duet for a man and woman, is pretty flat and lacks surprise. Choreographed by James Yau who danced it with Fok Ka-wing, the work is as direct and simple as the title implies, simply an exercise of quotidian actions between the two. The support and struggle they express are superficially explored and hardly allow the audience to get involved emotionally in what’s going on more deeply between them.
2. Time Lag Choreographer: Blue Ka-wing, Dancers: Blue Ka-wing and Rain Chan
Photographer: Keith Hiro
For me, Rebecca Wong Mei-yuk’s Monologue was another tasteless piece. This solo basically portrays a lone female character’s fight with herself through her interaction with a large roll of bubble wrap. Both the motive and the choice of prop were not very contemporary, but what was really off-putting was the self–indulgence Wong engaged in throughout the performance.
Gabbie Chan didn’t perform her The 16th Day, the only piece that the choreographer did not perform, instead, she invited a man, Skinny Ng, to dance it. I really appreciated her use of sound and lighting in this work, they go well with the subtle yet strong repetitive gestures of the dancer, creating a dark and mythical atmosphere that is pretty impressive.
The final piece, The Lament of the Wind, was the only work that directly dealt with current social issues in Hong Kong. Kenny Leung appears in white raincoat with plastic wrap round his face, an obvious image adopted from Umbrella Movement protesters. With audio recordings of tear gas firing sampled during that time, and a small controlled lit space, Leung successfully illustrates a person battling with himself as well as with a power from the top. However, he was unable to sustain this brilliant idea for long and he could have made better choices to develop and end the dance, to make it more provocative and dynamic rather than simply creating a symbol of rebellion.
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is a Hong Kong based performing arts critic, theatre director, and a media producer. He has recently completed a joint MA in International Performance Research at the University of Warwick (UK) and University of Arts Belgrade (Serbia), and currently works as Project Manager at the International Association of Theatre Critics (Hong Kong).
Program One, Two, & Three: 10 and 13 March 8:15pm, and 13 March 3pm
Venue: Studio Theatre, Cultural Centre