For this year’s Asia Pacific Dance Platform VIII, the Hong Kong Arts Festival brought two fairly minimalist works of dance together: The Weight of Force and Right & Left. The former had its world première, while the later had already been to Michigan in the United States and Melbourne in Australia. I say they are minimalist, because both use simple props and are danced on an almost empty stage without any large sets. However, performing on a bare stage with few props does not mean the piece must be simple; the two works in this year’s Platform were actually quite rich, especially in their use of audio visual elements.
The Weight of Force
Last year, Hyoseung Ye from South Korea presented his short autobiographical solo Traces as the first work on the program. This year, there was also a solo by a choreographer/dancer who has a long working relationship with Alain Platel. Ross McCormack from New Zealand, who has been part of Platel’s Les Ballets C de la B for ten years created and performed The Weight of Force. McCormack’s new work shows Platel’s strong influence, especially in the subtle yet strong movements he uses throughout the dance, and in his great sensitivity to muscles in detail.
The Weight of Force portrays the struggles of a desperate man in the dirt. He not only wears a gray suit, but McCormack has the lower half of his face and his hands painted gray as well, making him look like an underdog. Although he tries to give orders and voice out with bold gestures, his attempts are suppressed by internal struggles. As the piece goes on, the paint on his face and hands fades as he sweats, and his movements become more fluid and lively; from robot-like, forced, and labored, to those of a man who wants to gain control of himself.
McCormack demonstrates impressive body control that allows audiences to see the weight of force through his movements, however, the suppressive atmosphere he generates with rapid repetitive gestures makes The Weight of Force a less enjoyable experience for audiences. Perhaps, by tightening the progress of the work’s build, and extending the ending, the piece could be further developed.
The Weight of Force, Dancer/Choreographer: Ross McCormack Photographer: Jason Wright
Right & Left
The second piece on the program, Right & Left, was choreographed and performed by Gu Jiani from Beijing. A duet for two women, the dance was performed with Li Nan, who has worked with Gu since 2003.
Unlike The Weight of Force, which has a very clear message and a strong motive and form, Right & Left is quite confusing and lacks cohesiveness. Starting with almost synchronized movements, the two dancers, in black, explore a stage all but empty save for a table set at a tilted angle against the upstage left wall. Soon they bring in two stools and begin a dominant/submissive relationship, where one controls and manipulates the other. Later in the piece, after a series of Tai Chi movements, the two performers interact with the overturned table.
The house program notes, “The choreographer attempts to inspire in the audience genuine reflection on their way of living, a question to which there is no standard answer.” However, it was difficult to decipher the relationship the two dancers were trying to express in the piece, and hard to relate them to my way of living - I was certainly not inspired. This 60-minute piece uses various movement styles and ways of using the body drawn from the East to the West, but lacks a coherent thread to tie these disparate elements together into something powerful and moving.
Impressive Audio and Visual Elements
Nevertheless, the use of audio visual technologies in both works in this year’s Asia Pacific Dance Platform was impressive. In The Weight of Force, the amplified sound made by pulling, scratching, and hitting the stools is effective and powerful; it enhances the relationship between the dancer and the object as well. In Right & Left, the live manipulation of the lighting projection by Ah Ping is very interesting. By moving and blocking the single light source, the changes of shape and shadow play add an additional layer to the piece. And these moments of scattered brightness and darkness tell even more in the piece than the actions on stage.
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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).
Date: 5 March 2016
Venue: Black Box Theatre, Kwai Tsing Theatre