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[Eng] Tap Dance as Narrative Language – R&T (Rhythm & Tempo) Office Mad Man

“Why do people have to work five days a week? … Should we not seize the day to enjoy our lives? … Do you like your current job and lifestyle? … Does your job mean anything to you? …”

Office Mad Man produced by R&T (Rhythm & Tempo) challenges viewers with a series of reflective questions right from the beginning of their work, with the projection of the questions over the bustling and hustling lives in the Hong Kong cityscape.

Ken Kwok, the choreographer, aims to center the work around philosophical questions like the one quoted above by creating a narrative where a young man’s first entry into the workforce presents him with heavy challenges of routine lives, work pressures, temptations, and unfair treatment; and, to explore how this young man finally resolves his situation. This is a contemporary piece of work, that engages viewers in the created world by allowing them to explore how the main lead’s life resonates with their own.

Office Mad Man presents an ambitious project in making use of a tap dance style (one that is predominately expressed by the lower part of the body and by the delicacy of rhythmic sounds created by the tapping feet) as a narrative language - and it proves to be quite a success. By cleverly situating the story in the workplace of a Construction Material Company, the design provides a logical background for the tap dancing to both tell the story and to excel in its own right.

1. Office Mad Man, Choreographer: Ken Kwok, Dancers: (Left to right) Ken Kwok, Zoe Chan,

Reco Cheng, Eve Leung and Calvin Tang Photographer: Dicky Wong

One scene introduces the different office characters - the style of the tap dancing together with the overall image of the different cast members clearly articulate the characteristics of each of them. The uniform military steps that follow, performed by the whole group also express well the mundane routines demanded by the boss waving his baton as if ‘conducting’ his manipulation of the group.

The sales scene represents another very clever and well-thought use of tap dancing to tell stories. All the characters portray company salespersons and they give their sales pitches to the audience. Instead of delivering them verbally, the four characters stand on different wooden materials and tin plates and make use of their tap dancing to ‘sell’ their pieces of construction material.

The ending psychological scene presents another effectively expressive way of telling the story. The scene presents the main lead’s internal struggle and decisions while creating three different scenarios that he has gone through in his internal psychological space. The heavy tap dancing here presents the tension and suspense the narrative demands. Offering three choices is also a creative and surprising idea for the plot, and one that the audience can relate to and choose from.

This was a successful attempt to use tap dancing as a narrative language. The choreographer should note, however, that some prolonged technical sessions of tap may have strayed away from the plot. Striking a balance between the timing of tap sequences and the meaning they signify can continue to be a challenge.

In addition, during these extended technical sessions of tap, it is easy for the dancers to concentrate too much on technique and forget about the character they play in the story, as occurred for one of the dancers in the office scene. Another element to consider.

All in all, Office Mad Man, not only provided an enjoyable night with a light-hearted, comic, and entertaining tap dance performance, it also allowed the audience to see the narrative potential of the style. Moreover, with the theme that the work aims to explore, I am sure the audience was able to take away with them some of the messages behind the work.

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Catherine Yau is a freelance dance practitioner focusing on dance education, research, and writing. She is Guest Lecturer in Dance at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. She obtained an MFA and MA from New York University and the University of Hong Kong respectively.

Date: 20 February 2016

Time: 8pm

Venue: Theatre, Sai Wan Ho Civic Centre

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