1. Little Pieces, Choreographer: Dominic Wong Photo Credit: Cheung Chi-wai
Dominic Wong’s new work, Little Pieces, is framed by death and its specter lingers throughout. But Wong uses it as a given, an inevitability, a contrast to the vibrant episodes of life remembered that are at the heart of the work. Death adds poignancy to these, to our memory of them, to their distortion and decay, and to their loss. In the house program, Wong calls the dance “a journey of self-discovery and it is through chance that this group of dancers come together to share their experiences with audiences”. The little pieces of the title are those remembered experiences faultlessly put together by the choreographer and vividly told by the dancers.
The dance begins with the incomparable Qiao Yang alone on stage. To Michael Price’s gently melancholy The Uncertainty Principle for piano, cello, and soprano, overlaid with the recorded voice of Qiao telling the story of her departed sister, she begins simply, stepping into first position, feet together, then opening into second, then closing into fifth. She moves through each unhurriedly, pausing to give them full stress. Likewise, with steps from classical Chinese dance, again each are firmly stated before the next is performed. Then, interspersed with occasional silent pauses and practiced moves, with which she defines the space, embraces it, delicately dabs at it, pierces it, carves it, swirls through it, makes space palpable for us, are abrupt collapses to the floor, silent howling gestures of grief, dizzying whirlwinds of abandonment, thrashing, and flailing that speak of her loss, and of the expressiveness that dance gives her to articulate that loss.
From this elegiac opening reflecting on an actual death, the next sections turn dark with the exposition of a metaphorical death; the mechanistic, aggressive “Dance” of uniformity in which memory is lost and numb repetition prevails. In the first, five women perform an almost robotic series of gestures in unison to the dark, densely forceful, driving rhythms of Prey by Beast. Occasionally one dancer goes on a violent riff and the others stop. When she rejoins them their choral movement becomes alternately more aggressive or questioning – more splayed out in the space, wilder, fragmented, more urgent before returning to their original form. Five men come on at the end with a recurring motif of rhythmic jogging, crisscrossing, circling, moving along ordered pathways.
A solo by Kelvin Mak to Alessandro Cortini’s Stambecco ramps up the energy for a men’s septet that follows. Mak’s movement is precise, exact but performed with the wild forceful energy that characterizes his supercharged dancing, he has a heftiness yet easily moves to the floor and back upright again. Like the women before them, the men move in unison. They are often close to the floor, dive onto it, roll around, working off the momentum from the rolling and the rebound of the fall to propel themselves. They slide and spin on their bottoms, tumble, and walk on all fours, doggy style. Once again the dance ends with the regimented stepping motif. As the men back into a corner the dark tone recedes.
Set to Peter Broderick’s evocative and lyrical tape montage Patient Observation, for piano, violin, and viola, and beautifully danced by Bobo Lai, the next part, entitled “Wish” starts with Lai’s tentative entrance from downstage right, reaching out as if she’s testing the waters. She continues her journey along the diagonal toward the men alternating delicate gestures fluttering her hands around her face and broader movements as if she’s luxuriating in the space, indulging. The men huddled together in the corner gesticulate wildly warning her off and as she reaches them falling into their grasp, the women, who have entered at the opposite corner slowly echo the men’s gestures, and she is led off.
Next, accompanied by birdsong in the opening of Nils Frahm and Anne Muller’s Let My Key Be C for strings, four men enter with their arms slung around each other’s shoulders for “Companionship”, a playfully intricate romp of chasing after each other and game-like exchanges of weight with the men taking turns being lifted and supporting each other, working together in harmony at times with all four supporting together. The quartet lightens the mood as a couple joins them in their play. As the four depart the couple chase each other around the stage. What follows is certainly the Arcadian heart of the dance. Set to Frahm’s spare and lyrical Merry for piano, the couple, Lee Ka-ki and Natalie Mak perform a simple, inventive yet uncontrived duet entitled “Caring” with the gentleness and attentiveness that has a purity rarely encountered in modern duets. The couple’s movement is quiet and intimate; Lee and Mak gently touching and supporting each other. They masterfully make the choreography their own achieving an authentic performance of innocence and enjoyment in each other that is ravishing.
Yuen Hon-wai’s exquisite pavilion-like set around the entire stage enhances the sense of intimacy, its lightness and airiness like a welcoming embrace. The dancers’ ivory colored costumes and the excellent pellucid lighting by Lee Shee Hoe, work together to produce a feeling of naturalness. A tall tree trunk with a white birch-like bark is placed in a narrow passageway behind the set and visible through it. During the duet, Qiao returns along the passageway and kneeling beside the tree solemnly places stones at its base. Towards the end of the duet, one by one, the other women slowly enter downstage right. A dreamlike scene follows in which the quartet men repeatedly take turns giving comforting hugs, chaste kisses, and gentle pats to Mak. A fifth man piles stones around the tree and the women perform slow-motion echoes of Qaio’s gestures of grief.
After a variation on Lee and Mak’s duet with six couples, a seventh couple, Noel Pong and Bruce Wong, enters along the passageway. Accompanied by Frahm and Muller’s Reminds to Teeth for piano and cello, the duet brilliantly takes the youthful, innocent, gentle idea of the previous duet and turns its freshness into the habitual; the lightness weighed down by life. Pong and Wong’s performance is wondrous, they are like a couple together forever, who still need each other’s company, but without all the fuss and excitement of discovery please; a couple that also has a bit of a tiff now and again. The others, on the floor moving as if floating in a dream, gradually sit up and take notice and move toward them. The penultimate piece, entitled “Queer” to Song for cello by Wendy Stutter is for two men, powerfully danced by Ivan Chan and Lee ka-ki. It is an inversion of Lee and Mak’s duet. The two are connected throughout and though one reaches out to the other, the gesture is most often violently rebuffed. They struggle and end apart.
The last dance returns to the unison material, expanding it with random couplings, further, more violent and frantic breakouts, more complication in the regimentation of the stepping and jogging, greater complexity in the pathways. There are reprises of material from the earlier sections, performed as if the dancers were grasping at straws to recover memories that they have lost, at times the scene is one of chaos, becoming more ragged as it repeats, the dancers losing focus of everything but the task of endless jogging (the memory) set to the insistent complex rhythms of Sharp Incisors by Beast. When the music finally ends the dancers, as if driven by some invisible force, circle and crisscross the stage relentlessly.
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Tom Brown is a former dancer and the retired Associate Dean of Dance, Head of Modern Dance, and Dean of Graduate Education at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. He is the editor of dance journal/hk
Date: 15 April 2016
Venue: Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre