Blanc, Director, Choreographer, and Dancer: Yang Yuntao
Photo Credit: Barry Chan
Hong Kong Dance Company Artistic Director Yang Yuntao has lined-up different kinds of dances as well as collaborations among artists from diverse backgrounds for the Company’s productions. A notable example was Storm Clouds, a martial arts dance drama adapted by dramatist Sin Chun-tung from Ma Wing-shing’s popular local comic strip (風雲) with a wonderful blend of traditional and electronic music composed by Lee Che-yi and Choi Sai-ho.
In the Company’s latest production Reveries of the Red Chamber, Yang invited theatre director and set designer Hoyingfung and renowned local choreographer Helen Lai each to create a new piece for the Company’s dancers while he choreographed and performed a solo. The guest artists brought new insights and experiences for the company and fresh ideas to their audiences.
Inspired by the great 18th century classic Chinese novel, Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin, Reveries of the Red Chamber was produced in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Studio Theatre rather than in the Company’s 8/F Platform, its usual venue for experimental presentations. The set, designed by Hoyingfung, transforms the Studio Theatre into the Grand View Garden, the main setting in the novel. Upon entering the Theatre, the audience was divided into two groups - one sat on benches arranged in arena fashion on all four sides of the stage at ground level to view the action while the other stood in the gallery above the stage to see it. At intermission, after the first two parts, the two groups exchanged places, giving everyone a chance to experience the romance and chaos of the work close to the performers inside the Grand View Garden as well as from above through the frame of the Garden’s roof.
The three different parts of the program were each in a different style. Inspired by the first chapter of the Dream of the Red Chamber, Hoyingfung wrote and directed the first piece, The Enigma of a Stone, a political fable set in a Chinese city in the year 2046. Like In Search of Hui Sin, also directed by Hoyingfung and produced by DanceArt Hong Kong, the piece is well-structured with multiple improvised sequences played simultaneously in various parts of the arena-like stage for most of the time.
With the director’s spoken narration and Lam Tsan-tong’s live pipa performance, actor Ng Wai-shek declaims from a wheelchair, and nine dancers, using both improvised and set ensemble movement, tell a story about truth and falsehoods within different power hierarchies. Despite its rhythmicity, The Enigma of a Stone sometimes seems to lag due to individual uncertainty and inability to explore more possibilities that challenge not only the dancers but also the audience. Nevertheless, I still very much appreciate the performance of the whole cast, as the demands of the work were certainly not a comfortable way of creating or performing for traditional Chinese dancers.
The second part, Yang Yuntao’s solo Blanc, is much simpler. Except for a recitation by a narrator at the beginning, the piece is purely a dialogue between a man and a pile of dirt. Inspired by a sentence from the original novel, Yang, wearing loose white pants, reflects on his life by facing and interacting with the dirt. From observing it, feeling it, to moving it, and turning in it, and at the end sweeping it around the space, Yang, with rich emotions and using subtle gestures and movements, turns the pile of dirt into things that come and go in life. It is always a delight to see Yang perform, particularly as he is still in such good shape.
The final piece, While the Dream Unfolds by Helen Lai, is shown after intermission and presents the romance and conflicts between the 12 women of Grand View Garden who appear in the fifth chapter of the Dream of the Red Chamber.
As expected, Lai has no interest in presenting the novel’s narrative in a straightforward manner, rather she focuses on the relationship between characters and presents these in duets and trios. Lai brings together elements such as strong electronic sound as well as video projections in the piece that don’t always appear in her work. In addition, renowned Kunqu and Peking opera artist Tang Yuen-ha sings operatic passages during the dance and with brush and ink calligraphs a poem that is then projected on a roll of white paper that scrolls along the center of the performance area. Placing words directly on the stage where the dance characters meet and part, somehow serves as a gesture that allows the source material (the text) to take the stage, a fitting conclusion for the whole show.
is a Hong Kong based performing arts critic, theatre director, and a media producer. He completed a joint MA in International Performance Research at the University of Warwick (UK) and University of Arts in Belgrade (Serbia), and currently works as Project Manager at the International Association of Theatre Critics (Hong Kong).
Date: 7 August 2016
Venue: Hong Kong Cultural Centre Studio Theatre