1. Peter Suart in Soledad by Helen Lai
Photo provider: City Contemporary Dance Company
Soledad, the Spanish word for solitude, is the title of Helen Lai’s latest dance theatre work. It was inspired by Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez’ novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel depicts the rise and fall of the imaginary town of Macondo told through seven generations of the Buendía family. Lai choreographed and directed Soledad while collaborator Peter Suart composed and recorded the music and designed the sets. In his role as Melquíades, the gypsy turned into a ubiquitous Buendía household phantom, Suart also recites poems throughout the dance that he wrote in response to Márquez’s novel. Soledad portrays selective scenes and characters from the novel rather than attempting to cover the whole story, an impossible feat to accomplish in the normal time span of a theatrical performance.
The stage design for Soledad is one of simplicity and elegance. Throughout, a ship is represented at upstage left. Perhaps it depicts the galleon the first Buendía and his kin stumbled upon when searching for dry land in the vast swampy jungle. Stuart’s “Melquíades’ Key” and the soulful music of the accordion conjure up the ghostly passengers and crew of the ship who witnessed other towns and families during their dangerous voyage. At the beginning of the dance, there are two piles of sand, one upstage right, the other downstage left. A dancer appears with a shovel and digs at the sand, possibly signifying the building of the town of Macondo and presaging its eventual demise – sand an unsuitable foundation. Later, more than a dozen wooden chairs form a row where the whole cast sits as Úrsula, wife of the first Buendía portrayed by Qiao Yang, places her hands on each, touching each of them in turn. In a later scene, the chairs are stacked at upstage right, maybe representing barricades used in a riot or revolution. With few props, each carrying multiple meanings, the stage is mostly bare with plenty of space for the dancers.
The various duets are packed with sensuality and passion, the movements beautifully designed to convey the different states of romance and sexual relationship of the generations of Buendía lovers. A duet of male dancers is captivating too in the portrayal of affection, comradeship, and betrayal. The solo dances also depict significant moments from the novel, notably Amaranta with a black bandage on her lower arm, with Rebeca watching her, and Remedios the Beauty engulfed by white sheets supplemented with a video projection of her ascent to heaven, Rebeca eating earth during crisis, and the physical battle and emotional struggle of Colonel Aureliano Buendía. One memorable ensemble section is of the generations of Buendía that starts with a couple followed by one or two dancers rapidly joining in succession to show the proliferation of the family and going through the motions of gathering together for a family portrait. Another ensemble piece represents a battlefield with the dancers scampering, crawling, running, and falling. The most enticing scene, which I will call the umbrella scene, portrays the implausible event of a never-ending rain that incessantly floods Macondo. With the dancers shouting in Cantonese “four years, eleven months, and two days”, opening and closing golden umbrellas in unison, huddling and drawing apart under the rain, the revolution depicted in the novel, as show in the dance, resonates in the hearts and collective memory of Hong Kong audiences.
The house program introduces each scene by using passages from the novel. My title also borrows from the novel - “Colonel Aureliano Buendía could understand only that the secret of a good old age is simply an honorable pact with solitude.” Lai’s Soledad may not have seemed rich in solitary sentiments, unless we concede that emotion is felt within oneself, in solitude, then most theatrical performances convey solitude. Alone or in good company, those in the audience were able to witness, in their solitude, this energetic and soulful dance to the lively and mournful beat of Latin American music that ends with the lonesome figure of Melquíades discarding page after page of his manuscript.
*This review was written by a participant of Dance Enhance 2015.
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has a degree in computing and financial management. She has been working in the commercial sector for many years and is an occasional contributor to dance journal/hk.
Date: 11 December 2015
Venue: Auditorium, Kwai Ching Theatre