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[Eng] Review of DiviNation

February 10, 2017

 

Dancers: Eryck Brahmania, Irene Lo, Paul Pui Wo Lee, Jingting Duan

Photo: Keith Hiro

 

DiviNation, a dance performance from Muse Motion, plays with the mixed emotions and ambiguities of remembrance and memories. The Artistic Director and choreographer, Allen Lam includes visions of the different cities he has danced in, visited, or lived in the past 20 or more years. The six dancers, including Ricky Song-wei Hu, who also choreographs, come from Hong Kong, the Mainland, Japan, Sweden, and Britain. They bring to life the real and imagined, remembered and forgotten cities in this hour-long production.

 

The stage is bare except for a raised platform that covers most of the floor area and poles used as props. The surface of the platform has slots that allow the poles to be stood upright in them. Throughout the performance, dancers take one or more poles, placing them in or taking them out of slots and either lie them on the platform, or remove them from the stage only to carry them back on in another scene to be

erected again. At one time, I counted as many as 25 poles towering and encircling the performers, but the dancers did not use them to ‘pole dance’ .

 

DiviNation’s Facebook promotional material mentioned that the dance takes Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities as a starting point for its creation. In Invisible Cities, each chapter is an account of a city narrated to Kublai Khan by Marco Polo. Some cities seem ancient, others modern, even futuristic. The cities are not appealing to me, but they could be considered exotic, mysterious, or even far-fetched. The settings on the stage may suggest Armilla, described in the chapter titled “Thin Cities • 3” of Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

 

“The fact remains that it has no walls, no ceilings, no floors: it has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be.”

 

In another city, Baucis, from “Cities & Eyes • 3”, “The slender stilts that rise from the ground at a great distance from one another and are lost above the clouds support the city.”

 

The dancers are always busy with the poles, (or pipes, or stilts). This motif perhaps relates to the foundation of cities or even civilization. Men are enslaved by the burden of poles. As pillars and houses are built and torn down, I imagine divine nations arose and were razed. After the poles are laid on the ground or erected, men’s hands are free, but they are imprisoned in the city. The upright poles divide the land into territories with invisible confining walls. As one dancer flings a pole towards another dancer who catches it and tosses it back, it may suggest the give and take of social interaction. But such collaborations may not occur. The foreign and the marginalized may be ostracized, which occurs in one scene when Eryck Brahmania is shunned by the four other dancers.

 

There is a rather unusual group dance of four dancers holding hands alternately forming either a square or a circle in motion. First they are lying down and joined. Perhaps they are sleeping. Then, without breaking apart, they rise but bend inward at waist level, striding in unison, the human chain rotating. The image oddly reminds me of an enormous crab. The ‘crab’ dismembers as the dancers break into pairs, pushing and pulling each other tango-like. Does this mean a community is made up of family units? Is this ‘crab’ formation a dream? Could it be a tribal ritual dance symbolizing the human bond?

 

I wonder if DiviNation attempts to be a megacity that contains all of what the choreographers and dancers have experienced in many cities. The scenes are fragmentary, and the dancers seem not to be fixed characters, other than one who reminds me of a princess.

 

Such is the description of Armilla, in “Thin Cities • 3”.

 

“Abandoned before or after it was inhabited, Armilla cannot be called deserted. At any hour, raising your eyes among the pipes, you are likely to glimpse a young woman, or many young women.”

 

While there are three female dancers, only one was dressed distinctly different from the others. In a feminine long flowing exquisite gown and a veil, the simple grandeur of her appearance suggests she is perhaps regal, a princess. Her face unseen, she is also the untouchable fair maiden that exists in men’s dreams. Or she could be the spirit haunting the demised city in search of a loved one. Maybe she is an exile. Perhaps she is a divine goddess roaming the divided nations to inspect the living condition or lament the dead.

 

The climax of the dance happens when one pole after another is stacked up into a pyramid-like structure, with a man trapped in the hollow beneath the pile. The poles are supported at the base by three other men lying on the floor. The ‘princess’ seems anguished at the sight but makes no effort to rescue the captive

man. I held my breath in suspense to see if the man escapes and the pyramid crumbles, for surely the three dancers on the floor could not steadfastly keep the base intact.

 

In DiviNation, men are united in both construction and destruction. The house program describes DiviNation as a vision of what we could be. I take the vision as breaking out towards freedom and creation. The dreamy quality, fragmentary pieces, and vague meanings reinforce the ambiguities of unreliable memories. We may recall the emotions, but the details fade and the background gets emptier.

 

===

Selina Tng 

is an occasional contributor to dance journal/hk. She appreciates literature, theatre,

and dance. She is now pursuing a postgraduate diploma course in media and culture.

 

Performance: DiviNation

Date: 18 December 2016

Time: 3pm

Venue: Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall

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