Dancers: (from left) Henry Shum, Yao Wei, Li Yong-jing. Photo: Mark Lam
Toppling the World lives up to its promotional claims of “stormy motion” and “perfect energy flows in surges of red-hot rhythms”. Choreographed by Hong Kong Arts Development Council Artist of the Year (Dance) 2015 winner Jacky Yu, the work was first staged in 2006, for which it received a Hong Kong Dance Award. Toppling was also re-run in 2013. With each re-run, Yu has added about 10 minutes of additional material. Li Yong-jing has danced in all three runs, and Alice Ma performed in the two re-runs. For the male dancers, Lam Po, Charlie Leung, Henry Shum, and Yao Wei, this was their first performance of the work.
This is the second time I’ve seen Yu’s choreography on E-Side Dance Company. The other dance, Gestalt, performed on the same stage a year ago, was totally bare of props. So, I was mentally prepared for a minimalist stage again in Toppling the World, but that was not the case. In both dances, the dancers move with enormous energy throughout, all limbs stretching to the limit in jumps and strides and swings, alone or in unison, maintaining the pace and tempo, with few silent moments or slow movements.
The Stage Design
At the opening, the stage is set with six ‘tracks’ dividing it into lanes. In the next scene, bars descend and hang above the lanes. Sometimes the level of these hanging bars is adjusted so that they suggest the frame of a sloped roof or perhaps a staircase, hovering over the dancers. Throughout the dance these elements of the set change into different configurations. The set is reminiscent of the bars and racks of a gymnastics hall or athletic field with running tracks. Sport grounds come to mind also because of the dancers’ large, energetic movements across the whole stage, accompanied by pulsating electronic music.
Dancers: Alice Ma , Charlie Leung. Photo: Mark Lam
Spectacular Body Movements
But the performers are not just exercising on stage. In the second scene, for example, a courtship seems to be playing out as a man and a woman approach each other and turn away while being partially suspended from the bars. In another scene, all six dancers stand in a row, but the set separates them into three pairs – each pair dancing a duet and using a bar for support. Sometimes the stage is empty and a solo is danced or dancers may stand or recline on one another for support.
Their costumes are simple, plain and dark, but with the striking feature of only one sleeve. This heightens and contrasts the arms, maybe suggesting that difference can shake the world up. In one scene, light swings like a pendulum as a solo dancer moves in rhythm to the light trail. The not-so-bright stream of light seems to be drawn to her body.
In one of the few slow scenes, a male dancer comes off the stage to dance at audience level. After a while he sits on the stage with his legs dangling off its edge. A pause ensues. Then another dancer enters from downstage left travelling across the stage. The sitting dancer gets up and joins the other onstage to dance with him without music. This intimate moment with its display of camaraderie is a welcome respite from the high-energy, raucous electronic music.
In another scene, Lam has the five other dancers in a row to his left. They wield large black cloths. They wrap themselves like mummies, then free themselves and fling the cloths to the floor. The five move together while Lam moves separately. He dances while they stand still, or he is upright while they sit or lie down, he keeps hold of his cloth while the others let theirs go. I couldn’t decide what if anything Lam represented – a revolutionary leader or an outcast, and if the black cloth was a protective shield, then against what.
The scenes were connected by the set – its mutation from one kind of frame to another. It enables the dancers to reach high, seize, and overpower the vertical and horizontal space of the stage, toppling and falling with control and precision. The occasional slowing of the music and pause seem like moments of reflection and decision. The performance is tense, focusing on the body and motion. The movements hardly pause. There is little repetition. It’s a work that satisfies if what you are looking for is the spectacle of the body in motion.
is an contributor to dance journal/hk and is pursuing a postgraduate diploma course in media and culture.
Toppling the World
Choreographer: Jacky Yu
Performance: 20 Jan 2017 20:00 Theatre, Ngau Chi Wan Civic Centre