The Hong Kong Jockey Club Contemporary Dance Series (CDS), produced by the Hong Kong Arts Festival, has come to its sixth year. It is a platform for choreographers to experiment and produce work that has the potential for international touring and competition.
Cecilia’s Rhapsody, a show consisting of three short pieces conceived and choreographed by three young choreographers, was one of this year’s CDS programs. Based on Cecilia, an early short story by Hong Kong writer Dung Kai-cheung about a man’s imaginary relationship with a mannequin in female form, Cecilia’s Rhapsody, has each choreographer creating a piece that is either an adaptation of the story or a response to Dung’s writing.
It is a great joy to know that Hong Kong Arts Festival and Hong Kong Jockey Club sponsor this type of program for dancers and choreographers in Hong Kong to have a chance at experimenting with the art form. I expected to see some bold and well-conceived ideas that even if not completely worked out would still engage me in dialogue.
The results, however, were a bit disappointing, with all three pieces playing all too safe within their own creative realms.
The Invisible S, Choreographer: Blue Ka-wing, Dancers: Blue Ka-wing, Rain Chan; Photo: Chan Lap Yee Yvonne
The Invisible S
The first work was Blue Ka-wing’s The Invisible S, the only one among the three where the dancers (Blue and Rain Chan) explain to the audience the questions that their movements explore. It was a bit off putting since a dance doesn’t need verbal explanation if its movements are clear.
The dancers explain one main theme that they want to explore – what if the spirit of Cecilia is trapped inside the body of a goldfish. Following their explanation there are two to three bits in which they clearly explore this idea by imitating the movements of a goldfish. Then at one point, they stand up and connect with each other touching each other in different ways. This is given a time limit signified by a beeping sound like a stop watch. They repeat this several times.
This part is the most well-conceived and well-explored among all in The Invisible S. However, maybe it’s because Blue really wants to be very exploratory about her work, but there is way too much speaking together with projections that spoil the ambiguity of meaning in her choreography. In fact, sometimes, the actual movements don’t live up to Blue and Chan’s explanations of them. That is a huge disadvantage. It’d be better if they said nothing, and let the audience discover what the piece is about.
Très léger, Choreographer: Ata Wong, Performers: Mok Chun-tung, Summer Tai, Chan Tze-wing, Woo Yat-hei, Wong Siu-ming; Photo: Chan Lap Yee Yvonne
The second piece is Ata Wong’s Très léger, a piece that, according to his program notes, he conceived from the sentence “Why should I give up my true, innocent nature to pursue a frigid and formal beauty?”.
This is a good beginning for a creative concept, but the piece turns out to be far too superficial in its exploration of that one sentence. The piece has an elegant aesthetic, but it’s something we’ve seen before. A red costume in this work is basically the same design of that in his earlier I Want Euthanasia, and even though it is a treat to see it again in this piece, it brings into question the scope of Wong’s vision.
Of course, the grotesque costumes with their striking color combination serve well the thesis Wong proposes, but his choreographic range is insufficient to support it. There is a lack of connection between the dancers, not only because of their skills but also because of the choreography. It clearly channels a devising process, but the movements are not well structured and do not engage the audience. The control of a red and white figure by a black figure is another good idea, but is again not distinct enough to be exciting. The use of a violin and reactions from the red and white to it are not deep enough to express struggle or tension, and thus the whole piece falls short – the music is especially limited. A Canto-pop song at the end does not have an impact, its use more like a rushed wrapping-up instead of the result of a well-thought out process.
Nook, Choreographer: Rebecca Wong, Dancers: Alice Ma, Takao Komaru; Photo: Chan Lap Yee Yvonne
On the other hand, the last piece, Nook by Rebecca Wong, is so well-made and well-performed that it does not have a spark of novelty. As a dance, this is by far the best and the most refined of the three, but on a platform for new work and new ideas, Nook is so mature and polished that it lacks excitement. The dancers, Alice Ma and Takao Komaru, are both exceptionally skillful and charismatic, that we are thoroughly engaged in watching their performances. Relationships, especially the emotional relationship, between the dancers through their movements are very clear. The aesthetics have a standard stylization and visceral quality that provides audiences with a contented enjoyable experience.
However, it is enjoyable because the dancers perform well. The choreography is a bit too predictable. With its well-conceived structure, it gives just enough information, but nothing new or with a twist that startles or makes you think about it more in depth. A bit at the end where the dancers invite two audience members to come on stage and dance with them provides a little chuckle. At that moment we finally taste a bit of rebellion, but it is too late and too little to be provocative.
All three choreographers are full of potential, but it is time for them to really think of new ways to explore future work, especially through movement. CDS is a good platform for artists to explore new work, but the artists also need to create new platforms for themselves to gather more ideas and spaces for dialogue, so that their creations evolve.
graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London with an MA Theatre (Applied Theatre) and earned his BA English at University of Central Oklahoma. Lee is a playwright, screenwriter, theatre director, acting workshop convener, and performer in Hong Kong as well as a researcher in heritage and immersive theater.
Hong Kong Arts Festival - The Hong Kong Jockey Club Contemporary Dance Series
Choreographers: Blue Ka-wing - The Invisible S, Ata Wong - Très léger, Rebecca Wong Pik-kei- Nook
Performance: 18 March 2017 20:15 Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre