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[ENG] Review - Why Not Kill Us All…

Photo: Meron

Why Not Kill Us All… is Bruce Wong’s first full length choreography. Wong is a veteran dancer and a skilled practitioner of Baguazhang(八卦掌)and Neijia Quan (內家拳), both forms of Chinese wushu. Why Not Kill Us All… expresses violence and fear through dance and martial arts. The Chinese title《恐集》could be translated as “Fear Gathers”, or “Episodes of Fear”. While there may be many causes for the emotion of fear, perhaps what the choreographer explores is the idea that violence breeds fear, and fear arouses more violence. There is a lot of brutality and resistance using only the body. We see dominance and oppression giving rise to surrender or resistance in this one-hour performance.

During a prologue, just as audience members have found their seats, the performers play the well-known icebreaking game of Blow Wind Blow. Ten squares of light are spread out on the stage floor. Eleven dancers dressed in dark, somber grey each dash to claim a square. The one who cannot secure a slot then shouts out a possible cause of fear. Those who admit to experiencing that fear, rush from one square to occupy another available square. Different performers take turns running around and uttering anxieties. Who fears being stabbed in the back? Who’s afraid of being left alone? Who panics about pimples on the face? Who’s frightened of cockroaches? Perhaps early arrivals ponder over what they fear, but it is as much, a physical warm-up for the performers.

After the house announcements, a square frame attached to four iron pulleys, is gradually lowered to the stage floor. The frame is crisscrossed by bars that partition it into twelve enclosures with the centermost two covered. The frame’s outermost edge is red. Physical confrontation soon commences, with two dancers standing atop the middle of the frame attempting to deliver blows to, and evading punches from each other. Other dancers look on, still others half-heartedly attempt to pull the two who are fighting apart. When one of the fighters falls, the onlookers join in hitting and kicking the man who is down. Finally, all leave except for a woman who stays to roll the fallen dancer off the frame and drag him away.

Photo: Meron

The audience is left to imagine what this large frame represents. Twelve cells imprisoning the body or trapping the spirit? The frame is raised and lowered or shifted to other parts of the stage periodically. When it is suspended, the dancers can ‘escape’ from under or over it. When each of the dancers takes up a slot in the frame, any number of them can be moving or remaining still. Dancers move inside and outside of the frame, possibly pursuing individuality and freedom. There are more scenes of physical conflict between different performers. Sometimes the music heats up with harsher sounds such as roaring drumbeats and grand operatic rhythms when dancers are poised for fights. Or the music dies down suddenly, at the end of a struggle. The sounds of flutes signal a new act. Usually, there are no audible protests, or groans, or cries when a loser falls, his arm twisted behind his back, his torso grabbed and immobilized. However, at one point, a dancer, as if having been hit senseless, hugs and then beats himself, picks up the initial Blow Wind Blow game and shouts for victims, liars, villains, and suicidal people to run. Few, hesitantly do so. When one gets used to violence, one lives with it.

Eleven of the dancers are dressed similarly in tones of dark grey while a solo dancer, who appears frequently, wears a stylish, gleaming, white, uniform-like, tight-fitting jacket and trousers. Her look is suggestive of a knight in shining armor – but without the armor. As it turns out, she is no heroic rescuer but is in fact an oppressor. In one scene, she walks deliberately and nonchalantly on the back of fallen dancer. Singly, or in pairs or trios, other dancers push, pull, toss, juggle, and wrestle in combinations of dance, fight, and martial arts. There are various scenes of men overpowering other men and women, and women overthrowing men.

The performance presents violence begetting violence. The scenes seem unconnected other than as expressions of subjugation and resistance. The variations in movement manage to sustain the hour-long work. And it is played without the emotional intensity that might provoke questioning of violence. The set of square cells is creatively utilized as a fighting arena and a prison. The spatial flow within and surrounding this frame plays with the idea of containing violence in a zone of conflict and the enlargement of the zone with escalating violence.

=== Selina Tng is a contributor to dance journal/hk and is pursuing a postgraduate diploma course in media and culture.

Why Not Kill Us All? Date of Performance : 26th May 2017 Friday Venue : Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

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