[ENG] Creative Meeting Point: Hong Kong × Australia
Cocktail on last day of exchange. Clockwise on the left standing: Gülsen Özer, Mayson Tong, Philipa Rothfield (Facilitator of the exchange; Dancehouse Creative Advisor), Kenneth Sze, Victoria Chiu and Angela Conquet (Artistic Director and CEO of Dancehouse); Photo: Victoria Chiu
The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA) partners with Dancehouse Melbourne, offering four dance artists, two each from Hong Kong and Australia, opportunities to foster artistic dialogues with each other. Hong Kong dancers Kenneth Sze (施卓然) and Mayson Tong (唐偉津(綠美)) were selected for the three-year residency exchange program. The program aims to support artistic practice, research, continued professional development, encourage works-in-progress, and, in 2019, help realize co-productions between Hong Kong and Australia. The artists will participate in six residency exchanges in the coming years, working independently and collaboratively to further their artistic practice.
Sze and Tong took off for Melbourne on 28 March 2017. They participated in various workshops, events, and tours to gain an understanding of the perspectives and experiences of their Australian counterparts, Victoria Chiu and Gülsen Özer.
Sze and Tong are astute young practitioners with thought-provoking ideas. They question, challenge, and continue to push boundaries. Some may find them troubling, for others they are intriguing.
Sze’s introduction to dance was in his teens through the video game Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). He hasn’t stopped dancing since. Along the way, he met Andy Wong (王廷琳), who introduced yoga and modern dance to him. Soon, he applied to study modern dance at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA). The course title changed to contemporary dance in Sze’s first year, which ignited questions that are still pertinent today.For Sze, HKAPA was a platform to train his body and technique, however, for him it is more important to question, and develop critical thinking and appreciation. He started working freelance after graduation with different artists from different disciplines to satisfy his curiosity. In the process of searching for answers, Sze made his first full-length piece, Dark Aroma, working closely with coffee barista / syphonist Pinky Leung Hoi-yan. The starting point of Dark Aroma was the similarities in everyday life of an independent barista and a dance artist. Sze wonders while working at a tea shop, whether the customers understand and appreciate what is being presented to them, can they tell the difference between good and mediocre? He feels the same applies to dance artists and their performances. In Dark Aroma, there is a section where Leung explains every step involved in making coffee, as at a coffee brewing competition. Eventually, the coffee is presented to the audience. It turns out that the coffee beans Leung uses were not what she tells the audience she is using… Sze’s very aim was to question the audience: What do you want? Do you happily agree or accept what you are told or presented? Do you have a critical understanding and appreciation of what is presented to you?
Sze met Bonni Chan and Sean Curran of Theatre du Pif at HKAPA. Their production of The Will to Build (2010) inspired him and he later performed in the 2015 version. Sze participated in their actors’ lab, a performance-based collaborative research program for experienced theatre professionals. Working with non-dancers was an interesting learning experience for him. With their influence and support, Sze became invested in working with text, collaborating regularly with Ivy Tsui Yik-chit who shares his fascination.
Tong is bold and direct. He left his degree course at HKAPA because he felt he was not being respected as an individual. He felt bored and oppressed in class, “It’s like military training, unless you can do certain moves, you are not considered a dancer… I didn’t think the techniques or body language that were taught would enhance self-expression. Being able to express myself is one of the fundamentals in art or dance” he declares. Also, at the time, 2010, there were other social matters that captured Tong’s attention, one of them being the commencement of construction for the High-Speed Rail that connects Hong Kong and China.
Improvisation on rooftop of Curtin House in Central Business District of Melbourne.
Photo: Victoria Chiu
When Tong left HKAPA, he also left home. He took a break from dancing and worked as an assistant in a hair salon. On his birthday, he was fired. Tong never found out why and his superior never explained. Tong sees it as a blessing in disguise but at the time, it was incredibly frustrating. During that time, Tong met a group of friends who were founders and organizers of an online radio station - FM101, which has since been dissolved. The group of founders and members felt it was a much-needed platform for alternative voices and discussion about arts, music, and everyday life. However, the annual license fee is high, therefore, it is hard for new-comers to break into the market, let alone something like FM101 – an initiative led by young people. For Tong, FM101 was close to his heart because it was a common ground where everyone had equal status, which he described as perfect.
In addition, Tong and a group of friends started a theatre group - 含忍劇場, even though not its official English name, it can be translated as ‘Theatre Endure’. The group works collectively performing in public spaces using bodies, movement, behavior, visuals, and music for expression. His chosen name, Greenmay, came from a performance outside the former Legislative Council Building in 2009 where he painted himself green in opposition to the construction of the High-Speed Rail. Again, the ethos of the theater group echoes Tong’s firm belief in equality.
Kenneth Sze, Photo: Philip Kuen