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[ENG] Courage to Challenge and Question

It was invigorating to experience the season of youthful creative energy pervading Hong Kong in September and early October this year. It was a welcome clearing of cobwebs, out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new ethos, and assault on the senses. A season when contemporary dance attempted to, and for the most part did, speak to its audiences.

Unmixed; Choreographer: KT Yau; Photo: Eric Hong

New Force in Motion Series

New Force in Motion Series produced by Hong Kong Dance Alliance for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, featured a double-bill of Solitary by Rex Cheng and Unmixed by KT Yau. There were many commonalities in the two works although these were probably unintended. They reflected the general state of mind of the young person (and artist) in Hong Kong today. The central theme of pain, suffering, and feelings of being trapped seems to have pre-occupied both choreographers. This is the magic and fascination of choreography – to see what drives and differentiates creative minds and how they choose to stage their ideas or have their voices heard. Solitary by Rex Cheng drew inspiration from his own painful experience of witnessing his father suffer with a chronic disease. Coincidentally, the Hong Kong Ballet Young Choreographer’s Showcase also presented Same Old Joe by Lucas Jerkander that drew its idea from the passing of someone dear to him. The challenge with themes of this nature is not to make them contrived. Cheng’s Solitary was still raw and naïve in its interpretation, with dancers dressed in white hospital-like garments, and a stark monochrome set design of a white square floor bordered by black. The dancers worked through a series of solos, duets, trios, and ensemble sections and while they were committed to the piece, the movement language was predictable. It seldom, if at all, went beyond overused, rudimentary, contemporary dance tropes. The second work of the evening had more potential. The dancers performed on low black-cushioned, steel stools with rollers and remained on them for almost the entire piece. The ease with which the dancers maneuvered their stools across the stage weaving in and out, sometimes at breakneck speed, was a testament to the incredible hours of rehearsals that they had obviously put into it. There is a pervading sense that in Hong Kong, the expectation is for everyone to be the perfect child. This creates high-pressured family situations and places unreasonable demands on every young person. Unmixed had an actress seated upstage center with her hands under a desk-like table for almost the entire work until, near the end, she slowly drew herself forward. The final scene was dreary in its predictability, where she collapsed onto the desk causing a flow of thick blood-like fluid to seemingly ooze from where her head hit the desk. And, the incessant chanting of “ma” for the entire duration of the 25-minute work challenged the most patient viewers. The one-dimensionality of the work was its weakest aspect but the intense performances by Kerry Cheung, Carman Li, and Kingsan Lo elevated the appreciation quotient. The interval was almost as long as each of the works and marred the theatrical experience, disrupting the audience’s concentration.

A Major Clown in G Flat; Choreographer and Dancer: Jennifer Mok; Photo: Mark Lam

Seething On

The most engaging of the three young choreographers’ showcases was E-side Dance Company’s Seething On that featured works by Alice Ma, KT Yau (a week after her previous show), Jennifer Mok, Ivan Chan, and James Yau. Each work lasted approximately ten minutes and they were seamlessly presented. While the quality of the performers was admirable, displaying varying techniques including ballet, contemporary dance, and hip hops skills with good facility and control, there were two works that were particularly captivating. The first was KT Yau’s, a wonderful contrast to Unmixed that showed her range of creative sensibilities. Danced by Greenmay Tong and Wilfred Wong, she presented an innovative exchange between two men and bottles of water that was slightly reminiscent of the opening of Pina Bausch’s Vollmond. The abstraction and sense of humor were most welcome and provided great relief from the more narrative or literal, run-of-the-mill, dark, contemporary works. Here Yau could be exploring the issue of water shortage, possibly in Hong Kong, and how it comes to represent something to covet, and a necessity. The alternating of light and dark, comedy and farce, was cleverly arranged and sequenced. The contrasting dynamics and quick exchanges between dancers keep the audience on the edge, not able to predict where it was going. Yau also employed the breadth and depth of the stage most effectively. A performer that I have now seen three times in the last year – Jennifer Mok, needs no introduction to Hong Kong audiences, having been a staple in CCDC for many years. This is the second solo of hers I have seen, and I am transfixed by her, drawn into the world and space she creates. Mok is a mature artist who understands her mind and body deeply. She displays great facility, discipline, rigor, and commitment in her solo choreographic investigation. A Major Clown in G Flat again reinforces my belief in her work. This satirical piece is multi-layered and nuanced, allowing us to see the pain behind the painted smiles of the clown, although she performed the work in rehearsal attire. The work was moving and it called to mind one of the world’s most beloved comedians, Robin Williams, who wore a brave and happy face in public that hid a multitude of painful memories.

〡夂〨〤; Choreographer: Carman Li; Photo: Ngai Shu Sum

2nd Stage

The conclusion to the double-bill season of young choreographer’s works was presented at CCDC’s Jockey Club Theatre, and featured〡夂〨〤 (1984) by Carman Li and Mrs. Murphy by Cola Ho Lok Yee. The performance space at the theater is very challenging with two imposing pillars occupying a large section of the floor and a low ceiling. But every challenge is an opportunity and both these young choreographers showed spatial creativity and acumen, with effective lighting design by Ivan Chan that provided the necessary atmosphere for the works. Bringing a dystopian world to life, Carman Li evoked the sense of life under the scrutiny and the cameras of Big Brother. Having all the audience in a small, dark room, little notes with numbers were distributed discretely. The audience was then led to the performance space where their seats were designated. The theme of this is not particularly new, as the George Orwell novel is a classic. Nevertheless, it was a worthy attempt at creating this environment. Cola Ho’s Mrs. Murphy too, had a fresh insight into strange inhospitable worlds, where people are possibly all slightly, dysfunctional. A recent graduate of Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, Ho has tremendous facility and shows great promise both as a dancer and a choreographer. Joining her for the piece were two male dancers of different qualities and she drew from them a common language that created a cohesive dance work. The men began by throwing tennis balls against a wall. The piece incorporated text, which was delivered convincingly. Untrained voices declaring text in contemporary dance is unforgivable. The dance wove an intricate web of convoluted relationships that kept the audience questioning who the characters were and how its ménage à trois fit into one picture. The final crescendo of text recited by Ho against the rising volume of the soundtrack was very effective. It also intentionally obscured the text, which included expletives and other adult content.

These three productions have raised the bar for other young choreographers in Hong Kong. It is vital that young choreographers continue to be staged, and that they be given platforms to showcase, explore, and receive feedback on their works from their mentors and audiences. Dance and Hong Kong identities are up for discussion. Take it on!

Further Reading 延伸閱讀

Young Choreographers Showcases 本地新晉編舞展演


Joseph Gonzales

was Dean of Dance, National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage, Malaysia for two decades. He is an educator, choreographer, author, curator, producer, and Artistic Director of ASK Dance Company. Currently, he is Professor of Dance at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

New Force in Motion Series Choreographers: Rex Cheng, KT Yau Performance: 9 September 2017 15:00 Black Box Theatre, Kwai Tsing Theatre

Seething On Choreographers: Alice Ma, Ivan Chan, James Yau, KT Yau, Jennifer Mok Performance: 16 September 2017 20:00 Cultural Activities Hall, Ngau Chi Wan Civic Centre 2nd Stage 2017 Choreographers: Cola Ho, Carman Li Performance: 17 September 2017 15:00 CCDC Dance Centre Jockey Club Dance Theatre

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