Review from a Dance Enhance 2017 Participant
Dance Enhance: Dance Appreciation & Criticism Writing Project 2017 is a four-month course begun in September 2017 that aims at providing foundation knowledge of dance appreciation and criticism to aspiring dance writers. Structured with a series of lectures, workshops, discussion sessions, artists sharing and attendance at performances, the course helps participants to develop knowledge on different dance types, appreciation skills, and techniques in review writing under the guidance of dance experts.
This review was written by Tom Wan, a Dance Enhance participant.
Vipassana - Slient Walk; Director: Tsang Man-tung; Photo: Cheung Chi-wai
Hong Kong Dance Company presented an ambitious cross art form theatre experience for Hong Kong audiences co-directed by the company’s Artistic Director Yang Yuntao with Tsang Man Tung, who also designed set and costumes, and Law Wing Fai, who composed the music performed by the Wuji Ensemble.
In three distinct sections, the production explores the Buddhist practice of vipassanā that aims to perceive and gain insight into the true nature of reality. The first part solely features the music of the Wuji Ensemble followed by an introspective dance solo. Lastly, a ritualistic enlightenment story brings all the elements of the collaboration together.
Within this last section, the intense interior journey that the mind goes through during meditation is brought to life by three female soloists; their movement enhanced and extended by Dan Fong’s exhilarating digital projections.
Vipassana - Wuji Soundscapes; Director: Law Wing-fai; Photo: Cheung Chi-wai
Whilst the musicians of Wuji Ensemble possess a commanding stillness on stage (according to the house program, they regularly train in meditation), the corps dancers, in this intimate theatre setting, at times come across as less concentrated and focused. The last part of the work features an ensemble of male dancers. The choreography is carefree, the steps are light and simple as if, having reflected upon themselves – vipassanā – the dancers can relax, be at ease, and at peace with themselves, and with the nature of reality. However, without the more complicated and technically challenging steps the dancers are used to performing, they look uncomfortable on stage. Thus, the music and set overshadow the dance.
The rest of the work is agonizingly slow paced, without much movement. It is as if the production is deliberately taking the audience through a meditation exercise, making us doubt and examine the fundamental question of “what is dance?”. The 1952 piece 4’33” by John Cage comes to mind, where the pianist walks on stage and sits at a piano without playing it for a full four minutes and thirty-three seconds, prompting controversial debate in the music world of what constitutes music.
Vipassana is not an experience for the faint-hearted, as testified by the two snoring audience members to my left and right. But kudos to Yang Yuntao for braving not to entertain; especially coming from a major mainstream dance company in Hong Kong.
Another recent dance production in Hong Kong touching on religion and philosophy was The Propelled Heart by Alonzo King LINES Ballet. The troupe from San Francisco performed in Kwai Tsing Theatre just a week before Vipassana. Drawing from Hindu guru Sri Yukteswar’s teaching on the evolution of the human heart, King focuses on the second of five stages in this journey – the state of the ‘propelled’ heart. Rather than presenting the religious and philosophical concepts, as in Vipassana; The Propelled Heart examines and interprets the theme through much more overt dancing. It is as if the third section of Vipassana had been expanded. Dancers from the company perform movements that are sometimes angular and other times mesmerizing and majestic. An amazing range of sounds and melodies, sung by Lisa Fischer serves as a through line for the dance. The music pieces used are not religious. But in the end, one is struck by vivid images and moments, and is reminded of the need to see deeply what our existence in this world entails, as vipassanā encourages.
Directors: Law Wing-fai, Tsang Man-tung, Yang Yuntao
Performance: 8 September 2017 19:45 Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
The Propelled Heart by Alonzo King LINES Ballet
Artistic Director & Choreographer: Alonzo King
Performance: 1 September 2017 20:00 Auditorium, Kwai Tsing Theatre