Hong Kong Cultural Centre (HKCC) is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Four experienced local dance artists -- Mui Cheuk Yin, Yuri Ng, Daniel Yeung and Dick Wong -- were invited to choreograph and direct in the celebratory programme, Yin Yu Chun Fai (each word taken from an artist’s Chinese name). This will be the first time for the four artists of different backgrounds to work on the same stage, each with their individual pieces. They have experienced the Hong Kong dance scene and its development through many years and each has valuable perspectives to share. Due to the limited space of this article, I focus on reporting their views about the relationship between space and choreography.
新場地的出現 The Emergence of New Venues
Most of the performing venues in Hong Kong are run and managed by the government. Over the thirty years since the opening of HKCC, not many new government-run venues were built. However, quite a lot of independent venues have emerged, such as the Black Box Theatre at the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre (JCCAC) in Shek Kip Mei, the Multimedia Theatre at the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity, the On & On Cattle Depot Theatre at Cattle Depot Artist Village, and the more recent additions of Tai Kwun and Freespace at West Kowloon Cultural District. The emergence of new venues of different shapes and sizes is beneficial to creativity, least of all in providing more opportunities for dance performances.
Even though there are more and more performing venues, Wong pointed out that Hong Kong lacks venues with small audience seating areas but with stage spaces that are not small. This type of venues allows choreographers to make work in a larger space, where their creative processes and contents would not be limited by box office considerations. Mui agreed that although these new venues have different interior setups and levels of flexibility, they lack the qualities of what Wong had described. She mentioned the Shanghai International Dance Centre, where the Experimental Theatre does not have a large auditorium, but the stage space is as large as the Grand Theatre, so that pre-production work and rehearsals of Grand Theatre programmes can take place there. This flexibility is not yet seen in Hong Kong.
（左起）梅卓燕、伍宇烈、黃大徽及楊春江Mui Cheuk Yin, Yuri Ng, Dick Wong and Daniel Yeung (from left)；攝Photo：Pazu@萬象鏡社（照片由康文署文化節目組提供 Photo provided by the Cultural Presentations Section of LCSD）
Yeung explained that many new venues are already designed with various possibilities of audience seating area in mind. The host venues would encourage artists to experiment with the space. This was the case with Yeung’s opening show for ArtisTree. The organisers stated from the beginning that he could boldly experiment with the space. Mui said that new venues are often like that, and shared her recent visit to Freespace, when the West Kowloon Cultural District stated that they would give artists the freedom to experiment with different possibilities in their facilities. That being said, venues often gradually limit the freedom after running for a period of time. The four choreographers also thought that it is not always up to the artists to use a specific venue, but decisions are made according to availability and schedule.
利用場地的特性 Making Use of the Features of a Venue
Although most of the venues managed by the government are similarly featureless, there are still possibilities. The Studio Theatre at HKCC is one of them. Mui recalled choreographing October Red for City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC) in 2001. The work incorporated strips of fabric that were suspended from the seats in the upper area of the theatre, and red liquids flowed down into the performing area. Two years ago, Zuni Icosahedron used only the upper area as audience seating, leaving the whole lower floor to be the stage. This setting made use of the unique interior design of the theatre and was repeatedly used by different choreographers, such as CCDC’s Mr Blank(2018) by Sang Jijia. Yeung’s Metalove, in 2004, was also inspired by the distinct interior environment of the venue. Yeung felt that choreography should establish a connection with the venue. Under the current trend of taking the possibility of touring into creative considerations, he explained that every piece of work should be site-specific for it to come alive. Adjustments are needed if the work were to be staged in a different venue. Wong agreed that space plays a role in choreography, and that the vibrancy of a piece depends on how it adapts to different environments, which provides an exciting challenge.
左圖 Photo on the left：上圖為黃大徽於2004年首演《B.O.B.* 》的宣傳照，並以此作品獲邀到世界不同地方巡演 Above shows the promotional photo of Dick’s premiere performance of B.O.B.* in 2004, he was invited to tour around the world with this piece；照片由香港藝術節提供 Photo provided by the Hong Kong Arts Festival
右圖 Photo on the right：梅卓燕於2001年為城市當代舞蹈團編舞的《十月紅》Mui Cheuk Yin choreographed October Red for City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC) in 2001；攝Photo：Ringo Chan
Ng revealed that in most cases it is not until the technical meetings at the latter stages of a production that the question is raised as to how the space is utilized. However, since the venues in Hong Kong are administered by different governmental departments, the time it takes to discuss and to set up the venues becomes longer. He also raised some thoughts around touring and questioned whether performing first in Sai Wan Ho, then in Yuen Long and lastly in Sheung Wan would be considered touring. As the theatres differ in sizes, dance productions would have to be altered accordingly. Is it touring only when performing abroad?
硬件之外要軟件 What About the Software that Runs the Hardware
Yeung was more concerned with the software behind venues and facilities, namely how they are managed or run. Currently, venues are decided along with pre-determined support, and all these become a limiting factor on creative choices. Dance artists are unlikely to do what they want to do within the set boundaries. He felt a lack of flexibility and freedom in the use of venues, and flexibility and freedom allow artists to make real creative choices. Ng had a different view, that it is par for the course for organisers to have fixed rules and terms. Therefore, it is important for choreographers to keep exploring what they can and cannot attempt within the limits.
“Space” also means the availability of the stage. Yeung talked of the scarcity of time onstage being characteristic of working in Hong Kong. Taking his experience in the Netherlands as an example, he once requested two weeks of rehearsals in the theatre, so that he could truly experiment. Ng thought that it is not impossible to ask for a longer onstage period in Hong Kong; sometimes you get it and sometimes you don’t. It comes back to the issue of the flexibility of the venue.
Wong and Yeung both mentioned the flexibility of the Hong Kong Arts Centre in the 1980s and 1990s. Yeung explained that the artists then all wanted to be inventive with the venue because there were no precedents to follow. He added that there were of course not as many arts groups in those years, leaving more room and time for artists to rehearse onstage. Ng shared similar experiences at the Macao Cultural Centre, where he could also spend more time to rehearse in situ for Macao Tale: Have Steps, Will Travel.
The time available on stage depends not only on the number of performances in a venue. Mui suggested that box office is currently an important factor in selecting the venues. Some dance performances are designed to be close to the audience, but also require the formal stage facilities. This then leads to a smaller size of the audience, accompanied by the issue of cost. In other words, more than artistic considerations are involved in these decisions.
黃大徽（左）及梅卓燕（右）Dick Wong (left) and Mui Cheuk Yin (right)；攝Photo：Pazu@萬象鏡社（照片由康文署文化節目組提供 Photo provided by the Cultural Presentations Section of LCSD）
藝術視野及定位 Artistic Vision and Positioning
Should there be artistic directors to oversee the entire operation of venues? Should venues have artistic positioning? Mui admitted that these are old questions, which have been in discussion since the 1990s and are still stuck in the discussion phase. Mui explained that a venue becomes unique if an artistic director sets a creative direction for it, which yields economic benefits. For example, when she was in New York, she would go to a specific theatre if she wanted to watch a certain genre. People could tell right away whether the theatre was focused on contemporary dance or ballet. Venues thus saved on publicity costs. In Hong Kong, large sums are spent on promotion without knowing whether the target audience is reached. Mui wondered why Hong Kong is so conservative about artistic positioning for venues when its effectiveness is evident across the international scene.
Wong pointed out that a regular audience can be established if venues have artistic visions and positioning. Audiences come to trust the venue, and are willing to watch new artists that they have not come across before. Also, if venues have different artistic visions, the work becomes more distinct, achieving a true diversity that helps the city’s art scene to flourish.
梅卓燕（左）及伍宇烈（右）Mui Cheuk Yin (left) and Yuri Ng (right)；攝Photo：Pazu@萬象鏡社（照片由康文署文化節目組提供 Photo provided by the Cultural Presentations Section of LCSD）
Also, Mui explained that without artistic positioning, it is hard for venues in different districts in Hong Kong to grow audiences beyond geographic limits. Currently, the same performance at Yuen Long Theatre or at HKCC would signal differently to audiences. But audiences overseas are willing to travel to remote venues to watch performances, because the unique attributes of venues would draw in people. But Hong Kong venues lack personality, and so their geography becomes the main feature.
Yeung saw Mui’s point. He pointed out that Central and Tsim Sha Tsui are traditionally seen as the cultural districts of Hong Kong. The City Hall is actually a multifunctional venue, rented for such purposes as schools’ speech days or auctions. Only the West Kowloon Cultural District brands itself clearly for hosting only cultural programmes. He thought that small venues, such as the Black Box Theatre at JCCAC, can also have their own artistic directions. Ng suggested that the Venue Partnership Scheme by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department can be more effective. The participating organisations in the Scheme currently just rent the venues, but there can be a wider vision. Some of these venues are in Municipal Services Buildings, which house wet markets, libraries and sports centres, so they are not just locations but also communities. Artistic directors can strategize in this direction for meaningful programming. Yet, it is currently not the case, and partnered art organisations do not even get an office, let alone building artistic visions and community engagement. Ng thought that Sunbeam Theatre has been doing quite well in this regard. Yet many government-run theatres, like Mui explained, are heavily regulated. The four all agreed that the government should let civic bodies manage the operation of venues, limiting itself to the provision of aid. Without the government’s overshadowing interference, the venues would thrive.
伍宇烈Yuri Ng；攝Photo：Pazu@萬象鏡社（照片由康文署文化節目組提供 Photo provided by the Cultural Presentations Section of LCSD）
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