Sign Movement; Choreographers & Dancers: (from left): Li De, Wong Yiu Pong Jason; Photo: Xin Li
At the intersection of Nathan Road and Gascoigne Road a Cantonese opera is being performed. This is not an unlikely scenario -- small operas are often staged in the backstreets of Yau Ma Tei -- except this time the performers are on the sidewalk. Shoppers squeeze past, a crowd forms, bewilderment is met with a fleeting glance between the two performers. Silk flutters in the breeze, a bus roars past, the two peacock feathers of a headdress sail past the audience in a wide arc. Lunch is being served in Yat Tung Heen. People hold conversations, serve each other dumplings, plates of steamed bok choy pass by. Li De and Wong Yiu Pong Jason maintain eye contact across the room, they pace between the tables taking methodical steps as if concentrating intently on each movement. Their piece, Sign Movement, which contemplates love and family instability, circles round actual families in the restaurant. The atmosphere is uncanny, and, like the piece itself, unstable: it is as if the restaurant guests are actors, on stage in a production of their own lives this lunch hour. The overall effect is not that a performance is happening among restaurant-goers, but that Li De and Wong Yiu Pong appear to be the only ones aware of this, the guests on the other hand move like clocks in an artificial performance, out of sync with the artists in their midst. Performance in a space like this is a question of vision. What does it mean to see?
Confine – research; Choreographers: Yau Ka Hei, Wai Shan Vivian Luk; Photo: Xin Li
The event 24 Hours in Movement: Pegged Legs, Hooked Hands took place on December 14th on one of the few weekends of 2019 in which a large demonstration or protest action was not planned. The hotel where it was held, Eaton HK, overlooks Nathan Road, a street on which some of the largest organized demonstrations in the history of Hong Kong happened during the weeks and months prior. Eaton HK is a typical large hotel. It hosts a food hall extending across three floors in the basement; a large bar area and club; a cinema, a co-working space, as well as hundreds of guest rooms and a gym on the roof. Pegged Legs, Hooked Hands took place across all of these spaces, as well as spilling out onto the street a few times (for Cantonese opera and Cambodian traditional dance, among other things). Some of the most exciting parts of the day happened in the most mundane spaces. In a yoga room on the hotel roof a woman twists and turns, she struggles with herself. She is two: wearing an inflated wrestler suit that billows around her, twice her size it mimics her movements but also mocks them, the effect is comedic. She is also herself: her head sits below the artificial face of the wrestler. In this piece, Confine (research), by Yau Ka Hei and Luk Wai Shan Vivian, the woman falls, spins, shakes and jumps like a wrestler, yet she is not a wrestler. Some hours later in the lobby, four Hong Kong Ballet dancers perform an intricate fan dance from a balustrade overlooking the entrance. They then move to the bar where they use the actual bar as a stand-in for a ballet barre. The piece is playful, the dancers touch, nod and wink to one another while performing pliés and pirouettes -- behind the bar, bartenders mix them drinks for when their performance ends.
Barre at the Bar; Direction: Septime Webre; Choreographer: Jessica Burrows; Dancers: (from left) Kyle Lin, Erica Wang, Luis Cabrera, Jessica Burrows; Photo: Xin Li
Trista Ma paints Chinese characters on the ground in water. Water is ink: she dips her brush in the adjacent swimming pool every so often for replenishment. Eric Schlaeflin paces, watches, and folds paper. Kingdom of the Future is Schlaeflin and Ma’s adaptation of L’oiseau bleu by Belgian playwright and poet Maurice Maeterlinck. In their interpretation the themes of the play -- a boy’s journey, a young girl, a bird that seems always out of reach -- are fragmented into movements that happen across the roof, lobby, restaurant and various other spaces of the hotel throughout the day. The performance becomes a chase, yet the movements are slow, considered, and at times confused.
New Performance Research; Choreographers & Dancers: TS Crew; Photo: Xin Li
Contemporary dance likes to concern itself with limits. The limits of the stage, of movement, of an audience or the performative space. The space of the hotel poses such limits in abundance: culture requires that hospitality offers a specific range of actions, whether these are eating, sleeping, working out or waiting around. Yet the performance pieces in Pegged Legs, Hooked Hands did not appear to obsess over these limitations (lack of a stage, a clear audience). Rather, the performers seemed to flirt with the space, including giving parkour practitioner Li Tuo Kun a wild opportunity to scale the walls of the breakfast buffet. Dancer Yang Hao, whose research considers dance and comedy, struts between tables with a microphone in his hand. His movements are lithe as he cajoles the performers of TS Crew while they descend a staircase, four men entwined. The experience was made to appear absolutely normal. Elsewhere in the world, observers might call it a “flash-mob”, but this would miss the point. Only in a city where the population density averages 6,659 people per square kilometer can performers engage an audience at such close range while they eat their lunch unperturbed. French producer and choreographer Alice Rensy, who curated Pegged Legs, Hooked Hands, has lived in Hong Kong for eight years and systematically worked within and outside the bounds of traditional performance spaces, often working in gallery contexts, public spaces, or in film. The event press release notes that each performance would embrace the site specificity of the hotel, putting the focus on the relationship between “artists, audience and passers-by as the day unfolds.” This unfolding, however, felt entirely natural. The only performance of the day that did happen on stage was, ironically, the one form of movement that usually happens off stage, in dancehalls, or on streets—the dance battle For the Record, that was staged in the ballroom of Eaton HK.
Staging a performance in a hotel poses the question: who are the audience? To stage performances in a hotel makes a statement about vision. If half of the audience are passers-by, there by chance, then the stage becomes an amorphous, flexible idea that is transformed every moment depending on who is seeing it.
Will Davis is an arts and architecture writer based in Los Angeles. He teaches in the Art History Department at Occidental College, and is currently completing his PhD in architectural history at UCLA.
24 Hours in Movement: Pegged Legs, Hooked Hands
Choreographers: Trista Ma, Eric Schlaeflin, Blue Ka Wing, Li Tuo Kun, Yau Ka Hei, Luk Wai Shan Vivia, Sonia Au, Bie Lai, TS Crew, Li De, Wong Yiu Pong Jason, Raimund Hoghe, Yang Hao, Prumsodun Ok, Constaintin Leu, Hu Song Wei Ricky, Luis Cabrera, Jessica Burrows, Yuh Egami
Performance: 14 Dec 2019 07:00 Eaton HK