Translated by Benjamin Wong, June 2000
（中文原文刊於1999年《舞蹈手札》第一冊第二期 English translation originally published on dance journal/hk 2-4 in 2000）
香港舞蹈有何特色？ 這是個值得香港舞蹈工作者深思的問題。過往因爲殖民地的特殊地位，每當提起「香港特色」時，總會令自覺的藝術家感到尷尬，因為「香港特色」往往被認為是「 中西合璧」——在英國治下的華人社會特色。說好聽點，是擷取東方、西方所長，而究其實是非驢非馬、兩頭不到岸的藝術雜交次貨。在所謂的「中西合壁」裡，作品不用講求藝術的精準、美學的邏輯及文化的哲理思維，而只要中的、西的混起來，但求別人未見過的便是「香港特色」，這在香港過去的舞蹈作品裡實在屢見不鮮。
在八十年代中期，本港的編舞家們便察覺這不盡如人意的現象，所以除了少數人仍熱衷於「中西合璧」外， 其他都閉口不提「香港特色」了。成熟一輩及年青一代的編舞家們開始專注於個人藝術的追求，他們有些在作品中展現鮮明的個性、有些以作品面對時代社會、有些則用作品來探索各皮原創意念；雖然沒有駭人的口號如台灣的「尋找東方肢體美學」或大陸的「中華民族舞蹈現代化」等，香港舞蹈家們十多年各自耕耘的努力成果，如果用心去看，還是可以梳理出一幅波瀾壯闊的畫面的。可惜香港還未出現如此胸襟魄力的舞評人，能以嚴謹學術態度去研究香港舞蹈，以致被問及香港的舞蹈有何特色時，便只得空白一片。是香港舞蹈真的沒有特色嗎？ 我看其實是未有足夠份量的舞蹈評論及研究，去為香港眾多的舞蹈創作定立指標而已。
伍宇烈 《男生》Yuri Ng’s Le Beau (1995)
第一個特色是快：這不單是指舞蹈動作的節奏和場景的轉換，而更是指編舞家們編舞心靈的快捷。香港三個職業舞團全年合共推出十五台全新節目，再加上其它半職業及業餘團體的演出，以有限的編舞家人數來說，可算創作量驚人。有說香港的舞編得快，跳得快，因此探討不夠深刻，演繹不夠嚴謹；可不知正是這點快，迫使編舞家們面對九七前變化萬端的香港社會，習練得反應敏捷，思維活潑靈動，推敲入微之餘，卻要直指本來，減去許多黏滯遲緩和迂迴曲折。八九年六月四日天安門事件，舉世矚目，我在八月初編演了舞劇《地獄變》以抒發熱賁張的感懷，至十月重演 《地獄變》時，內容卻迅速從呼天搶地，涕淚漣漣而轉注於表現事態發展的荒謬性。同年十一月，當普遍仍陷在悲愴的沉思內，我卻悠然敞開心扉，排演一支闡釋「時無止、分無常」而「萬物齊一」的莊子《逍遙遊》。三年後，一位旅美華人編舞家希望在城市當代舞蹈團排練用了三年時間編寫劇本的 《六月雪》而聲色俱厲地說：你難道忘記六四了嗎？ 她卻不曉得，銘記在靈魂深處的歷史創痕不會消失，香港舞蹈家們面對這瞬息萬變的時代，卻不曾為了舐舔傷口而讓腳步停頓下來。
黎海寧《隱形城市》Helen Lai’s Invisible Cities (1994)
梅卓燕《獨步》Mui Cheuk-yin’s Eulogy (1993)
第四個特色是銳。公認的香港人鬼馬機智，擅於逆境求生，往往在不可能的情況下鑽營出路。在香港發展舞蹈也是困阻重重，沒有足夠資源，沒有龐大市場，而作為一個開放的城市，從世界各地前來謀生的舞者絡繹不絕，再加上演藝學院每年培訓畢業的舞蹈學生，都要在這片彈丸之地找尋立足點。所以香港舞壇的競爭頗為激烈，生存不易；不過，香港的好處是，只要你願意，那管你來自什麼地方，說什麼方言，跳什麼風格的舞，都可以留下來成為香港舞壇一份子。這樣龍蛇混雜的情 況，使其中最優秀的舞蹈家鍛煉出敏銳的頭腦和鋒銳的目光，才能在紛紜擾攘中冒出頭來。自九十年代起，一批年青編舞家躍上舞台，爭妍鬥麗，他們要能人所不能，想人所不敢想，闢蹊徑，走偏鋒，如初生之犢般充滿銳氣。 「舞城」「動藝」「東邊」「南群」「方舟」「玄牝」「戀舞狂」「多空間」「雙妹嘜」「小圈舞班」「三分顏色」「嘩啦嘩啦」「霹靂啪叻」，單是舞者們組班的名字便已經各出奇謀，醒目搶眼。他們當中一些最好的作品，總能別出心裁，以銳利的觸角挖尋撩撥生活和藝術的各個層面，剌激觀眾。譬如方舟舞蹈劇場演出的舞劇《你係唔係我類型？ 》描述一個充滿神經質家庭中的瑣事，嬉笑怒罵地活現了今日社會中的種種怪狀，多空間及三分顏色又分別把舞台搬離劇院，表演於大埔農田上和灣仔游泳池中，舞城更嘗試用舞蹈入侵大學校園，在一個月之內要舞者每天在港大、中大、科大的升降機內、樓梯轉角及課室門口跳舞。
What are the characteristics of Hong Kong Dance? This is a worthwhile subject for the Hong Kong dance community to ponder. Because of our unique history as a colony, local artists were embarrassed whenever "Hong Kong characteristics" were mentioned. Invariably, "Hong Kong Characteristics" were equated with some sort of "east-west" combination — that of a Chinese society under British rule. On the surface, it was taking the best out of the traditions; actually it referred to an opus of second-rate work that belonged to neither tradition. These "east-west combinations" demanded no stringent artistic standards, no logical aesthetic criteria, no philosophical thinking about culture. Instead, we only looked for some elements of "east" and "west", combined in some novel manner. Dance pieces exhibiting these "Hong Kong characteristics" were too numerous to mention.
In the mid-eighties, the dance community began to realize the inadequacies of this formulation. Apart from a few who still championed this "east-west combination", the majority ceased to bring up this issue of "Hong Kong characteristics". Both seasoned workers as well as a younger generation in the dance community started to concentrate on developing individualistic styles instead in their output. They began to explore "individuality", "social issues" and "creative originality"; and although there weren't drastic battle cries of "in search of aesthetics in the Oriental body" as there was in Taiwan, or "Modernisation of Chinese ethnic dance" as there was in mainland China; local choreographers nonetheless worked hard for the next ten years or more to produce a thriving dance scene that represented significant progress and success. It is just a pity that there has not yet been any serious and in-depth study by any Hong Kong dance critic into this subject of "Hong Kong Dance Characteristics", so that we come up 'empty-handed' whenever this issue is discussed. Is it really true that Hong Kong Dance has no special characteristics? I rather think that there is a lack of detailed study and research done on the subject.
Before continuing to describe the characteristics of Hong Kong Dance, we need to mention its achievements: first, Hong Kong amateur dance excels in the international dance community, both in quality and quantity. By rough estimates, weekly attendance in dance classes (including ballet, Chinese ethnic, modern, jazz, various "national", ballroom etc.) tops 10,000; far more than total spectators at football games. As to professional dance: although there exists no absolute artistic standards, and although even international accolades contain a certain amount of subjectivity as well as a tendency to "over-praise"; nonetheless the following three facts can serve to prove our achievement in the dance world. First, Le Beau by Yuri Ng was awarded the grand prize in the French International Choreography Competition, which is considered to be the 'Olympics' of the dance world. Second, Mui Cheuk-yin was invited by the legendary Pina Bausch to represent Asia to perform on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of her company. Third, the Modern Dance movement in Mainland China uses Hong Kong as its blueprint, and continuously invites local teachers and choreographers up north. Our dance culture has significant impact on the long-term development of dance in China.
So just what are the characteristics of Hong Kong Dance? It is not simply "east-west" combinations, but a distillation of our work for the past ten years and more. If re-unification with China in 1997 represented a turning point in our culture and history, and we now look back to inspect dance development from the eighties to this significant benchmark in history; we realise that this period represented one of total experimentation: and although it is easy to criticize based on some immature works, this is not particularly important in our search for "Hong Kong Dance Characteristics". On the contrary, if we look closely at the finer works by some of the more prominent local choreographers, it's not difficult to conclude that although there are a myriad of individual styles, they share a common sense of 'class and 'charm', exhibiting both qualities on the outside and inside of our society prior to re-unification. Hong Kong Dance has four special characteristics: quickness, lightness, coolness, and sharpness.
The first characteristic is quickness: this is not only in dance action or scenery change, but rather quickness of mind in most Hong Kong choreographers. The three professional dance companies in Hong Kong put on.` fifteen new programs each season. Combining this with other programs put on by semi-professional and amateur troupes, we realise that this is a huge volume*, of work by a relatively small number of choreographers. There are those who say that because Hong Kong dance works are produced and danced in a hurry, that there is a lack of in-depth exploration and serious interpretation. However, it is precisely because local choreographers had to develop quick responses, flexible thinking, and a penchant for details when faced with a rapidly changing society in the final colonial days, that they could avoid side-tracking, and focused directly at their final 'artistic' destinations. What happened on June 4'h in Tienamen Square captured the world's attention. I choreographed Hell Scream in early August to vent my passionate feelings on this subject. Upon re-staging this piece in October, the piece had already been re-worked to reflect not so much the anguish and tears, but rather the ridiculous development of events. In November of the same year, when there was still a general mourning in society, I liberated my heart and produced Wonderings in the Cosmos, based on Chuang-tze's work, in which he explored the "time stops for no one, people part for no reason" and "all things are one" principles. Three years later, I was confronted by a Chinese American choreographer who wanted to put her work Liu Yue Shue (June Snow) on a CCDC performance, a work which she had spent three years to produce. She demanded to know if I had 'forgotten June 4. Little did she know that the historical blow suffered deep within one's soul does not fade with time. However, faced with the rapid pace of an ever-changing society, Hong Kong choreographers never stopped to 'lick their wounds'.
曹誠淵作品《地獄變》Willy Tsao’s Hell Screen (1989); 圖片由CCDC提供 Photo provided by CCDC
The second characteristic is lightness: referring not to emptiness, nor superficiality; but rather the ability to appear effortless when dealing with weighty issues under tremendous pressure. The current group of Hong Kong choreographers grew up under the colonial education system. They are generally considered to be 'deficient' in a sense of ethnicity or history. Even the best among them cannot, nor are they interested in producing works such as Taiwan's Survive or mainland China's The East Is Red; which are filled with ethnic passion. The culturally-inclined public complain that there is no major dance opus here exploring the unique history of Hong Kong, little do they know that some choreographers here are using a light and 'rootless' style to jot down this city's memory. Free of any historic baggage, they employ an agile technique to sculpt this city's appearance. Even when faced with the disintegration and damage of this city's culture, their relaxed attitude enables them to simply pick any topic at their whim - be it from the East, West, historical, or current - and create something that is more real than reality itself. Witness Helen Las Loose Pages in a Woman's Diary, in which she mixes Edith Piaf's songs with Frida Kaldo's paintings; or Revolutionary Pekinese Opera (Millennium Mix), which again mixes traditional Beijing Operatic elements with visions of Armageddon as depicted in the Bible in a highly convincing and yet almost inevitable way. Are these dances about Hong Kong? Looking closely, it's not difficult to sense the pressure of Hong Kong's people and its events. Yet under the choreographer's skilful treatment, it appears light as a small boat sailing through stormy waters. Another of Helen Lai's dances, Invisible Cities, describes Marco Polo's voyage to ancient China. This dance, based on Calvino's novel of the same title, depicts people and scenes along Marco Polo's journey. In the end, we realise that these depictions are actually a microcosm of his birthplace, Venice.
The third characteristic is coolness: this is an attitude that resulted from doubt in history and mistrust in society. Being neither a part of European tradition nor wanting solely to be a part of Chinese tradition, Hong Kong remains aloof and withdrawn. Getting one foot in the door, and yet ready to get away at a moment's notice, this is the best attitude in choosing topics for choreography and methods of portrayal. In watching fine Hong Kong dance pieces, audiences will not see unreserved, hysterical passion, whether the topic is as 'large' as country, race, or as 'small' as everyday happenings and emotions. We can say that Hong Kong choreographers have never used their works to sway public emotions, but treasure a certain 'coolness' they achieve from surpassing the actual 'facts' — they use their works to analyze current events, or share their inner-thoughts, or examine tradition; in an attempt to carve a transparent and clear artistic space for their audiences. Pun Siu-fai utilized a three-tiered stage in his Lost in a Melodramatic City and revealed a lot about specific local personalities through the character of a bystander; in Le Beau Yuri Ng employs six dancers to show in a dispassionate and controlled manner life's different kaleidoscopic desires in front of a relentless count-down clock; in Eulogy, Mui Cheuk-yin toys with a traditional oil-paper umbrella under rainy skies, exploring the different meanings and interpretations such an item invokes. These unique Hong Kong choreographers have very different concerns, and use entirely different methods to explore their subjects. Yet there is the common thread of choosing an austere coldness over loudness or noisiness as their language. Today Hong Kong has once again become a part of China, faced with a lot of patriotic slogans and 'hot' propaganda, this 'coolness expressed by Hong Kong's dance community appears even more precious than before.
潘少輝《狂人日記之花花世界》Pun Siu-fai’s Lost in a Melodramatic City (1996)
The fourth characteristic is sharpness: it is generally agreed that Hong Kong people are highly inventive, adaptable under difficult circumstances, and often successfully surmount extremely adverse situations. It is equally daunting for dance to prosper and grow here. Resources are limited, and there isn't a big market. Hong Kong is an open city, dancers from all over the world seeking to make a living keep arriving upon our shores. This plus the annual graduates from APA's School of Dance: everyone seeks to establish a foothold in Hong Kong. Competitions are indeed fierce, and it's not easy to survive. However, the advantage here is that no matter where you're from, what style of dance you practise, or indeed what language you speak; as long as you are willing to become a part of Hong Kong's dance scene, everyone is equally welcome. Within such a highly competitive local dance scene, it's little wonder that the best choreographers develop a sharpness of mind and acute sense of observation in order to excel. Since the 90s, a group of young choreographers arrived on the scene, bringing with them new topics, vying with each other to be the best in everything. Breaking new ground, daring to be different, they are wild as untamed stallions. Dancing City, Dance Art, E-side Modern Dance Company, South ASLI Dance Workshop, Ark Dance Theatre, Manna Dance, Danseomanie, Y-Space, McMuiMui Dansemble, Dance Circle, Three Colours, Wala Wala, Bilibala Physical Theatre. Just looking at the names of these new dance troupes and you get a feel for their one-upsmanship to capture your attention. Among their best works, one can always find a special quality, using a sharpness to pry and dig into the many levels of life and art, bringing a new excitement to the audience. Examples include Ark Dance Theatre's Are You My Type, which depicts everyday events among members of a high-strung family, a tongue-in-cheek revelation of strange phenomena in today's society; Y-Space and Three Colours breaking out of the confines of a traditional stage to perform respectively in the fields of Tai Po and in a swimming pool in Wanchai; and in Dancing City's case, they invaded university campuses with their dance; performing for an entire month within elevators, in corners of stairways, and classroom entrances on the campuses of Hong Kong University, Chinese University, and the University of Science and Technology.
Quickness, Lightness, Coolness, and Sharpness say a lot about Hong Kong choreographers, and at the same time represent this city's lifestyle. Once a colony, this city of ours still doesn't shy away from outside influences. While there are those who find it not deep enough, not profound enough, not passionate enough, and not encompassing enough; there are others who treasure it all the more because of its quickness, lightness, coolness, and sharpness. People ask why there is no Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch, Kazuo Ohno, or Lin Hwai-min here, and therefore no Post-Modernism, Dance Theatre, Butoh, or Chinese Modern Dance? Yet if we are willing to exercise a bit more thought, show a bit more concern, and dig a little deeper; then we will know that Hong Kong dance has its own characteristics, characteristics that no other place has. We will understand that we 'possess' a wealth of 'classy' choreographers who are uniquely ours; not to be found anywhere else in this world: not even the United States, Europe, Japan or anywhere else in the whole of China.
編輯手記 Editor's Note
另一方面，香港舞蹈的發展在九七前後也發展到了一個新階段。自1989年起，香港演藝學院舞蹈學院的學生開始陸續畢業，香港舞蹈界多了一批新一代的舞者。他們有些在舞團工作數年後自組新團，有些直接成為獨立舞者（ independent artists），經過一輪汰弱留強後，漸漸地在本地舞蹈界站穩陣腳，改變了香港舞蹈界的生態面貌。
作為香港第一代的現代舞蹈家，曹誠淵一直親身經歷這些本地專業舞蹈的轉變和發展。他亦是《舞蹈手札》的創刊編輯，他在1999年的創刊冊上，把九七前香港的舞蹈作品加以梳理歸納，整合出一些他觀察到的共同特質而舉出四點特色：「快、輕、冷、銳」，發表了上文《香港舞蹈有何特色》。相隔一年，《舞蹈手札》將此文譯成英文。刊登後不久，白朗唐（Tom Brown，1948-2018） 撰文《笑言之中…》回應曹誠淵提出的香港舞蹈特色，詳細地以三個香港編舞作品：梅卓燕的《弓弦之間》(1997)、黎海寧的《隱形城市》(1994) 選段及曹誠淵的《三千寵愛》(1998) ，分析三位編舞家如何做到「輕中有物」。
Tom生前為香港演藝學院的講師，亦為《舞蹈手札》的長期編輯 。他與曹誠淵這兩位編輯一西一中，長年於香港舞蹈界的不同崗位出力，亦有共同的願景，希望香港至少也能夠有一本舞蹈的專屬刊物，創造多一個空間給舞蹈評論刊登，也容讓年輕的獨立編舞作品獲得一定的評論機會，幫助創作人成長之餘， 進而一直紀錄著香港舞蹈的發展。
The social atmosphere associated with the handover before 1997 cast a shadow over Hong Kong and made a profound impact on the general public. It also brought inspiration to the arts and cultural community, resulting in creative works that were intentionally or unintentionally loaded with individual or collective consciousness. The transfer of sovereignty also brought international attention to the city and interest in its cultural scene. All these elements encouraged local artists to investigate and define the cultural identity of Hong Kong.
Dance development in Hong Kong had reached a new phase around the same time. In 1989, the first students started to graduate from the School of Dance of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and set out to build a career in the dance industry. Some of these young dancers joined existing companies, and after several years some founded their own groups while others became independent artists. After the process of 'natural selection', those that remained active gradually established themselves in the dance community and began to make changes to it.
As one of Hong Kong’s first modern dance artists, Willy Tsao witnessed how professional dance developed and changed in the city. He was also the founding editor of dance journal/hk. The very first volume of the Journal published his above article What are the Characteristics of Hong Kong Dance, in which he examined dance works in Hong Kong before 1997 and summarized the common qualities he observed using four characteristics: "quickness, lightness, coolness, and sharpness". Tom Brown (1948-2018) wrote Things Said in Jest… soon after the English translation of Tsao's article was published, a year after the Chinese version, in dance journal/hk. He explores Tsao’s idea of ‘lightness’ as a characteristic of Hong Kong dance through discussing the way that three works by local choreographers, Mui Cheuk-yin's Between Bow and String (1997), Helen Lai's Invisible Cities (1994), and Willy Tsao's own Sexing Three Millennia (1998) used a light-hearted approach to convey their messages.
Tom was a teacher at the HKAPA as well as a long-time editor of dance journal/hk. He and Willy, a westerner and a local Chinese, served the local dance community in different roles for a many decades. Both were editors of the Journal, where they shared the same vision, to have at least one dance publication in Hong Kong that would provide an opportunity for independent dance works to be reviewed. This would not only nurture local talent but also help to serve as a historical record of local dance development.
It has been 23 years since the handover, and nearly half the promised 50 years of Hong Kong remaining unchanged have passed. In the local dance scene, many dance artists of younger generations have joined the veterans to shine on stage. After years of consolidation, what inspirations can we find when we revisit scenes from the past and view them in the context of today? What characteristics of Hong Kong dance have been brought forward by the newcomers through the years?
「香港舞蹈口述歷史」網頁 https://www.dancehistory.hk 及出版物 –《拾舞話：香港舞蹈口述歷史》五十至七十年代（城市當代舞蹈團於2018出版）
“Research Project—Oral History of Hong Kong Dance Development” are published as this website (https://www.dancehistory.hk) and the book – The Unspoken Dance: An Oral History of Hong Kong Dance (1950s-70s), by City Contemporary Dance Company.
Hong Kong Dance History (Hong Kong Joint Dance Conference, published in 2000)