周書毅眼中的香港 Hong Kong in the eyes of Chou Shu-yi
Encounters from the Outside Readings from the Inside
翻譯 Translation: Caesar Choi
《無用》never-never land ；編舞：王榮祿Ong Yong Lock、周書毅 Chou Shu-yi；照片由周書毅提供 Photo provided by Chou Shu-yi
I remember when I first met Chou Shu-yi, he was invited by E-Side Dance Company for A Showcase of Asian Dancers, to perform his own short piece Start with the Body in 2008. That was the first time he officially came to Hong Kong to perform. My response at the time was: are all male dancers so energetic? During our interview, his legs never stayed still, he took every chance to stretch, his body never stopped moving around. Shu-yi has now been coming to Hong Kong, leaving and coming back again, for a decade. When I look at his collaborations with different dance artists in Hong Kong, one can see him unveiling the secrets of this city with the curious eye of an outsider their destinies entwining more and more tightly. His most recent stay in Hong Kong also happened to come at a critical time for the city. In the midst of turbulence, he did not stop thinking, much less refraining from exploring broader questions: What is art? Can theatre still have any impact?
周書毅與香港的相遇 Encounters of Chou Shu-yi with Hong Kong
“Oh, my first impressions of Hong Kong... Why are there performance spaces in the same building as wet markets? This is so interesting, as it seems to draw us closer to daily life.” Shu-yi stretched his shoulders as he mentioned his curiosity about the “civic centres” in Hong Kong when he first saw them. “Then I realised that there are still struggles with box office here. Cultivating contemporary dance is not easy. It's challenging. And I returned for the challenges." This marked the start of the connection between Hong Kong and Chou Shu-yi the creative artist, while that between Hong Kong dance and Chou Shu-yi the spectator may be traced back even earlier.
Almost 20 years ago, Cloud Gate 2 was founded and Lo Man-fei, then the artistic director, brought Yuri Ng’s Boy Story over to Taiwan. Shu-yi, still a secondary school student at the time, was among the audience for the show. “I was very excited when I watched this Hong Kong production at the time because it was so open. In it, a boy came out wearing a fengguanxiapei. It was open, not because of a male performer wearing female costume but because the production had been performed again and again, and even been invited to Taiwan. The mentality of the work was open -- it was not limited by any restraints .” The Taiwan version of Boy Story featured Bulareyaung Dance Company, and Sun Shang-chi, who later went to work in Germany. Who would have thought that 18 years later in the revival of Boy Story, it would be Shu-yi who would take the exact role which Sun performed back then. “All the memories poured in as I touched the barre!” He laughed. “I still recall the thrill I felt at that time, and I’ve been wondering how to achieve that kind of thrill again.”
Editor’s note: a traditional Chinese wedding shawl for women
《男生．男再生》Boy Story．Reborn；編舞 Choreographers：伍宇烈Yuri Ng、王榮祿Ong Yong Lock；攝 Photo：Maurice Lai
What makes teenage years so precious is their numerous chance encounters, some of which can unexpectedly catch fire and open up a potential path of life. “Teenagers matter a lot.” He thought of Hong Kong today. “As an adult, it’s is easy to underestimate the possibilities that teenagers hold. I understand this because I’d already left home for school when I was fifteen or sixteen and was living a self-sufficient life by then, buying tickets for dance shows myself. You don’t know when something is going to open up in your life or what it will be. The most thrilling energies of my life started from that age. Eighteen years later, learning Boy Story reminded me vividly of how it made me feel back then - the impact it made on my own path of life, how it drove me to aspire to something. Perhaps that was what further affirmed my dedication to dance.”
Shu-yi came across Yuri Ng’s work, produced in Ng’s thirties, at a young age and revisited the world of the work when he himself entered his thirties. “I feel like both me and Hong Kong happened to have been approaching the age, at which these Hong Kong core (dance) artists are at their most energetic, and which is also the age I am at right now.
體驗逼窄 Experiencing the Cramped Space
和伍宇烈與香港小交響樂團合作《拉威爾1875 vs 拉威爾2012》，和王榮祿與不加鎖舞踊館合作《無用》、《男生．男再生》，再到為城市當代舞蹈團編創《Almost 55 喬楊》，在黎海寧的經典作品《春之祭》中飾演關鍵角色，書毅待在香港的時間越來越長，他也有意識地打破原本演出的製作模式，希望在香港常駐來增加創作體驗。「要這樣我才知道這個地方是怎麼樣的，不然都是假的。這個地方的藝術圈很小，其實不大容易進入，並不是因為它封閉，而是你要怎樣進入這個環境？不是只是帶自己的演出來，演完就走。」從《無用》開始，幾個作品下來，他在香港住了半年半年又半年，「一路住住住，住出了感情。」他笑，「在這個地方生出作品，就好像種一棵樹，每天看著它，跟你在台灣做完帶過來完全不一樣。這裡變化很快，如果每次都是『in and out』（進進出出）不斷地走，好像沒有什麼收穫就要告訴大家我做完了。一個藝術要成『家』很難，可是現在藝術家太多了，這麼多的藝術家，我想讓自己完全地『slow down』（慢下來）——作品都沒有很滿意的時候怎麽能就走？」
From collaborating with Yuri Ng and the Hong Kong Sinfonietta on Ravel the Time Traveller, and with Ong Yong Lock and Unlock Dancing Plaza on never-never land and Boy Story．Reborn, to choreographing Almost 55 and taking an important role in Helen Lai’s Rite of Spring, Shu-yi has spent more and more time in Hong Kong over the years. During these times he has consciously broken away from the usual way of creating productions, and sought to accumulate creative experience through residencies in Hong Kong. “This is the only way I can get to know this place. Or else it’s illusory. The art circle here is small and it’s not easy to fit in. It’s not easy, not because it’s closed or exclusive, but how are you going to enter their [Hong Kong artists] context? It’s not about just bringing my performances here and leaving.” He has stayed in Hong Kong to create works many times since never-never land. “I stayed and stayed. And an attachment grew,” he smiles. “Developing my piece here is like growing a tree. Here I can take care of it every day, which is entirely different from bringing a ready-made work from Taiwan. Changes are rapid here. If I come and go, in and out, then I would need to tell people my work is completed even if I hadn’t achieved much. It’s not easy to develop an art work fully as an artist. Yet there are too many artists nowadays. Among so many of them, I just want to let myself slow down completely -- How can you just leave when you’re not entirely satisfied with your work?”
《無用》never-never land ；編舞：王榮祿Ong Yong Lock、周書毅 Chou Shu-yi；照片由不加鎖舞踊館提供 Photo provided by Unlock Dancing Plaza
When he produced never-never land, Shu-yi was living in a small room in Jordan district. “Probably the smallest place I’ve ever lived in!” Looking out from the tiny window at the traffic outside, feeling the unique intensity of the urban environment, ranting about the lack of options for vegetarians, yearning for those visible yet inaccessible rooftops, surprising himself with the capacity for diversity in such a cramped space… Amid this multitude of shifting images, he seemed to have felt the pulse of Hong Kong and seen the spring of creative energy here, as well as experiencing the difficulties faced by foreign artists living here. “For a foreign artist to survive and create work here, one must come with a generous sum of subsidies, something which I think is right in one way and not right in another.” It is right, he explains, because the balance between the economy and the arts is in fact really important; and while subsidies do not necessarily mean an enormous sum of money, they should at least afford the necessary resources for the artist to work. It is not right because artistic creativity should not rely on or be limited by a system of subsidies, but be exposed to far wider possibilities. “In these few years, a lot of Hong Kong artists have been abroad for exchanges, where they seem to have been generously subsidised. I didn’t have much financial assistance in comparison when I first started choreographing in Taiwan. Of course, we can’t compare one generation to another. However, I am curious. Are there people who are still making work without subsidies in Hong Kong? That makes a very big difference. I’ve met people who say, yes, you can still do it. Without the stage you can do a showing in the studio; without the showing, you can do talks... But it seems like everything here follows a system. Over time, sticking to this system becomes like drawing the same circle again and again in the same place, on the same piece of paper. Eventually, the paper will tear. You need to draw different circles.”
閱讀香港 Reading Hong Kong
書毅說，在香港待久了，那些體驗自然滲透在創作中，例如選音樂時的節奏會與台灣的城市節奏不同，作品中對自然的取態也有變化；而透過在這裡長出的一個個作品，他好像也在不停地“閲讀”香港。《男生．男再生》時，他去讀這班馬來舞者身上混雜的香港痕跡，讀他們身體的歷史和對舞蹈的堅持與放棄。到了《Almost 55 喬楊》與喬楊的合作，則是出於好奇，去尋找一個沒有放棄跳舞的舞者，最終見證了這個身體的「奇蹟」。而到了黎海寧（Helen）所創作的《春之祭》，他好像藉著黎的眼睛潛入過往，那片屬於香港那個年代的吉光片羽。
Shu-yi says that he has spent enough time in Hong Kong for his experiences here to be naturally interwoven with his creative process. For example, he may pick songs with rhythms different from that of Taiwanese cities, and take a different stance towards nature in his work -- and, through all these works he produced here in Hong Kong, he seems to be “reading” Hong Kong again and again. In Boy Story．Reborn, he was reading the traces of Hong Kong on the bodies of the Malaysian dancers, reading the history of their bodies, their perseverance and the sacrifices they’ve made for dance. In Almost 55, his collaboration with Qiao Yang, he started from the fascination of finding a dancer who had not given up on dance, through which Shu-yi witnessed the “miracle” of this dancer’s body. In Helen Lai’s version of Rite of Spring, he was diving into the past through her perspective, a fragment of the precious gem Hong Kong was in that era.
 編按：《男生．男再生》由兩部分組成：以原班人馬復刻經典《男生》及回顧原作而創新的作品《男再生》。書毅在第一部分中，與曾參與原版《男生》的五位馬來西亞舞蹈演員合作。Editor’s Note: Boy Story．Reborn consists of two pieces, the revival of the classic Boy Story with the original cast and the retrospective complementary work Boy Story Reborn. Chou performed in the first piece, where he worked with five other dancers, all Malaysian, from the original cast of Boy Story.
 編按：在《Almost 55 喬楊》裡，書毅為舞齡已超40年的喬楊度身排舞。
Editor’s Note: Almost 55, was choreographed by Chou for Qiao, whose dance career spans four decades.
《Almost 55 喬楊》排練Rehearsal of Almost 55；攝 Photo：陳長志
「他們說當年《春之祭》演出時，觀眾的人口更少，當年演兩場，都沒有滿座就結束了。嘩，那個時候藝術家在面對什麼？還可以搞這麼大的節目，我很佩服，佩服Helen的那個力量，用藝術留下了力量。」27年前的香港，27年前的舞蹈，27年前的藝術家，經由Helen的口述來到書毅面前，「每次結束去喝個咖啡，聽她分享很多過去的故事、看過的電影或喜好音樂，每次聽都聽不完。那是就覺得，對，『you have to keep learning』（你要不斷學習）。特別是她說到，她覺得自己還是一直在練習編舞。嘩，你四十多年了，都還是在練習，那我在搞什麼？所以，作為創作者你不能太自負，練習真的很重要。我們經常只是看到藝術家表面的一面，參與了她的創作才會知道，裡面的結構這麼複雜，現在去跳仍然有那麽多的東西可以學。她做《春之祭》時的年紀是四十出頭嘛，你會覺得，你永遠不知道什麼時候的作品是最好的，必須永遠地『practice』（練習）。」
“They said the audience numbers were even smaller back then. Two performances only, no full house, and that’s it. Wow, what were the artists facing back then? How could they even manage to stage such an enormous production? I’m full of admiration. I admire Helen’s energy, an energy she has preserved through art.” Hong Kong 27 years ago, dance 27 years ago, artists 27 years ago, all these were brought to life right in front of Shu-yi, through Lai’s words. “Every time we went for coffee, I listened to Helen’s stories, the films she watched, or some good music she listened to. I could just go on listening to her stories forever. Then I thought, yes, I have to keep learning, especially when she says she is still practicing every time she choreographs. Wow, she has been doing it for forty years and more, and she’s still trying to improve. What am I doing then? Creative artists cannot be arrogant. Practice matters. We always see just the surface appearance of artists. It was only when I took part in her production that I got to know how complex the structure was within it. There is so much more to learn even if you dive in right now… She was in her early forties when she did Rite of Spring, right? I guess you never know when you’ll create your best work. You need to keep practicing forever.”
Staying in Hong Kong in the present times has allowed Shu-yi to read another facet of the city. “What I’ve felt and experienced myself, is how political atmosphere influences the art scene. In the past few years, I went through a very positive period in the Hong Kong art scene. When I performed Boy Story．Reborn and Rite of Spring, a lot of audience members came forward to share and ask questions. And then with the different incidents that have taken place this year, I definitely felt how they influenced (the creative processes), it’s just that we have yet to make work to respond to this influence.
黎海寧與周書毅在台灣 Helen Lai and Chou Shu-yi in Taiwan；照片由周書毅提供 Photo provided by Chou Shu-yi
The seismic shifts and conflicts which they’ve been witnessing and experiencing have utterly transformed life and everything they care about for artists here. Everyone keeps searching and wondering how things will change in the future. “But reflection is a must,” Shu-yi says. “ A creative artist is a very strange type of being. We are not a pharmacy on Nathan Road which can close its doors. We never close the door, even when there are no works being created and no performances taking place. Since I am not teaching in either Hong Kong or Taiwan, my living is a bit tight. But this choice that I made means creating work is my full-time job, with or without money. That’s why I also like to write. When I cannot create, cannot choreograph, cannot go to classrooms, what else can I do? I can still think. Otherwise, my identity will be lost. This is a complicated time. Dialogue doesn’t always take place through the arts, and I guess there will be a period of time when dialogue through dance works is not possible. There will be a stagnancy and tickets won’t sell. It will be difficult to create good stuff.”
“Life follows the political context. Don’t fool yourself.” Artists cannot avoid resonating with what is happening in Hong Kong. “What should be asked in this situation is this: what should art be about? Can the theatre still have any impact? Where are the artists? These are very important concerns.”
《春之祭》Rite of Spring；編舞choreographer：黎海寧 Helen Lai; 攝 Photo：Yu Chung Chen