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15th hk arts development awards_舞蹈手札  67

[中][Eng]笑言之中… Things Said in Jest…

(原文刊於2000年《舞蹈手札》第二冊第八及第九期 Originally published on dance journal/hk 2-8 & 2-9 in 2000)

 

在香港的特有文代中,有一項是最為當代本地編舞者所巧妙掌握的。然而在另一方面,他們在處理其文化身份的問題上,和卻遇到進退兩難的問題。


在中國國內的編舞者,往往能集中注意力,以保守主意的沉重力量,及以歌頌古典或傳統的成就作為其文化身份的替身。然而本港的藝術家在編寫反映其身份的作品時,卻會考慮到各種不同的觀點,反而經常會視些古典及傳統的重彈為濫調。由於要考慮到種種不同的因素 ,難怪香港的編舞家往往被批評為對其社會環境缺乏清晰明確的解說。其實, 他們卻能將界定其文化的種種豐富而又各異的暗流,統合而成一較全面的看法;而且往往能夠避免用沉重的形式來達此目的。

 

在《香港舞蹈有何特色》一文中 , 曹誠淵指出四種香港舞蹈編舞家作品中常見的特點,「輕」是其中之一。曹把此「輕」與虛無、浮誇劃分,而形容之為能使舞蹈「如一葉輕舟,飄過激流」1的能力。我亦觀察到香港編舞者的作品中「輕」的一面。更為貼切地,我稱之為「輕鬆」。我相信本地編舞家透過此輕鬆的手法成功地明確反映其獨特的身份。
 

如果你認同「形式即是內容」的說法,那麼香港的藝術家正是以此「輕」及「輕鬆」的筆觸作為其文化身份的一部份。這些特點在他們的作品中是經過細心編排的 ,並不像電視中常見的通俗趣劇。這些編舞家作品中所展現的令人深省的洞察力,使「歡樂今宵」等趣劇中的「 輕浮變得沉悶而枯燥」2

 

香港的編舞家在使用「輕鬆」的手法上也有不同的方式。他們有的在沉重的聲音中尋求樂趣、有的諷刺、有的開玩笑、有的沉迷笑鬧、有的甚致投入於嘲弄中;但這些並不是他們使用「輕鬆」的唯一或主要途徑。相反,他們在編寫其反映當代和複雜世界之豐富多姿的舞蹈時,以「輕鬆」來調劑沉重的內容,來作為對比,來強調他們的觀點,以及來避免過於沉醉於其高昂的情緒中。「輕鬆」使他們能透過間接及抽離的手段,隱晦地處理舞蹈的內容,但同時亦容許他們維持其人性的態度。它亦減輕了由舞蹦蹈中批判性的內容而引起的「殺傷力」。舞評家很多時誤解此「輕鬆」為輕浮,因而錯失了這些藝術家對世界的強而有深度的觀察。其實,正是此一處理手法,使他們可以成功地在處理沉重問題的同時,不失卻其客觀性及批判力。

 

以下 ,我會在眾多的本地作品中, 選取三個出色的例子來分析本港的舞蹈家如何使用「輕鬆」來在觀眾前揭示其文化的各種剖面。由梅卓燕的《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)等作品中,我希望可以顯示他們如何使用「輕鬆」來豐富地、深入地、有力地處理嚴肅的問題。


在三個作品之中 ,梅卓燕最廣泛及直接地使用幽默於其作品《弓弦之間》。梅是城市當代舞蹈團的駐團編舞家,現在正在 Wupperthal 重演編娜.包殊的作品Le Sacre du Printemps 。她由中國舞轉向現代舞發展之前,曾在香港舞蹈團中擔任多年首席舞蹈員。《弓弦之間》正是她對古典及傳統文化中被緊緊界定的角色的一次超度 ,對性別定型的一個控訴,及對人類行為的一場教訓。

 

在《弓弦之間》, 梅「丑化」那些以別人的性別來取決其行為的人。她並不簡單地直接指謫這種行為,但卻透過「輕鬆」的手法,令她的教訓不單只可以為人接受 ,而且更可以令人享受。她將這信息化成一次角色倒轉的歷程。透過這形式,梅造成一種抽離的效果,使她可以將性別定型的行為引伸出一個荒謬的結論。在風趣的背後 ,這作品帶有一個意味深長的信息:一個要求我們摒棄性別偏見,人性地與人相處的人道主義看法。


於舞蹈開始時,五個女舞者同坐在椅子上。她們穿著及地長裙晚裝、鑲珠片的貼身上衣及層層疊疊的鬆身紗裙。她們的頭髮梳理整齊,配上水晶髮飾及珠光寶氣的天鵝絨衣領。她們代表著漂亮而高貴的女性。她們那經常在社交版上出現的形像,令我們認為她們是所有女性渴望成為的典範。可是,梅對她們的看法卻是扭曲的。這些模範女性張開她們雙腿,每一個都用左手抱著一個真人大小的男性布玩偶於胸前。她們的右手都握著一只大提琴的弓,模仿著奏樂的動作於玩偶上彈弄著。這些玩偶都是穿著禮服、白領帶、背心及黑褲。伴奏著的是歌劇《杜蘭朵》的Nessum Dorma! 。在熟悉的人物及扭曲的事物並置之下,舞蹈中的幽默悠然而生。那些女士們的打扮得宜,姿態正確,拉弓完美,音樂美妙;可是,她們卻遺下了她們的大提琴,取而代之卻是這些玩偶。

 

開始時,這些女士都能維持其修飾儀態。但隨著舞蹈的推進,她們開始用弓拍打她們的玩偶,撫弄著它們,用她們的雙腿纏繞著它們,把玩偶的腿掛在她們的頸上、頭吊在她們雙腿之間地倒置著它們。隨著那些熟悉的因素逐漸減少,舞蹈中的幽默感跟著提升。她們不再是社交名流,有禮地展示其演奏才能與巧妙技術,而卻變得越來越怪異,她們的行為也越來越可笑。

 

不久,舞蹈變得瘋狂。所有事物都不再正常,退而變得荒謬。隨著伴奏的音樂轉為比剛才誘人的《卡門》,女士們也將她們的玩偶摔過她們的頭頂,把她們的椅子翻倒於其上,把它們摔開,堆起它們,跳上它們,在它們之上翻觔斗,最後更拖著它們跳了一段探戈舞。在這幕完結時,女士們把玩偶放坐在吊下來的鞦韆上,一邊盪著它們,一邊快樂地叫喊著、尖叫著。最後,只有一個舞者及所有上坐在鞦韆上的玩偶留在台上。那舞者爬上其中一個鞦韆,坐在玩偶的腿上,一起升上空中,恰當地回應了喪失自由與渴望提升之間的連繫 3

 

跟著的一幕,其他的女士穿上了不同的舞衣,一個一個的回到台上。其中一個穿著「費明高」式舞裙,另外一個穿上腰封及魚網絲襪。跟著一個則穿上人鑲珠片的鬥牛勇士褲及燕尾服。最後一個穿著一條只有後半邊的短芭蕾舞裙。所有舞者都披下了頭髮。她們以緩慢而拉緊的動作,一邊拉扯著她們的頭髮及衣服,一邊穿過台上的空間。最後,台上的舞者問仍坐在鞦韆上的一人 :「上邊如何?」,而她的回應是:「不要問我」。

 

這間場起著緩和前一幕的滑稽及準備下一場更加深沉的鬧劇的作用。這間場起著一個關鍵的作用,連接著之前幽默的角色倒轉與之後的女性作為引誘者,性感尤物,河東獅及肉體展露者等陳腐的形像。她們扭動著,折騰著,拉扯著她們的衣服及身體,好像要脫開她們的皮膚——要擺脫這些角色的規限。

 

燈光熄滅後,場境又變。女士們再次坐在她們的椅子上,雙腿環繞著玩偶,手執琴弓,擺著準備彈奏的動作 。燈光一道道的亮起,照亮著每一個舞者。她們每人都有其一段短短的獨舞。她們拳打、拉扯、拍擊、鞭打、撫摸、扼勒、親吻、輕咬、戮刺、窒悶、倒轉、搖動、踩踏、摔開⋯⋯ 總之是虐待她們的玩偶。燈光再次熄滅後,女士們走在台前的低台上,排成一行,再次坐在她們的椅子上。歌劇《杜蘭朵》的曲調再次嚮起。數盆棕櫚樹在樂隊席中升起。在詠嘆調那最後的、令人傷感的音符中,一道道的水流從空中灑下,淋濕了台上的女士們。


梅卓燕在舞中將女性描繪成操控者,把男性比作被玩弄、被虐待及被享受的玩偶。舞中女性的行為是荒謬的。藉著把我們的期望倒轉,梅使用間接的方式來批評以男性為主導的社會對女性的壓制。在舞蹈中,她將此惡行的責任放在女性的肩上。在使我們嘲笑此等行為的同時,她亦巧妙地避免了女權主義者常用的、華而不實的濫調。最後,她並沒有把女性與男性分別定為被害者與惡魔,而巧妙地將性別排除於問題以外,只集中於批判人與人間相處的行為上。

 

與梅卓燕不同,黎海寧在她的《隱形城市》中並不多用幽默,只用它來平衡舞蹈中的破碎及抽離感。被傳媒稱為「香港現代舞女王」的黎海寧以古典芭蕾舞開始其舞蹈訓練。在英國當代舞蹈學校畢業後 ,返港編排商業電視節目、流行音樂和巡迴時裝展的伴舞。她是香港城市當代舞蹈團的創團成員,亦曾是該團的藝術總監和駐團編舞家,曾為本港和外國舞蹈團編寫了數十齣現代舞蹈。

 

《隱形城市》是黎海寧大約地根據卡爾維諾 (Calvino) 的同名小說而編寫成的作品,是一齣多層面,多元化的舞蹈。整個作品由一些不斷重現的元素所貫穿連接——包括了一個在台上頌讀卡爾維諾原文的旁述者、一個吉他演奏者、以及手提衣箱、雨傘、衣服、繩索、五彩碎紙、掛上了衣物的曬衣繩及電視螢光幕等道具。舞蹈本身則是在一個多層的舞台上進行。舞蹈員可以由台側、台後、舞台地板上的活門或藉著穿越部份佈景等方式進出舞台。音樂方面亦採用片段的形式,包括了由歐亞作曲家根據中西樂傳統所編寫的藝術音樂、當代及古典作品。舞者的衣服各異,但都是簡單而又色淡,大部份輕鬆飄逸,但亦有些是短而沒有確定性質,散發著一種毫無掩飾的味道。

 

《隱形城市》帶有一股漂浮的性質。這部份是由於在整齣舞蹈中,舞台均被一道道的燈光分割而成孤立的體系;但亦由於佈景、道具、編舞結構及那源於姿勢而非舞步的動作創作。雖然它們並非接近默劇的形式,而時常保持了一種不確定的感覺,這些因素卻慢慢累積成一種程式感。這不確定並非模糊不清,而是黎海寧藉以營造出那無根感覺的另一手段。

 

卡爾維諾的原著與馬可和勃羅東遊相關。在黎的舞蹈中,她透過一連串的漫遊、移置、離行及孤立來發展出此旅遊的主題。由於此舞編於一九九七年,很難叫人不將之視作為(最低限度間接地)隱喻了香港回歸所引起的紛爭及移民潮。整個作品滲出一種分割與未知的感覺。鄉愁瀰漫。舞蹈大都是在白色的燈光或陰影下進行,再加上白色的舞衣,營造出一種舞者與台上空間均被洗淨、褪色的感覺。

 

然而,在舞蹈的一幕中,舞台地板上的活門打開成一個充滿紅光的洞穴,吞噬了一群舞者。其後 ,這群舞者再次出現在台上,排成一行,一個一個地步向及跳入了這個不祥的血紅光洞中。

 

總括來說,《隱形城市》的調子是「輕」的,一種可以累積而容易變得不可承受的輕。但是,它並沒有變得如此。這是由於黎以她的智慧與一種扭曲了的輕鬆感來處理她的題材。

 

在舞蹈的中途有一段特別能減輕整個作品的舞蹈。六個舞者急急的爬上台後的牆上,緊緊地坐成一排。跟著 ,他們在這極之狹窄的空間中,利用有創意的姿勢及道具運用,進行了一連串快速而準確的動作。這是一場盡情遊玩、享樂及幽默的舞蹈,成功地起著支點的作用,平衡並支持起作品的前後兩半。上文提到的舞者被地洞所吞只的一段舞蹈,正是發生在此之後。黎利用這一小段幽默的間場來使她可以冒險地揭示出跟著的「吞噬」所引起的深沉情緒。

 

曹誠淵在其《三千寵愛》中用幽默來起一對比的作用 ,使觀眾可以同情一個不值得同情的人。曹是香港城市當代舞蹈轉的創辦人及藝術總監,亦曾於加拿大和廣州的現代舞團導演舞蹈。他現在亦是北京現代舞蹈團的藝術總監。曹曾經編排過題材廣泛的現代舞作品,同時亦是此範籌中的一個傑出的老師及理論家。

 

曹誠淵《三千寵愛》 Willy Tsao's Sexing Three Millennia

 

在《三千寵愛》中,曹以真實及傳說中女性的故事來看三千年的中國歷史。曹在這傑作的優美終篇中,重溫了文化大革命及其中的一個主導者:江青。舞蹈由一段將現代北京景像和毛澤東及其他領導人對著群眾演說的歷史片段混合剪輯而成的影片開始。開始時影片投射在台前布幕上,當半透明的前幕升起後,影像繼續投射在台後的白幕上,而舞蹈則在其前展開。好一個開場!男女舞蹈員皆穿上了同樣的黃褐色的、飾以緞布的古典芭蕾舞裙,緊身軍裝和鑲紅星和珠片的帽子,以穿著黑色軟膠底鞋的雙腳跳著芭蕾「腳尖舞步」(en pointe)。和舞蹈員在台上的空間中「框架 (frame)、相交、聚合及再聚合。他們的舞步一時是緊接的「串聯」(canon),一時是如軍隊般準確整齊的動作,一時卻是短而急速的獨舞、雙人舞、三人舞、四人舞及每個舞者都如獨舞員般地表演個別而複雜舞步的群舞。

 

舞蹈動作的語彙充滿了摔擲、散揚、和憤怒地踢腿的姿態,與舞蹈員的身軀及雙臂的收聚和削切的動作形成對比。所有動作均是急速地進行,間以爆炸性的、以手和腿的離心力所推動的跳躍及旋轉動作。這些動作,與一快速的、腿抬得高高的步操主題動作和分腿「凌空越」(grand jeté) 互相交替和重疊。雙人舞的片段則時而是雙倍或三倍速度的「慢步轉圈 」(promenades)和輔助下進行的「單足腳尖旋轉 」(pirouettes), 時而是舞者被倒轉、被操控,像是一袋袋米般被拖行、被運走,以騰出空間予新的事物。舞蹈由「快板」(allegro)開始,不久便變成了「急板」(presto),最後更演變成狂亂的動作爆發。影片於此時亦回應了這逼切感,加速中的影像極快地轉換著:毛澤東被麥當奴所取代;充塞著自行車的街道變成了公路;四合院換作了高樓。影片中,現代建築有如遺傳基因鏈般自行複製;舞台上,和舞蹈員一個接著一個的沿著對角斜線衝了出來,表演出一緊密串聯的瘋狂動作。

 

這段舞蹈與文化大革命的連繫,自舞蹈開始時便很明顯地注入觀眾的腦中。驟眼看,這只不過是一場滑稽的模仿。那些沿著對角斜線表演著追逐跳躍動作的舞蹈員 ,正是對《紅色娘子軍》一舞中的攜鎗芭蕾舞者的回應及嘲弄。但曹更進一步,將這些形像「玩轉」、解構:「越步」(jeté)轉成眾腿糾纏不清的「貓跳步」(pas de chat)。手臂的姿勢也由軍隊般的準繩轉變成瘋狂的旗語。在這樣的速度下,這舞蹈也變成本地的獨特創作。曹將意念與影像以一個不會在其他舞蹈中找到的步伐下進行。同時, 他亦深入這些影像,仔細地檢驗它們。他向中國及西方的先例致敬,然後再從中創造,形成一新的角度去探討他的題材。在這過程中,他並沒用迂腐的訓示,也避免了無力的悶語;而是含著笑、點著頭地鞭策著我們。透過編舞,他就如一個友善的智者般,在督促著我們要小心在意的同時,也要繼續前進。在他的編舞中,曹做到了:

 

「那些脫離了俗世壓力的詩人——哲學家的靈敏急躍,表現出他在具有深度與力量的同時,亦擁有「輕」之秘密,而那些被很多人和視為當代的活力——嘈吵、侵略性、引擎加速聲、咆哮——都屬於死亡的國度。」4

 

在這狂亂的一幕接近尾聲時,放映中的影像也加速到只餘下一模糊的定格,而一個舞者亦於此時慢慢地從白幕後拉出一個風格化的、困著江青這一角色的籠子來。這一震撼人心的影像,深深的在我們的腦海中,隱隱將江青比喻作玻璃被告欄內的人、浴槽中的馬拉(Marat)和手推車上的黎塞留(Richeleau)等西方歷史傳奇人物。江青這角色是由中國的首席男舞蹈員刑亮所演繹。一如其他的舞者,赤著腳的刑亮亦穿上黃褐色衣服:前方高高褶起而後擺垂至小腿中的泡狀紗裙和貼身舞衣。

 

刑亮是一個高大健碩的舞者。他經常以高雅的名家動作馳譽舞台。在曹誠淵的構思中,刑顯得接近沒有重量。台上舞蹈員四散,留下籠子及將於籠中出現的刑於台中心。音樂亦於這時由前一幕那富動感的拍子轉為較平淡而流暢的調子。這一幕與前一幕的對比是無與倫比的。曹的視野和觀點完全在這變化中顯露出來。曹並沒有將江青描述成一隻操控成狂的怪物,而以他的人道觀點來作為舞蹈的靈感。脫下裙子後,刑亮以悲哀、伸展和尋求的姿態演繹江青:一時輕倚籠子的橫杆,一時試著脫出籠牢,但最後仍是退回牢中。他對江青的演繹細緻,有如卡爾維諾描述希臘神話中波秀士 (Perseus)處理曼杜薩(Medusa)的頭顱為「對一個如此怪物般可怕, 但同時又有點碎弱的人的一點怡神心意」5

 

在這三個作品中, 幽默都起著重要的作用。每一個編舞家都有其不同的手法來運用「輕鬆」。在《弓弦之間》,梅卓燕選用角色倒轉的形式,以男性為玩偶,女性玩弄它們為題材,得出玩弄別人是一糟透玩意的結論。在《隱形城市》中,黎 海寧展現出一個不肯定及破裂的世界,並用幽默來揭露及批評她對一個不明朗的歷史性時刻的看法。在《三千寵愛》中,曹誠淵取樂於和嘲弄以進步為名的過份行為。他用幽默作為對比,揭露出一個因嘗試改變而招致破壞的角色背後人性的一面。

 

雖然「輕鬆」有不同的用法,但在三齣舞蹈中,都同時採用了提升、飄浮及無重的影像來支援舞中的幽默。在處理沉重的內容時,三個編舞家都以「輕鬆」的觀點來說明 :

 

「正如憂鬱是輕輕的哀愁,幽默是沒有重量的喜劇⋯⋯它質疑自我、世界和整個利害關係的網絡。」6

 

作為他們的文化身份的一部份,「輕鬆」被香港的編舞家用來解決其兩難困局,並在他們的作品中顯露出一獨步於同儕的批判能力。

 

Hong Kong has a unique culture that is adroitly captured by its contemporary choreographers. They face a dilemma, however, in dealing with issues of cultural identity.

 

Their counterparts elsewhere in China often present a more tightly focused view and use the weight of conservatism and the exaltation of classical or traditional achievement as stand-ins for cultural identity. Hong Kong artists consider many perspectives when composing work reflective of their identity but, are as likely as not, to view the repetition of the classical or traditional as cliched. Given the myriad inputs, it is not surprising to encounter critical views of Hong Kong artists that fail to discern the astute explication of their milieu that they present. Yet, they manage to put together an accomplished reading of the rich and diverse currents that define their culture and often manage to do so using means other than weightiness.

 

In What Are the Characteristics of Hong Kong Dance, Willy Tsao describes four qualities common to the work of Hong Kong choreographers. 'Lightness' is one of these. Tsao distinguishes lightness from emptiness or superficiality, instead describing it as the ability to fashion dance statements to appear effortless when dealing with weighty issues under tremendous pressure"1. I have also observed one facet of lightness in the work of Hong Kong choreographers. For want of a better term, I will call it 'light-heartedness'. I believe one way Hong Kong choreographers accomplish making astute reflections of their unique identity is through Iight-heartedness.

 

If one subscribes to the notion that form is content, then Hong Kong artists value lightness and a light-hearted touch as part of their cultural identity. Their reflection of this in their work is "thoughtful" and not the comedy that one sees on popular television. The thought provoking insights found in the work of these choreographers make EYT's "frivolity seem dull and heavy"2.

 

Hong Kong choreographers use light-heartedness in a variety of ways. They poke fun at weighty pronouncements, satirize, joke, indulge in slap-stick, even engage in ridicule: but, these are by no means their only or main uses of the device. Rather, they weave rich danced reflections of the complex contemporary world relying on light-heartedness to act as antidote for the weight of their statements, to serve as contrast, to highlight their views, and to help them avoid over-indulgence in the emotions of highly charged issues. Light-heartedness enables them to subtly approach subjects, through indirection and disengagement, while at the same time allowing them to maintain a humanist stance. It mitigates the sting that might otherwise arise from their commentary. In misreading this light-heartedness as glibness, critics miss the strength and depth of observations that these artists make about their world. Yet, it is this approach that enables them to deal as successfully as they do with weighty issues without losing objectivity and critical awareness.

 

In order to illustrate this thesis, I will examine three notable examples, among many, of the application of light-heartedness Hong Kong choreographers have used in revealing facets of their culture to audiences. By looking at Mui Cheuk-yin's Between Bow and String (1997), and sections of Helen Lai's Invisible Cities (1994) and Willy Tsao's Sexing Three Millennia (1998), I hope to show how they use light-heartedness to address serious issues with richness, depth, and strength.

 

Of the three works examined, humor is most extensively and directly used by Mui Cheuk-yin in her work, Between Bow and String. Mui, who has been a resident choreographer of the City Contemporary Dance Company, is currently in Wupperthal dancing in the revival of Pina Bausch's Le Sacre du Printemps. She came to modern dance from a Chinese dance tradition having spent several years as a principal with the Hong Kong Dance Company. Between Bow and String, is her exorcism of the tightly defined roles that are found in much of classical and traditional culture, an indictment of gender stereotyping, and a lesson on how not to behave.

 

In Between Bow and String. the choreographer makes clowns of those who base their behavior towards others on gender. She could simply condemn the practice. Instead, through light-heartedness, she makes her lesson not only palatable but also downright enjoyable. She poses her message as a jaunt, a foray into reversing roles. Through this reversal, she is able to effect a dislocation that allows her to carry gender stereotyping to its most outrageous conclusions. Behind the fun lies a profound message — a humanist outlook demands that we act humanly toward each other without regard to gender.

 

The work begins with five women seated on chairs. They are dressed in floor-length evening gowns with fitted, sequined, halter bodices and flared, multi-layered, chiffon skirts. Their hair is done up with rhinestone tiaras and they wear jeweled, velvet chokers. They represent the beautiful women, the exalted ones, the models who, through their regular appearance in the society pages, we are led to believe, all women aspire to become. Mui's picture is askew, however. Her paradigms have their legs spread and each clutches a life-sized, male, doll-like dummy to her breast with her left hand. Their right hands hold cello bows with which they imitate the playing action against the dummy. The dolls are formally dressed in white tie and vest with black pants. A recording of Nessum Donna! from Turandot accompanies the scene. The humor arises from the juxtaposition of the familiar with the thing out of kilter. The women are right; their posture is correct; the bowing perfect; the music beautiful; but, somehow they've mislaid their cellos and instead picked up these dummies.

 

At the beginning, the women maintain their decorous touch. But, as the work proceeds, they begin to beat the dummies with their bows, caress and fondle them, wrap their legs around them, invert them so that the dolls' legs drape around the women's necks, the heads dangle between the women's legs. The humor escalates, as the familiar elements become less and less so. Rather than society matrons, politely demonstrating their very competent and delicately executed skills at the cello, they become more and more peculiar, their behavior more and more outrageously laughable.

 

Soon mayhem ensues. Nothing is as it should be, but has deteriorated to the ridiculous. To the accompaniment of the seduction music from Bizet's Carmen. the women toss the dummies over their heads, tip their chairs back onto them, throw them around, pile them up, jump and cartwheel on them, and finally grab them and dance a tango. At the end of this scene, swings are flown-in on which the women, screaming and squealing with delight, seat and swing the dummies. As the scene shifts, one dancer and the swinging dummies are left on stage. She mounts one of the swings, sitting in a dummy's lap and together all are flown halfway into the flies, neatly echoing the link between privation and the desire for levitation 3.

 

In the next scene the other women return, one by one, dressed in an assortment of costumes. One wears a flamenco dancer's dress, another a bustier and fishnet hose, the third sequined toreador pants and a tail coat, and the fourth wears a costume that features a short, half tutu sprouting from her buttocks. All wear their hair down. They move through the space with slower, tenser actions, tugging at their hair and costumes. As the dummies and the fifth dancer hang over them, the scene ends with the dancers on the floor asking the suspended one: "How is it up there", she responds: "Don't ask".

 

The interlude provides a lull in the clowning of the previous and presages the darker shenanigans of the next scenes. It serves as a keystone, bridging the beginning's humorous role reversal with the more hackneyed images of woman as seducer, sex kitten, emasculator, and genitalia displayer. With the dummies hanging over them, the women squirm, writhe, pull at their clothing and at themselves, as if trying to get out of their skins —out of these rigid roles.

 

After a black-out, the scene is restored, the women are again sitting in their chairs, straddling their dummies, bows poised ready to resume playing. Each is sequentially highlighted in a pool of light. Each has a brief solo. They punch, pluck, beat, whip, caress, strangle, kiss, bite, poke, stab, smother, upend, shake, stomp, toss, and generally abuse the dolls. After another black-out, the work ends as the women, again to operatic accompaniment, line their chairs up on a low downstage platform. Potted palms rise from the orchestra pit and on the final, maudlin note of the aria, streams of water pour from the flies, drenching the women.

 

Mui portrays the women as the manipulators and the men as dolls to be toyed with, abused, and enjoyed. The women's behavior is ridiculous. By turning our expectations upside down, Mui takes the indirect route in criticizing male dominated society's oppression. She places the onus of misdeed on the women's shoulders. By enabling us to laugh at the whole thing, she also wittily avoids cliches that frequently accompany feminist rhetoric. Finally, rather than making women victims and men ogres, she subtly removes gender from the equation and focuses on the action of one person toward the other.

 

Unlike Mui Cheuk-yin, Helen Lai uses humor sparingly and as a balance for the fragmentation and sense of dislocation in her Invisible Cities. Lai, who has been described by the press as the 'queen of Hong Kong modern dance' began her training in classical ballet. After studying modern dance at the London Contemporary Dance School she returned to Hong Kong to produce back-up choreography for commercial television, pop music, and trunk shows. A founding member of the City Contemporary Dance Company she has served as its artistic director and resident choreographer and has choreographed dozens of modern dance works for Hong Kong and international companies.

 

Invisible Cities is loosely based on Calvino's work of the same title. Lai's is a multi-layered, many-sectioned work connected by recurring appearances of an on-stage narrator reading from Calvino's text, a guitar player, and props such as suitcases, umbrellas, cloths, ropes, confetti, garment draped clotheslines, and television monitors. The action of the dance is played out on a multi-leveled stage with entrances and exits from the side and back stage as well as into traps in the stage floor and over and from parts of the set. The musical setting employs a sectional form as well, with selections ranging from art music, contemporary, and historic work from Asian and western composers and traditions. The dancers are dressed in a variety of simple, light colored costumes, many have a draped and flowing quality while others are brief and neutral, evoking a sense of clothing without covering.

 

黎海寧《隱形城市》Helen Lai's Invisible City (1991) 攝Photo:陳德昌 Ringo Chan

 

The work has about it a floating quality, in part because, throughout the dance, different sections of the stage are isolated in pools of light, but also due to the set, the props, the choreographic structure, and a movement invention that eschews steps for gestures. These at times take on a programmatic feeling even though they never approach mime and always maintain a sense of indetermination. This indetermination is not Lai's recourse to vagueness, but rather another means by which she invests the dance with a sense of being adrift.

 

Calvino's work relates to Marco Polo's journeys in the East. In her work, Lai develops this theme of journeying through episodes of wandering, displacement, departure, and isolation. Choreographed in 1997, it is difficult to avoid connecting the work, at least indirectly, through its metaphors, with the conflicting issues of the Hong Kong Diaspora and reunification. Throughout, there is a sense of disconnection and uncertainty. Nostalgia pervades. Most of the dance is cast in white light or shadow. Together with the white costumes the lighting creates a feeling of the dancers and space being leached, deserted of color.

 

In one scene, however, a trap door opens and a group is swallowed-up into a gaping red-lit hole. Later the dancers re-emerge, line up and proceed to jump, one by one, into this ominous red well of light.

 

Overall, the work's tone is one of lightness, one that accumulates and might easily become unbearable, but doesn't, because Lai approaches her subject with wit and a wry sense of amusement.

 

A passage that particularly buoys the work occurs midway through the dance. Six dancers scuttle onto the top of the upstage wall and sit side by side in close formation. Thus positioned, they proceed to execute a series of movements in the extremely confined space with split-second precision using inventive gestures and prop manipulation. The scene is an abandonment to play, joy, and humor and acts as a fulcrum, balancing the two halves of the work aloft. It is after this wall-sitting sequence begins that the descents into the pit occur. Lai uses this humorous little interval to enable her to take greater risks, to uncover the deeper emotions that the decent elicits.

 

Willy Tsao uses humor in his work Sexing Three Millennia as a contrasting device and to enable the audience to empathize with an unsympathetic character. Tsao, the founder and artistic director of the City Contemporary Dance Company, has also directed modern dance companies in Canada and Guangzhou and is currently also the artistic director of the Beijing Modern Dance Company. He has choreographed an extensive range of modern dance works and is a leading teacher and theoretician of the genre.

 

In Sexing Three Millennia, Tsao looks at 3,000 years of Chinese history through the stories of real and mythical women. Tsao's revisiting of the Cultural Revolution and one of its architects, Jiang Qing, in the exquisite finale of his masterful work, opens with a film montage of scenes from contemporary Beijing inter-cut with historical footage of Mao and other leaders exhorting the masses. The film is projected onto the proscenium and as the scrim lifts, continues on the cyclorama, as the dance unfolds before it. And how the dance unfolds! Men and women dressed identically in khaki colored, satin trimmed classical tutus, military tunics, caps with red stars and sequins, and shod in black trainers on which they rise en pointe. The dancers frame, intersect, assemble, and reassemble in the space. They move in tight canon, in unified formations with military precision, in brief racing solos, duets, trios, quartets, and groups in which each member is a soloist performing individual, complex phrases.

 

The movement vocabulary is full of flinging, scattering, and kicking furious leg gestures contrasted with gathering, carving movements of the torso and arms. Everything is done on the run and punctuated with explosive air work and spins that are propelled by the centrifugal force of the arms and legs. These take turn, or are juxtaposed against, a double time, knees held high, marching motif and split-legged grand fete. Partnering episodes move between promenades, and aided pirouettes done at two or three times the normal speed and scenes were dancers are upended or maneuvered like sacks of potatoes, baggage being hauled around, carted off to make way for something new. The dance, which begins at an allegro pace, soon steps up to presto, and finally progresses to a frenetic explosion of movement. The film echoes this urgency, with images accelerating and changing within split seconds: Mao giving way to McDonald's; bicycle clogged streets to freeways; courtyard houses to high-rises. In the film, modem buildings clone themselves, like DNA strands replicating; while on the stage, dancers sprint into the space, one after the other along the diagonal, performing a tight canon of delirious movement.

 

From the moment the dance begins, the obvious references to the Cultural Revolution are called to mind. On first glance it could seem to be all spoof. The long diagonal lines of dancers performing the chasing leaps, echoing and poking fun at the gun toting ballerinas from The Red Detachment of Women. But Tsao takes it further, setting these images on their heads, deconstructing them — the fete changing to pas de chat, or jumps with legs that get tangled in themselves. The arm gestures metamorphosing from being militarily precise to frantic semaphores. In its speed, the dance is singularly Hong Kong. Tsao processes ideas and images at a pace that can be found in no other choreography. Yet, he reaches deeply into these images and examines them from a minute perspective. He pays homage to both Chinese and Western antecedents then re-invents, formulating a new perspective on the issues he tackles. While doing so, he is never pedantic, he never plods, but whips along with a smile and a nod resembling, through his choreography, a benevolent sage who keeps urging us to be aware; but also, to move on. In his choreography, Tsao makes:

 

“the sudden agile leap of the poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world, showing that with all his gravity he has the secret of lightness, and that what many consider to be the vitality of the times — noisy, aggressive, revving and roaring — belongs to the realm of death... 4

 

Towards the end of this orgiastic scene, the film images speed to a single blurred frame and one of the dancers slowly pulls a stylized cage, holding the character Jiang Qing, from behind the rising cyclorama. This striking invention imprints itself on our imagination, positing Jiang allegorically with the man in his glass booth, Marat in his bathtub, or Richeleau on his hand trolley. Jiang is portrayed by China's premiere male modern dancer, Xing Liang. Like the other dancers he is dressed in khaki colored costume. His is a satin, bouffant-shaped skirt tucked up high around the front and draped to mid-calf behind, worn overtop a leotard. He is bare-footed.

 

Xing is a big, muscular dancer who generally commands the stage with grand virtuosi movement. In the scene as conceived by Tsao, Xing becomes almost weightless. The corps disperse, leaving him and the cage from which he has emerged in center stage. The music changes from the driving pulse of the preceding scene to a leaner, more legato tune. The contrast between this scene and the one that came before could not be greater. In this change. Tsao's vision and unique perception is fully revealed. Rather than present Jiang Qing as a controlling monster, Tsao chooses to imbue the scene with his humanist point of view. After discarding the gown, Xing dances Jiang, with plaintive, stretching and reaching gestures. at times softly lounging upon the horizontal bars of her cage, making tentative forays away from it and finally retreating back into it. His characterization of Jiang Qing is as delicate as Perseus' disposal of Medusa's head interpreted by Calvino as a "refreshing courtesy toward a being so monstrous and terrifying yet at the same time somehow fragile and perishable." 5

 

In each of these three works humor plays an important role. Each choreographer employs light-heartedness differently. Mui chooses to reverse roles in Between Bow and String, men become the dolls, women play with them. In the end, however, she concludes that the whole idea of manipulation is all wet. Lai presents a world of uncertainty and fragmentation in her Invisible Cities and uses humor to reveal and critique her interpretation of a particularly opaque historical moment. In Sexing Three Millennia, Tsao relishes and ridicules the excesses used in the name of progress. He uses humor as a contrast, revealing the humanity behind the agent whose attempts at change wreak havoc.

 

Although light-heartedness is used differently in each, in all three works, images of levitation, floating, and weightlessness arc employed to support the humor. The choreographers all rely on a light-hearted point of view when addressing weighty issues and through this device illustrate the observation that:

 

"As melancholy is sadness that has taken on lightness, so humor is comedy that has lost its bodily weight... It casts doubt on the self. on the world, and on the whole network of relationships that are at stake." 6

 

In resolving their dilemma by presenting, as a facet of their cultural identity, light-heartedness, Hong Kong choreographers reveal a critical awareness through their work that is unique among their peers.

 

 

註 Notes:

  1. 曹誠淵(2000),《香港舞蹈有何特色》,《舞蹈手札》第二冊第四期(香港:香港舞蹈聯盟),第三頁
    Willy Tsao, (2000) 'What are the Characteristics of Hong Kong Dance' in Dance Joumal/HK, Vol. 2 No. 4 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Dance Alliance). p.3

  2. Italo Calvino, (1996) 'Lightness' in Six Memos for the Next Millennium. (London: Vintage — Random House). p. 10

  3. 同上, 第二十七頁  Ibid., p. 27

  4. 同上, 第十二頁Ibid., p. 12

  5. 同上, 第六頁  Ibid., p. 6

  6. 同上, 第十九頁  Ibid., p. 19

編輯手記 Editor's Note

 

九七主權移交的社會氛圍,為香港藝文圈與大眾市民帶來了一定的衝擊,啟發了很多創作,其作品有意無意地裝載了個人或集體意識。同時,因為九七的緣故,世界的目光都注意到這個彈丸之地,很多外國朋友也想了解一點香港的文化面貌。因此種種,催生了有關文化身分的思考。

 

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《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) 撰寫上文《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。

 

《舞蹈手札》多年來側寫及正寫香港舞蹈的作品及人物,相信透過不停的書寫、紀錄、研究,再沈澱及論證,可為這個時代的舞蹈作品中反映的藝術方向、社會人民、時代思潮,留下一個註腳。回溯過去,識辨既往與當下之間的連接,並以史為鑑,一往無前。

 

今年離九七已經23年,「五十年不變」的承諾已經過了一半,在本地舞壇亦有很多後起之輩加入前輩們照亮舞台。回頭再看,到底沈澱多年,用今天的脈胳去看當年的場景可有新啟發?而這些年的長江後河又有為香港帶來了怎樣不同的特色?

 

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 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 the above article 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?

 

【延伸閱讀Extended Reading】

 

「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.

 

《香港舞蹈歷史》 (香港舞蹈界聯席會議於2000出版)

Hong Kong Dance History (Hong Kong Joint Dance Conference, published in 2000)

客席編輯Guest Editor: 劉秀群Cathy Lau Sau Kwan | 翻譯Translation:施德安 Cecil Sze  

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