Performer: Lee Chun-chow. Photo provided by CCDC.
Created by leading choreographer Helen Lai in 2006, Testimony was revived for the opening program of the City Contemporary Dance Festival 2017. The work is mainly based on Shostakovich’s compositions and was inspired by the controversial book Testimony, ostensibly the memoirs of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The dance is divided into two parts telling the life of Shostakovich and his love for revolutionaries.
The setting for Part I is very simple – a piano downstage, an oversized red truss from the overhead rig on the upstage floor and a white screen in the background. The work begins with a black and white silent film by Lee Chun-chow accompanied by Vincent Youmans’ Tea for Two. Lee’s comical acting in the movie and the relaxing music give a soft and easy introduction to the historical period and the life of Shostakovich.
Part I has four scenes using the four movements of Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67. It begins with a solo in which a dancer struggles with a red jacket followed by a group dance depicting the ending scene of Hamlet. The scene then changes with five masked dancers portraying the music Lee is composing. This ends abruptly with Lee reading a review published in Pravda entitled “Muddle Instead of Music” and reciting a furious monologue from King Lear – marking the tipping point that takes Shostakovich into the darkest days of his life and career. This scene transitions into a solo with the dancer half naked, struggling on the floor and haunted by a woman in black. The Pravda review lambasted Shostakovich’s opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District; the woman in black most likely represents Lady Macbeth haunting the composer. In the last movement, the light truss is finally lifted and Shostakovich’s creativity explodes. The dancers, sitting on chairs, form a visual orchestra representing the richness of music. While they generally stay within the formation, more and more they begin to dance out of line, reflecting Shostakovich’s rebelliousness. Part 1 closes with Lee reciting Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66 as eulogy for Shostakovich.
Photo provided by CCDC
Part II begins with a recitation of an excerpt of a letter from Shostakovich to a friend relaying how he feels about his work. It is followed by a dramatic development based on the five movements of his Chamber Symphony in C Minor, Op. 110a. The scene open with five women in black at a ballet barre dancing in a dimly-lit graveyard-like setting. It then changes to a scene in which male dancers struggle in the foreground while the female dancers change into white dresses. After the male dancers leave the stage, with beams of searchlights scanning the stage, the women break free and mournfully gather white lilies scattered across the stage. The male dancers subsequently reappear as if in a flashback of lovers saying goodbye. The heart-wrenching scene of seven couples parting from each other concludes with the women in mournful light, alone. The work ends with Lee walking out into the house carrying a radio playing the composer’s Seven Verses, Op. 127: No.3, “We Were Together”, while the music gradually fades out. These very emotional scenes were touching to me, and perhaps to many Chinese familiar with the plight of knowing those lost in political causes who cannot be openly grieved, leaving only a shared sense of loss and hope for a brighter future.
There is no doubt as to why this piece was chosen to represent Hong Kong for the Festival. In it, Lai brilliantly blends elements from silent film, literature, music, and dance to create an engaging work and share a complex topic about making choices in life. The first part reveres those who live through oppression while the second part conveys love to those who did not make it. With such strong and universal messages, Testimony is a powerful work that can truly be called a classic.
Choreographer: Helen Lai
Performance: 21 November 2017 19:30 Auditorium, Kwai Tsing Theatre
This review was written by a Dance Enhance participant. Dance Enhance: Dance Appreciation & Criticism Writing Project 2017 is a four-month course begun in September 2017 that aims at providing foundation knowledge of dance appreciation and criticism to aspiring dance writers. Structured with a series of lectures, workshops, discussion sessions, artists sharing and attendance at performances, the course helps participants to develop knowledge on different dance types, appreciation skills, and techniques in review writing under the guidance of dance experts.