(左left)郭亞福 Aaron Khek Ah-Hock, (右right) 黃天寶Ix Wong Thien-Pau
“Artists look for creative ways to live in whatever situations,” Ix Wong Thien-Pau’s words bring to mind a picture I saw of his partner, Aaron Khek Ah-Hock, before heading to Kuala Lumpur: Ah-Hock is lying on a bed in a hospital. He has formed his nasogastric tube into a figure eight, symbolizing limitlessness, and placed it like glasses framing his eyes; he is smiling.
郭亞福和黃天寶這對舞蹈情侶檔，亞福出生於新加坡，而天寶生於東馬來西亞的沙巴亞庇。亞福曾在著名的倫敦政治經濟學院修讀會計，後來赴香港演藝學院修讀舞蹈。二人於香港演藝學院讀書時相識，黃天寶於1998年畢業後，在城市當代舞蹈團（CCDC）當舞者，二人同住在CCDC排練室樓上的天虹之家。當時的室友是現任的CCDC舞蹈中心總監黃建宏。2000年，郭亞福畢業後與黃天寶回流新加坡發展，創辦了他們同名的舞蹈團「Ah Hock & Peng Yu」，亞福更在2005年更獲新加坡國家藝術理事會青年藝術家獎。
The dance couple Ah-Hock and Ix were born to Chinese families; Ah-hock in Singapore and Ix in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, East Malaysia. Ah-Hock was an accounting student at the London School of Economics before going to the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts to study dance. The two met in Hong Kong while students at the Academy. After Ix graduated in 1998, they both lived at the Rainbow Home in Wong Tai Sin above the rehearsal studios of the City Contemporary Dance Company, where Ix was working as a dancer. Their roommate at the time was Kevin Wong, the current CCDC Dance Centre Director. In 2000, Ah-Hock graduated and both returned to Singapore, before they established their eponymous dance company– Ah Hock & Peng Yu. Ah-Hock was later awarded the Young Artist Award by Singapore’s National Arts Council in 2005.
The couple experienced serious illnesses twice over the past 20 years. In 2008, Ix was diagnosed HIV+ two weeks before a performance. At that time, Singapore revoked the visa of anyone diagnosed with AIDS and those who were HIV+ were prohibited from entering the country. Ix was deported after his diagnosis.
During the following five years, Ah-Hock, still working in Singapore, visited Ix in Kuala Lumpur every week. The couple tried everything to maintain their relationship and continue their dance collaboration. Finally, in 2013, Singapore loosened its policy and allowed Ix to enter on a regular basis – two weeks each time. The turmoil they experienced in separation became settled.
Then, in July 2017, Ah-Hock was diagnosed with final stage nasopharyngeal cancer, leading to postponement of all his overseas projects. In early 2018, a series of treatments was able to kill all his cancer cells. During the interview in July this year, he was recovering, he looked lean, but his passion and humor still showed in his speech.
「果時我係醫院就嚟死，都仲諗住個Jessey （曾翠珊）個Project1。」他們說自己都是工作狂，笑說兩次大病來得「啱啱好」，「身體叫我哋真係要休息啦，重組一下思維方式，再衝落去就真係無命啦。我地聽返身體轉頭，But We Become More Creative」。卧病在床的確是對以身體作為主要創作及謀生工具的藝術家帶來很直接的障礙。2008年天寶患病時，面對龐大的醫藥費，亞福曾經想過放棄舞蹈，從操會計故業。但在同樣是藝術家的朋友的勸服下，他們去了日本與拜會朋友的老師Susan Buirge。
“When I was on the brink of kicking the bucket, I was still thinking about Jessey [Tsang]’s project,” said Ah-Hock, who further explained that both he and Ix are workaholics. Smiling, he said both serious illnesses came “at the right time.”
“Our bodies told us to take a rest and reorganize our way of thinking. We’d die if we kept pushing ourselves like that. We listen to our bodies now instead, but we’ve become more creative,” he said.
Lying on the bed is without a doubt a direct obstacle for artists who rely on their bodies to create and make a living. When Ix was sick in 2008, Ah-Hock was faced with an enormous amount of medical fees, prompting him to think about giving up on dance and going back to the accounting industry. But after being persuaded by their artist friends, they flew to Japan to meet a friend’s teacher, Susan Buirge.
Susan Buirge出生於1940年代美國，曾是紐約的Alwin Nikolais舞蹈團的舞者。1970年代起在法國推動現代舞，2008年，六十八歲的她決定移居到日本鑽研神道和祭神舞（Kaguras）。此會面和老前輩分享的經歷，燃起了他們對民族舞與祭祀相關舞蹈的興趣。更重要是，打消了他們放棄舞蹈的念頭，還把非常實在的生存問題，換成探索如何在限制中繼續以其他形式創作，後來更轉化為一連串對舞蹈根本的詰問：「Where is Dance？」
Born in 1940 in the U.S.A., Buirge was once a dancer for the New York-based Alwin Nikolais Dance Theater. She started promoting contemporary dance in France in the 1970s. In 2008, the 68-year-old moved to Japan to venture into Shinto and learn Kagura. The duo’s meeting with Buirge ignited their passion for folk dance and ritual-related dances. More importantly, they decided not to give up on dance and turned the practical existential issues into an exploration of how to create in alternative ways within their limits. Later, they raised a fundamental question about dance: “Where is dance?”
Ah-Hock and Ix’s performance in Standing in the Middle of Our See-Saw (新加玻藝術節 Forward Moves, Singapore Arts Festival 2007); 圖片由受訪者提供Photo provided by interviewees
Where is Dance？亞福的家族在他祖父代從中國移民到新加玻。生活在這移民社會的各個民族，靠集體回憶維繫自己的民族身份。「People naturally want to dance」亞福說舞蹈是集體回憶和風俗文化的表現。例如東北秧歌是農村慶祝收成的舞蹈，傣族舞的仡下仡下的動作是源於促民族的生活地域需要靠吊橋交通，柬埔寨舞蹈很貼近地面因為柬埔寨皇帝坐得不高，平民都不能跳得比皇帝高。
Where is dance? Starting with his grandfather’s generation, Ah-Hock’s family migrated from China to Singapore. The different ethnicities living in the immigrant society look for their identities in collective memories.
“People naturally want to dance,” Ah-Hock says. He also says dance is the expression of collective memories, customs, and cultures. For example, the rural folk Yangko Dance from the Northeast region of China is the celebratory dance for agricultural harvests, while the twerking moves in Dai dance stem from a drawbridge-oriented transportation system in their region. Cambodian dance features movements close to the ground because the Emperor of Cambodia did not sit on a high dais, and commoners could not dance higher than the Emperor.
對亞福而言，「精華係民間」。文化多樣令移民社會成為藝術創作的良好土壤。奈何政府對藝術的審查嚴格無理，撥款時要求藝術家要簽字承諾作品不得談論種族、宗教、同性戀、批評政權。亞福說那還可以談甚麼？藝術是「Reflection of the Society」，審查制度把藝術家原有的純粹直覺和坦誠都洗去了。
To Ah-Hock, “essence is among the people.” Cultural diversity in an immigrant society lays the groundwork for artistic creation. But the government’s censorship of arts is harsh and unreasonable, even though it offers grants to artists, it requires them to sign and promise that their artworks will not involve discussions on race, religion, same-sex issues, and political criticism. What else can Ah-Hock talk about in his artworks? Arts is a “reflection of the society” he asserts. The censorship system scraps artists’ intuition and sincerity.
亞福補充說用現代手法創作的確有其優點，但只有以開放的心去接納文化差異和歷史傳統，才可以真正認識舞蹈。說到現時潮流很多舞蹈作品都非常概念化，或是側重身體性，他提起手掌碰著眉心，移到心口：「But this connection is very rare」。
Ah-Hock also says that contemporary dance does have its advantages, but only those who open their heart and mind to embrace cultural differences, history, and traditions can really know dance. On currently trending dances that are often highly conceptual or focused on physicality, he placed his palm between his brows then moved it to his heart, and said, “but this connection is very rare.”
1編按：郭亞福和黃天寶參與了始於2017年9月由西九文化區、城市當代舞蹈團、新加坡舞蹈影像機構Cinemovement的舞蹈影像計劃「國際創意交流 ── 香港 x 新加坡：光影舞蹈」。香港獨立導演曾翠珊是二人在是次計劃中的合作伙伴。
Editor’s note: Ah-Hock and Ix are participants in Creative Meeting Point on Screendance – Hong Kong X Singapore, initiated in September 2017, a collaborative project of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, City Contemporary Dance Company, and the screendance organization, Cinemovement, from Singapore. Hong Kong-based independent filmmaker director Jessey Tsang acts as the duo’s partner in the program.
Editor’s note: Interview's clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBqeOBGkpd0