In the last two issues, we interviewed previous editors and writers of dance journal/hk, who shared their experiences in editing, writing features, and critiques. For this issue, we will bring the focus closer to dance. We invited two dance critics – Daisy Chu and Cally Yu – and two artists – Yang Yuntao and Mui Cheuk-yin. The four discussed the trends and changes in Hong Kong’s dance scene in the past decade, as well as their own experiences and observations.
Performance Venues Lack Personalities to Differentiate Audiences
Chu first brought up the phenomenon of shows “clashing” with each other. There can be two to three new productions on the same weekend. Even if only dance performances are counted, the number is not small, signifying the abundance of local creations.
Yet, the number of eager dance viewers is not high, and shows fighting for audience with each other exacerbates the situation. Dance zealots have to keep very busy with shows or to make a choice.
Mui reckoned that this is inevitable, unless Hong Kong has a similar setting as that in New York, where different types of theatres come with different features. They cater to different audiences such as Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway – they have different positions so viewers have a clue what they will watch in each of these theatres. They can find the shows they like simply based on the theatre’s characteristics, rather than having to read through information on each programme.
However, Hong Kong’s theatres are mostly publicly-owned multifunctional venues without apparent distinctive features and boundaries. A theatre can house both a graduation ceremony and a large-scale performance. This is, in fact, a very peculiar phenomenon as this leaves no way for viewers to follow or identify. Mui said if there are theatres of different personalities, audiences can then be differentiated, so that shows don’t have to go head-to-head.
Yu noticed the growing number of independent dancers and dance groups in recent years as well as the emergence of new types of dances and shows. The adventurous works might take place in an apartment in an old district or at a corner on a rooftop, as if popping up from a tiny crack. Despite taking place in the industrial areas, many experimental productions fear being suppressed by the industrial land use policy, so they tend not to make their venue public and viewers can only know the address from private text messages. Chu and Mui believed that these performances in factories can offer alternative choices for viewers, but if venues in factories cannot fulfil the requirements of fire safety, the shows cannot take place officially so they are not able to publicize it, making it difficult to access potential audiences.
（左起）朱琼愛、俞若玫、楊雲濤、梅卓燕 (From Left) Daisy Chu and Cally Yu, Yang Yuntao and Mui Cheuk-yin; 攝Photo: 陳瑋鑫William Chan
Rigid Subsidy System and Limited Support for Artistic Creation
Resource allocation is a direct element affecting the quality of work. Mui said the current subsidy system requires artists to create before being funded. Artists cannot go into a project with an open, relaxed attitude, and they have insufficient space to experiment. Before truly knowing their own work, they are forced onto the stage. If the piece does not go on tour or get reruns, it becomes a product covered by dust in the attic. That is why Mui in recent years has been fighting for more chances for colleagues to rerun – even if these artworks are not shown again in Hong Kong, she hopes they can go out of the city and by rerunning, become refined and improved.
Yang said creators should ask themselves why they produce the shows. If the aim is purely for subsidies, internal friction will erode all the creative energy. What’s worse is that the artist might have no knowledge of this. He admitted that the Hong Kong Dance Company, where he is currently working at, is a publicly subsidized dance company, so its creation pursues more than artistic concerns. The operation of the whole organization is often taken into account, rather than solely artistic pursuit.
小梅認為最理想是每一個製作也能夠有足夠三個月維持創作人生計的資助，去支持創作人安心創作，分階段進行試演，讓有潛力的作品可以拾級而上，好像比利時經典舞作《Rosas danst Rosas》，也是先在邊緣的劇場試演，才獲其他劇院邀約，一步一步走到大劇院以至世界。因此她認為可以嘗試建立不同資助階梯，支持每個階段值得發展的作品，並且應該要持續去培育一個創作人，而不是單就獨立的計劃申請作考慮。
Mui believed that the most ideal system should enable subsidies that support artists’ three-month livelihood for each artwork. They can conduct trial performances in different stages so pieces with potential can rise to fame gradually, like the classic dance piece Rosas danst Rosas from Belgium, which went through trial performances in fringe theatres before stepping up by invitation to grand theatres and then globally. She thought that by trying to set up funding systems of different hierarchies, the systems can support the pieces that stand out at each level. Funding systems should consistently nurture an artist, instead of taking applications one by one as independent cases.
Chu echoed Mui’s suggestion of setting up funding systems of different hierarchies. She suggested that the ideal subsidy can support and nurture an artist for two to three years. It should not force a new piece from them every two to three months or demand a complete work at the end, but rather, artists can have trial performances so they have time and space to polish their pieces. Mui reckoned that the suggestion is plausible, but it requires changes in the whole institution and the decision makers’ mindset. She said the subsidy approval system of the two major sponsors, Hong Kong Arts Development Council and the Home Affairs Bureau, are only band aids but fail to consider the long-term development of arts.
Changes in Critiques and Creative Platform Support
Having reviewed the ways of writing critiques, Yu observed big changes. She said a decade ago, she had to look for information and make the effort to understand the dance group or dancers’ previous pieces and relevant information. It’s more fortunate now that critics can observe the creative process in rehearsal rooms and they can participate in creative workshops. Critics can learn about the creation through knowing the artists’ personalities and how the artists interact and cooperate with others via these activities, rather than only learning from the final performance on stage.
Chu said in recent years many dance groups have been inviting critics to view rehearsals and seeking to receive feedback during the creative stage. She agreed that if there is opportunity to observe the creative process, it helps bring critics and artists closer as well as understanding the piece better. Therefore, on the one hand, she pens critiques for shows individually, while on the other hand she wishes to follow the artists to observe their creative development, so that critiques can record their growth and act as an important role in future research.
小梅回想八十年代初，演出場地比較開放，如城市劇場（現CCDC舞蹈中心賽馬會舞蹈小劇場地下）就孕育了不少精彩的實驗作品，圖片顯示1987年曾在城市劇場上演的節目；圖片由城市當代舞蹈團提供。 Mui recalled in the 1980s’, it was fortunate that the show performance venues were more available than now. City Contemporary Theater (the current CCDC Dance Centre Jockey Club Dance Theatre), located on the ground floor of CCDC Dance Centre, fostered many fascinating trial shows. This photo shows production staged in City Contemporary Theater in 1987. Photo provided by City Contemporary Dance Company.
Choreographer and the artistic director of the Hong Kong Dance Company, Yang recalled that over ten years ago, when he had just arrived in Hong Kong, there were very few platforms for young choreographers to present their works, but the opportunities today are much more. Mui pointed out that platforms for presenting artworks are significant for artists. She recalled when she debuted in the 1980s, it was fortunate that performance venues were more available than now. City Contemporary Theater (the current CCDC Dance Centre Jockey Club Dance Theatre), located on the ground floor of CCDC Dance Centre, fostered many fascinating trial shows. Yet, during the 1990s, possibly due to the prosperity of the property market, many venues were gone, not until the past decade. For example, The Hong Kong Dance Company established the “8/F Platform”, while the site of the previous Theatre de la Villa reappeared as a small theatre. The emergence of site-specific performances also opened up an alternative space. Mui believed the dance scene did improve generally. We experienced the peak in the past and fell into a black hole, but we got back up and are heading towards diversity.
Special thanks to the following donors in supporting 20th Anniversary Feature for dance journal/hk 陳寶珠 Pearl Chan 劉燕玲 Stella Lau 龍世儀 Shirley Loong
羅佳娜 Natasha Rogai 施德安 Cecil Sze 譚兆民 Paul Tam 衛承天 Septime Webre 黃建宏 Kevin Wong 吳報釧 Sylvia Wu