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[ENG] Designing Dance as an Intermedia Installation with the Uncertainty of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Text: Allen Lam

Sounding Bodies: Light, Image, and Empty Spaces / Photo: Leonardo Leung

(Photo provided by Folded Paper Dance and Theatre Limited)

In her latest research project, Sounding Bodies: Light, Image, and Empty Spaces, the choreographer, director, and curator, Kanta Kochhar, an Indian American artist, collaborated with a diverse multi-disciplinary local artistic team to incorporate video, architecture, and various materials into choreography to examine the relationship of human senses with our environment. The audience was invited into the intimate aural and visual experiences created by the performers, using instruments and materials such as bamboo, paper, silk and metals, as well as visual projections onto all those objects. Viewers were forced to make choices, and in choosing, we discovered something new and became more alert to changes.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most cultural venues in Hong Kong had been closed since November 2020. This performance was among the first few choreographic projects confirmed to be taking place with live audiences since theatres slowly started re-opening about a month before it was scheduled. There were many big questions for the community to tackle, and I wondered how we could radically reimagine the dance world post-coronavirus. Dancers have been dancing in their homes or in digital spaces, what condition would they be in to handle live performances? During the period of cancellations or postponements, people were reshaped by months of catastrophic physical, emotional and financial stress. There is definitely excitement about returning to our artistic space with live audiences, but also nerves and anxiety about the potential safety risks. Dance performance is a “high-risk activity” that requires intimate contact between people in a closed space with people breathing heavily. Even though all staff and audience members are wearing masks and have had their temperature checked, strict social distancing rules make it very difficult to keep this art form going. In this case, unfortunately some of the performers were required to wear a mask while performing, which somehow created a greater distance between them and the audience. Nonetheless, flexibility and creativity remain key to the work.

“The project grows out of a desire to explore the crossing sensory knowledge of the ears, the eyes, and the hands…” Ms. Kochhar says in the programme note, “Reconfiguring our relationship with our own ecologies of nature and urban space.”

Sounding Bodies: Light, Image, and Empty Spaces / Photo: Leonardo Leung

(Photo provided by Folded Paper Dance and Theatre Limited)

The pandemic had made us more conscious of how technology affects our lives. Sounding Bodies emphasizes a research and creation process that explores sound sculptures, multi-sensory objects and story-telling using dancers’ bodies or objects like what the creator calls Earth Boxes, which came from her childhood experiences. As the stories unfolded, performers recounted their personal experiences by presenting them through contemporary dance movement. While the physical expressions of this work could seem limited, the project certainly embraced the approach of practices and history of intermedia, as well as disability aesthetics. In one significant episode several performers move with the sound sculptures on their bodies, evoking a liquid quality. Wearing white clothing, they echo the movement of the installation from position to position. The effect is oddly calming, like watching a river flow.

With Sounding Bodies, Kochhar asks: “How can we listen differently, see differently, and touch differently?” As we lean into the uncertainty of these times, we can learn from the bright spots that present themselves to us. Our world is still being transformed by the pandemic and although people are tired, yet we are hopeful and resilient.


Allen Lam

Allen Lam is an accomplished choreographer, director and movement educator. As the founder of Muse Motion, he has produced many collaborative dance projects. In 2015, he was given the Hong Kong Dance Award for staging an influential bilateral exchange project Dance Wide HKNY. He currently serves as the Vice Chairperson of the Hong Kong Dance Alliance and Hong Kong Jockey Club Music and Dance Fund Awardees Association.

Sounding Bodies Dance Performances @ Sounding Bodies: Image, Light, and Empty Spaces

Folded Paper Dance and Theatre Limited

Choreographer: Kanta Kochhar

Reviewed Performance: 8 May 2021, 7pm, Jao Tsung-I Academy


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