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[Eng] The Black Deluge that Devours you: The “Rain” from Page to Stage

Text: Hazel S Chen

Adapting a literary classic into contemporary dance is an inherently challenging endeavour. In the realm of contemporary dance theatre, the focus often lies in breaking away from traditional storytelling and mime, instead placing emphasis on the dance form itself and accentuating bodily expression, the relationship between movement and space, and the ability of dance to serve as an affective energy source that resonates with the audience. However, when confronted with the intrinsic narrative elements within a work of fiction, choreographers face the daunting task of adapting storytelling elements, literary style, and the ambience created by the writer into a 1.5-hour theatrical space. The goal is to avoid rigidity and conventionality, allowing for a dialogue between two mediums rather than becoming a slave to the story itself.

In this context, I believe that the recent dance performance choreographed by Ryu Suzuki, an adaptation of Somerset Maugham's short story "Rain”, showcased as part of the New Vision Arts Festival (NVAF) 2023, is a remarkable exploration that seamlessly fuses literature, dance, installation art, and sound design.

New Vision Arts Festival 2023 "RAIN" (Photo provided by NVAF 2023)

The brilliance of the work and its connection to Maugham's story is first exemplified by the contemporary artist Shinji Ohmaki's installation, "Liminal Air – Black Weight." This cubicle, composed of a sea of suspended black strands, is attached to a truss that can be elevated or lowered freely. One can easily draw a correlation between this installation and the most important literary metaphor within the text: the overwhelming rainstorm on a tropical Pacific island. Maugham's recuring vivid descriptions of the rain captures its unmerciful and somehow terrible nature, evoking the malignancy of the primitive powers of nature. This “deluge from heaven”, with its relentless persistence and fury, becomes a poignant harbinger and critique of the male protagonist Davidson's fate. As an English missionary, he attempts to reform a prostitute named Miss Thompson. Davidson's determination to bring her spiritual enlightenment is ultimately shattered by the overpowering force of human lustful nature. The choreographer deftly captured Maugham's intent and transposed it into the stage design and choreography. The installation became more than a static set, transforming through changes in height and various shades of luminosity created by lighting props held by the dancers. As the dancers moved within the "rain," concealing and revealing parts of their bodies, the black strands took on a stunning visual quality. For instance, when the male lead dancer stood in front of the black strips cubicle, numerous hands emerged from the curtain of rain behind him, caressing, attacking, pulling, and pushing. These hands served as metonymical representations of the grotesque desires that lured Davidson towards his tragic demise. The concealment, revelation, and suspension attributes of the black strands created a spectacle of multiple limbs hovering in the air, both mesmerizing and uncanny. The themes of death and desire slowly crept upon the viewer, akin to shadow and rain.

New Vision Arts Festival 2023 "RAIN" (Photo provided by NVAF 2023)

Butoh proves to be a suitable form for exploring the dark, repressed, instinctual desires of human beings, as depicted in the literary original. The choreographer established a contrast with the opening scene, featuring square, linear, and uplifting movements performed by the Caucasian male lead as Davidson and the corpse dancers. As the story unfolds, Davidson's ethereal morale dissolves, and Butoh is employed to reveal the pervasive dark power at play. Two Japanese male dancers from Dance Base Yokohama delivered performances that were nothing short of phenomenal. Through their precise and savage manipulation of their bodies, they manifested the torment and possession of their twisted torsos by some mysterious spirit. One could not help but be astonished by the subtlety exhibited in the solo movements, such as the suspension, distortion, contortion, and elongation. The superb techniques bent the flesh into form, turning physical bodies into larger-than-life symbols of animosity and desire that know no boundaries.

The female lead, a young dancer from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, also deserves high praise. Her training in Chinese classical dance and her interpretation of the heroine's interiority resulted in a remarkable performance that flaunted femininity while subverting white, male, Christian dominance.

The harsh and loud gramophone of Miss Thompson makes several appearances in the short story. The coarse voices and depraved tunes serve as aural symbolic registers of Miss Thompson's repulsive yet irresistible vulgarity and fleshiness. Sound artist evala picked up on this motif and used noise and ambient sounds to accompany the dance, further amplifying the emotional resonance of the performance.

New Vision Arts Festival 2023 "RAIN" (Photo provided by NVAF 2023)

Overall, the work is a remarkable example of transmedial adaptation between dance and literature. The performance does not relegate itself to a secondary position to the text but instead carves out space for original choreography and visual design. The dance language echoes, transposes, and even transcends the literary language of the original text. The struggle with inner evil power is a universal and personal theme that leaves the audience feeling shocked, moved, and satiated with the pure joy of watching movement. The combination of installation art, sound design, and dance is minimalistic yet highly sophisticated, testifies to the ethos of "New Vision”.


New Vision Arts Festival

Direction / Choreography: Ryu Suzuki (Dance Base Yokohama)


Date and Venue:2023年11月12日 15:00 Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre


Hazel Shu Chen


A literary scholar with an earnest passion for dance and a keen sensibility for form and style.


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