訪問Interview : 尉瑋 Wei Wei 拍攝及剪接Video shooting and editing: 余健衡 Ifan Yu
太極指導 Tai Chi Instructor: 夏雪 Xia Xue (香港太極青年團副主席 Vice-Chairlady of Hong Kong Taichi Youth Association) 鳴謝香港舞蹈團提供相片 Special thanks to Hong Kong Dance Company providing photos
Yang Yuntao, the Artistic Director of the Hong Kong Dance Company (HKDC), stresses the importance of facing our inner child during the creative process. While he was a student, there were times Yang was uncertain about dance and questioned his ability. But, he always recovered from those bouts of self-doubt and carried on afterward with a broadened horizon and newly formed ideas. After all, art is a ceaseless exploration of the outer world and inner self. Yang regards himself as a man of action. From finding his niche in the past to searching for a new direction for development of the Company today, Yang has always sought perspective. Once he discovers it, he starts work without further ado.
Yang is from the Bai ethnic minority group and was born in Dali, Yunnan. When he was 11, he was admitted to the Dance School of Minzu University of China, and soon after graduation joined the Guangdong Modern Dance Company. Though he won Gold Awards in National Lotus Awards Competition and National Dance Competition for Ethnic Minorities, he didn’t try to get into a folk dance company because “There were plenty of people who could dance way better than I did and I just could not compete with them,” Yang laughs. This is a rather candid answer, yet he continues and gently says, “The experience of each person is unique. We need to have a clear picture of ourselves.”
Instead of so-called artistic elegance, Yang’s charm lies in his steadiness and pragmatic approach to life. In early productions, such as Border Town, The Smiling, Proud Wanderer, and his performance in City Contemporary Dance Company’s Warrior Lanling, you can feel his grasp of neat structure and rhythms in his choreography, and, in his performance, a raw power that constantly built, to an extent that sometimes it was a bit too vigorous. On the other hand, Yang has grown more at ease and the mood of his work has become more relaxed, notably in his performance in Blanc from Reveries of the Red Chamber last year.
楊雲濤於他編舞的《紅樓．夢三闕》之<白>中演出 Yang in Blanc in Reveries of the Red Chamber; 攝Photo: Stephen Yau
“A dance career is quite contradictory. It’s medium is the body, but there is a gap between body and mind. Your mind lags behind when your body is at its peak. However, as you start to fall in love with your vocation and understand art and dance, your body begins to go downhill. Dance is a career for the young, which is exceptionally cruel.”
In his youth, when he was at his peak, Yang was confused about dance, in particular folk dance, which he had been learning since he was small. “Graduating at the age of sixteen or seventeen, I was inept in many areas. How can one finish school at such a young age?” He feels as if he did not start to become educated until he grew a couple of years older and began to learn modern dance. “Since modern dance engages the mind, it is very different from classical aesthetic expressiveness. Classical aesthetics require uniformity and standardization, such as in ballet. No matter how passionate you are about ballet, not everyone can dance it well because of the demands on one’s physical facility. Modern dance is in complete contrast, as it advocates free entry as far as one wants to enter its world. Reality has also proven that many dance genres do not require professional ballet training to get on the international stage. Modern Dance has inspired me with this notion.”
Yang did not abandon his previous dancing experience and turn to the world of modern dance; instead his broadened perspective has enabled him to become confident in folk dance. “I did not know its merits when I learnt folk dance; what was more, I thought I was clumsy at dancing it. This feeling may be related to our institution and education. Perhaps from the eyes of the teacher, I thought I was a poor student, and this inhibited me.” Yang says, “After learning modern dance, I figured out that I too am a good dancer. Why did I think of myself that way? Why did I let other people gauge my ability? I was a bit reserved, even felt inferior, but now I am free.”
According to Yang, the HKDC might have chosen him because of certain qualities brought on by this confidence. In 2002, he officially became principle dancer of the Company, intertwining his fate with Hong Kong over the following sixteen years with dance being his vocation.
楊雲濤（左）Yang (left); 圖片由香港舞蹈團提供Photo provided by HKDC
“The Audience is Always in My Heart”
Yang was promoted to Artistic Director of the Company in 2013, at an age and time when his body was at a critical point. It was a crucial turning point in his life, as he “switched roles from performer to director”.
HKDC has focused on themed and story-based dance dramas for its main productions, amassing a loyal audience. Yang has respected this tradition, as the Company’s mission is to promote Chinese culture through dancing, and he believes that dance drama is the best way. “Stories carry culture, and we have such a myriad of legends and history.” Yang points out, “Dance is not independent. It carries certain emotions to acquire certain imageries, relatively broadening the carriers of dance. I am not suggesting that the forms of art cannot be pure, which is a different concept. Just because I am better at, or more inclined to, blending.” To communicate with the audience, we cannot get on our high horse and simply talk about concepts and techniques as if audiences are professionals. “We have to think about how to utilize dancing to present other elements and concepts, as it is wrong for us to exclude our audience. Therefore, I am more interested in topics related to living and life, with which we all can share in the language of dance.”
Dance drama can let audiences perceive the beauty of dance more easily. If the audience can still reminisce about a performance after many years and think that the splendor of an idea can only be reflected via dancing, to Yang, he has already successfully embedded dance in their hearts. Even so, this ‘embedding’ requires technique. In recent years, Yang has added personal art choices bit by bit into his productions; for instance, Spring Ritual．Eulogy, L’Amour Immortel, Chinese Hero: A Lone Exile, and Lady White of West Lake. The storyline and depiction gradually deviate from a linear progression and detailed portrayal, better conveying the imagery and meticulously representing the emotions, which is much more poetic, delicate, and abstract.
楊在排練時的情況Yang during rehearsal. 圖片由香港舞蹈團提供Photo provided by HKDC.
Does Yang worry about audience disapproval? “I am extremely worried. It bothers me every day,” he chuckles, and continues, saying, “I care about the audience very much. I have never regarded myself purely as an art practitioner or an artist, but I think I am at least sincere and honest, and always bear the audience in mind. I especially pay attention to what local audiences care about and understand. What we do is just sharing. I excel at putting my most authentic thoughts into my productions. I do not aim at teaching the audience; I just want people to feel something after viewing. When my creative work becomes more and more personal, I need to be careful, I am really anxious. But getting back to basics, ‘truth’ is still the key. Although sometimes it is hard for people to accept the truth, you cannot therefore ignore it.”
Yang says that he has been slowly adapting. To those audiences who think that his works no longer serve their interests or match their taste, Yang offers a sincere apology. “I hope they can understand what we intend to present. It may not be the best and most incredible, but at least it can be guaranteed to be genuine.”
Yang’s L’Amour Immortel (associate choreographer: Xie Yin);
攝Photo: Keith Chiu
Yang’s Lady White of West Lake (associate choreographer: Xie Yin); 攝 Photo: S2 Production
Producing Chinese Dance in Hong Kong
Being the Artistic Director, Yang hopes to highlight the youthfulness and vitality of the Company. “I am in particular not accustomed to the notion that Chinese dance is conservative. I think the stress of the HKDC is on ‘Hong Kong’. It is neither Hong Kong Chinese Dance Company nor Hong Kong Folk Dance Company; it is just Hong Kong Dance Company. Dance is first of all young; Hong Kong is also vibrant with energy. How come people find it old-fashioned when the two terms are put together? I think the Company is a remarkably youthful idea, which has nothing to do with its style and dance genres.”
HKDC has drawn inspiration from traditional Chinese culture and Hong Kong popular culture in recent years. From literature classics, such as Dream of the Red Chamber, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, and Legend of the White Snake, to familiar comics Fung Wan and Chinese Hero created by comic artist Ma Wing-shing, audiences can appreciate the works afresh with the Company’s adaptations. “We have an advantage in interpreting these texts, as they are all related to Chinese culture. Frankly speaking, we may not have been able to handle these classics without traditional dance training. Take, A Chinese Ghost Story, for example. It has a local popular cultural element and is adapted from Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. Instructed with traditional dancing since we were young, we just need to be ourselves to present the image of Xiaoqian and the scholar. Even though Fung Wan is a comic, it also emphasizes conventional Chinese culture, such as fate and martial arts. This is similar to our training, which originated from martial arts to a great extent. We do not have to point it out and they [the audience] will form a distinct impression naturally. A Chinese Ghost Story and Fung Wan are prominent Hong Kong cultural phenomena. People may not have to pay attention to their relationship with our conventional cultures. Nonetheless, I find that they are highly-related when I review them from another perspective, which is exceptionally inspiring to our dance productions.
楊雲濤作品《觀自在》之〈初心〉 Yang’s In the beginning in Vipassana; 攝 Photo: WAI
Adapting these classics in Hong Kong must be very different from producing dance drama even with the same theme in China, isn’t it? “Yes,” he replies after a moment’s thought, “I would not even think about this in China, let alone produce these works. This is Hong Kong. Only in Hong Kong will I have the impulse to tell those stories in this manner.”
To Yang, this impulse is a result of the reflection on his inner child. “Why have I not created modern dance productions in Hong Kong? It is because I find it unnecessary. I have to face myself honestly - I am not really a contemporary person; I have stayed at a certain moment because of my age and degree of openness. I do not have to be the vanguard nor at the forefront in expressive arts. In my opinion, genuineness is the most pivotal in art. We can only face other people after introspection. To me, this ‘genuineness’ has already transcended tradition and modernity.”
No matter how ancient folklore and stories are, Hong Kong has been an inextricable element in Yang’s productions. Yang finds it difficult to describe this place where he has lived for over a decade and become rooted. “One cannot see the forests for the trees,” he grins. Owning to cultural, regional, and identity differences, Yang has always found a special distance from Hong Kong. Yet precisely due to this distance, he has developed a good impression of Hong Kong and likes this city more than his hometown. “We creators are a group of weird people. It is even a bit masochistic to be fond of this drifting feeling… Sometimes people still view you as a foreigner, and it is difficult to enter the mainstream, but it is this feeling of resistance that has kept its attraction for me.”
“This looming sense of loneliness is just notably good in giving me a special feeling,” Yang nods.