[ENG] Review of in-between love
Dancer: Lai Chai-ming; Photo: Cheung Chi-wai
in-between love is a dance performance presented by Siu Lung Fung Dance Theater (SLFDT). The dance tells the story of a man and a woman, performed by Sylvia Lee Ting-yan and Lai Chai-ming, who are getting married. Lai is however not looking forward to settling down with Lee as he is in love with a man, this role performed by Cyrus Hui Chun-kit, who choreographs in-between love. Lai struggles between hiding his homosexuality and breaking away from the lavender marriage to be with his true love.
Cyrus Hui was much inspired when he heard of the landmark court ruling in May 2017 that would have made Taiwan the first Asian nation to legalize gay marriage. However, in November 2018, opponents drove a referendum in which same-sex marriage was voted against. In the house program for in-between love, Hui laments that some people live with regrets by choosing a life or marriage that fulfils the expectations of society and family.
The “in-between” in the title suggests an intermediate state hovering between love and the lack of affection. The Chinese title 愛未 can be translated literally as “love yet”, but the characters also resemble 曖昧 “ambiguity”, usually referring to a covert or clandestine relationship. Hui acknowledged in an online interview that he wanted to play with the idea of uncertainty and ambivalence.
Lai narrates a story about a swan, when the music Enchanted Dream by Antologie plays. A black swan was the odd one out among the white swans, and they plucked away the feathers of the black swan. New white feathers grew, but later dropped, and black feathers emerged again on its body. The white swans wanted the black swan to become one of them, but the change was only temporarily on the surface.
There are about ten scenes. Lee and Lai deliver emotionally-charged body movements, the climactic scene being one in which Lee furiously demands Lai’s love and attention. She is bitterly disappointed as he breaks away again, and the action evolves into a fight burning with passion. Another notable scene for me is that of Lee carried by Lai circling the stage. Lee wears a wedding gown, dancing her anxiety over Lai’s hesitation. She steps on Lai who is on the floor, covering him completely in her gown. Both rise, but Lee is now on Lai’s shoulders, her swirling gown hiding most of Lai, revealing only his lower trouser legs. As Lee sways and bends her torso supported by the unseen Lai, she reminds me of one of the white swans in the story, and I read this image as a depiction of Lai being oppressed into conforming to a heterosexual marriage. Against his will, he is powerless in that scene to free himself, trapped by the fabric of social expectations.
The stage is minimally set. Props like a camera for a wedding photoshoot and a closet suggesting a furtive life, appear briefly. I am unable to find a word or a simple phrase to name the main piece of prop -- imagine an accordion stripped of all its parts except the bellows. It can look like a closed white box with smooth sides when flattened. When slightly released, it looks like reams of white paper stacked up. Amazingly, it can extend into a long platform across half a side of the stage when completely stretched or pulled. It could be a path, or a bridge, when Lai treads on it in a trance. It serves as a bed, when either dancer lies on it. As the dancers engage in an agitated pas de deux of pursuit and retreat, this prop morphs into a barrier between them to be broken down and re-erected as it expands and collapses. Under red stage lights, Lai swings and twirls it. It wriggles like a dragon with no head and legs but with many body segments. It coils in a circle and Lai is curled within a cocoon which shields him from the world. As Lai steps out of this cocoon, it evokes coming out of the closet. In a later scene of a solo by Lee, it is a box compressed with sorrowful memories, as well as a long passage of love through the tunnel of time. This ingenious and versatile creation helps to externalize the dancers’ moods and emotions and provides meaning to their movements.
Throughout in-between love, there is no apparent social message of speaking up for equal rights for the gay community. Lai could be inflicted with an inferiority complex, anguish over his love dilemma and guilt for not reciprocating love. The battle over his sexual identity is subtle, hinted at by reading between the lines in the story of the black swan. The dance is satisfying to those audience members who want a story line in addition to bodily expressions, and I enjoy watching the enticing dance movements enhanced with some stunning imagery.
Selina Tng is an occasional contributor to dance journal/hk.
Choreographer: Cyrus Hui
Performance: 24 November 2018 15:00 Kwai Tsing Black Box Theater