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[ENG] In Search of Space - Chloe Wong

Heaven Behind the Door (2014); Photo: Keith Hiro

The connection between man and his environment has long been Chloe Wong’s focus in her work. Her first full-length piece, Transitory in Nature-Audible Growth《植.聽》, reflects on the relationship between people and nature. The residential space of the city inspires The Living Split 《日夜沫了》and Heaven Behind the Door《人間‧獨‧白》, commissioned by the Hong Kong Arts Festival, and present how each individual doing the best at what they do can create resonance with the others and affect the world. Wong has reworked Heaven Behind the Door for different occasions in recent years – a short version that was invited to Düsseldorf’s Internationale Tanzmesse NRW in summer 2016, then Heaven Behind the Door II 《人間‧獨‧白II》for a showcase of the Jockey Club New Arts Power (NAP) festival, and most recently Light Flight the Night《夜光飛行》, a walking site-specific program also under the aegis of NAP. Wong feels that this work keeps growing. As an audience member, this series of works also shows Wong’s progress in her research and concern about the place of people in our city, our society, our world. To learn more about the process, I had a conversation with her a week after seeing Light Flight the Night.

Personally, I find the simplicity and good use of overhead projection in Heaven Behind the Door (2014) exemplify pure beauty. Wong, on the other hand, without elaborating further, commented that the work involved too many elements. The showing in Düsseldorf was limited to less than 20 minutes, which necessitated that at least a third of the original version needed to be trimmed. In addition to that, some of the dancers’ schedules prevented them from joining the tour and Wong, who also danced in the original version, preferred to step back and not dance the piece. This triggered changes for all the dancers in the new version. The four new dancers were Cyrus Hui, Rain Chan, Evains Lui, and Gabbie Chan. The venue for the tour was an open studio, which, because of its grey walls and the sunlight streaming through a glass wall, made the projections of the original work nearly impossible to see. Wong returned to the drawing board to face these factors. These also made her focus the work more on dancers and depend less on projections, which was a crucial dynamic element in the original version.

Heaven Behind the Door in Tanzmesse 2016; Photo: Janet Sinica

I did not see the Tanzmesse production, so, after seeing the original in 2014 the next version I saw was Heaven Behind the Door II performed in mid-November at the Multi-media Theatre of the HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity. For me, the experience was sadly disappointing, which may have been because of expectations built up due to the satisfying experience of the original version. In fact, this stage was less suitable for the work than the white box theatre, where the original version was staged. When the projector revolved, the projection was discontinuous since it was projected on the wings of the side stage. This affected the dynamic build throughout the piece and made the projection distracting and unnecessary. Human figures, instead of a fish as in the original version, were placed in a water basin on the overhead projector. The focus of this revision makes the work more about people, compared to the original version.

Many influential and controversial events have happened since 2014, such as the Umbrella Movement in 2015 and the disqualification of legislators between 2016 and 2017. Wong admitted that social unrest has affected the topics of her recent works. She believes that art is about how one talks about people. Currently, a lot of ways are blocked by different authorities. People can hardly find a space where they can devote themselves to. The dancers in Heaven Behind the Door II often ask, “Where do we belong to?” or “Can I find the place where I belong to?” Wong disclosed in our conversation the symbolism of a headless female figure in a water basin. The headless female questions where she is located, but is unable to even locate her head. While the original version in 2014 presented how resonance was produced by everyone giving full play to their abilities in their positions, the recent works retreat and search for their position.

Heaven behind the Door II (2017); Photo: Mak Cheong-wai

Despite the disappointment of Heaven Behind the Door II, it was an incredible experience in participating in the walking site-specific program, Light Flight the Night. Other than the ensemble that Wong has worked with since the Düsseldorf version, four more dancers joined the performance (Alice Ma, Li Lu, Jessica Tang, and Ho Ming-yan). Light Flight the Night has the same beginning as Heaven Behind the Door II, and the tour began from the Elgin Street Children's Playground. Gabbie Chan and Rain Chan stand on the edge of a roundabout in the playground. Each holds a projector and projects images on the walls of buildings surrounding the playground. The revolving images are accompanied by spoken text asking, to where we belong. After the introductory phrase, the audience is led by two young dancers, through a narrow alley to the streets with bars and restaurants. The two dancers project images of green fields and cityscapes on the walls and under the footbridge. In the projection, a bird flies through the images. Wong shared that not only the dancers, but audience members were also the birds. The theatrical experience and daily experience coalesce. My sensitivity was opened up and I perceived every bit of the environment, which I usually overlook in my daily life even walking on the same street. This experience urges one to reflect on one’s relationship with space.

Chloe Wong’s Light Flight the Night (2018); Photo: Cheung Chi-wai

When the audience arrived at the next spot, the Lan Kwai Fong Amphitheatre, a few more dance phases were performed from the top to the bottom of the space. When the audience arrived at the top of the amphitheater, some dancers were resting on the benches, while others were dancing with the surrounding fence. Wong said that this phrase was inspired by the people encountered in an on-site rehearsal. During the rehearsal, workers were sleeping on the benches. They kept sleeping even though dancers were dancing around them. When their alarms rang, they returned to work after their meal break. Different groups of people harmoniously co-existed in this space. This echoed with a twofold experience I had from the playground to the amphitheater. The journey ended with all the performers dancing against a projection of birds and then a series of circular movements and a travelling-like struggling as if from being drawn into a whirlpool. This walking site-specific performance not only created an experience to reflect the space but also showed Wong’s sensitivity in selecting the right site for presenting her work. I was surprised to know that there were such places in Central. The playground and the amphitheater are like oases in the busy SoHo area. When I observed the environment of the amphitheater at the end of the tour, seeing a large tree surrounded by blocks of buildings, this specific site seemed like Wong’s signature, an expression of the relationship among human, nature, and city.

In the conversation with Wong, she noted that it was impossible for Light Flight the Night to happen without the research after the Düsseldorf tour and the long-developed relationship with the same group for over two years. She also talked a lot about how the projecting device evolved throughout the journey with the help of designers and technicians. To adapt to different performing spaces and technical constraints, the device was modified from a wired overhead projector to a wireless overhead projector, and finally to a handheld projector, which is very handy. Heaven Behind the Door II has just been selected for the October 2018 Busan International Dance Market. Although the details of venue have still not yet been announced, it will be another journey for Wong and her dancers flying into another unknown space.

=== Hin-fung Fung M.Phil in Philosophy, specializing in Kant’s philosophy and aesthetics, a freelance writer and art administrator.


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