Ballet and dance, Theater

Cecilia’s Rhapsody

Date: March 18, 2017
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

Blue Ka-wing – The Invisible S
Ata Wong Chun-tat – Très léger
Rebecca Wong Pik-kei – Nook

This contemporary dance program brings together three works in response to “Cecilia”, a short story about Hong Kong’s urban landscape that launched Hong Kong writer Dung Kai-cheung’s career twenty-some years ago. Blue Ka-wing’s piece, divided into multiple segments, questions whether the body matters in this world. In one segment, two dancers, with their bellies on the floor (actually, on a glass podium positioned mid-stage) and their hands and legs flapping around, are caricatured as instant message-typing goldfishes swimming aimlessly in a fish tank, to the waltzy music from Disney’s “Up”. Meanwhile, music switches intermittently into abrupt sequences of Stockhausen-like pulses, whereby the dancers jump up and take turns to embrace, slap at, or just look at each other. In another segment, the two dancers take turns to physically abuse each other, whether by slapping, kicking or pinching severely, as if alluding to some uncomfortable realities of modern society. Overall, the theatrical presentation here is quite memorable, but the dance language is too varied, and ultimately muddled.

Ata Wong Chun-tat’s piece begins with a dancer, dressed in a geometrically awkward costume that seems precisely to un-flatter the human body. Dancer Mok Chun-tung’s weighty body seems to reinforce this idea, though it must be noted that Mok, being a theater-actor by training, shows dancer-like flexibility and endurance, not to mention well-defined facial expressions, in his captivating solo. In the background, the soundtrack begins with a primitive sequence of long electronic pulses and ends with a soppy Cantopop song, played through a portable deck player held up on stage by a performer. In between, Chan Tze-wing renders live music with a cello while donning a long black dress and sitting on the shoulder of a lifter (hidden within the dress). This musical development, from the primitive to the commercial, seems to mirror the gradual increase in sophistication of the dancers’ movements during the piece, as though the choreographer wants to describe a developing humanity, probably in relation to Dung’s urban visualization of the city. If the piece is meant to be thoughtful and broadly contemplative, it succeeds theatrically and visually. But as a piece of dance theater, the language here seems too broad, with neither a lasting impact nor an all-encompassing glue that brings the various body movements under a cohesive thesis.

Of the three pieces, Rebecca Wong Pik-kei’s “Nook” offers the most coherent dance language and the most satisfying mix of dance and theater. A dark stage is lid with four rows of LEDs across the depth of the floor, with two on the floor and two hanging above them. Dancers Alice Ma and Takao Komaru display a well-rehearsed partnership where two body weights counter each other with seamless perfection just as they move freely across the stage. The two dancers mostly dance apart, but when they are together they are mostly connected through a piece of red dress (worn on Ma). At times Komaru would grab one end of the dress and swing violently, flying Ma’s body across the stage. Dancers would occasionally wrap their heads in the red dress and be led by the other, as though human relationships, no matter how beautiful, could at times find one side to be suffocating and subservient. When the dancers move together, they offer a most intense eye contact, infused with meanings undefined and unknown, as if alluding to the unpredictable and often dreamy human relationships in Dung’s work. With “Nook”, the overall effect weaving dance and theater together is most cohesive, while the dancers’ performance is most natural, sizzling, and revelatory. Komaru’s solo effort at the beginning, frenetic and muscular, reveals the top-class classical training behind the utmost fluency of his steps.

Alice Ma and Takao Komaru, in Rebecca Wong Pik-kei’s “Nook”. Photo credit: Hong Kong Arts Festival.

Ballet and dance


Date: January 13, 2011
Location: Nine Theater, Beijing.

Salome, originally a French play by Oscar Wilde, has been reinterpreted as a modern dance drama by a group of talented Chinese artists and brought on stage for the first time this evening at Nine Theater in Beijing. Playwright Liu Jie (刘杰) faithfully structured a series of coherent, dreamscape-like scenes and executed change of scenes with fluidic care. Tan Shaoyuan (谭韶远), an exceptionally gifted visual and set designer, projected a plethora of imageries onto multiple scrims hung from the grid all over the stage. Some images were either highly stylized tape-recording of the stage performance (in rehearsal) or delayed projection of the cotemporaneous stage activity, as if to intensify the drama with both real and projected action. Costume designer He Xiaoxin (和晓欣) provided the dancers with a gamut of dresses and wearables that accentuated the body fluidity of the female dancers on the one hand and, let exposed the muscular masculinity of the male dancers on the other. Han Jing (韩婧), Liu Ye (刘叶) and Tang Yupei (唐瑜珮) were the dynamic trio of female dancers who each danced a significant solo representing Salome’s famous dance. The confluence of Han’s gymnastic athleticism, Liu’s sensual impulsiveness and Tang’s general fluidity supplied Salome with such a vivid stage spirit that Wilde’s morbid ending was merely a footnote to Salome’s eternal triumph. The only letdown was the lack of original music; other than a few sensual ballades, the score seemed to gravitate towards slow-stepped milonga music.

Salome (dance).

Salome (dance).

The dancers.