A dance with the ghosts of the past

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 July, 1998, 12:00am

Be afraid, be very afraid. City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC) is releasing 14 teenage ghosts for its latest project, Haunted House at High Street, one of many programmes in the International Arts Carnival that runs through mid-August.

In a carnival, you have fun. You forget about time. You put aside rules. The boundless energy of the budding dancers, aged 15 to 17, has had the same effect. Benny Fung Shing-kin, for instance, is not losing sleep over his HKCEE results, which are due out next week. Like many of his teammates, his greatest ambition is to join the Academy of Performing Arts.

An active member of his school drama club, he took up dancing on the advice of a teacher.

'I used to be very shy about it [dancing]. But now, I'm more able to control my body movements,' said Fung, 16. 'I feel great when I can do certain sequences.' Hon Ka-ching, 15, and her sister Ka-yau, 17, share his sentiments. Former practitioners of oriental dance, they found that style a bit constrictive.

'Modern dance is fun and it allows you more space for creativity,' said Ka-ching.

Though the young dancers have fun putting on Haunted House, the production is anything but happy. At a recent rehearsal, an adult performer practised a scene in which he was to hang himself. One of the songs is River of No Return - a song made famous by Marilyn Monroe, who committed suicide in the 1950s.

But Ka-yau says she was not affected by the message of gloom. Her main problem during rehearsals was 'trying not to giggle,' she said. Her teammates nodded in agreement.

Benny mused, 'Sometimes I will have unpleasant thoughts when it comes to those sad scenes, but it is important for us to learn how to share those feelings with the audience.' It seems that little can discourage these performers, not even the bruises that are the result of countless spills.

Then again, none has visited the haunted house on High Street - the inspiration for the programme.

Formerly an asylum, the Victorian building in Western was used as a torture chamber during the Japanese occupation. Little wonder that many people believe it is haunted.

But director and choreographer Pun Siu-fai, who grew up in the neighbourhood, believes otherwise.

'I've never thought it was haunted even though I've heard ghost stories about the place,' he said.

'[Acting coach] Kevin [Ma] told me kids like to take refuge in there, which made me realise how the outside world could be scarier than any haunted house. Most of the kids are runaways. We were inspired to show others how they feel.' Pun has been the Educational and Outreach Director of CCDC since 1994. In May and June, he organised a workshop and invited teenagers aged 12-16 to share their experiences.

He said the dancers would try to portray the emotions of these runaways in their performance. 'Our haunted house is not something tangible. It is in our hearts.' In Haunted House, two teenagers find an old notebook in the house on High Street. Uncovering long-lost stories in the book, they hear voices from the past. These are the ghosts of tragic lovers - a Chinese girl and a Japanese officer; a coolie and a French nurse.

Though the relationships were doomed to fail, Pun says he does not believe in genuine tragedy.

'I want to shatter people's belief in destiny,' he said. 'Hope comes when you're willing to search. It comes when you're willing to communicate, to talk to the ghosts [teenagers].' In an attempt to involve the audience in the performance, members will be asked to participate by throwing pretend blackboard dusters at the performers they dislike.

'We want to stimulate the audience's imagination,' said Ma.

Explaining why he chose the ghostly theme, he said, 'Nowadays young people are in such a rush to grow up. But psychologically, they are still very fragile.

'They are like ghosts. They lack a purpose, a direction. They are lost and always searching for something.' Haunted House at High Street, CCDC. Hong Kong Cultural Centre Studio Theatre. Today 7.30pm. August 1 and 2, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. $80 and $150 (half-price for full-time students, senior citizens and the disabled)