Sway to go
At last year's Hong Kong Dance Festival, a delighted audience roared through Rainy Days and Mondays ..., a witty commentary on modern city life choreographed by Noel Pong Chi-kwan. For many, it was an eye-opener. Contemporary dance had never been this accessible, relevant and fun.
It was also a revelation for the City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), where Pong has been a full-time dancer for a decade. The piece's success not only confirmed the 32-year-old's talent in choreography but the need to showcase works with similar appeal if the government-funded troupe - and the local contemporary dance scene - was to broaden its audience.
Which is why the CCDC has introduced in its 2007/08 season programme a series of more palatable works by young choreographers from within and outside the company. The New Wave Series will complement the existing Master Series, which features works by veterans such as resident choreographer Helen Lai Hoi-ling, and the experimental Dancers' Homework Series. Of the five major productions this season, two will be devoted to nurturing young talent.
CCDC programme and marketing director Clementine Chan Yee-man says the change is part of continuous effort at audience-building. 'We've noticed, especially after taking some of our productions to schools, that works by seasoned choreographers like Helen Lai and [CCDC founder] Willy Tsao are sometimes too difficult for students and new audiences to understand,' Chan says. 'So we've come up with a lineup that defines different audiences.
'The New Wave Series promotes new talent - we've seen some good new works from our young dancers over the past two years. The Dancers' Homework Series has been a good starting point because that's where dancers like Noel have a chance to explore.
'We hope the new series will produce uplifting and fun works that are more relevant to the audience, and will bring them closer to us. Now is the right time because a new generation of mature choreographers is emerging.'
This Friday, Pong will return with a new piece for a triple-bill show titled C'est la vie, C'est l'amour, the first of the New Wave Series. It will also feature the CCDC's Dominic Wong Dick-man and Yang Yuntao.
Pong says she hasn't gone out of her way to create something to please the audience. Her work is often a reflection of her experiences and feelings. 'I'm young, so many people my age can relate to what I want to talk about - like love. My experience simply echoes theirs. I'm quite wary of creating dance pieces that are too deep because I wouldn't understand it either. In a way, this makes my work less heavy. If I tried to come up with something really profound it would be like a child trying to be an adult. It would be unnatural.'
Her movie-like piece He Loves and She Loves offers a cynical view of love, which often ends in heartbreak and disappointment. Unlike Rainy Days and Mondays ..., the new work isn't comical.
'The biggest challenge for me is trying to be solemn because I'm a playful person,' Pong says. 'But I decided to choreograph something serious to counter Dominic's extremely light-hearted piece.'
Wong's E.Y.T. is inspired by old Canto-pop hits, including a handful of numbers by Danny Chan Pak-keung. The 36-year-old dancer describes his work as 'very Hong Kong, nostalgic and entertaining'.
'The piece is choreographed and timed in such a way as to evoke audience reaction,' he says. 'The music - old TV show themes and Canto-pop tunes - is from the 1970s and 80s, so whether the audience is familiar with contemporary dance or not, they'll take away something with them after seeing the show.'
Like Pong's piece, Yang's Shall We Dance? comes from the heart. 'It's about relationships between people and between people and society. All the power politicking is being played out inside a ballroom.'
Although he has choreographed for big productions, including last year's The Smiling, Proud Wanderer by the Hong Kong Dance Company (where he was a principal dancer until he joined the CCDC in 2005), Yang says his new piece is challenging because he's responsible for the entire 25-minute performance, and not just part of it.
For Wong, the trickiest part of E.Y.T. (a reference to a long-running but now defunct live variety TV show called Enjoy Yourself Tonight) is to match his dance vocabulary with the lyrics. 'I'm using some of these songs to express my feelings towards major events such as the Sars outbreak and the handover. One number will play on the chief executive's election campaign slogan, 'I'll get the job done'. There will also be mime and singing so dance is only one part of the work.'
Although C'est la vie, C'est I'amour comprises three separate choreographed pieces, the three dancer/choreographers work closely, with Pong dancing in Yang's piece and vice versa. Pong has also given Wong advice on how to make some of the theatrical elements in his work more dramatic.
'It's hard to distance yourself from your own work, so you definitely need someone to give you independent advice,' she says. 'Yang is very good to work with even though he doesn't say much. But in his quiet way, he has been extremely supportive and helpful.'
C'est la vie, C'est l'amour, Apr 13-14, 8pm, Sheung Wan Civic Centre Theatre, HK$100, HK$130.
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