City Contemporary Dance Company
HK Cultural Centre Studio Theatre
Reviewed: Dec 7
Helen Lai Hoi-ling's new work for City Contemporary Dance Company, HerStory, is inspired by nu shu, which literally means 'women's writing', a name given to a unique script developed 400 years ago by the women of Jiangyong County as a code to express themselves in secret.
Lai explores the situation of those women and compares it to that of Hong Kong women today as reflected by contemporary female authors Wong Bik-san and Xi Xi.
The piece opens with the nu shu women. In one powerful sequence, a bride is torn from friends and family while the other women weep. The use of fans (on which nu shu poems were often written) and red handkerchiefs add a fascinating visual dimension to the scene.
Next, slinky black costumes conjure up the cheongsams of 1930s Shanghai. These women dance, flirt, fight with and give in to men. More sexually liberated than the nu shu women, they still struggle to find their place in a man's world. The highlight is a witty treatment of Besame Mucho on the difficulty of finding the right man.
HerStory has resonance, but is an uneven work and much of the choreography lacks the originality of Lai at her best, falling back on a more standard dance vocabulary. Charfi Hung's designs and Yeung Tsz-yan's lighting are excellent.