Lighting up the ice with dance

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2011, 12:00am

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Third time lucky, the saying goes, and David Liu is betting on that.

This weekend will see Liu in the third staging of Plaza X, a contemporary dance theatre piece that combines music, dance, skating and theatre.

'When you revisit a piece, it's nice to have the luxury of time to step away from it and look at it from a different perspective,' says Liu, the lead performer and skate choreographer of the production. 'I saw certain things that worked and certain things that didn't. When you're involved with it, you're too close.'

Liu grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where his family immigrated when he was six. Even at that young age, he had already taken dance lessons. He lived close to an ice rink, and soon took up skating.

'My parents were just too busy trying to make a life in the US, so there was just no time to take me to dance classes,' Liu recalls. 'I was born in Taiwan, and I was always fascinated with ice and snow. I'd never seen [real] ice or snow [before arriving in the US]. I remember the first time I went skating: it was cold and I loved the glide and freedom of it.'

Liu went on to compete in the Olympics three times for Taiwan.

He retired from competitive skating in 1998 and now splits most of his time between New York and Hong Kong. He co-founded the Solidwaterdance Productions studio and works extensively as a performer, choreographer and artistic director for shows worldwide.

Plaza X was conceived by renowned Hong Kong dance choreographer Helen Lai after she chanced upon the book Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman. She decided to rework it into a dance piece.

Both the book and the dance production explore aspects of time and how we perceive it. Lai uses passages from the book as voiceovers in her production.

'Plaza X is partly inspired by the novel, but is not the [only] source of my inspiration,' Lai says. 'I think Plaza X is more inspired by the fact that I knew I would have David as the skater. I had the image of doing a piece with skating and ice.'

Liu says: 'It's set in an anachronistic period. You don't know if it's in the future or past. It's kind of a fantasy place. The X in the title is kind of a variable and can stand for anything.'

Since the production was first staged at the Hong Kong Arts Festival in 2000, it has undergone a decade-long series of fine-tuning. It was restaged in 2004 and is set to return this weekend for the third time.

Liu has been in the production since the beginning. He met Lai, who is resident choreographer at the City Contemporary Dance Company, through a mutual friend. Soon Plaza X was born.

Lai, a five-time Hong Kong Dance Awards winning choreographer, believed Liu would be well-suited to the production as a performer as well as a choreographer. So she handed him the reins to choreograph a large portion of the ice segments.

'There are certain physics of skating a dance choreographer may not fully be aware of, which can be good and bad,' Liu notes.

In the show, he says, 'I play this otherworldly person where I might be a memory for someone or I might be from an imaginary world. Somehow the two worlds collide, and that's where I have a duet with one of the dancers'.

The show also features dancers from the City Contemporary Dance Company troupe and live musical accompaniment by Grammy-nominated cellist Bion Tsang.

Plaza X will be staged at Kwai Tsing Theatre Auditorium on Friday and Saturday