Arts Review: 'The Buying Game' sells itself short

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 10:29am

The Buying Game

City Contemporary Dance Company

Cultural Centre Studio Theatre

Reviewed: April 26

City Contemporary Dance Company's full-length production The Buying Game explores that most Hong Kong of occupations - shopping.

The subject offers a wealth of possibilities for humour, social commentary and poignancy. It seems tailor-made for choreographer Noel Pong, renowned for her insightful slice-of-life vignettes and gift for comedy, which made her previous work, most recently the award-winning Off Screen, stand out.

It is surprising, then, that in The Buying Game Pong has chosen to focus mainly on developing her technical skills. The result is an ambitious work that includes some striking sequences and shows Pong successfully introducing new ideas into her choreography.

In the first half, she sets herself and her dancers a challenge by covering the whole stage with piles of clothing and leaving only a small square in the centre free for dancing. This restriction makes the opening sequence for the whole company, taken at breakneck speed and performed with dazzling precision, all the more remarkable. Another fast group sequence at the beginning of the second half is equally impressive.

Both show Pong taking a major step forward in ensemble choreography and her ability to demand - and get - exceptional discipline from the dancers.

Another highlight is a slow duet filled with inventive, off-kilter lifts and balances, superbly performed by Peggy Lam and Lee Ka-ki.

A trio featuring Lam, Jennifer Mok and Malvina Tam set to Erik Satie's Gnossienne No4 captures the mysterious, haunting quality of the music. The motif, where dancers lay their heads on each other's shoulders to create a pyramid of human bodies, echoes Bronislava Nijinska's masterpiece Les Noces. Meanwhile, Mok and Lam Po stand out in an interrupted duet, which they invest with subtle yet profound emotion.

Much of the piece is oddly melancholic - a comic routine with shopping bags, a sequence that is typical of Pong's work, is one of the least successful moments.

Overall, the work is less satisfying than Off Screen, admittedly a hard act to follow. Pong's desire to try new things is laudable, but there is much to be said for playing to your strengths. It's a pity that The Buying Game doesn't do more to explore its promising theme, given Pong's forte. Some scenes relate to shopping, while others don't, so the piece falls between two styles - neither abstract nor themed.

Still, there is much to enjoy, including the excellent dancing; Pong's characteristically eclectic choice of music; Charfi Hung's costumes, which enhance the flow of movement; and Goh Boon Ann's masterful lighting.