Review: Hedvig from The Wild Duck fails as dance piece

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 July, 2013, 9:12am

Hedvig from The Wild Duck
City Contemporary Dance Company
Kwai Tsing Theatre
Reviewed: June 28

For its latest production, City Contemporary Dance Company invited Norwegian choreographer Ina Christel Johannessen to create a full-length piece based on The Wild Duck, written in 1884 by her compatriot and great playwright Henrik Ibsen.

The story begins when a man named Gregers returns home after 15 years to find his old friend, Hjalmar, happily married to Gina, a former servant of Gregers' wealthy father. The couple have a young daughter named Hedvig, whom they adore.

However, Gregers believes Gina had an affair with his father - and that Hedvig is the child borne of that relationship. Disgusted and believing it is wrong to live a lie, he tells Hjalmar the truth, setting off a chain of events which culminate in the innocent Hedvig's suicide.

The choice of play is curious as the purpose of The Wild Duck is to explore a moral question: Is it better to live a lie and be happy or should the truth be revealed at any cost?

Dance is not a good medium for intellectual debate of this kind. Other Ibsen works ( A Doll's House, for example) would lend themselves better to a dance interpretation.

Nonetheless, it should be possible for a choreographer with a mastery of narrative work to produce an effective version of the play. Unfortunately, Johannessen's work fails to fulfil the most basic requirements of narrative dance.

The characters, for instance, are not portrayed distinctly (they all dance the same way and even wear similar costumes) - nor is the story told through movement.

Instead, each scene is introduced and explained by a narrator, a device that should never be needed in dance theatre. The narration doesn't even address the moral dilemma, explored in the original work, of whether the revelation of ugly secrets justifies the destruction of a happy family and the tragic death of Hedvig.

On the contrary, the performance ends with a cheap horror film line which suggests that events were caused by having 13 people at dinner.

The work's failure as theatre is compounded by repetitive choreography - a limited vocabulary of movement consisting largely of high kicks and convulsions - and a score with long passages of grating, monotonous electronic sound.

CCDC's dancers, usually so expressive even in abstract pieces, are given too little to work with to project much emotion or create believable characters.

Only Jennifer Mok (left) as Hedvig stands out, notably in the final scene where her limp body is carried around the stage after her suicide.

Natasha Rogai