Review: A powerful love story unmasked in 'Masquerade'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 9:51am

Hong Kong Dance Company
Cultural Centre Grand Theatre
Reviewed: August 16

Hong Kong Dance Company's latest production is the award-winning Masquerade, originally created by choreographer/director Ding Wei for the Guizhou Song and Dance Ensemble.

Described as a "grand ethnic dance drama", it combines folk-based dance and masked performers from the Nuo tradition with a moving love story that has echoes of Romeo and Juliet and a touch of The Phantom of the Opera.

As long as director and composer stick to ... ethnic traditions, they are right on target

The show is lively, entertaining and features stand-out performances from the lead actors.

Nuo is an ancient Chinese culture whose dance and opera traditions are famous for the use of extraordinary masks - ranging from the beautiful to the grotesque - worn by the performers, who are shaman-like figures believed to communicate with both gods and men.

Masquerade's hero, Cang (Liu Yinghong), is a Nuo dancer whose mask serves a deeper purpose: to hide his scarred face. Despite this, the pretty, young Chen (Tang Ya) falls in love with him (and he with her), to the dismay of her handsome suitor Mao (Chen Jun).

When she rejects Mao and declares her love for Cang, the jealous Mao tries to shoot him - but it is Chen who is killed as she tries to protect her lover.

Ding has interwoven this tragic romance with a sequence of scenes depicting the four seasons. Each is based around rousing folk-dance routines, along with a Nuo ritual dance led by Cang.

The choreography is packed with powerfully rhythmic ensembles performed with tremendous verve by the whole company, while Cang, Mao and the Nuo dancers show off spectacular leaps and spins.

As long as Ding and his composer, Li Cangsang, stick to dance and music drawn from ethnic traditions, they are right on target. They falter in a couple of scenes where the music veers jarringly into Broadway territory, and the choreography follows it.

Cang's mask collection comes to life in a routine reminiscent of Michael Jackson's Thriller video and the spring section opens with something that looks and sounds like an Oklahoma! hoedown.

There are also some ill-judged background projections which are unnecessary and distracting.

Meanwhile, as Cang, Liu's fluidity, control and expressiveness are riveting. When Chen dies, he dances with her lifeless body, like Romeo does with Juliet. In an unbearably poignant moment, Cang props her up with her head on his shoulder and a radiant smile spreads over his face. For just a second he can believe she is alive before her body slowly crumples to the ground and his anguish returns.

Tang Ya gives a spirited portrayal of her feisty character, and Chen Jun is a virile, powerfully danced Mao.

Natasha Rogai