Review: In Search of the Grand View Garden

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 5:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 5:31pm

In Search of the Grand View Garden

City Contemporary Dance Company


Kwai Tsing Theatre


Reviewed: December 6


In Search of the Grand View Garden, choreographed by Willy Tsao, is the second production within a few weeks by a Hong Kong company inspired by the same Chinese literary classic. Happily, it is a far cry in every way from Hong Kong Ballet's interpretation of Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber. Visually striking, quirky and intriguing, the production ends the year on a positive note for CCDC. In Search of the Grand View Garden was originally conceived about a decade ago as a site-specific, outdoor piece and has been performed as such many times over the years.

Although this new version is the first to be staged primarily inside a theatre, it starts off outdoors. Dancers in rich, elaborate robes are scattered around the forecourt of Kwai Tsing Theatre performing individually where members of the audience (and the public) can wander around and discover what each is doing. The dancers eventually come together and remove their outer costumes to reveal elegant black and white costumes, reminiscent of 1920s-style bathing suits. They perform a slow group routine before putting their robes back on and leading the audience into the auditorium.

The score consists largely of songs from the novel relating to key characters. Lai Tak-wai is the central protagonist, Bruce Wong plays a Taoist sage and the rest (including the other male dancers) are the female "Twelve Beauties". However, there is no attempt to follow the book's plot. Rather, Tsao evokes some of its key themes, notably that of family, in an abstract and sometimes startling way.

The opulent banquets and festivities of the original story are represented with delightful irreverence by a lively disco routine set to electropop number It's a Party.

The production undoubtedly has greater resonance and depth for those familiar with the novel, but the sequences of traditional Chinese choreography become repetitive. The outdoor sequence is exceptional and it would be good to see a complete staging take place outdoors - Tsao's original concept - in Hong Kong.

Natasha Rogai