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Review: Love is in the air in contemporary dance production

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2015, 6:26am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 April, 2015, 9:23pm

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Happy Birthday?

City Contemporary Dance Company

Cultural Centre Studio Theatre

Reviewed: April 24

True to its title, the birthday theme recurs throughout this City Contemporary Dance Company production, complete with cakes, candles, singing and (since this is Hong Kong) the whole cast taking pictures with their phones. Love, or the search for love, also features strongly in several duets and trios.

More ambiguous were scenes where the dancers, dressed in black, surround a lone figure in white (Bruce Wong) who they manipulate like a puppet. Confusingly the piece ends with these seemingly unfriendly figures taking on a benevolent, guardian angel-like stance watching over him.

Happy Birthday? demonstrates choreographer Noel Pong's strengths and skills as a choreographer, notably her exceptional ability to create ensemble work and to juxtapose different groupings effectively without the eye becoming distracted.

Her musicality also shines through as does her sense of humour, notably in a lively spoof musical comedy number to the tune of Can't Take My Eyes Off You.

A lyrical duet for Kelvin Mak and Natalie Mak stands out for its complex, superbly executed partnering.

But overall, Happy Birthday? is too episodic and doesn't achieve the emotional depth and sharpness of observation that characterise Pong's best work, such as the award-winning Off Screen (2011).

One reason for this may be that choreography is a collaboration between the choreographer and dancers. With many senior artists having left in the past couple of years, most members of the current troupe are very young and however talented they may be, have yet to develop the presence and authority of their predecessors.

That said, the company looked in better form than it has for some time, dancing with unity, precision and energy. The production is well designed, with attractive costumes by Charfi Hung and effective lighting by Low Shee Hoe.