100 minutes of mournfulness: Hong Kong dance adaptation of literary classic falls flat

Despite some vivid and well danced fragments, Soledad, Helen Lai and Peter Suart’s take on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, lacks coherence and light, and ends up being lugubrious

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 December, 2015, 3:30pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 December, 2015, 4:41pm

No local dance production has been more eagerly anticipated this year than Soledad, which marks the return of Helen Lai Hoi-ling, one of Hong Kong’s most distinguished choreographers, to City Contemporary Dance Company. It’s a hugely ambitious project with some mesmerising sequences of vintage Lai, but as a whole the work is uneven and suffers from longueurs.

Soledad is Lai’s first collaboration with composer and performance artist Peter Suart, who created the music and set design (both excellent) and also appears on stage.

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The pair have, with admirable audacity, chosen to adapt Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magic realist masterpiece 100 Years of Solitude. With its sprawling canvas, huge cast of characters and many layers of meaning, a faithful translation of the story to the stage was obviously not feasible. Instead, Lai and Suart have created a series of scenes inspired by key lines from the book.

The result is a succession of vivid fragments and is effective in terms of an impressionistic approach to the book. Choreography, music and Cheng Man-wing’s costumes evoke an intangibly South American feel. However, the lack of connection between scenes or continuity of roles portrayed by the dancers lessens the emotional impact of the work.

The humour and warmth that create contrasts in Lai’s best work are absent and the overall effect, with Suart intoning somewhat portentous texts of his own composition and Goh Boon An’s overly dim lighting, becomes lugubrious. Running for nearly one hour and 40 minutes, it would benefit from judicious cutting.

That said, it is a pleasure to see new choreography by Lai and parts of the piece are nothing short of stunning.

Working with Lai has galvanised the dancers, who perform superbly. The movement undulates and flows, punctuated by sharp, staccato accents.

The high points are two fiercely erotic duets, the first for Qiao Yang and Kelvin Mak, followed by Mak with a solo of burning intensity; the second for Peggy Lam and Ivan Chan. All four dancers are magnificent.

Also outstanding is a brilliantly whimsical sequence with the cast wielding umbrellas and a magical moment when Dominic Wong walks an imaginary tightrope.

Soledad, City Contemporary Dance Company, Kwai Tsing Theatre. Reviewed: December 11