Opera classic told only through dance is a triumph
Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio
Studio Theatre, Cultural Centre
In 2009 theatre director Tang Shu-Wing and choreographer Xing Liang joined forces to create an award-winning radical re-working of Cantonese opera classic Princess Changping . Now they have teamed up again for an equally original take on one of China's most famous plays, Cao Yu's 1933 Thunderstorm .
Unlike Princess Changping, this is not a deconstruction but rather a condensation of Cao's work, stripped down to its essentials and presented as purely physical dance theatre. The result is a drama that succeeds in depicting the complex characters and relationships of the play without a single line of dialogue.
Thunderstorm tackles a recurring theme of 20th century Chinese literature, the oppression of the old feudal family system. The Ibsenesque plot deals with tyranny, madness, and revelations of incest that lead to the destruction of even the most innocent members of the family.
Tang and Xing tell this dark tale with admirable economy in a series of taut scenes illuminated as if by flashes of lightning from the gathering storm of the title which hangs over the action.
Drawing on elements of contemporary dance, Chinese dance and tai chi, Xing has fashioned a choreographic language of great naturalness where nothing is done for show and every movement has meaning. Ironically in the past, Xing has eschewed narrative work - here he shows himself a master of the medium.
The success of such an intense drama ultimately rests with the performances, and the cast of six are all perfect in their roles. A special word for Li Long-hin, who brings a wonderful innocence to his role as Chong, son of a tyrannical father, Zhou Puyuan. His solo in which he declares his love for a maidservant is the dance highlight of the production.
However, the evening belongs to Tina Hua's Fanyi, Zhou's unhappy wife, and she dominates the stage from start to finish. Hua has long been one of Hong Kong's finest dancers and this part sees her come into her own with a mesmerising portrait of a tormented woman descending into madness.
Matthew Ma's atmospheric music and soundtrack, Billy Chan's stunning lighting, and the evocative period costumes and sets by Mandy Tam and Tsang Man-tung complete an outstanding production that deserves to be seen again.