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Performing arts in Hong Kong

Review: possibly the worst original Hong Kong dance production we’ve seen

Tiring, outdated rather than experimental, and in places gratuitous and offensive – no wonder people were walking out of City Contemporary Dance Company’s production Post-Perception/Transcendence

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 April, 2017, 12:08pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 4:43pm

If the title itself was a warning that City Contemporary Dance Company’s new production, Post-Perception/Transcendence, was unlikely to be a fun evening, nothing could have prepared the audience for what ensued. I have seen some bad shows in my time, but this may well be the worst original production by any of the local flagship companies I’ve had the misfortune to sit through.

This is all the more disappointing (and indeed disconcerting) given that choreographer Sang Jijia has an international reputation and dramaturge Tang Shu-wing is one of Hong Kong’s leading theatre directors.

The piece sets out to explore four themes – death, love, the need to speak out against injustice and the rise of technology and material greed. Abstract ideas of this kind are extremely difficult to express in movement – while the dancers recite texts written by Tang, Sang’s choreography does little to illuminate them.

The piece starts off with his characteristic non-stop kineticism, which quickly becomes tiring to watch, in part because of the limited vocabulary of movement and constant repetition of the same steps.

It soon turned out the production had little actual dance and its main “innovation” was having the dancers vocalise – not only using speech, but producing a range of sounds, from screams and manic laughter to animal noises. Long out of date in terms of experimentalism, this kind of exercise may still have value in the studio; in a theatre production it has none.

Hong Kong choreographer Sang Jijia's long and lonely road

In one nerve-shredding sequence women are brutalised to the accompaniment of endless hysterical sobbing, similar to an equally unpleasant and gratuitous scene in Sang’s previous piece for the company, Fragile Beauty .

Another begins with a modern dance cliché I had hoped never to see again – a dancer imitating a person with a spastic condition, another piece of outdated “experimentalism” that today is utterly offensive. The dancer then drops to his knees and starts barking like a dog, and is swiftly joined by the whole company, who crawl towards the front of the stage imitating dogs, cats and apes. That was the point at which members of the audience began to walk out, a steady trickle that continued until the end of the show.

New theatre piece by Tang Shu-wing tackles life's big questions with Apple-like simplicity

After this came to the only passage of any quality, where several dancers climb slowly onto a long ladder at the side of the stage and sit in profile while others lay out a pathway of slabs of white stone. Visually arresting, this welcome moment of coherence amid the chaos was soon over and it was back to the animals, with a female dancer miaowing as she rubs against a male dancer’s legs and he hisses and snarls at her.

If Sang and Tang are trying to say that human beings are just like cats and dogs, I’d have to disagree – those fine beasts would never inflict 80 minutes of such tortuous tosh on their fellow creatures.

Leo Cheung’s inventive set was the best thing about the evening and the dancers performed with misplaced heroism.

Post-Perception/Transcendence, City Contemporary Dance Company, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre. Reviewed: April 1