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Performing arts in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Cool introduces local choreographers and artists in collaboration in a mixed bag

The annual choreographers’ showcase had its moments, but the original pieces showed signs of a lack of mutual inspiration between artists and dancers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 5:47pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 5:47pm

Hong Kong Ballet’s annual Choreographers’ Showcase has been rechristened Hong Kong Cool and given a new twist – the aspiring choreographers from within the company have each been paired with a local artist from another medium, such as visual arts or music, to create their pieces.

While the idea is a good one, as so often with experimentation the results were disappointing, with much of the work showing little sense of mutual inspiration from its joint creators.

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The high point of the evening was Ricky Hu Songwei’s When You See. In the centre of the darkened stage a male dancer (Luis Cabrera) wearing only black trousers lies on a mirrored floor, holding a small globe of light that he manipulates around his body in such a way that it seems to be moving on its own. At the end it rises gently spinning into the sky and vanishes, leaving Cabrera bereft on the ground.

The way the light moves and changes, the reflections from the surface below and the sculptural quality of Cabrera’s half-naked torso is riveting. There’s also a sense of profound emotion, both from the dancer and the choreography and from the subtle, haunting music composed and led on guitar by Olivier Cong – a great example of how choreographer and composer can inspire each other. Superbly performed by Cabrera, this is a beautiful piece, original and compelling, and deserves to be seen again.

Hu’s frequent choreographic partner, Yuh Egami, has often experimented with integrating video with dance. Working with his regular collaborator James Kong and composer Mike Yip, in Wordless Letter Egami takes the words of Virginia Woolf’s suicide note and projects them, at first in sequence then in random patterns from which individual words pop out, while Chen Zhiyao and Forrest Rain Oliveros dance a convoluted duet at the front of the stage.

The deconstruction of the words and the way they are used to create images is clever, but the problem with this kind of back projection is that it distracts the eye from the dancing – it’s not physically possible to watch both at the same time and, focusing on the video, I was left with little sense of the actual dance.

Oliveros’ own piece, Mellifluous, was a breath of fresh air in a programme dominated by modern and mainly sombre work. Set to Vivaldi, it was a joyous celebration of pure neoclassical style which showcased the technique of the four male and four female dancers, with particular emphasis on the sparkling pointe work of the women.

The choreography was assured and musical, Chloe Ho’s costumes attractive and the dancing excellent, with Venus Villa a stand-out. This was Oliveros’ first creation for the company and it is hoped he will do more in the future.

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Jonathan Spigner’s Monolith was a characteristically outside the box effort, with a largely spoken soundtrack by The Books and minimalist designs by Matthew Tsang Man-fu. What looked like the Tardis arrived in the middle – Dr Who didn’t appear, but Dong Ruixue and Shen Jie had a fun, flirtatious duet around it and there was some strong dancing, notably from Leung Chunlong.

Leung’s [I] had a lively, energetic first half – the second was less successful and it was hard to see what the drawings of little birds by Alex Heung Kin-fung projected on the backcloth had to do with any of it.

Li Lin’s Missing Out got full marks for ambition and had a fine performance from Shen Jie as a young man who gets into bad company. Sadly, it was marred by fashion designer Yeung Chin’s bulky, shapeless costumes, which committed the cardinal sin of design for dance – concealing the lines of the body.

Artist shows traditional Chinese landscapes on real human bodies

The biggest disappointment was Empty Awakening by the team of Li Jiabo and He Chaoya, who have done such good work in the past. Xia Jun as the Monkey King should have been great casting – in the event, there was too little actual dancing, the storyline was confusing, and ceramic artist Rachel Cheung’s living Buddha sculpture was overly reminiscent of street performance mimed sculptures.

The evening had an odd structure – another innovation advertised was that the audience would be able to “grab a drink and mingle [with the dancers]” after the show. This didn’t materialise and all seven dance pieces were presented together, followed by an interval of only 10 minutes before the screening of The Unheard Beat, a half-hour film by director Oliver Shing about the creation of Hu and Egami’s Carmen in 2017. Although the film is well made and genuinely interesting, tacking it on at the end of the live performance made for a lopsided programme and not all the audience stayed for it.


Hong Kong Cool

Hong Kong Ballet

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Studio Theatre

Reviewed: September 13, 2018