Performing arts in Hong Kong

Insanity and martial arts: a strong, contrasting double bill from City Contemporary Dance Company

  • The first show, Nuts’hell, looks at psychiatric diagnosis and insanity
  • The second show, Jangdan, is more commercial than contemporary dance
PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2018, 1:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 December, 2018, 1:09pm

City Contemporary Dance Company ended the year on a high note with a strong double bill featuring one new piece from the company’s own Noel Pong plus one from Korean guest choreographer Kim Jaeduk.

Offering a striking contrast in style and content, each work challenged the dancers in different ways and brought out the best in them to create a high quality, entertaining evening.

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Pong’s Nuts’hell (the title is a pun) was inspired by the Rosenhan experiment, which set out to test the validity of psychiatric diagnosis by having sane people admitted to psychiatric hospitals. Despite behaving normally after initial faked symptoms, all were diagnosed as suffering from mental disorders and were only able to secure their release by agreeing with the doctors that they had indeed been insane to begin with.

The question at the heart of Nuts’hell is how do we tell who is sane and who is not? The work begins and ends with a lone patient (an outstanding performance from Bruce Wong), who conducts music no one else can hear – he is joined by others, who interact with each other in various ways. Masks appear suddenly on faces, then are transferred from one person to another (only Wong remains without a mask throughout). Are those wearing masks the ones who are mad or are they the ones pretending that they are?

The work is enhanced by exceptional designs, with Charfi Hung’s ingenious set and Ziv Chun’s video bringing the claustrophobic world the patients inhabit to compelling life. Changing skies are seen through barred windows in the bare brick wall of the hospital and the bars themselves move, with the patients at times seen in front of them, at others caged behind them.

Thought-provoking and often moving, the piece is surprisingly lyrical and gentle in tone, albeit with an underlying sense of darkness and unease.

The choreography is inventive, musical and shows Pong moving in new directions – a duet where Bobo Lai is manipulated with the floppy movements of a rag doll stood out – and the eclectic selection of music, from Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre to a dancer’s mournful rendition of Edelweiss on harmonica, is consistently effective.

Kim’s Jangdan is a radical departure for the company – a driving, high energy ensemble piece more reminiscent of commercial than contemporary dance.

Set to a thudding, percussion-led score by the choreographer, nine dancers dressed identically in gangster-style black suits and shirts perform as a tightly knit group, largely in unison. Movement is repetitive and often staccato and there’s a distinct martial arts influence, notably in a section where one dancer avoids attacks by one after another of the others by moving his body without budging from the spot in true Hong Kong film fashion.

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The score and the pace of the choreography build continuously and the dancers performed with admirable stamina and attack.

There wasn’t always enough precision in the ensemble moments – something these dancers are rarely called upon to produce; the mix of physiques, normally not an issue in contemporary work, also jarred somewhat – and the piece might have built up to a bigger climax.

Nonetheless, it was a lively, exciting work which drew a rapturous reception from the audience and made a refreshing change from the overly earnest work which tends to dominate the local contemporary dance scene.

Come Across

City Contemporary Dance Company

Kwai Tsing Theatre

Reviewed: December 7, 2018