Hong Kong dance company reprises 365 Ways of Doing and Undoing Orientalism
Ensemble dance piece looks at Western preconceptions of the East using the four seasons as a context
Created in 2002, 365 Ways of Doing and Undoing Orientalism has become one of City Contemporary Dance Company's seminal works, featured regularly in overseas tours. Lively and entertaining, this ensemble piece shows the company in sharp form.
Conceived and directed by Willy Tsao Sing-yuen with choreography by Tsao, Xing Liang and Sang Jijia, it sets out to explore and subvert the cliches of "orientalism" in a modern dance context.
The main body of the piece is divided into the four seasons. Autumn and spring refer to Chinese opera and dance and are packed with traditional props, from swords and spears to fans and parasols. Enhanced by Silvio Chan's stunning set and costume designs, these sections are splendid theatre, creating startling images as the women whirl their "long sleeves" or the warriors spin their spears.
Summer strikes a different note - a couple on a bed make love, at first with passion then with violence as figures in distorted Red Guard uniforms close in around them, twirling long red ribbons in endless spirals. This is the work's most powerful and intriguing scene - the central pair were danced with ferocious intensity and exemplary control by Peggy Lam and Kelvin Mak.
Winter is a summation of the theme as the dancers return one by one to the stage, each bringing with them one of the symbolic props.
The extent to which the piece succeeds in "undoing" orientalism is debatable. In the autumn and spring scenes, the visual effects are so striking the performance is easy to enjoy at face value - it ends up playing into the clichés rather than deconstructing them.
Only the summer sequence really succeeds in combining contemporary dance with "Chinese" elements (traditional and communist revolutionary) in an original and thought-provoking way.
365 Ways of Doing and Undoing Orientalism, City Contemporary Dance Company, Kwai Tsing Theatre. Reviewed: June 26