Dance troupe revisits demanding piece that questions Chinese identity

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 June, 2015, 10:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 June, 2015, 10:59pm

When Bruce Wong Chun-bong first danced in 365 Ways of Doing and Undoing Orientalism in 2002, the cutting-edge piece that has duly become a classic in the City Contemporary Dance Company's repertoire, it was a real eye-opener.

Wong was then a relatively recent graduate of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, having only joined the company the year before. He was intrigued by the contemplative theme of the piece, which was inspired by the 1997 handover, and how it sets out to question and challenge the symbols and reality of what it means to be "oriental".

Wong is now looking forward to revisiting the piece, 13 years later, when the company stages an updated version. He says the work is still relevant and needs few changes. "This question of our identity has never stopped," says the 37-year-old, referring both to what makes people in Hong Kong — and Chinese modern dance — Chinese. "It started way before the 1997 handover, and continues throughout our lives, regardless of the changing social landscape."

The 2002 version was choreographed jointly by Willy Tsao Sing-yuen, Xing Liang and Sang Jijia. Most of the original structure is preserved in the updated version, with changes mainly in the opening and ending to make the statement stronger and poke fun at the enduring stereotypes of China.

The show, which has been performed in Australia, America and Italy, aims to challenge the audience's perception of Chinese identity by giving Eastern aesthetics and traditions a Western twist. Think tai chi infused with funky popping elements or a dragon dance reimagined with a household essential — brooms.

Wong's favourite has to be a male-only passage in which Chinese sword fighting is taken to the next level. A hip hop enthusiast, Wong has jazzed up the traditional martial art with house footwork.

For Natalie Mak Yuen-yi, 24, who joined the dance company in September, it is a matter of having an in-depth understanding of tradition, without being bounded by clichés loaded with cultural attachment. Otherwise, "our mindset will be restrained instead of trying to create beyond the frame," says Mak.

Also an APA graduate, with a background in Chinese dance, Mak is working hard to live up to the high standard set by her predecessors. Only five of the 16 dancers performed in the show's 2002 debut and observers and critics may wonder if the younger dancers can rise to the challenges of the demanding choreography.

That is why Mak, who is replacing Taiwanese dancer and former company member Zhang Tsz-yu in a solo routine using Chinese long spears, is feeling the pressure.

With only short stints learning how to use different weapons and props as a student, Mak has been putting in extra hours to perfect the demanding four-minute act, which has left her bruised and bleeding at times.

But Mak is proud with what she has achieved so far. The background music, created by musician Peter Suart, has helped inspire her, she says.

The company has held a pre-performance tea tasting and exhibition at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in recent months. There will also be a tea gathering after the performance on both nights for those who wish to learn more about the show.

365 Ways of Doing and Undoing Orientalism by City Contemporary Dance Company, Kwai Tsing Theatre Auditorium, 12 Hing Ning Road, Kwai Chung, June 26-27, 8pm. HK$140-HK$250 Urbtix. Inquiries: 2329 7803