Dance and the city

By Liao Danlin Source:Global Times Published: 2014-7-29 19:13:01

Viewing Hong Kong through the art of dance

Pak Wei-ming Photo: Courtesy of Beijing Dance Festival

For the past two weeks, the Beijing Dance Festival, which ended on Sunday, provided a platform for dancers and choreographers from all over the world to bring intense artistic enjoyment to the capital.

Among all these different performances, one particular highlight of the festival was the Hong Kong Dance Day performance, in which an entire day was spent focusing on 10 dance performances by Hong Kong artists.

Era of neglect

The topic of Hong Kong culture is as alive and healthy as ever. However while the city's films, music and fine art industry, as well as how the city's political and economic transformation has affected the art industry are constantly being discussed in the media, people seem to be paying less attention to contemporary dance.

In his introduction to the history of Hong Kong's contemporary dance development written for the Beijing Dance Festival, Willy Tsao, founder of the City Contemporary Dance Company as well as the Beijing Dance/LDTX, explained that contemporary dance in Hong Kong has seen three generations of dancers since Helen Lai's dance recital was first seen by audiences in the city.

Tsao explains that during the time of the first generation of dancers, contemporary dance existed in the narrow gap that lay between classical ballet and traditional Chinese ethnic dances and that it was only until the late 1990s that the second generation of contemporary dancers finally managed to shed their "Hong Kong" and "Chinese" cultural baggage and began to develop their own styles. Later, the third and current generation officially began with the return of Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland in 1997.

Stepping out from under the shadow the city's time as a British colony, and facing a new political and social ecosystem, the current generation of contemporary dancers have developed unique ways of expressing themselves through dance.

According to Karen Cheung, program director for the Beijing Dance Festival, all the works performed at the festival reflect the current face of Hong Kong. Some performances were about the fast-pace of city life, while others examined the impact of traditional Chinese culture or focused on the personal emotions and feelings of the city's younger generation. 

"Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland are experiencing many cultural conflicts. We hope that through dance, we can create more opportunities for communication and understanding," Cheung said.

The third generation

The current young generation of contemporary dancers are exploring creativity in many different ways, which can be seen from the performances shown at the Beijing Dance Festival.

Justyne Li and Wong Tan-ki are two of these dancers. Working together to choreograph performances for many years now, Li started out as a ballerina, while Wong specializes in tap dance and ballet. These backgrounds have allowed them to bring in new elements to their performances.

Employing the Greek myth in which the sculptor Pygmalion falls in love with a statue he created, their performance Galatea X examines the interesting relationship between an artist and his creation. 

Wong told the Global Times that people like to think that it is the artist that brings life to an artwork, but he personally feels that while this is true, at the same time creations also influence the artists that made them in hard to notice ways - an idea that he and Li try to demonstrate with Galatea X.

For his performance at the festival, Tint, Pak Wei-ming incorporated a special mixture of physical movements with his favorite electronic music and interesting visual stimulation. For Pak, inspiration is everywhere in life. He told the Global Times that while his creative process changes for each project - sometimes starting from music or sometimes beginning with certain poses - no matter what the final result always has its roots in an original idea.

Cheung sees this young generation of Hong Kong choreographers as a passionate group from various backgrounds and possessing different specialties that continually provide a wide range of variety. 

Leaping forward

"Now is a time when every cultural aspect in Hong Kong, including performing arts, indie music and contemporary art, is preparing for a big jump," writer Chan Koon-chung said while attending the dance symposium "The Present Situation of Hong Kong Culture - Letting Dance be a Methodology" held as part of the festival.

"I feel that there a great many interesting things happening. Artists from every generation are gathering together to discuss ideas. The topics of discussion are complicated and cross into different areas," he said. 

Unlike the Chinese mainland where most famous dancers work for certain dance troupes, most of the Hong Kong dancers that came to Beijing this time are independent artists.

As a result, most of them are skilled in multiple areas, experienced in choreography and a bit of everything else from stage and costume design to composing music. In order to apply for governmental funding for their performances, they also need to know how to write proposals and financial reports.

Additionally, since theaters in Hong Kong are often fully booked throughout the year, independent dancers have to book one year in advance to ensure they have a venue for their performance.

 As such the artistic environment in Hong Kong has made these artists more organized and adaptable when it comes to different situations. For instance, some dance groups have started to move their headquarters to rent-friendly locations, and many dancers have started gaining experience performing outside traditional venues such as on the street, in bookstores or even factory buildings.

"It is not only about physical spaces, but also about cultural spaces," cultural and dance critic Lol Fung pointed out at the same dance symposium, explaining that the space where performances are given help create a special atmosphere, and that holding performances in these unique environments has become a current feature of contemporary dance in Hong Kong. 

Moreover, topics about Western and Eastern culture, gender, identity, immigration and other social, political and cultural topics have now become common themes that can be seen in Hong Kong performances. While the means of performing is also changing as artists incorporate cross-media and new technology into their art.

Posted in: Dance

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