Unlock Dancing Plaza at the Cloud Gate Theater, Tamsui, Taiwan
December 3, 2016
Twenty years ago, Yuri Ng (伍宇烈) created Boy Story (男生), a piece for six males that looked at men in Hong Kong society, their roles, anxieties and dreams, which at the time of course were all tied up with the 1997 handover of the colony to China. Made for the City Contemporary Dance Company, it quickly became an iconic work, danced by other companies and picking up many awards. Well, the boys are back – and how!
This latest revival reunites three of the original cast, original cast, Yap Choong Boon (葉忠文), Jay Jen Loo (劉傑仁), Ong Yong Lock (王榮祿, now artistic director of Unlock Dancing Plaza, 不加鎖舞踊館) and Goh Boon Ann (吳文安); with Wong Thien Pau (黃天寶) from the 1998 version, and newcomer Chou Shu-yi (周書毅) from Taiwan. But Ong not only revisits the original work. He also brings things up to date with Boy Story Reborn (男再生), taking the same basic idea, but with a young and energetic cast. It makes for a fascinating pairing and it’s easy to see why the combined works picked up the Outstanding Independent Production award at the 2016 Hong Kong Dance Awards.
In many ways, Boy Story is a piece of its time. We watch it differently today. Things have moved on, as have people, whether present at the time and who were part of that world and events, or not. But it says much for Boy Story that it stills looks fresh. In their formal suits, the men take on a non-stop pursuit of their dreams. Full of inventive dance, it remains thought-provoking and witty.
That says much for the cast, who all have remarkable presence and dance with bags of style. Upbeat optimistic moments are mixed with moments of concern for what is being lost, reflected in the presence of a Chinese deity, whose bright red contrasts strikingly with the greys and blacks elsewhere. Much of the action takes place on and around a white platform, although the highlight is Chou Shu-yi’s upstage solo on a ballet barre. Unbelievably fluid and full of expression, he was quite simply mesmerising.
Immediately obvious in Boy Story Reborn is that 2010s man is much less inhibited, more willing to express their freedom and show their individuality and personality. Gone are the formal suits, replaced by T-shirts, vests, joggers and trainers. Their dance is less refined (perhaps also reflecting a feeling about today’s world). The five-man cast of James Yau (丘展誠), Joseph Lee (李偉能), Lai Tak-wai (黎德威), Andy Lee (李振宇) and Skinny Ng (伍詠豪) are aggressive and competitive, but in a fun way. To pumping music, there is a lot of macho posturing and athletic leaping around, but there’s also a lot of support for each other, physically and emotionally. While the physical gags are funny, especially an extended one that involves a competition leaping between two low platforms, what really makes them are the wonderful glances and unspoken asides.
At the end the two casts are united in an upbeat, make you smile finale to Mambo City from the soundtrack of the Ang Lee’s 1994 film Eat, Drink, Men, Women (饮食男女), and that at times has echoes of the delightful ensemble dances of Pina Bausch.
I can’t overemphasise how enjoyable and engaging Boy Story•Reborn is. From the moment it bursts into life, it grabs you and doesn’t let go. Dance doesn’t always travel well but I would love to see this back in Britain, where I can’t help feeling it would be a hit. Festival organisers please take note.