Joy Wang X.Y. reports on a fascinating project that brought together dance-makers and music-makers, culminating at a studio sharing at the Ko Shan Theatre, Hong Kong on November 19, 2016
A recent collaboration between Hong Kong Ballet (香港芭蕾舞團) and West Kowloon Cultural District (西九文化區) paired each of four composer-musicians with a choreographer who doubled up as dancer. Entitled New Works Forum: Choreographer & Composer Lab (新作論壇：舞・樂互碰), the choreographers all came from the company, with the composers having backgrounds in a variety of musical genres ranging from jazz to classical.
Throughout history, the symbiotic relationship between dance and music has been the cornerstone of many creative enterprises. Anna CY Chan (陳頌瑛), Head of Dance at the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, reminded us of Petipa and Tchaikovsky, Balanchine and Stravinsky. She stressed that this platform was meant to open up a dialogue between the world of dance and the world of music.
With only a week to prepare, this sharing (it was not a performance as such) the strength of the workshop lies in the insight it offers into the working process. Each piece was followed by an interview with the choreographer and composer. They were joined by New York based Ian Ng (伍家駿), who with Chi Shing Kung (龔志成) facilitated and mentored the pairs. Each couple found the right words to describe the evolution of their work and were funny, appreciative and justifiably proud of what they had achieved.
Dancer Yui Sugawara (菅原愉依) and composer-guitarist Chin Hung Tsui (崔展鴻) who Chan described, in life, as “two people who want to date but can’t quite find the right words,” were the first to take to the studio floor. Clad in simple black work clothes, Sugawara started in the foreground, sandwiched between two aisles of the audience. She manipulated her body, experimenting with its extremities before stopping to peel off a piece of tape, wrapped it around her waist and then taped it at the feet of the guitarist, which felt, unintended probably, like a kind of homage.
The second piece by Ricky Song-wei Hu (胡頌威, choreographer) and Alain Chiu (趙朗天, composer) was more conceptual. Song lay spread eagled on the ground surrounded by portable CD players while Chiu (wearing headlights) circled around him first slowly then rapidly, bathing his body in different spectres of lights. Song who remained fixed to the spot (as he put it, “He, the composer, moves more than I do”) grew to full height while testing his upper body’s possibilities. I thought it rather like a cross between a resurrection scene and something mildly reminiscent of the themes of Afternoon of a Faun – a man discovering his body and its limits for the first time. When the body reaches its natural end point it responds with a tingling sensation. Song said this fascinated him and it became part of the work.
The pair spoke about some of the creative negotiations that occur when two artists with different but valid ideas come together. In this case, the composer had to make his music ‘danceable’, and the choreographer had to rework his initial vision. Song said his original idea was to make beautiful movement, “powerful and big.” After being confronted with Chiu’s musical loops it turned into a more linear exploration of energy and time, of how to go from “0 to 100% … like a tree.”
Both Natalie Ogonek (choreographer-dancer) and Fung Lam (林丰, composer-musician), we were told, are “expressive individuals.” It showed in a hyper-emotional piece that felt just a little like Giselle’s mad scene on steroids! Certainly, Ogonek dressed in a lace leotard and romantic tutu looked the part. Fung accompanied her at the piano (a first, apparently). Ogonek told him that she always does happy and wanted to do something else for a change. He obliged by offering her the opportunity to do something ‘angry’. With Ogonek resembling one of those broken musical dolls the choreography had an improvisatory dimension, a sort of nightmarishly limpid quality.
The showcase concluded with Yuh Egami (江上悠, choreographer-dancer) and Mike Orange (composer-musician). Agreeing that there was an immediate empathy between them, Egami said their working process was wordless in that he would do a movement, Orange would respond with music, and then he would evolve another movement in reaction to the music. They were interested in capturing moments, snapshots of life. The piece which began with an almost Charlie Chaplin like imitation and ended with Egami drunken flat on the table (having drunk wine in real time) had both humour and pathos. Its fractured coherence and satirical undertones rather echoed the texture of life.
The sharing concluded with Chan expressing the hope that, in time, more Hong Kong companies will be dancing creations and full lengths created by local choreographers and composers. With initiatives like these, that would seem only a matter of time.