A witty look at dance rehearsal: From the Top by Victor Fung Dance

Dance Base, Edinburgh
August 11, 2019

David Mead

“Where there are people, there are politics,” writes Victor Fung in his programme note. More specifically, there are power politics. From the Top is a delightfully witty, sometimes very funny, look at those power relationships in the studio between choreographer and dancers.

It opens with two dancers, Kenny Leung and Ronny Wong, dancing out what we learn is a kidnap scene. As the hooded victim is lifted, turned and pushed around, it’s another power relationship if ever there was one. The pair are outstandingly good, but are constantly interrupted by Fung who asks them to be “a little more abstract” and “more subtle.” The dancers listen and smile. Occasional looks at each other and the audience speak differently, though; their silent thoughts projected behind. “What do you mean by more abstract?” “What’s subtle about a kidnap scene?”.

Kenny Leung and Ronny Wong in From the Top by Victor FungPhoto Maria Falconer
Kenny Leung and Ronny Wong in From the Top by Victor Fung
Photo Maria Falconer

As Fung waffles on, his comments get more clichéd and increasingly vague. His instructions become almost impossible, as in one moment where he asks the dancers to do specific (for once) things with a leg, an arm or whatever. All the time, one sense the frustrations of the dancers growing as their thoughts get increasingly sarcastic, especially when instructions cause them to physically struggle and the dance to get awkward and difficult. Yet all the time, they do as asked and outwardly accept decisions.

Even when he decides to go back to the original version, Despite the frustration for the dancers having perfected a new version, the choreographer may then decide to stay with the original but the pair accept this gracefully. More and more complex lifts and manipulation, two of the main demands from male dancers, are seemingly effortlessly performed, only to be rejected again.

It would be so easy for From the Top to descend into parody, but it never does so. Anyone who has ever been in a rehearsal, especially a creative session, will recognise everything. I know I caught myself thinking, ‘I hope I don’t say things like that’. Actually, I probably do, sometimes at least. But this is a work and half an hour that will appeal to all. It might also just give a hint as to where some of those occasionally gobbledegook programme notes we’ve all read come from; those that are full of words but that say little.

After the show, Fung spoke briefly to the audience about how the theme of From the Top has parallels with current events in Hong Kong, inviting everyone to note their own thoughts on a post-it note that is then displayed in the Dance Base foyer. He doesn’t lecture, he doesn’t pontificate or patronise, and there is no pressure. He just quietly makes the point, and is all the more effective for it.

From the Top is at Dance Base to August 25. Visit www.dancebase.co.uk for details and tickets.