Take The Leap With Hong Kong Dance Firm
In pursuit of innovating and elevating the art of Chinese dance, Hong Kong Dance Company collaborates with award-winning movie director Chan Kin Long on a groundbreaking short film packed full of surprises.
With the innate belief that dance uncovers the true depths of human emotions, revered American dancer and choreographer Martha Graham once famously told New York Times: “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.” Waxing poetry on the art form she dedicated her life to, Graham described: “To me, the body says what words cannot. I believe that dance was the first art…because it’s gesture, it’s communication. That doesn’t mean that it’s telling a story, but it means it’s communicating a feeling, a sensation to people.”
Resonating with Graham, Hong Kong Dance Company takes on the unique challenge of interpreting artist director Yang Yuntao’s vision through the lenses of Hong Kong’s breakout movie director Chan Kin Long. The short film, titled Where We Land, Where We Dance, abandons conservative choreography for a raw depiction of facial expressions and body movements. 22 dancers from the troupe are pushed out of their comfort zone of performing on the conventional stage; some are captured splashing in a body of water while others whirl and twirl between the incandescent licks of a roaring fire with every minute detail of their physicality magnified and immortalised on film.
This unconventional collaboration is born out of the intent to illustrate the company’s innovative and audacious approach to the art of dance. Established in 1981, the non-profit organisation has upheld their mission to promote Chinese dance with contemporary exposition. To date, the company has staged over 200 productions, including the critically acclaimed The Legend of Mulan, Red Poppies, The Butterfly Lovers, Storm Clouds, L’Amour Immortel and Lady White of West Lake.
“It’s imperative to me, as the artistic director of the dance company, to always strive for new heights,” says Yang. “Yes, it’s important to stage a seamless performance, but what differentiates us is our disposition to innovate, to constantly challenge the perception of Chinese dance. This is why we’ve chosen to work with Chan Kin Long for this project; his modus operandi to throw the rule book out is apparent when you watch his movies. The textures that peek through his stills and his distinctive compositions are elements we believe could tell a story of dance with unexpected surprises.
“In this short film, we didn’t want to promote the discipline or mastery of dance; we wanted the video to entice, to intrigue; to provoke a sense of curiosity. We wanted to remind how dance is a primitive and intuitive expression of our souls; the reason why it’s imbedded in the earliest chapters of any culture, shaped over time by our natural surroundings.”
At first glance, it’s already clear that the natural elements of water, fire, air and earth frame the unspoken storyline of the short film. “When I first met with Yang to discuss the concept for the video, he explained how the very notion of dance is inseparable from who and what we are; an honest reflection of our inner world,” begins Chan, as he explains the process of choosing the theme for the film.
“We throw our arms up when feeling victorious just as we stomp the ground when overwhelmed by anger. We physically respond to our environments instinctively, without thought. This idea of unscripted, almost unhinged, emotional release through our body language is what Yang wanted to epitomize in this creative partnership. As I was looking for inspiration to tell this wordless story, I recall old Tibetan teachings that point to the connection between us and nature.”
One of the books Chan mentioned is The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, written by Sogyal Rinpoche from his understanding of ancient Tibetan Buddhist text. The literature explores the nature of the mind and the training of the mind through meditation, often mentioning the link between human and mother nature. Elaborating on his creative process, Chan says: “Rinpoche’s words and his understanding of spiritualty and rituals inspired me to present Yang’s vision through the four original elements – Water, Fire, Air and Earth. In both Eastern and Western cultures, the elements hold fundamental significance in how we understand our material world. Their sensory qualities – solidity, fluidity, temperature and mobility – remind me of the way Yang describes dancing as a flowing stream of consciousness.
“Fire and earth, in particular, also immediately gave me the idea of how we could tie in the dance company’s historical dedication to promote the legacy of Hong Kong – the city filled with natural and concrete details that shape who we are.” In viewing the short film, a discerning eye will catch Chan’s rendition of the Tai Hang fire dragon dance – a traditional performance that takes place once a year in the Causeway Bay neighbourhood to celebrate Mid-Autumn festival. The climatic end scene of the film also shows a panoramic birds-eye view of the entire cast enveloped by skyscrapers on a rooftop in Kowloon City, dynamically moving in stationary positions, seemingly anchored to the spot they’ve been assigned to, embodying the weight, density and steadfastness of the ground they dance on.
“Hong Kong Dance Company takes pride in our role as a cultural ambassador of our city,” says Yang. “It’s our mission to promote the unique and beloved characteristics of Hong Kong alongside the heritage of Chinese dance. We strive to always present something new and unexpected in our performances to demonstrate the versatility of the art form but also to exhibit modern Chinese culture and identity – and how it’s moulded by our history and traditions – to an international audience.
“In recent years, we have brought our award-winning productions to some of the most esteemed stages in the world, including Lincoln Center in New York, Sydney’s The Concourse Theatre in Chatswood, Sony Centre in Toronto, Southbank Centre in London. And trust me, our productions are only going to get bigger, better and even more imaginative.”
(Header image: Dancers interpreting Element: Air))
Source: Prestige Online