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Carla Escoda for Huffington Post Originality and crackerjack dancing were on ample display at the Hong Kong Arts Festival’s Contemporary Dance Series last week. Young Hong Kong choreographers furnished two double bills and a third programme crammed with seven 10-minute pieces. Sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the series is in its fourth year and provides an important platform for emerging dance-makers. In dance, 10 minutes is an awfully long time, and 30 minutes can feel like an eternity. While every piece opened strongly and imaginatively, a few failed to sustain interest. The series was characterized by a preoccupation with male-male partnering, in four duets and one trio. The most exhilarating of these was Victor Fung’s From the Top, which mocked the genre of male pas de deux - although that wasn’t evident for the first few minutes, in which Fung led us down the garden path by creating a climate of fear onstage. The sight of a rigid figure, a burlap sack over his head, being manipulated by another man, immediately conjured up harrowing thoughts of recent ISIS executions deliberately staged for the benefit of millions of YouTube watchers. Suddenly, we hear a voice (“OK, thank you”) and the dancers pause. We realize that we have been witnessing a rehearsal, and that this is a break for notes from the choreographer. As the voice rambles on, two electronic screens mounted against the backdrop light up periodically to spell out the dancers’ thoughts (in both Cantonese and English). The dancers themselves remain silent, their faces expressionless. “So exactly how am I supposed to be kidnapped more abstractly?” muses one. “Seriously, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” fumes the other. “Now you want to cut my solo, WTF?” “I bet my ass looks huge in this costume.” It’s even funnier if you don’t understand Cantonese. You’re in a fog while the choreographer is speaking - until the signboard lights up with the dancer’s reaction. From the Top incarnates the ever-present tension between dancemaker and dancers. A choreographer must contend with human bodies and their maddening variations, imperfections and unpredictability. A dancer, on the other hand, lives with the insecurity that he cannot deliver what the choreographer envisions. Communication breakdown is inevitable. Our hapless dancers - Kenny Leung and Ronny Wong, both very talented and very funny - resume rehearsal, but frustration only grows as the choreographer makes increasingly ridiculous demands of them (“So I have to keep traveling, but stay in a split?”) Partnered lifts get increasingly more convoluted. The movement veers from the genuinely moving to the clichéd - including those awkward upside-down lifts in which one dancer’s face is two centimetres from the other dancer’s crotch. The screens continue to register the dancers’ silent scorn at the choreographer’s pretentiousness (“So now I’m supposed to be transforming into Spiderman?”) From the Top and Justyne Li Sze-yeung and Wong Tan-ki’s The Trouble-maker’s Concerto(reviewed earlier for Bachtrack) were the two standout long pieces. FROM THE TOP
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