Thoughts on [Black Square]
Posted on 4 March, 2012
Van Huynh Company / Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts
25 – 26 Feb 2012, Esplanade Theatre Studio. M1 Fringe Festival 2012.
by Lee Mun Wai
An absolutely bare stage and stark, simple lighting greeted me as I entered the theatre. This could only mean one thing, that the focus of this dance would almost entirely be on the sole expression of the bodies on stage. Such an unfettered way of bodily presentation can be risky because with little other distractions, all eyes will be on the performer, and to sustain attention solely with bodily expression is a tall order in choreography.
A male solo started off the work in silence. It shuttled between formal dance movement, sudden drops with released flings of the arms and club style boogie; sensual, animalistic and jarring all at once. It set the tone for what was to come.
Soon the stage started filling up with dancers and the music – deep bass sounds, random beats and what sounded like metal scrapping against each other – became louder. Collectively the large group of fourteen dancers shifted the space furiously with power packed movements originating from the torso. Curves of the spine and strong abdominal contractions coupled with deep lunges and flailing arms energised the bare space. Costumes combined parts of t-shirts attached to corsets further emphasising the torso. In between movements, gestures that bordered on the lewd and rude such as sticking out the tongue at the audience or the whole group gathering and performing violent hip thrusts in fervent fashion seemed to want to illicit a reaction from the audience. But as soon as these dancers had built the energy to fever pitch, they would disperse and re-group in another space to perform another set of movements.
And so the entire dance played out as such, this method of constant re-grouping and dispersal an obvious influence from choreographer Dam’s days as a dancer in the Merce Cunningham Company. Situations and scenarios deliberately chose not to build themselves to a state where things were obviously laid bare for the audience to decipher preferring to disintegrate as soon as they had gathered just enough steam. Dam’s strength was definitely spatial patterning and ordering as he effortlessly combined and juxtaposed different movement phrases on various parts of the stage creating a visual cacophony that seemed chaotic but had an underlying order.
If one was expecting a climax and resolution one would have been sorely disappointed for the entire dance opted for a presentation style that jumped from one fleeting moment to the next, much like the way we jump from one app to another instantaneously on our smart phones. The energy on stage surged and pulsed, never freezing or stagnating, never reaching any obvious high points.
As a consequence of this, I was forced to concentrate quite hard on the happenings and was thus drawn close to the dancers. Very soon I realised I was not trying to understand why they stuck their tongues out at me or whether I should equate the hip thrusts to a lewd sexual innuendo, I had become attracted solely to the energy and dynamics these movements created; the dance had become an intimate investigation of bodily movement and function.
The dancers of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts gave it their all though their dancing had a slight rawness and lacked that sort of mature finesse demanded of professional dancers. Still, one must remember that the academy is ultimately a professional training school and thus their efforts were very laudable.
Of special mention was male dancer Huen Tin Yeung (he was the male dancer who opened the show with the solo). He shone throughout the work, confronting confidently (without being too eager) when required, then relaxing effortlessly into more private, voyeuristic realms in between well executed steps.
Also eye catching was Sun Gongwei whose solid Chinese Dance background provided him with the basis to move clearly and powerfully though some spinal subtleties were lost when he exerted too much force during movement execution.
[Black Square] was not a work that illicited emotional ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, in fact I do not think it intended to. It was not one that attempted to sweep me off my feet. This work ended up feeling intimate and quiet, its intentions slipping fluidly between referencing fragments of daily situations and a logical analysis of the body and its physical possibilities. It was full blooded in its energy no doubt, yet it managed to stay restrained and calmly detached.