NEWS & FEATURES
Video Excerpt of Music Day
Music Day is a piano marathon by 29 young local pianists from The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts marking the end of the Schumann and Chopin Year 2010. It was held on 12 December 2010 at Hong Kong Cultural Centre to the audience's great acclaim.
Video Interview of Hong Kong Young Musician – Rachel Cheung
CAP for A Cappella Groups
There's no stopping the allure of a cappella! After a few years of gestation, this type of vocal music, distinguished by its harmony and uniqueness, has finally exploded on the local music scene! Over ten new local groups have been formed in the past two years, with some having held concerts with outstanding results!
To continue the promotion of a cappella, a successful ensemble needs "CAP"1!
A successful ensemble cannot just sings, but also has to have members that are willing to commit themselves. From music arrangement to acoustics, from financial management to performance details, everything has to be done by the group members themselves. To be fully committed in sharing the works together is the crucial element for sustaining the group. For instance, many ensembles, such as Chapter 6, has a member who takes the role of arranger for the group.
A cappella singers also need to learn continuously. Ward Swingle, the founder of Swingle Singers, pointed out that a cappella singer not only has to master solo voice, blending voice, instrumental voice and mike voice, but also could flexibly manage nimbleness switching. In short, one should treat this easy listening art with douce mien, to pursue progression and to advance the artistic standards.
Ensemble singing calls for close collaboration among its members, which are not that many after all. So whether it is performing or working behind the scene, a hand-in-glove relationship is almost always expected. For a long, sustainable collaboration, the members must be easy going, good at expressing themselves, and ready to listen. If they are also the best of friends when not working, that would be ideal.
A cappella singing now has grown to be a highly entertaining performing art form. The singers, therefore, should ideally have a strong sense of humour, to the point of having the comedian or the clown in them. The highly successful combos such as the Swingle Singers, the quartet that came to Hong Kong last year - Cantabile, the legendary King's Singers, and the group that we'll soon see in Hong Kong –The Idea of North – perfectly fit the bill. These are the guys who can fill the auditorium with laughter and joy while they sing.
Regarding the level of commitment and artistic accomplishment, the three overseas groups about to visit Hong Kong are exemplary groups in a cappella singing. And don't forget our Gay Singers! It is a happy coincidence that the members of each group were once classmates and are currently good friends with compatible personalities, a CAP true to form!
The three elements were originated in the booklet of the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America. It uses the term "Talent" and the writer of this article has changed it to "Ability".
Written by Fung Kwok Tung, an instructor in a cappella at the Extension and Continuing Education for Life of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts
Welcome to visit www.ftacappella.net for more information on a cappella
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The pioneer of jazzed up classical music - Jacques Loussier
There has been a whirlwind out there on the international music scene for classical crossover and pop classical in recent years. With performers like Vanessa Mae, Bond and Maksim reaching pop star status all over the world, the trend is definitely in to render classical music into pop. Many would think that it was Vanessa Mae who pioneered classical crossover/pop classical, but in fact someone was far ahead, and quite a long time ago, by the name of Jacques Loussier.
As early as the late 1950s, Loussier already formed his Play Bach Trio, and fused classical music with jazz to bring about a new style of interpretation for the established works. That was about half a century ago - ages in the eyes of many.
Loussier's classical fusion was of course a far cry from the offerings of Mae and Bond, with no deep V's and miniskirts. In terms of genres, Mae, Bond and Maksim sought to blend classical music with pop or electronic disco music, but Loussier fused classical music with jazz.
The Play Bach Trio, which was made up of Jacques Loussier, Pierre Michelot and Christian Garros, interpreted Bach with jazz techniques and in form. In doing so they incorporated a most important element of jazz music - improvisation. At the time it must have been very new, very avant garde. At any rate, the Play Bach Trio's groundbreaking attempt proved to be successful, and was well liked by music fans. The Trio's recordings were reported to reach the six million mark!
By the 1970's, the Trio stopped its activities and Loussier turned to composing music on his own and experimenting with electronic music. In 1985, to mark the 300th anniversary of Bach's birth, he revived his group with a new set-up. The Trio by then had become even more diversified, and encompassed, apart from jazz and classical, rock and electronic elements into their music. Also, apart from reinventing Bach, Loussier expanded his oeuvre to other classical greats such as Mozart, Ravel, and Debussy.
It is therefore politically correct to say Loussier is the trailblazer in the modernization of classical music. Nowadays, if we set aside the pop and electronic disco classical works by Mae, Bond and Maksim, we will find that the many variations of classical music in the international scene today, for example "Chill out classical" and Cuban classical, are inspired by Loussier, whether in a large or small way. The 12 Girls Band, on the other hand, is a Chinese or eastern variation, bringing Chinese music or traditional eastern music to audiences in a new look, with pop and electronic disco elements blended with the eastern classical works.
The jazzed-up classical music of Loussier is very different from pop classical or electronic classical. Loussier's has much more finesse, with more delicate nuances, and is more technically demanding. Loussier's jazz classics require the player to have a profound understanding and experience of classical works, and also excellent performance techniques and improvisatory skills. Playing classical music is one thing, improvisation is another; and when the two are put together, you can imagine how demanding it is for a player. It takes a truly adept musician with virtuoso skills and musicality to perform with the right touch, the right flair, and the 'easy does it' air, and that's Jacques Loussier, the master in this art.
Translated from Chinese written by Fung Lai-chi, a local music critic and columnist for nearly 20 years
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The honey-sweet voice of Carol Kidd
Some are born to sing, and Carol Kidd is one of them.
Born in Scotland, Kidd began her singing career at the age of fifteen. Later, apart from running a hotel and raising three children, she sang part-time all over Britain and appeared occasionally on television. She was therefore no stranger to the stage.
Her full-time professional career began in 1990 when Frank Sinatra invited her to do the opening for his show in Glasgow. Her voice went straight to the heart of the British jazz world and Kidd was invited to sing at the internationally acclaimed Ronnie Scott’s Club. There she was heard by Tony Bennett, who enthused, after hearing her perform, “Where have you been all this time? You should be world famous!” Another jazz legend, Cleo Laine, also an admirer, described Kidd as ‘world class’. Such commendations from fellow musicians proved her worth. Soon the momentum of her success picked up and she was voted the Best Performer at the Edinburgh International Jazz.
In 1990, Kidd signed with Linn Record and began making record releases. Her debut album, The Night We Call It A Day, won for her Best Vocalist at the Cannes International Jazz Awards. It went on to be voted Best Jazz Recording in the United Kingdom. 1998 was a year to remember for Kidd. She had the honour of performing for the Queen, and was presented with an MBE award for her services to jazz in Buckingham Palace.
All those who have heard Carol Kidd sing have to admit that she has a honey sweet voice, and find her lilting numbers particularly endearing with their caressing, poignant tones. She is best loved for her jazzy numbers that combine the 'big band sounds', such as The Sunny Side of the Street, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, etc. On her upcoming visit to Hong Kong, we can savour the sweetness of her voice.
Translated from the Chinese written by Jacky Ip, a veteran music and book critic
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Lee Ritenour - 'Captain Fingers' in town
When keyboard artist Bob James formed Fourplay in 1990, and the group launched its first album Fourplay the following year, I thought to myself - what a wonderful thing it was for guitarist Lee Ritenour to have finally found like-minded, stylistically and technically compatible, A-list artists to create his smooth jazz and crossover jazz sounds! But in 1994, after the release of what was dubbed 'a real classic', Elixir, with Fourplay, he left the group, leaving both his colleagues and their fans a much missed, never forgotten niche in their musical experience. What Ritenour had achieved with Fourplay was never surpassed by his successor, Larry Carlton.
Though very much exposed to the influence of the late jazz guitar legends, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass, Ritenour did not follow in their footsteps in mainstream jazz but chose fusion, smooth jazz (pop's next-of-kin), crossover jazz and even jazz pop instead. His consummate guitar techniques and versatility made him a much sought after studio artist on the A-list. He can make his presence so adaptable, whether as a front man, sideman or member of a group: when he is backing, his guitar can be just an anonymous ‘filler’, stepping in here and there to enrich the song and the music; but when he is in the fore, he explodes onto the scene with his amazing presence before whatever stellar combination he is playing at the time, each guitar note clinking with crystalline clarity, and phrases beautifully and effervescently delivered.
On his upcoming visit to Hong Kong for the concert presented by the LCSD, what would Ritenour be playing? It makes interesting guessing. What highlights from his eclectic, 30-year career would make up the concert programme? Early fusion? Crossover jazz, bosa nova jazz of his ‘middle period’? Smooth jazz and jazz pop of the 1990's? Or the Afro pop and Brazilian jazz heard on his South African tour last year? I would of course hope to hear the pick of each bunch, like Rio of 1979, Portrait of 1987, Festival of 1988, Stolen Moments of 1990, Wes Bound of 1992, Larry & Lee of 1994 (his partner being none other than his successor in Fourplay, Larry Carlton), Overtime of 2005, or even Smoke 'N' Mirrors from the South African tour last year. They would make a sumptuous platter of Lee's eclectic styles, or the Ritenour classics for yours truly, who is waiting with ears all pricked.
Translated from the Chinese written by Ma Kei-fat, an experienced music critic specialized in Jazz,
new age music and western pop songs.
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An audio-visual extravaganza – ‘Illuminated’ by Sydney Dance Company and Australian Chamber Orchestra
Jointly performed by Sydney Dance Company and Australian Chamber Orchestra, ‘Illuminated’ is a stage production adopted a format similar to a ‘trio’. It was staged at Kwai Tsing Theatre in Hong Kong on 13-14 November. I watched it on the 13th. From this marriage of music and modern dance, I saw love and desire, eccentricity and an unstoppable gush of powerful vitality.
The first half of the performance showcased two dance pieces adapted by Rafael Bonachela, the Artistic Director of Sydney Dance Company. These were based on Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge and Les Illuminations, the work of British composer Benjamin Britten. The first one had a simpler and lighter tone while the second one was much more intense and complex. Including the Prelude, Variation 10 features 11 melodies; these were sometimes vigorous and powerful and sometimes gentle and elegant. Emotions constantly switched between the states of ‘resounding’ and ‘finesse’, which presented quite a big challenge for the choreographer. The concept of Bonachela was highly ingenious. He saw ‘solo’, ‘duo’ and ‘group dances’ as building blocks and imagined choreography as a game of ‘brick-building’ – elements are deconstructed, brought together and then reconstructed. The dynamic aspects also dovetailed with the variations of the music.
When Les Illuminations was performed, the combination was much more sophisticated. In addition to the musicians of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the dancers of Sydney Dance Company, the ‘acting’ of soprano Katie Noonan was also added. The colour of the backdrop also transformed in shades of light blue, red and green as the melody evolved. The changes in lighting and the colour of the backdrop was, on one hand, to align with the focus on colours of the original literary work (Les Illuminations was originally a suite of prose poems by French poet Arthur Rimbaud, created during his stay in England; there is no lack of descriptions on the scenes of the four seasons), and on the other, played the function as emotive markers.
It is noteworthy that when Bonachela choreographed Les Illuminations, he had intentionally blurred the gender boundaries of the dancers. There were four recurring dancers (two males, two females). They depended on each other; they borrowed the strength from each other and even competed with each other. There was no plot line that showed women as the weaker gender; nor was there an intention to continue the usual logic of female being gentle while male being bold. One should be reminded that the homosexual identity of Rimbaud and Britten once caused heated public controversy. The decision of the choreographer was perhaps to hint the hidden identity of the composer (Britten once dedicated Being Beauteous, a poem in Les Illuminations, to his same-gender lover Peter Pears). In terms of the physical vocabulary of the dancers and the aesthetic objectives of the dance piece, this was a refreshing and alternative attempt.
The playful element grew ever stronger in Project Rameau during the second half of the performance. Dancers and musicians all seemed to be less restrained. They spoke up with great enthusiasm, giving the full expression of melodies lashing out from Baroque composers such as Rameau, Bach and Vivaldi. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Richard Tognetti, musicians of the Australian Chamber Orchestra played the century-old tunes with modernity. They did not intend to admire the past, but instead, spent every effort to locate a fulcrum at the present for Baroque music. A subtle interaction and connection between the modern dancers on stage was formed.
The dancers of the Sydney Dance Company have outstanding body conditions. Movements that correspond to the ups and downs of the melody did not appear to be strenuous; one can sense some kind of rapport between them and the musicians. They are also adept in the use of space on the stage. As a result, whether it was the group dance or solo segments, stage space never seemed too crowded or too empty. The format that combines modern dance with live orchestral performance is rarely seen in Hong Kong. For the audience, the performance was a ‘playful’ or even ‘ecstatic’ audio-visual extravaganza.
Originally published in dance journal/hk (online version)
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Their First Times: A Review of Works of Two Young Choreographers. The Left Hander and Mis..
During a weekend in mid-September, two young choreographers, Rainbow Lam and Michael Tong, presented their first full-length dance pieces, presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Lam’s choreography The Left Hander was presented as the most recently featured programme in New Force in Motion Series. With relatively richer recourses, her work managed four performances at the Black Box Theatre, Kwai Tsing Theatre. While on other hand, Mis.. by Tong was part of the Real Showcase New Series co-presented by CCDC Dance Centre and Hong Kong Dance Alliance. Two performances were showcased at the CCDC Dance Centre Jockey Club Dance Theatre. Though both works have several imperfections, they each had their own characteristics.
The 70-mintue The Left Hander was developed from The Left-hander, a shorter piece Lam did together with five dancers four years ago. The shorter version was her first choreography after graduation from the HKAPA. I haven’t seen this version previously and I have only seen some of Lam’s site-specific dances before. For this time, the performance area was covered by a large piece of blank paper. As the audience entered the theatre, they could see dancers coloring the drawing paper in blue. While the dancers strove to fill the paper to the edge with blue, videos of left-and-right-handed writing and drawing were shown on each of two sides of the background projection. Not only did they echo the choreographer’s self-identity, they also set the tone with drawing and writing as keys to the dance piece.
The theme of the piece was stated by the straightforward title, The Left Hander, and so I paid special attention to the dancers’ hands in the beginning. I tried to distinguish who were the left-handers among them by looking at their movements. However, I slowly discovered that this was useless – later I realized that only one of the five dancers was actually a real left-hander. The choreographer did not intend to use movements to show the living habits and stereotypes of left-handers who make up one-tenth of the population. Instead, it was more a presentation of the tension and romance between collectivity and a small minority.
Many daily hand movements including coloring with color pencils, drawing lines, writing, playing with Ping-Pong balls, eating, and so forth, appear in the piece. Yet, I found that the most prominent feature of the choreographer’s left-handed style expressed was the structure of the whole performance. In one section, a female dancer read out about how left-and right-handers think differently. She commented that left-handers have a rather nonlinear mindset, and they often jump from one idea to another.
This kind of jumpy thinking was reflected quite obviously in The Left Hander, which made the piece appear fragmented. Every section seemed to be only lightly dealt with and without much elaboration. In fact, a few of the work’s duets were thoughtfully crafted and made a good flow. Nevertheless, the lack of development and this made their overall impression fuzzy.
On the other hand, Michael Tong’s Mis.. had a fairly clear narrative structure. Two male and four female dancers performed the different stages of a person’s growth from child to adult and involving challenges within friendships and tensions between lovers. While The Left Hander used writing and drawing as its base, Mis.. used boxes and the recalling of one’s growth history as its central idea. Although using boxes as symbolic of a compendium of personal history seems old-fashioned and lacks innovation, the solo in the prologue and the sections developed from childhood games were full for innocence and vitality.
Reading from the program notes, I realized that Tong has participated in several commercial dance performances in the past. It was not until a few years ago that he started to focus on studying and creating contemporary dance. The dancers he chose to collaborate with this time each has different backgrounds and experiences. Flora Hon was the most attractive among them as she has the richest experience. Regardless of solos or duets, her performance was relatively stable. In scene 2, however, her duet with Wilfred Siu was not that even. This was probably because Siu is not used to performing contemporary dance. So the effect was not ideal even though the choreographer carefully choreographed the interaction between the two dancers.
Though dancers of different backgrounds in this piece still need to adjust to one another’s movement styles, Tong’s uses of space and how he applied them to his work were considerable. Two pillars defined the limitations of the venue’s performance area. Thus, the work could only develop into an area that was deep and narrow. However, Tong coped skillfully by making good use of this space limitation. He assigned different sections to be performed either at the front, in the middle, or at the back of the performance area. This was a reflection of the amount of thought and effort he put into it; very thoughtful. One thing that needs more attention is that the performance venue ceiling is low. Some movements performed on top of the boxes or elevated (from Low to high) movements appear awkward. They almost hit the ceiling.
Originally published in dance journal/hk 16-5
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Nine Songs, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan is a regular visitor to Hong Kong and in August it returned to the city with a newly-revived production of Nine Songs by its world-renowned choreographic records of this 1993 work were unfortunately destroyed, along with many other works, in a fire at the troupe’s studio in 2008. Miraculously the masks of Nine Songs, which were inside a crate, survived as if due to divine intervention, and this gave Lin the impetus to revive the work.
Nine Songs is divided into two acts and is based on the poems of Qu Yuan written over 2000 years ago. There is still a holiday every year in the Chinese calendar, known as the Tuen Ng festival, to commemorate this great poet. The attractive stage design by Ming-Cho Lee is dominated by a lotus pond at the front of the stage, and the backdrop is also beautifully painted with lotus flowers - the Chinese symbol of reincarnation. Shamans in masks appear at the beginning of the shorter first half paying homage to the gods by enacting various religious rites. The mood is bright in the beginning but gradually becomes more sombre and bleak until there is a total descent into darkness by the end.
The theme of Act 2 is about the four seasons. A recurring character is a man dressed in black carrying a suitcase around, which seems to signify the passage of time. Spring is the most lively section. The goddess of the Xiang River, attired in a long white veil, is lifted on a bamboo platform when she first appears. She however waits in vain for her lover. Summer is unexpectedly gloomy with the god of clouds being carried in the air by two human attendants and moving ponderously. As in the previous act, the atmosphere gradually becomes more pessimistic and sombre. Lin really has flair for depicting human suffering and desolation.
Autumn sees a mountain spirit dancing in solitude. However his sadness and soundless cries seem to warn of an impending catastrophe, the theme of the next section, Winter, which depicts death and destruction and is full of grief and mourning. It is too long and intense for my liking.
Towards the end, there is a memorable passage when the names of notable people who have recently sacrificed their lives heroically are recited. And this is followed by a long candlelight vigil before the curtain falls. Lin’s choreography is full of theatricality and powerful imagery. The whole troupe’s dedication and excellence in performance was most commendable, if only there were brighter sections to provide a better contrast to the pervasively dark and mournful tone of this piece.
Written by Kevin Ng in DanceTabs, 9 September 2012
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Review- Rambert Dance Company
Boy, am I glad that the other reviewer for this show was double booked for the evening! I had never heard of the Rambert Dance Company until I was on the MTR last month and saw a very intriguing poster. Little did I know how wonderful this how was going to be! The Rambert Dance Company is the national contemporary dance of the UK. Created in 1926 by Martha Rambert, they have become a pillar in the United Kingdom for creating innovative work and putting out some of the best choreographers over the past decades.
Technically amazing and visually stunning, tonight was a real treat for the audience. It was an assemblage of four short numbers together. All the pieces were very different. There was something for everyone. What one person hates, another will love. That’s the great thing about art – everyone can see the same thing and have totally different opinions on it.
Choreographer: Christopher Bruce (2006)
I loved this piece from beginning to end. I thought it was very whimsical and fun. I loved all the small body isolations in the movement. A simple tilt of the head told a story. The piece implied a family unit in a field but didn’t hit you over the head with it, which I appreciated. I thought the movement blended really well with the music choices. The chasing of the mosquitos with Yoyo Ma’s Flight of the Bumblebee was very cute. The makeup created a clown character in the dancers that automatically made them seem cohesive as a unit. You no longer saw the race of the performers but a family playing together, watching the stars, loving one another. It was really sweet and beautiful. The lighting was especially nice in this piece. The lack of the front light and strong “shin busters” made them seem like they were playing inside of moonbeams. The last picture created on stage by this piece was really heartwarming.
Choreographer: Tim Rushton (2011)
This piece was very aggressive at times but very captivating to watch. The piece opened with a lone man dancing. It was so quiet in the theatre you could hear him breathing heavily, which was a bit un-nerving. The pas de deuxs were technically amazing in the piece. The boys had to do some serious lifts in this piece. There was also something interesting in this piece that everyone’s faces were so blank during the performance. Their arms would also go dead on entrances and exits. I have no idea what any of this means but I found it interesting. I loved how the cyc was used during this performance. The sun set during the show and the cyc slowly turned into a night scape. The last picture was beautifully staged by Rushton.
3. L’Apres-midi d’un faune
Choreographer: Vaslav Nijinsky with Direction by: Ann Whitley (1912)
This piece is historically very importance for modern dance. It is 100 years old this year and was very beyond its years when it was first created. It’s also one of the very famous pieces that The Rambert Dance Company is known for staging. I thought that the young man who played the faune was very good. He had very good height on his leaps and excellent extension. I liked the slow foot movements in this piece. And I liked that it told story effectively in a short amount of time. I can appreciate this piece from a historical point of view but it was not my cup of tea. I liked the other ones better.
4. What Wild Exstacy
Choreographer: Mark Baldwin (2012)
When the curtain raised on the final piece there was a gasp and applause from the audience. Why, you ask? The set is amazing for the last piece. You just have to see it. I’m not going to spoil the surprise. Costumed in absurd, acid rock style costumes the dancers are avant garde flowers dancing to tribal rock music. They are going to rave of sorts. Everything in the choreography always seemed to involve twisting or wrapping around something, which was cool. I loved how funny the last piece was. It was completely ridiculous at times, but in good ways. You couldn’t help but smile when you watched it. There’s a surprise at the end that’s really funny (at least, to me.) Again, I won’t spoil the show. You have to see it if you want to find our what it is!
The Rambert Dance Company describes its work in the program as “bold, risk taking, agile and beautiful.” I couldn’t have described this evening’s performance any better myself. There are two twenty minute intermissions during this production because of the scene changes. Lucky for the audience there is a nice bar in Kwai Tsing Theatre. I recommend eating before hand as the show is a bit long. We didn’t get out of this performance until 10:30 and I was very hungry by the time it was over… Tickets are still available, don’t miss this one. I highly recommend it!
HKELD, 14 September, 2012
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Chinese Opera Festival 2015: Forum on Chinese Traditional Theatre in Relation to Sacrificial Rituals
4/7 (Sat) Chinese Traditional Theatre and Sacrificial Music Theatre, Yau Ma Tei Theatre 2:30–4:30pm
Ko Yun-kuen (Veteran Cantonese Opera Percussion Leader)
Ko Yun-hung (Veteran Cantonese Opera Ensemble Leader)
Chan Chi-chun (PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Yu Siu-wah (PhD, JP)
5/7 (Sun) Mulian Opera Theatre, Yau Ma Tei Theatre 2:00–3:45pm
Liu Zhen (Research Fellow and Supervisor on the doctoral degree programme, Chinese National Academy of Arts, and Deputy Curator of the Mei Lanfang Memorial Hall)
Chen Qi (Distinguished Research Fellow of the Centre for Hui Studies of Anhui University, Supervisor on the Master’s degree programme, Anhui Normal University, and Curator of the China Huizhou Culture Museum)
Yang Rong (Researcher, Fujian Arts Research Institute)
Zheng Li (Assistant Professor, Centre for Local Documents, Xiamen University)
Zou Shiyi (Former Dean of Hunan Academy of Arts)
Yung Sai-shing (Associate Professor, Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore)
5/7 (Sun) Ritual Performances as an Act of Thanksgiving to the Deities (Shengongxi) 4:00–5:45pm Theatre, Yau Ma Tei Theatre
Chan Sau-yan (Former Professor, Department of Music, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Choi Chi-cheung (Professor, Department of History, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Danny Li (Veteran Cantonese Opera coordinator)
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The staging of the Chinese folklore, Monk Mulian Rescues His Mother, dates back to more than a millennium, to the time of Northern Song (960-1127). It is one of the oldest repertories in Chinese theatre. It has its origin in Buddhist scriptures, but as a popular form of entertainment, it was found in almost every part of China. Its popularity ran parallel to religious activities, rituals and folk culture. In traditional Chinese literature, sacrificial rituals topped all forms of rites and etiquettes. Mulian opera is therefore performed on the fairgrounds of the Yulan (Ullambana) Festival, at Buddhist and Taoist services, funerals and during the Hungry Ghost Festival to expiate the sins of the dead and deliver them from purgatory. Often, when disaster strikes, whether as a cause of Man or nature, staging the Mulian opera is believed to have the power of expelling evil and returning calm to the land. On the other hand, if the land has enjoyed clement weather and bumper harvests for years, staging such plays is a way of thanksgiving. There are rituals to be performed before and after the core performance, which may not form part of the storyline, but they make up a holistic experience for the audience attending the Mulian opera. The integration of ritual and performance therefore sets the Mulian opera apart from other performing art forms with its rich vernacular colour.
During the Wanli years of Ming (1573-1620), a literati Zheng Zhizhen of Anhui set out to propagate Buddhism via traditional theatre, with the purpose of guiding people to good. He compiled and wrote Monk Mulian Rescues His Mother – Script to Guide People to be Good and Benevolent in 1579. It was soon used for staging in various parts of China and became one of the most representative works of folk theatre of the Ming Dynasty. It was a time when Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism were equally practiced and honoured by the government, so Zheng’s adaptation was a perfect amalgamation of the doctrines of the three. The Confucian spirit was introduced to the Buddhist stories, the concept of filial piety was upheld, the Confucian advocation of loyalty and filial piety was highlighted, while the Buddhist concepts of karma and reincarnation, the Taoist concepts of yin and yang, ‘mandate of heaven’ etc., all fitted into this convenient vehicle to inculcate the masses. By the Qing period, there were still records of the Mulian opera being performed. There was even an ‘official’ collection coming from the palaces, entitled Golden Rules Exhorting Goodness (Quan shan jin ke). Although later Mulian opera was banned by the Qing court, the tradition existed in the rural areas and the playlets were performed in thanksgiving fairs. Even to this day, the ritual performance A Gathering of Immortals for the Goddess of Mercy is often performed in Cantonese Opera in Hong Kong. The play is related to The Birthday of the Goddess of Mercy, which is the ninth episode of Zheng Zhizhen’s Scripts to Guide People to be Good and Benevolent of the Ming Dynasty. In it, the Goddess would show a number of incarnations.
The series encompasses an incredible range, whether in terms of content or performing format. The emphasis is on being as close to life as possible - but rather than dramatizing everyday life, it sets out to make this form of theatre part of everyday life. The core of the story, that of Monk Mulian going into Hell to save his mother, links up all sorts of art forms - playlets, folk songs, dance, acrobatics, martial arts, stunts, and even demonstration of making paper figurines. Past records show that during the Northern Song period (960-1127), a performance could last for seven or eight days. By early Ming, its length could cover up to fifteen days. The diversity of the Mulian opera, interspersed with burlesques, farce and even lampoons, was typical of plebeian entertainment. While they create laughter, they were also poking fun at supernatural powers and the highly moralistic stance of society. The conflicting nature and juxtaposition of the didactic purpose and the humanism of Mulian opera produce an interesting revelation of its rich content, as well as the tolerant attitudes of the plebeian social culture.
Coordination of the Mulian Opera Series is assisted by the Ministry of Culture of China.
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Audio Recording of Talk on Lam Kar-sing's Art of Cantonese Opera
Date: 28 February 2010 (Sunday)
Venue: Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
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MEET THE WACKERS
Alongside the famous theater houses that dot Leicester Square in London is the famous Royal Opera House. As the cloak of night veils Covent Garden, the curtain of
Meet the Strong family. On the surface they're not quite as wacky as the Addams family – not quite, but almost. Actually their name is misleading, or rather, since Theatre O is a British theatre company, ironic. In terms of strength, Pa Strong (Edward) has more in common with a cup of decaffeinated Earl Grey than he does with the thick daipaidong coffee brew that puts hairs on your chest. Daughter Roberta and son Eric, are, to say the least, eccentric in their behaviour, and the fourth character, who doubles as their mother (Spanish) and the son's wife (an air-hostess), is by turns mysterious and sensual as the former and irritatingly jolly as the latter ("Aren't we having fun?" is her catchphrase).
There aren't many plays about dysfunctional families, but this acclaimed production, which has toured from the London Barbican to the Edinburgh Festival and then to the U.S. and Mexico, (their previous production, 3 Dark Tales , also toured to Beijing and Shanghai), must be one of the very best you can see. The narrative is non-linear with lots of flashbacks and an imaginative use of the stage space. At first it's hard to grasp any sense of reality. Nevertheless, the play is compelling, as it opens with a childhood argument between Eric and Roberta as precocious children. Their squabble is interrupted by the father's anguished announcement of the loss of the mother in a car crash, the unbearable pain conveyed as much in physical and auditory theatre language as in words. He is literally blown away by the event, as a mighty rushing wind carries us into the transition to the next scene of this seamless and fast-paced episodic performance.
The play revolves around the increasingly dubious question of how the mother died and shows us how the remaining family members react to bereavement. The answer is badly. In emotional and psychological terms personal growth and interaction between family members is stunted by the loss. The flashbacks of Edward's courtship provide us clues about his emotional life before marriage. A myopic optometrist, he meets his future wife in a hilarious encounter in his consulting room. A passionate relationship between the two is communicated through stylized tango-esque dancing. However after losing her, Edward's psychological portrait is painted verbally by his auctioneer daughter in the following "character presentation": "Please notice the impeccable suit and manners in contrast with the corrupted tenderness in the subject's look, the severe lines of the mouth, the utter lack of capability to communicate emotion to those that are closest to him".
The skill and subtlety of The Argument lies in its ability to tell a tale in physical, verbal and absurdly funny theatrical language, which touches all of us to the core of our being. Western families don't have a monopoly on, at best, stilted and, at worst, traumatized and dysfunctional family relationships. They seem to be a concomitant part of the contemporary individualistic lifestyle – here in Hong Kong as much as anywhere else, as we all know from the media, if not our own lives. Maintaining a strong and balanced family relationship is almost an act of heroism in today's pressurizing world. The Strongs' attempt to carry on with normal life beneath the weight of inexpressible grief is based on Freudian denial, and it conveys a well of sadness beneath the absurd and farcical surface. The truth of their mother's disappearance ultimately emerges in the form of a letter from a Spanish nursing-home that Edward has been brandishing almost from the beginning of the play.
So much for the play's implicit serious subtext. The rest is high-octane, very physical comedy. The Argument could be described as a cross between the zany worlds of Monty Python and French-Romanian dramatist of the Absurd, Eugene Ionesco – with just a hint of the flavour of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's delightful Amelie from Montmartre thrown into the mix. The result is an often gloriously bizarre and consistently funny theatrical concoction that evokes both pathos and distanced dark humour.
We can empathize with radio announcer, Eric, struggling toward independence, but we are highly amused as his control-freak father prompts him to say the right answers in his job interview. Later we see Eric at work in his studio. Subsequent intercut scenes of his mother recording Spanish phrases for a language programme, give us an insight into the almost oedipal feeling that Eric has for her memory. This is emphasized by the doubling of the actress playing his mother and his wife. At one point Eric refers to the book of the week read by Jocasta Bates and entitled Mommie Dearest , to be followed by a special Mothering Sunday drama of Medea . Such moments are typical of the play's clever fusion of surreal humour with slapstick comedy and frenetic action. Eric's sonorous Basil Fawlty-like voice and stage persona may be desperately funny, but at the same time it is reminiscent of Thoreau's famous phrase about people living lives "of quiet desperation".
Desperation causes Pa Strong to pick up a loud-hailer and pretend to have daughter Roberta's room surrounded with riot police, when she refuses to come out from the shelter of her book and her bedroom. The trick works and she comes out with her hands up in one of the wittiest and most comical moments of the play. Even the pathos is funny. Thus the recurrent motif of the arrestingly evocative play soundtrack, which underscores the actors' rhythmic physical performance, is an old Thirties song "We Three" about a lonely trio – "my shadow, my echo and me". The play is a haunting but highly entertaining theatrical take on memory. As Roberta says in one her lucid moments we need to dememorize our lives: "Scientists should be paid to invent a way in which we can live our lives backwards. When we are born we are born old, and when we die we are babies. That way, when we die we remember nothing and everybody adores us!"
Theatre O founder, Joseph Alford, who also plays Edward Strong, studied physical theatre with Jacques Lecoq in Paris . It shows, and all four performers are good exponents of mime, movement, dancing and vocalization. However their style is not to be confused with contemporary Asian physical theatre, which is culturally very distinct and tends to be more fluid than this type of European physical-verbal hybrid. I see Theatre O as continuing the exciting British line of Steven Berkoff, Théatre de Complicité and Shared Experience. As reviewers have unanimously pointed out the group is totally engaging once you accept and enter their weird and wonderful world.
Mike Ingham is Associate Professor in the English Department at Lingnan University and a rgular local theatre critic
This article first appeared in the BC Magazine, Hong Kong 01 December 2005 issue
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Tadashi Suzuki and His Dionysus
Tadashi Suzuki, one of Japan 's best-known theatre directors, is coming back to Hong Kong after Waiting for Romeo in the 1995 Hong Kong Arts Festival. Suzuki is a very influential figure not only in the Japanese theatre scene but also on the world stage. His present status is largely due to his ability to blend the traditional Japanese theatres – Noh and Kabuki – with western realism. This time he is bringing with him a Greek piece, Dionysus , which has been on tour for the last few years. It is an adaptation from Bacchae by Euripides (485-406 B.C.), one of the most important writers of the Greek tragedies. In only 70 minutes, the play condenses the conflict between Dionysus, the God of Wine and Pentheus, the king of Thebes . Under the spell of the angered Dionysus, Pentheus is torn into pieces at the hands of the Theban women, among which is Agave, Pentheus' mother, who returns from the Mount Cithaeron carrying the head of Pentheus unconsciously.
In fact, Suzuki has done two other Greek tragedies before: both are adaptations of Euripides' Trojan Women and Clytemnestra . Greek drama, thanks to its unparallel and larger-than life psychological conflicts and acute social commentary, is one of the few western dramatic literatures which are able to let the readers feel the "animal energy" of the human beings, as Suzuki calls it. Paradoxically, Suzuki found a strong echo of the Greek drama in the contemporary society of consumerism, of which Japan is a very typical example.
To stage Greek tragedy is not an easy task, we need to have a very clear vision of what the artistic premises are, otherwise it will just become another representation of the traditional repertory. Suzuki has a very transparent picture of what he wants: dialoguing the text with the traditional Japanese theatrical forms. Today, of course, this idea is not entirely new. Many contemporaries of Suzuki, both in the East and the West, have attempted this approach before. His compatriot, Yukio Ninagawa, has also directed a number of western classics especially Shakespeare using more or less the Japanese techniques. However, what makes Suzuki distinct is, undoubtedly, his utmost humanistic concern the expression of which is facilitated by his actor's training method, which stands out to be one of the most unique training systems in modern theatre.
His most important book, The Way of Acting, has thrown light on his life long research about the nature of acting. He started from the grammar of the feet, which was born out of an interesting anecdote: the Japanese actors are too short to perform Russian plays which demand a certain physique to transcribe the necessary Russian mannerism on stage. Henceforth, Suzuki turned to the feet of the Japanese actors and asked himself how their feet could help them create the desired physical appearance. He made investigations into traditional Japanese performing arts and discovered one very important principle: the actors are performing in a balance between height and depth, sky and earth, where situates the Man.
He sees that the traditional Japanese actor radiates energy into horizontal space from the pelvic area. In doing so, the upper part of the body tends to move upwards whilst the lower part tries to descend like a counterpoint. In this connection, the contact of the whole body with the ground is entirely created by the feet. Movement of the feet, with different energy and rhythm, can thus create tremendous variations of an actor's stage presence. One can say that the discovery of this particularity related to the feet has triggered the entire system of his training method. I had an opportunity to witness some aspects of this training method in Saratoga of the United States in 1998 demonstrated by Anne Bogart, Suzuki's American working partner. Through various movements of the feet – sliding and stamping on the floor while changing constantly the contact points with the ground through the toes, the heels, the interiors and exteriors of the feet, the actors were able to create different physicality which could then help them internalise the various psychological experience thus obtained. The training of voice is also conducted in parallel with the body, employing techniques from both the East and the West. The actors, having all gone through such a training method, would find themselves in a much better position to communicate with each other both verbally and non-verbally. The result was fascinating because I could see how they had succeeded in reaching an in-depth connection in a very human way which is often lacking in contemporary theatre.
This method in turn has generated a very special theatrical language in all of Suzuki's creations: dreamlike images with actors appearing to be floating in the air. In Dionysus , many spectacular scenes are born out of such a grammar. When the focus is on the actors, all other theatrical elements – set, light and sound – are only present to the extent that they enhance the actors' expression, nothing more nothing less. The result is an extremely simple but yet powerful stage aesthetics which is difficult to find its counterpart in today's theatre. Moreover, his somewhat 40-years long career has attracted a number of followers and disciples from all over the world especially in the West where a systematic training system based on oriental theatres has been constantly on demand. The result is the birth of his multi-cultural company. The presence of actors from different nationalities represents not only our growing globalisation situation, but also marking a strong desire to transcend the boundaries of different cultures, in order to arrive at a supreme state of existence where only intuitive force is present. In Dionysus , you will find a Caucasian actress playing the role of Agave who speaks in English with a grave tragic appeal when she discovers that she has killed her son whereas the other characters are speaking in a somewhat stylish Japanese. All of a sudden, the scene is so rich that you can draw many interpretations as you like, some of these might bring you back to your contemporary situations where everything on stage seems so familiar.
Brilliant artists from all cultures have a common characteristic: an incessant drive to bypass what is known and what is conventional, even though the process often turns out to be very painful. But it is only then you are really able to taste what life is and above all, what great artistic creations are. Suzuki is a living example.
Tang Shu-wing is Lecturer (Acting) at Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts
(The edited version of this article first appeared in the South China Morning Post on 11 September 2005)
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From foes to friends - incorporating multimedia into the theatre
Notes for the “Dance x Multimedia” Series 2015
When moving pictures were invented more than a century ago, many theatre workers considered the media a competitor; some were even afraid of being replaced some day in the future. I remember when I was young and when television began to gain popularity, people could not stop worrying about the worsening decline of theatrical arts. Yet, many idiots, such as myself, still chose the path without looking back. Fortunately, time has proven that our worries were only superfluous. Live stage performances are yet to vanish. Contrary to what many thought, video and stage never became nemesis as technology advances. Instead, video arts have been incorporated into theatrical performances in recent years and have become an important instrument or a direction for exploration in contemporary theatre.
Robert Lepage is an icon not to be left out of any discussion about injecting video art into the theatre. I was also once obsessed with his stage magic. After all, the diversity and fluidity of stage production can hardly compete with that of video projection due to the relatively fixed points of view and scenery used. The involvement of performers and stage props, together with accurate calculations, video projection could bring anything but limitation to stage art – it could expand the possibilities of the theatrical creativity. A few years ago, I paid a special visit to Taiwan for watching Lepage’s epically long production Lipsynch. I am still very impressed by one of the scenes, in which a teenage girl spoke of her painful experience of being deceived into prostitution. On the same stage, a topless male actor stood in front of the video camera, fondling himself – the image was immediately projected onto the white dress of the teenage girl. How a young woman’s body became the projected desire of men and how she was brutally humiliated were vividly portrayed.
Today, the word “video art” is already something of yesteryear. Very often, projected images seen on stage are no longer pre-recorded. With the advancing of computer programming, possibilities for instant interaction have also been enhanced. As a result, the words “multimedia” or “cross-media” are more commonly used now. However, instant interaction does not necessarily mean that the creator could be lazy and act recklessly, as the process does involve substantial preliminary tests and preparation. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to take part in the solo dance performance Dan’s Exhibitionist of Daniel Yeung and acted as a theatrical director. Yeung also made use of a large quantity of multimedia effects. I witnessed how much sophisticated calculation and bold creativity were involved, as well as the team’s unwavering spirit – one second of jaw-dropping and innovative effect, indeed, is a result of thousands of failures.
A drama performance usually involves a physical set. As such, there may not be a space for projection even if one wants to employ multimedia. This is unlike dance performances, which usually have simpler sets, making the stage spacious enough for large scale projection. The mobility and lyrical experience created by dance also make a good match with the nature of multimedia imagery. Having been personally involved in productions such as the above-mentioned one, I believed that dance and projection can be a match made in heaven if they are used appropriately. I am looking forward to watching yet another performances that mesmerize me after knowing LCSD is going to organise a “Dance x Multimedia” Series 2015 and introducing three dance performances that have combined with multimedia elements.
We do have something to look forward to in the three performances of the “Dance x Multimedia” Series 2015. Encoded does not only come with state-of-the-art digital imaging, there are also aerial dances. Coincidentally, there were also the elements in Daniel Yeung’s performance mentioned above. This time around, I surely want to see how the Australian group Stalker Theatre Company would combine the two. The second production is Refugees of the Septic Heart by Tom Dale Company of the United Kingdom. It wasn’t the first time that TDC came to Hong Kong. Early last year, the company toured to Hong Kong and performed I Infinite. There was no seat for that show. Digital projection changed the Black Box Theatre of Kwai Tsing Theatre completely. The audience, me included, could wander around the theatre freely, and was rather impressed with the experience. This time, the show is staged at the Theatre of Hong Kong City Hall. How would the company play their magic this time in a regular theatre setting? The third show is Artist of Light by iLuminate of the United States. They earned their fame from America’s Got Talent, winning standing ovation from harsh judges. Watching their performance on Youtube alone is stunning enough.
All in all, there should be more symbiotic possibilities between dance (and even the theatre) and multimedia. While I eagerly wait for similar local productions for this genre, “Dance x Multimedia” Series 2015 should serve as one great reference.
Translated from the original article written in Chinese by Wu Hoi-fai, a veteran stage director
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The real and the unreal – Dance and mulitmedia arts
Chung Siu-mui, Ribble
The union of dance and multimedia is nothing new, but there are few productions that see the two seamlessly blending with each other. The Dance x Multimedia Series hosted by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department is a courageous attempt to bring the two together so they can engage in true dialogue. Yet in order to understand the effectiveness of dance and multimedia, one needs to know the characteristics of both to truly feel and analyse.
Three overseas troupes that possess distinct characteristics
The three overseas dance troupes in Dance x Multimedia have their own distinct characteristics, but all have dance as the fundamental elements with features of multimedia arts injected. The predominance of the features is different for the respective troupes, so the effects produced are also different, which is what makes art so interesting.
British dance troupe Motionhouse is well-known for their skill in creating vividness in a fictional scene, and the mastery of a powerful and forceful combination of body movements and theatre. Renowned for their rigorous training in movements, and expertise in mixing elements of theatre, film, dance and gymnastics as their basis of creative inspiration, their speed and flawless precision in bodily expression produces a rich visual dramatic effect. They are expert in using projection to combine movements with different circumstantial constructions. Their works use the sensuousness of the body and an emphasis on choreography of physical movements to unleash a stream of sensory impacts through leaps and flights amidst the huge sets and space, and through music and images.
If theatre is closely linked with the social scene, theatre as a tool to mirror society would be a powerful medium for communication with the audience. If the audience can participate in the process of change, and turn the entire performance into an ever-changing state, the dancers’ flexibility for change and ability to improvise would become a crucial element for success. Anarchy Dance Theatre and Ultra Combos (Taiwan), new-comer and a bright spark on the dance scene, explores the relationship between Man and society through theatre. While exploring one’s existential space through the performance, they also deploy audience participation to explore the interactive relationship between individuals. Not only is their use of technology ingenious, they have also wisely allowed the audience to take an active role to partake of and influence the performance, hence allowing the latter to reflect deeply on the meaning of participation and interference.
With our ever busy and chaotic way of living, we may have long forgotten since when technology has taken over our lives, or we may have long accepted its presence as indisputable. In stark contrast, Ireland is serene and fit for simple living. But even so, the invasion of technology is clearly inevitable. To bargain with technology to get back one’s real self, one has to be well-versed in this medium in the first place. This is why Irish troupe MIDASpace uses highly skilled multimedia technology, including video mapping and motion detector – the former uses images to change the visual effects of space through projection on real sets, while the latter traces dancers’ movements with a motion detector for the images to give a parallel response. A lot of calculation and experimentation is involved, yet the organic random changes constitute a state which can be calculated but not predicted, echoing a tug-of-war of possibilities between Man and technology.
Dance x Multimedia is an attempt to bring dance and multimedia to a formidable test: how powerful is modern multimedia technology? To what lengths can artists go in their flirtations with multimedia arts? How does the body drive technology? Or how do the two incorporate each other so it will be a win-win situation and not a zero sum game? These questions will be answered when the troupe comes to Hong Kong.
Originally published in Delta Zhi, Issue 38
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