Arts of Hong Kong 2020: An Interview with the choreographers of CCDC’s Project NEXT Wave
HONG KONG – Playing as part of their 2020 Digital Dance Season, City Contemporary Dance Company’s Project NEXT Wave brings to the stage new works by three promising young choreographers: Felix Ke, Christy Poinsettia Ma, and KT Yau, as they show off their artistic vision using dance to explore concepts of existence, society, and value.
With Project NEXT Wave, CCDC has given audiences option to either enjoy a live version of the performance at Ko Shan Theatre, or a digital, filmed version directed by HK dance film director Rita Hui streamed online. Certainly, given CCDC’s success with their previous online show, whichever option audiences pick will be a memorable one. In the leadup to the performance, we spoke to each of the three choreographers to find out more about what they hope to achieve with their choreography, and the process behind it. Read on to hear from the choreographers themselves:
Felix Ke – ONGOING
In Felix Ke’s ONGOING, the CCDC company dancer imagines the decline of civilization, with the human race falling back into a culture of barbarism, and wonders how we continue to keep the faith and carry on. Collecting observations of society, Ke projects his feelings and imagination onto this work, hoping to create an opportunity for audiences to reflect on such questions and issues today.
Bakchormeeboy: You mentioned that you tend to find inspiration from watching documentaries. What was the process behind conceptualising ONGOING and what led to your decision to present it in this form?
Felix: During the creation process, I watched some documentaries and combined those ideas with my own concepts, eventually selecting some images and elements from the documentaries and putting them in my dance. Since those images provided me a practical picture of whether it is suitable on stage. Dancers will also generate other impact and meaning to the big picture. I’ve always wanted to choreograph a piece focusing on body, and this time I will alter the movement according to each dancer’s body. I also appreciate their physical fitness which enhance the movement quality of this piece.
Bakchormeeboy: You’re choreographing eight dancers in ONGOING. What were some of the greatest challenges that went into the choreography and making sure it aligned and achieved your goals?
Felix: With regards to challenges, since the group dance parts are in my style, when the dancer creating the solos, sometimes it is not my type of body style. I need to spend time communicate and adjust the movement texture. I have learnt to trust my dancers, give them spaces to digest my hints on the movement. They gradually reached what I expected, and I have learnt to be patient and let them transform.
Bakchormeeboy: Compared to the other two works in the trailer, ONGOING seems to have the most elaborate preview, in terms of the set (taking place in a cargo lift). In the field of dance, how important do you feel are the onstage elements, e.g. costumes, set, when compared to the movements, or should movements alone be able to speak for themselves?
Felix: In my opinion, everything on stage is significant, including costume, props, lighting. This is because everything on stage has to be presented to audiences, and they all contribute to the meaning of the piece. To support the dancer’s movement, the space and more. So I think we have to pay attention to every element, as they all have to align with the piece.
Bakchormeeboy: Is there an end goal to ONGOING, with regards to the message or thoughts it hopes to leave viewers with?
Felix: At this point, Hong Kong people might carry a lot of questions and struggles about our future. I hope this piece is able to connect to their problems, and to find their own answer to it.
Bakchormeeboy: Project NEXT Wave is both presented to online audiences and live audiences in the theatre. How does it feel as this wasn’t initially planned for a live audience? How would you adapt? Would you change things? In terms of presentation.
Felix: Initially we created this piece for the stage. When it was announced that theatres would be closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we already created 80% of the choreography. That’s why we didn’t adjust much for the video version, with things like how to angle the camera, which part of the stage we would show to the audiences. This video format encouraged me to consider the focal point of each part, whether I have to magnify the details to audiences rather than showing them everything.
Bakchormeeboy: Why did you choose to participate in Project NEXT Wave and how do you feel you’ve grown as an artist from this experience?
Felix: There’s a lot of things happened to Hong Kong over the previous year which deeply impacted me. When CCDC announced they were doing this project, I decided to join to express these thoughts. I have learnt a lot in this producing process, including how to communicate with my dancers, how to deal with music and lighting, how to be more observant to improve and add polish to my own pieces. There are countless decisions to be made which has allowed me to grow. I think an artist should embody a comprehensive way of thinking to make decision. This process I have learned how to make the most out of the limited space, and how to trust everyone and lead a team to achieve the piece that I want.
KT Yau – noBODY
In noBODY, award-winning young artist KT Yau questions ideas of performance, and who audience members will remember once the curtains close. With 12 dancers under her wing, she presents them as similarly dressed, yet distinguishes them by their individual choreographies.Yau uses this opportunity to conduct a “reduction” experiment, and in a cramped environment, the performers make use of their limited resources to create new meanings.
Bakchormeeboy: When did the idea for noBODY first come about, and what was the inspiration behind it?
KT: The usage of the props in this piece were some of my earliest thoughts. At that time I did not know much about the dancers, and in the process of the preparation before getting in touch with the dancers, I thought about what to share with them and how I could express the piece through them. To express with one’s body is in a dancer’s nature, and I would like to explore expression through movement and ways of performance through props with the dancers, as well as continue to develop my previous choreographies. What’s more, the props used are in response to a social issue. After working with the dancers, they continued to inspire this piece and that made me feel good about it. Although the progress took a long time, it was satisfying to find a new way of expression and interpretation with regards to this piece.
Bakchormeeboy: While you usually choreograph for smaller groups of dancers or solo dancers, this time your work was choreographed for 12. How was that experience like for you, and what was the decision behind the large number of dancers for this work?
KT: In the past, 9 dancers was the largest group I worked with, and this is the first time I’m working with 12 of them, which made me feel a bit nervous. There are very few opportunities for a freelance choreographer in Hong Kong to work with this many dancers! However, my biggest concern was not about the number of dancers, but from the uncertainties about how a dance company works, since I haven’t worked in a company for a long time. Previously as a freelance choreographer, I could choose my own dancers and make sure they could connect with my choreography through our conversations or with an audition, which is different from this experience.
Bakchormeeboy: noBODY seems to be partially about self-expression, with each of the dancers given a chance to showcase themselves onstage. But you purposely make that difficult by making sure their costumes are similar, blurring the dancers’ identities. Should the idea of recognition as an individual be important to dancers?
KT: This time, I had to think a lot about the costumes on my own and I opted to use simple costumes. I also tried to allow the dancers to choose what to wear on their own and run a rehearsal. Some of them wear denim jeans or pants, and some of them wear gorgeous dresses that represent themselves. However, I found it demonstrated their personal identities more than the movement they present in the piece, and it would be better if the costumes could have symbolised their bodies and represent their body textures. I hope the costumes can help them stand out, while still recognising their differences. In the end, I decided to maintain a similar look for the costumes but still show their own style through the cutting.
Bakchormeeboy: Much of your practice has to do with limiting and limitations, and noBODY is described as a ‘reduction’ experiment. What do you hope are some of the ‘new meanings’ that are achieved from this work?
KT: It represents the vividness of life in different ways. Through the limitation, we feel our existence. The limitations are what we feel while living in Hong Kong. Can we keep our imagination with those limitations and discover our existence? As a performer, what do we represent while we get into another space to think about ourselves and the stage, especially with certain props? Who do we dance for?
In the early stages, one of my dancers mentioned that creating movements is too familiar and not challenging to them anymore, to the point it sometimes becomes meaningless. The piece is not just about dancing with props but to ‘serve’ the representation of the props. We have to use our body and the props to bring the whole picture to life. To be honest, this is the most challenging part of the rehearsals. We discovered the possibilities of moving the bodies and developed a relationship with the props.
Bakchormeeboy: Project NEXT Wave is both presented to online audiences and live audiences in the theatre. How does it feel as this wasn’t initially planned for a live audience. How would you adapt? Would you change things in terms of presentation?
KT: It is a big question to think about what is in between the online audience and live audience. After the pandemic, I believe there is a responsibility for every theatre worker to discover the possibilities of a transfer. But it can only be a transfer rather than a replacement.
This performance will be presented in both ways on the same topic. The early plan was to stage it in the theatre. When I learnt that the piece would be filmed, I thought about using a single plan for both presentations. Unfortunately, that did not work as the concepts are really different onstage and on film. The time limitation only allowed me to focus on one representation, so I chose to spend more time perfecting the live version. I do hope that I will have time to plan for the digital version in future after the live performances are done.
Bakchormeeboy: Why did you choose to participate in Project NEXT Wave and how do you feel you’ve grown as an artist from this experience?
KT: During the rehearsal, a dancer told me that putting himself into the intense regular rehearsals every day was exhausting. It made me reflect on the differences between freelancers and full-time dancers. My schedule is filled with different projects and I can separate my time to focus on different tasks a day. Compared to full-time dancers, it’s different, because they have to immerse themselves in the piece and think about the same problem day by day. They have less private time and rest, and I have to understand their condition.
Getting to know the dancers has been an eye-opening experience for me, and I admire their desire and focus on exploring their bodies, often reminding me pay more attention to my own body. As mentioned, I also seldom work with dance companies, and relied primarily on producers to close the gap between us. This time, I had to be in charge and deal with problems on my own, such as the budget, schedule and costumes. At the very beginning, I was frustrated with my duties as a choreographer. It is challenging to communicate with many people in different posts in a company, and we found disparities between freelancers and company dancers towards identifying professionalism and body. It definitely made me more aware of how fundamental communication is.
Although we have different working styles, we are all passionate about dance. If I could switch between different modes, I could become an all-round dance worker. Freelancers spend most of their time on their body, movement and performance research. We spend relatively less time on movement technique. Most of my experiences would be cooperating with different artists or investigation in the forms of dance performance. In comparison, most of them have much more on-stage performance experience. Sometimes I cannot find a way to attune their movements as the choreographer. As I usually work in a small theatre, I may consider their movement projection exaggerated and want to tune them down or make it more detailed. I’m also concerned about the dancers’ experience, as they are more familiar with movement tuning in a larger theatre. I then started to investigate a balance of movement expression between my impressions and a dancer’s experience.
Christy Poinsettia Ma – FEAST
In Feast, choreographer and CCDC company dancer Christy Poinsettia Ma reflects on the common saying “you are what you eat”. She considers how food reflects the values and views of a person or society, and uses it as a way to present her insights into this world to show the absurdity of internal and external discord and self-deception. Thinking about how humans continue to voraciously grab natural resources, believing that their civilization is superior, we come to realise that our behaviour may appear sophisticated today, but in fact, is far more similar to that of cavemen than we dare believe.
In thinking about food and the concept of eating as a daily habit, Christy then expanded from there to consider other concepts related to it. “We’re so used to eating that we don’t pay attention to it anymore,” says Christy. “I wanted to explore the tussle of power between humans and other species, and to use Feast as an opportunity to build a connection between myself and my dancers.”
“Think of Feast not just as related to eating, but how the world itself is like a buffet, a banquet, and more specifically, an absurd banquet,” she adds. “Odd things and logical things happen every day in different places, but because we’re so used to it, we no longer think about how to make changes or want to change. As a dancer and choreographer, I thought about my position in the world, and how my work can respond to such issues.”
Given her background in theatre as well as dance, you can be sure that Feast will also involve some additional elements to elevate the theatricality and make it a show worth watching. “Feast will also involve projections and text created with the dancers,” she comments. “I’m a little greedy, and I wanted to figure out how to express myself and my ideas in a more comprehensive way, so I tried to do a lot more. Hopefully, audiences come in with their own ideas and thoughts when the watch the show, and enjoy what we’ve created.”
Project NEXT Wave streams online on 2nd October 2020 and is available for viewing until 4th October 2020. It will also be staged live at Ko Shan Theatre from 2nd to 4th October 2020. Tickets are available on Popticket and SISTIC. More information available on CCDC’s website here
CCDC will also be presenting A Lover’s Concerto Episode 2 on 18th October 2020 and REAL Showcase Series – Solara & Luna on 30th October 2020 as part of their Digital Dance Season. Find out more about CCDC’s Digital Dance Season here