City Contemporary Dance Company
Hong Kong, Cultural Centre Studio Theatre
21 April 2012
A version of this review previously appeared in the South China Morning Post
Dominic Wong is one of Hong Kong’s more unpredictable choreographers. Each new work he creates seems to explore a new direction and Blind Chance, his latest creation for City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), is no exception.
This is arguably Wong’s most organic piece yet, flowing from start to finish in a logical fashion. Exploring the theme of fate and how chance governs our lives, it is an essentially dark piece imbued by an atmosphere of menace and at times despair, lifted by moments of warmer human contact. Yuen Hon-wai’s cool, claustrophic set is a box within which the dancers are trapped. Some beat on the walls as if trying to escape, while others slump quietly against them, abandoning the struggle.
Frenzied, often violent movement is punctuated by powerful moments of stillness. Wong and his dancers respond with innate musicality to a strongly rhythmic but not overly aggressive electronic score by Shum Lok-man, effectively interspersed with passages of softer, semi-classical music by Max Richter.
Wong makes exceptional use of space, notably by contrasting individuals with groups. The choreography shows much genuine inventiveness, particularly in the double work which includes a number of stunning effects. In one, Chang Lan Yun walks up a staircase formed of the backs of several dancers then stands for a long time on Yang Hao’s shoulders staring out into space. In perhaps the show’s most beautiful moment, Jennifer Mok is balanced in mid-air on Lai Tak Wai’s feet, her own feet braced against the wall, and spreads out her arms to create a perfect image of a bird in flight.
In the darkest and most powerful sequence, a terrified Noel Pong is gradually backed against the wall by a menacing group and raised aloft as if crucified, an image of fear which turns to softness as Lam Po holds her gently in place, then lifts her down.
As always CCDC’s dancers give a tremendous ensemble performance, with Mok, Pong, Chang and Lai among the stand-outs.
The elegant minimalist designs and Goh Boon Ann’s lighting help to give the piece a distinctive character. Cheng Man-wing’s excellent costumes enhance the dancers’ movement and combine an overall sense of the group with subtle touches of individuality. Wong and his design team also deserve a special word for making such effective use of the Studio Theatre space, generally one not friendly to dance.
All in all Blind Chance has the makings of an outstanding piece. However, it is marred by a bizarre ending – going out with a whimper not a bang, as it were – which is out of sync with what has gone before and comes as a letdown. It is also stretched out too long, resulting in a degree of repetitiveness and loss of focus. This has been a frequent problem under CCDC’s recent policy of presenting a single “full-length” (i.e. around one hour) piece per programme as opposed to the classic contemporary mixed bill format.
This move away from mixed bills is also frustrating in that it leaves little opportunity for work to be revived. The only exceptions are a few established pieces by senior choreographers Willy Tsao and Helen Lai (Lai’s masterly Comedy of K gets a welcome re-run this December). There are many works I would love to see again – Wong’s Xtremely Four Seasons, Noel Pong’s Crime Scene and Daniel Yeung’s Feng are among those that spring to mind. Sadly, it seems that they are gone for good after just one run.
Creating new work is essential but not everything has to be new – good work deserves to stay in the repertoire and indeed needs more than one run in order to develop fully.