Local participation on international platforms
Local artists and non-artists are always spotlighted in Hong Kong Arts Festival
While international productions that are not coming to Southeast Asia are main draws for me at the annual Hong Kong Arts Festival, I make sure that I check out local works that are curated by the festival as well. Come to think of it, this is quite similar to how I was excited about eating American hamburgers, not yet available in Thailand at the time, and buying Japanese toys, overpriced here back then, on my childhood trips to the SAR as opposed to the fact that I had two dim sum lunch meetings on this short three-day visit.
At Hong Kong City Hall’s Theatre, the festival presented a new work "Loveless Romance" a domestic drama by veteran playwright and screenwriter Cheung Tat-ming who also served as its director. Ho Tin and Hui Mung Yu, two friends in their 50s and the latter also a cancer patient, have agreed on a “loveless contract” to have a noncommittal relationship and the plot thickens when Kitty, a single woman in her 30s suffering from depression, enters into the picture.
Seasoned thespians Wang Wei and Annie Cheung gave an arresting performance as the unique couple and Kate Yeung’s strong stage presence changed the room temperature. Even though we fully empathized with their situations, the slow pace of the play and shortness of some scenes, breakaways from their living room, prevented us from being touched by them.
At the curtain call, I suddenly thought of an old friend, now in her late 40s, who has been cohabiting and co-working with her former lover in their home office where they also adopted a few stray dogs. She told me that their life and work were in trouble, or jeopardy, anytime either one of them was about to engage into a romantic relationship with a third party who’s younger than them. To add another layer of complication, or perhaps theatricality, he’s an expat.
Evidently, contemporary relationships, good sources for plays, movies and TV, are more complicated than those of the past and many of us cannot help smiling when we have to fill out a government form that gives us only the marital status options of single, married, separated and divorced. In this post-COVID era, though, I wonder if this almost bittersweet story of unusual yet realistic relationship would be better, or more effectively, told on other media, rather than in a proscenium playhouse where the audience was in the dark, separated from the characters for almost two hours.
The following evening I took a short mini-bus ride, with the same Octopus card I used on other means of transportation, from Tsim Sha Tsui to West Kowloon Cultural District, a massive landfill area full of museums and performing arts venues that fully opened during the pandemic. The cool and dry weather drew many people to the Art Park where they, including dogs on leashes, enjoyed the breeze, mask-free, and small gatherings outdoors and in restaurants with food and drinks with the stunning view of both Kowloon and Hong Kong island.
At The Box in Freespace, a black box venue adjustable for different kinds of performance, each ticketholder for “First Steps”, by France’s Tamanoir Immersive Studio had a choice of being one of the 24 participants, on stage, or audience members, in the stand, for the same price.
At the beginning, a show of hands revealed that about half of those onstage had performed onstage, and they’re also accompanied by six professional dancers from the production team. Later on, I realized that I focused more on those who had not: arts training and education in this part of the world have affected the way we express ourselves. The nifty lighting design and the artist’s instruction, or choreography, however, made sure that the audience watched the ensemble, didn’t compare one “performer” to another and as a result experienced the whole work.
There’s one memorable moment when the artist asked us, both on stage and in the audience stand, to breathe together in the same rhythm. It’s refreshing, or even reinvigorating, to be able to do so among strangers in a closed space like a performance venue again after how COVID-19 has disrupted the world, especially its public gatherings and events, for the past two years.
“First Steps” is a kind of contemporary performance that doesn’t aim too high but hits all the marks and achieves its short list of purposes. It reminded me of another unforgettable French contemporary dance performance “Le sacre du printemps” at Festival d’ Avignon in 2011 in which senior citizen non-performers walked, ran or moved along in circle throughout the entire Stravinsky’s composition. We hear this often and yet we forget it from time to time: “If you can move, you can dance.” After all, the stage, like any arts space, is a public space: it belongs to everyone, not just trained or aspiring artists, or talent show contestants.
The main program of HKAF 2023 already finished two weeks ago but the festival continues to engage its audience year-round. For example, the festival’s focus on inclusivity and disability still continues on its “No Limits” platform. Online contents comprising a short film, a documentary, a recorded concert and a multimedia experience can be accessed free of charge, until May, at www.nolimits.hk, thanks in part to the support of the festival’s long-time main sponsor The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust.
Keep connected to HKAF to see what’s next by visiting www.hk.artsfestival.org
The writer wishes to thank HKAF’s Tobie Chan for all assistance.
Photo: (for “Loveless Romance”) Maximillian Cheng and Eric Hong; (for “First Steps”) Luster Angle Limited