By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to The Nation
After five weeks of dance, theatre, music and opera performances from around the world, local works included, the 45th edition of the annual Hong Kong Arts Festival (HKAF) concluded last weekend. Numbers are out and if you’re excited by them, here are a few impressive ones: there were the total of 180 free-admission and ticketed performances, plus one exhibition, including 16 world premieres and 14 Asian premieres, more than 1,700 participating artists, and 330,000 spectators.
And as for the ticketed shows, the attendance rate was 93 per cent, which is in the same range as those of previous festivals’. Of course, that makes HKAF one of the largest performing arts festival in Asia, but the programme doesn’t always rely on the crowd-pleasers and sure-fire box-office hits only, there are also some experimental performances by artists with whom audiences in this region may not be familiar.
French object theatre wizards Stereoptik performed their latest work “Dark Circus” in Hong Kong. Photo/Christophe Raynaud de Lage
Thanks to the French Embassy’s La Fete, I was introduced to the French object theatre wizards Stereoptik a few years ago. Watching their new work “Dark Circus”, which premiered at Avignon Festival and later presented by the London International Mime Festival, at Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts’ (HKAPA) amphitheatre proves that the French word “cirque” is as diversified as the English “mime”.
As this work was based on illustrator and author Pef, the narrative was even clearer. The collaboration between co-creators Romain Bermond and Jean-Baptiste Maillet, whose use of everyday objects in creating still and moving images – mostly in black and white – was ingenious and the sport-on accompanying music, was such that when, in one scene, they created the moving image together, the audience couldn’t decide whether to see the magical result on the screen or peek into the dim light to see how they actually did it. The experience was like watching an animation film, except for the fact that the animator and the musician/composer who’re both present on both sides of the screen were worth watching too. Evidently, they not only experimented with the possibilities of shadow performance, object theatre and music, but frequently cross genres to explore more possibilities.
Award winning Ameican dancer and choreographer Michelle Dorrance worked with percussionist and innovator Nicholas Van Young on “RTM: Double Down”. Photo/Christopher Duggan
In the same building over the same weekend, HKAPA’s lyric theatre hosted another interdisciplinary performance “ETM: Double Down” by Dorrance Dance. It’s a concert for the eyes, contemporary dance for the ears, and the show was listed in the festival’s programme, fittingly, in both dance and music categories. Multi-award winning Ameican dancer and choreographer Michelle Dorrance worked with percussionist and innovator Nicholas Van Young and when their dancers moved their limbs in what Van Young called “compositional tap instrument”, they were actually creating music far more complicated than the percussion we used to associate with tap dancing.
A few musicians also danced and in parts where the choreography was not too demanding, it was occasionally difficult to differentiate dancers from musicians.
And in another example of how intriguing a production can be when artists from different genres and backgrounds put their creative minds together, this contemporary performance had the audience smiling and moving certain parts of your body along throughout.
National Theatre Brno from the Czech Republic staged Leos Janacek’s threeact opera “The Makropulos Case”. Photo/Patrik Borecky
Across the Victoria Bay at the festival’s largest venue, namely the Hong Kong Cultural Centre’s grand theatre, the selection for opera lovers wasn’t neither popular nor obvious. The turnout was a delightful surprise as the National Theatre Brno from the Czech Republic staged Leos Janacek’s three-act opera “The Makropulos Case”. The audience was not only mesmerised by his composition but also engaged in the mystery thriller story that, unlike those of many other more popular operas, we’re not yet familiar with. The cast, led by Swedish soprano diva Annalena Persson, was focusing, again unlike many other opera productions we’ve seen in this part of the world, on telling and interpreting the story as much as the music.
I have kept my streak of attending HKAF for 11 consecutive years on, and there’s no sign that it will end anytime soon.
The writer wishes to thank HKAF’s Tisa Ho and Alexia Chow for all assistance.
KEEP CHECKING THIS WEBSITE
- The highlights of the 46th HKAF, next February and March, will be announced in the next few months and tickets go on sale by the end of the year.
- Visit www.HK.ArtsFestival.org.