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How Daniel Yeung is attempting to revolutionise Chinese contemporary dance through tradition – ContempoLion

24 Apr 2017

By Mark Tjhung

As part of the new ArtisTree launch season programme, Swire Properties has commissioned ContempoLion, a new audio-visual work by Daniel Yeung that marries aerial arts, lion dancing techniques, contemporary dance and electronic music. We speak to the veteran choreographer about finding modern inspiration in tradition…


Here are a few things we’re guessing you associate with lion dancing: Chinese New Year, the clashing of cymbals, elaborate costumes, possibly a new shop opening. It’s a tradition deeply engrained in Chinese culture. But what role can it play beyond these established realms?


Daniel Yeung, artistic director of ContempoLion, thinks the “dance” element of lion dancing is often overlooked. And he’s keen to share his motivations.


“Lion dancing isn’t just about giving or performing, it’s about watching and learning,” he explains. “We wanted to create something organic. We don’t say that it’s a lion dance, we say it’s a contemporary dance with elements of lion dance training.”


He continues: “I think there is a misunderstanding about contemporary dance in Hong Kong and other Asian countries,” he says. “People think, ‘Oh contemporary dance, that’s always from the West,’ but I don’t agree. Contemporary dance is about the now, but it’s also developed from the past, as is lion dancing. I see developing it as a ‘contemporisation’ of our culture.”


Taking a much-loved tradition, something Yeung describes as “part of our roots,” and re-working it to sit within modern times is no easy task, but he believes it’s necessary in order to understand the richness of cultural heritage. “I saw getting involved as a responsibility,” says the award-winning veteran choreographer.


The result is ContempoLion, a bold take on lion dancing that explores Chinese heritage with a contemporary twist. But “contemporising” a tradition is easier said than done, and Yeung’s approach goes far beyond the physical dance movements. Every part is re-imagined, from the drumming (think electronic and immersive) to the costumes (imagine creative silhouettes). The starting point for Yeung and his dancers, though, is a deep immersion in the core elements of the tradition.

I see developing lion dance

as a ‘contemporisation’ of our culture.


“I see contemporary lion dancing as a nutrition that incorporates dance training, physical training and cultural studies. My strategy is to send all the dancers to rehearse with a lion dance troupe so they can practice and to make sure they learn the skills directly from a lion dance master,” he says. “After that comes a period of digestion. You can’t create it too quickly; slowly, the dancers transform it into a technique they can use for representation. In a way, it presents an East and West mixed mentality but then, on the other hand, it’s also just contemporary dance.”


Yeung is also keen to embrace the philosophies at the heart of lion dancing, such as feng shui. “It’s a journey of love that’s made up of different symbolic milestones. In a sense, it is a type of meta-ification, as it puts together every different stage you go through in your life into a performance.”


In ContempoLion, it’s clear that Yeung is creating a very new and modern interpretation of lion dancing. But he’s also not losing sight of what’s at the core of his work. “It’s all about creativity, imagination and fun,” he says. “We shouldn’t burden ourselves with whether or not it is mainstream or traditional because each generation will re-interpret and re-imagine; it gives us a chance to be playful.”


Tickets have now SOLD OUT for ContempoLion at the new ArtisTree from 9-10 June.
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