Most Hongkongers can relate to the feeling of being cooped up in a city that’s becoming more crowded than ever. But to Frankie Ho Ching-yu, choreographer and artistic director of Hook Dance Theatre, it’s not only our surrounding spaces that are shrinking. “Our mental space is also getting smaller and smaller,” she says. “Isn’t it ironic? Unlike the physical space around us, our mental space is supposed to be limitless; yet we choose to limit it to the size of this,” she continues, pointing at the smartphone in her hand.
But do we really have any control over our spaces – whether they’re physical or mental – or are we actually shaped by them? These questions prompted Ho to create Stay/Away, a unique production for ArtisTree Selects: Moving Pieces that explores the concept of space through dance performed in a novel stage set-up. “‘Space’ is a very broad and vague concept,” she says. “To demonstrate that, we incorporate several unconventional elements into this production to create a fun performance where the audience can experience the dynamics of spaces for themselves.” How? For starters, there is no actual “stage”, per se. “Audience members will be able to walk through the performance rather than just watch the show from afar.” Visitors will also have the opportunity to explore this innovative set outside of performance times, during exhibition hours.
The first things you will notice at the show are probably the kinetic objects created by renowned Japanese scenographer and multimedia artist Yoko Seyama, who has previously worked with choreographers such as the legendary Jiri Kylian, former artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theater. For Stay/Away, she’s designed a pole-like structure that “resembles a lamppost, to evoke Hong Kong’s cityscape,” says Ho. The installation’s assorted components ultimately create a testing ground for the audience, wherein they must constantly negotiate their space. At the same time, it also invites them to re-examine their state of being in the world. The performance is an experimental endeavour further developing this concept in a different context, asking, “To move or not to move?” “What I find interesting is that these objects won’t push you physically, but you’d still want to protect yourself and move away from them,” she adds.
In addition to the kinetic structures, the show also features other unique objects that, through movement, a cast of four dancers will interact with. Their performance will be enhanced by special lighting and sound effects, including a soundtrack by German composer Dirk P. Haubrich. Haubrich, like Seyama, has also worked with Kylian, having written the music for many of his exemplary works, as well as for other well-known choreographers. His music has also been played at various iconic theatres around the world, and for Stay/Away, he took inspiration directly from our beloved city. Listen carefully, and you may recognise some familiar sounds. “[Haubrich] visited in March and recorded a lot of urban noises, from construction work and traffic lights to ferry horns. He then mixed and layered these sounds to create the soundtrack, which is essentially his impression of Hong Kong,” Ho explains.
All these original elements make Stay/Away a unique production, but according to Ho, they are not key to success. “We’ve got a visually stunning space, talented dancers, unique objects and music…but none of the elements would make sense without an audience there to experience them as part of the performance,” she says.
Without the traditional stage/auditorium set-up, you’ll have the freedom to choose where to roam within ArtisTree during the 40-minute performance. Whether you choose to follow the action, or prefer to stand in the corner as a quiet observer – it’s entirely up to you. But as the confines of the performance become more and more restricted, do you really have a choice in where to go? “What’s this space to you?,” Ho challenges. “Will you stay, or will you stay away?”
ARTISTREE SELECTS: MOVING PIECES
8 August - 28 September
Find out more about Stay/Away here and book your tickets now via Ticketflap.
© Au Chi Hang, Jeremy