There are many reasons to enjoy the performing arts – it offers an escape to inspire, uplift and, in a way, keep us in a healthy balance. Thanks to technology, we can now easily enjoy a range of traditional art forms as they find their way on to the digital stage, and in the process, transform into new experiences.
Embracing this trend is the City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC). With ArtisTree as their Cultural Partner, they have launched their first-ever Digital Dance Season, bringing innovative dance performances to the Taikoo Place community, and to a wider audience in Hong Kong and beyond. The programme, which features original productions adapted for online viewing, brings a fresh experience for viewers at home – but it has already brought on a new creative process for the performing artists.
“The digitalisation of theatre has exposed us to new creative elements and considerations,” says choreographer Luo Fan, who was invited to create a dance with his wife Chang Lan-yun for A Lover’s Concerto, a series of dance videos featuring couples who met at CCDC. “From selecting the locations to how we edit and connect each scene, there are so many possibilities.”
Based in Sweden, the couple set the stage for their dance at mesmerising natural locations rather than inside a theatre. “Our dance is about ‘breathing’, which represents the way we get along in our relationship, with one person inhaling and the other exhaling in perfect balance,” says Luo. “Filming outdoors, particularly at the lakes, helps convey this idea because breathing is such a natural thing. It’s vital, yet often forgotten – until we are underwater and can’t breathe anymore.”
While the beautiful locales provided the perfect backdrops for the video, they also posed challenges for the choreographers. “It felt really different from creating something for the stage, where you have technicians to construct everything exactly as you need it,” says Chang. “When dancing in a natural setting, we had to make changes on the spot to accommodate the environment, such as uneven grounds. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s these elements that bring us performers, and the audience, a feeling that the traditional stage can’t provide.”
Another main difference, according to the duo, is how much the artist can dictate what the audience sees. In the theatre, audience members view the performance from fixed points, and decide on where to direct their gaze. “With videos, we can show them specific scenes and details at exactly the time we want,” says Luo.
Their view is shared by award-winning director Rita Hui, who filmed Project Next Wave with three emerging choreographers for the Digital Dance Season – and in three different ways. Feast by Christy Poinsettia Ma incorporated video projections and gave a strong sense of stage; Ongoing by Felix Ke featured track shots with three cameras that moved parallel to the stage; and in noBODY by KT Yau, the camera moved toward the performers to capture their energy.
“When recording a live show, the camera simply captures the performance,” she explains. “But with these digital productions, we use the camera to enhance storytelling and create a visual experience by zooming in on certain details, creating a dynamic relationship between the audience (in this case, the camera) and the dancers.”
Unlike the natural settings featured in the piece by Luo and Chang, Project Next Wave’s three pieces were all filmed in a studio. “They were originally created for the traditional stage, so we wanted to recreate that live experience – heightened by camerawork and post-production – for viewers at home,” Hui says. And that meant constructing the entire stage and set in the studio, redesigning some of the dance moves, filming, editing…all within six weeks, and all in ways that accommodated the needs of each dance.
“As a filmmaker, digital elements are nothing new to me, but the project has certainly opened up a dialogue on the digitalisation of performing arts,” Hui says. In the past, the focus was often on how new media technology could be used in theatre; now, the conversation has shifted to how technology can bring theatre to the audience in innovative ways.
“It brings open-mindedness and diversity to the world of theatre,” she continues. “For the audience, this translates to a much broader spectrum of works available online; for traditional theatre performers and creators, this is just the first step to uncovering many more possibilities, such as creating interactive, immersive theatre experiences online.”
Find out more about the CCDC Digital Dance Season programmes here.