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.