OzAsia & Hong Kong: Identity & connection

Chris Reid

Chloe Wong & Dance Lab

As part of the 2017 OzAsia Festival, Hong Kong dancer, dance teacher and choreographer Chloe Wong will be one of 11 choreographers from Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore undertaking a five-day residency, titled Australia-Asia Dance Lab, at LW Dance Hub in the Lion Arts Centre, Adelaide. Under the overall guidance of acclaimed choreographer Leigh Warren, the residency will enable participants from diverse backgrounds to collaborate in an experimental dance laboratory, and audiences will be offered the unique experience of being able to see them exchanging ideas and developing work together. I recently spoke with Chloe Wong in Hong Kong.

A 2006 graduate from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts majoring in Modern Dance, Wong undertook a Masters degree program in the US and has extensive experience as both dancer and choreographer. Her solo and ensemble works have been performed in Asia, Europe and America and she is engaged in a three-year exchange in Japan.

Wong has a distinctive often theatrical approach to choreography, making extensive use of props and dialogue. In Heaven Behind the Door (2014), the dancers use an overhead projector to shine a beam of light through a glass bowl around the darkened stage, focusing the image of shimmering water over other dancers and onto the stage backdrop to create a visual effect that suggests a watery searchlight. The work was developed in 2014 at the time of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement. Demonstrators carried yellow umbrellas and the protest extended more than two months. “It moved me a lot,” says Wong, having witnessed many ordinary people become very vocal and protective of their freedom, confirming her belief that if people act to protect their own space and identity, they can be very powerful. Hong Kong is a society in transition, which raises the question of identity, an important theme in Chloe Wong’s work, especially when it’s repressed, as wittily demonstrated in the 2012’s The Red Cage, performed and choreographed by Wong, conceived with art director Moon Yip and subheaded “NO Brainwashing!”

Chloe Wong likes to work with other dancers in exchange programs, acknowledging each participant as an individual and what they bring to a workshop. Her own work, she says, is about enabling every individual to express their beliefs, with sharing an important part of the process. Her choreography develops organically, evolves over time and may be redeveloped with each new production.

Having previously worked with Australian dancers, Wong is excited to be doing so again. The other choreographers in Dance Lab are Alison Currie, Richard Cilli, Natalie Allen and Lina Limosani (Australia), Victor Fung (Hong Kong), Yu-ju Lin, Kuan-Hsiang Liu and I-Fen Tung (Taiwan), and Christina Chan and Ricky Sim (Singapore). “You just don’t know what will happen in the workshop… it’s the same as life,” she says.

As there is no plan to create a finished work or present a final performance, Dance Lab is an experiment without a predetermined outcome, and thus places no constraints on how the 11 participants might interact over the five days. At the end of the Lab, the artistic outcome will be the sharing of ideas between the participants. Wong suggests that working with other dancers “is a challenge, like making friends,” and she has no specific plans for the residency, preferring as she normally does to work spontaneously with the others involved.

Given Dance Lab’s open-ended, exploratory nature, offering such a workshop is a courageous innovation by the OzAsia Festival, but one optimistically supported by numerous agencies suggesting expected benefits for the contributing countries and their artists in the long-term.

As well as being able to visit the Dance Lab workshop, the public are welcome to attend a public discussion (details below).

Dr Wilfred Wong Ying Wai, Hong Kong Arts Development Council

Collaboration and cultural exchange are central to the OzAsia Festival. In 2016 the Adelaide Festival Centre signed a memorandum of understanding with the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC) to provide for shared programs to be delivered in 2016 and 2017. Hong Kong choreographers Chloe Wong and Victor Fung, new media artist and composer Gaybird and writer Dorothy Tse appearing in OzAsia 2017 are supported by HKADC.

I spoke to HKADC Chairman Dr Wilfred Wong Ying Wai, who emphasised the importance of enabling collaboration between Hong Kong artists and artists in other countries. He suggested that, in a world where artists collaborate, “it is important to have a wider network cultivated for Hong Kong as a whole… It is not just showcasing how good we are, it is also helping our artists to go to the next level… OzAsia has a very special meaning because it is a festival that really focuses on Asian art.”

Dr Wong noted that there has there has been much development in the arts in Hong Kong over recent years. “There is more of an attempt to identify who we are. In the past, all our artists are very happy to just go along with [for example] classical western music and do their best and hopefully be the best … But now, in the last 20 years, there is a search — what is local, who do we represent? What is the Hong Kong identity? There are a lot more creative works emerging in this area, particularly in the visual arts and dance.” He suggests that Hong Kong’s significant artistic development reflects a change in social values: “We have become much more artistic and cultural. We know that enjoying life is as important as making a living.”

OzAsia Festival: Australia-Asia Dance Lab, open workshop, 10.30am-12.00pm, Tue 26-Sat 30 Sept, 1.00–4.30pm, Sat 30 Sept, Lion Arts Centre; public forum, The Mill, Adelaide, 5.30 pm, Fri 29 Sept

Australia-Asia Dance Lab has been jointly funded by the Government of South Australia, Arts SA, DanceHub, The Mill, the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, Culturelink Singapore and the National Arts Council Singapore.

Chris Reid visited Chloe Wong and Dr Wilfred Wong Ying Wai in Hong Kong courtesy of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and the Adelaide Festival Centre.

Top image credit: Chloe Wong, The Red Cage, 2012, photo courtesy OzAsia 2017

23 August 2017