Dance Overview 2019
Lin Yatin, PhD, is Associate Professor of Dance Studies, and also serving as Dean of International Affairs and Chairperson of International Master's Program in Cultural Creative Industries (IMCCI) of Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA). She is past president and current director of the Taiwan Dance Research Society (TDRS), as well as former director of the Society of Dance History Scholars (SDHS)*.
* In 2017, SDHS and Congress on Research in Dance (CORD) merged to form the new Dance Studies Association (DSA) in the U.S.A.
As an observer from Taiwan of the dance ecology in Hong Kong these past few years, I sense a tight community, joining forces toward enabling a dance scene that is vibrant in terms of the creativity, production, audience reception, as well as discussion and documentation. For example, based on the articles from dance journal/hk, as well as the Chinese-English bilingual publication of Hong Kong’s early dance pioneers and educators The Unspoken Dance: An Oral History of Hong Kong Dance 1950s-70s, and the more recent Studies on Works by Hong Kong Contemporary Choreographers 1980-2010: Contemporary History of Dance in Hong Kong, Aesthetics and Exploration of Identity (hereafter referred to as ‘Studies’), I can envision the energy of the local dance artists, administrators, as well as writers there, working together not only just internally, but also allying with networks and resources from abroad, to stay on par with the most current international concerns and issues.
Yu Yeuk-mui Cally. ‘Dimensions of Community Dance as a Social Practice — Some Observations from Dance and Community Participatory Dance Projects in 2019’ (pp.54-76)
I would first like to address the article by Yu. Based on four case studies that she either participated herself or had observed and interviewed the organisers, Yu reflects on these from four dimensions: spatial quality, aesthetics experience, horizontal learning, and structural changes. In terms of the cases studied, they consist of:
1) An international collaboration between Hong Kong and Thailand, titled ‘Acts of Commoning: HK — Thai cultural exchange project’, which Yu participated herself.
2) A Hong Kong Arts Festival project, co-produced with Complicité from the U.K., titled Everything That Rises Must Dance.
3) Body In Time is a two-year project produced by Unlock Dancing Plaza.
4) Let Our Hearts Integrated By Dance is extended from a 2019 workshop, hosted by Mimi Lo (Mimi LO Performing Arts Development Foundation).
However, before introducing the specific cases, Yu, with her background in cultural studies, provides some contextual background toward the state of community dance and its importance as social practice, proposing important reminders toward the social responsibility of artists. Through referencing scholars Zygmunt Bauman, Claire Bishop, Nicholas Bourriaud, and Shannon Jackson, among others, drawing on Bauman’s ‘alternative angle to the essence of community — to provide precise certainty to individuals to protect their life and personal safety’ (p.62), she also weaves in her concerns regarding the rights of women and elders in these community projects.
Yu emphasises the need to clarify the purpose of dance, how to be inclusive, and how to let the movements make sense for all the participants. She even added that the participants should also have the option to ‘say no’ to certain tasks when they feel uneasy (p.64).
In regard to aesthetics, through interviewing Andy Lee (a professional dancer from the organising company), Yu recaps her focus on ‘how amateurs in the community can use their bodies to express themselves frankly’ (p.66). Furthermore, Mimi Lo (who campaigns for DanceAbility) added that ‘through embracing the difference in body and capacity, the hierarchy is thus eradicated’ (p.66).
In Taiwan, there is also awareness of community dance for the elders (such as through Horse Dance Theatre’s workshop series), and more recently, culture equity rights, welcoming participants of various physical abilities to enjoy moving with their bodies. As Lo uses contact improvisation and ‘ContaKids’ approaches in her workshops, these methods are also gaining popularity in Taiwan, especially since contact improvisation was introduced locally three decades ago through Ku Mingshen and her company members, who have also since ‘spread the gospel’ in other local communities, bridging with Somatics as well. For example, Ku’s company member Li Meikuang has hosted many such workshops, in collaboration with therapists and counsellors in Taiwan.
In conclusion to her article, Yu points out that ‘artists are not social workers… but which social contexts and needs do the community dance project address? What kind of aesthetic experience does it bring to the community and how is it produced? These are the primary concerns’ (p.74). Indeed, these are important reminders for community dance organisers, who need to sort out ahead of time that these workshops are not merely to promote the arts and increase possible spectatorships for dance performances, but to create possibilities for horizontal change and other structural changes. Otherwise, the resources put into these projects will be a waste.
Leung Wai-sze Jass. “‘Rediscovering’ Hong Kong Choreographers — Studies on Works by Hong Kong Contemporary Choreographers 1980-2010: Contemporary History of Dance in Hong Kong, Aesthetics and Exploration of Identity’ (pp.77-96)
The article by Leung on the collection of essays on works by six Hong Kong contemporary choreographers active between 1980-2010 begins with a contextualisation regarding the current status of research in the performing arts. Leung compares the situation in Hong Kong with those abroad (such as France, Belgium, and China), voicing her concern about the late start of the urgently needed local dance research.
The next section titled ‘Oral History as Research Methodology’ focuses on the aforementioned bilingual publication of The Unspoken Dance, where two researchers (Lee Hoi-yin Joanna and Lam Heyee) interviewed ten local dance pioneers. I have read some of these transcripts and enjoyed the profiles of veteran dance artist Lau Siu-ming (1931~) and educator Mrs. Joan Campbell, the former performed French choreographer in Maurice Béjart’s Ballet du XXe siècle in the 1960s while the latter helped set up the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD)’s ballet in education syllabus.
These veterans are now around ninety years old, their legacy and contribution should certainly be documented for the next generations to refer to. Actually, in 1995, under the Council of Cultural Affairs (CCA, Ministry of Culture since 2012) in Taiwan, the National Institute of the Arts (renamed the Taipei National University of the Arts in 2001) organized a symposium and gala titled ‘Half a Century of Footsteps’ with oral history accounts collected from local dance pioneers including Kao Yan (1908-2001), Tsai Juiyueh (1921-2005), Lee Tianmin (1925-2007), Lee Shufen (1925-2012), Liu Fengshueh (1925~), and Lee Tsaier (1926~). It was an unforgettable event where their students also shared fond memories and even demonstrated phrases of dance taught by their beloved mentors.
Leung’s article then focuses mainly on the Studies published in 2019 in Hong Kong, the six essays focusing on the currently prominent generation of dance artists active between 1980-2010, namely Chin Sau-lin Miranda, Helen Lai, Mui Cheuk-yin, Yuri Ng, Pun Siu-fai, and Yeung Chun-kong Daniel. The pairing of the researcher/writer with the choreographer/dancer is quite unique, including my colleague dance scholar Chen Ya-ping from Taiwan, who wrote on Helen Lai. As a fellow researcher of Hong Kong’s City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), I am also familiar with five of the six choreographers studied here. In terms of the writers, arts critic and poet Lok Fung from Hong Kong is also a friend and comrade. Thus, I am most excited to see this important collection published, adding more appreciation and depth to the much-anticipated dance criticism which Lok Fung described as a ‘practical writing’ and ‘artistic writing’, or as Leung described it, as a combination of both. With the joint contribution from the artists, writers, and producers/curators, the goal of branding Hong Kong through arts, and especially through dance, will more likely be achieved, if not already, especially with the new West Kowloon venues as well.
Yau See-wing Catherine. ‘“Development in Progress’: Hong Kong Street Dance Development Alliance’ (pp. 97-110)
The last article looks into the popularity of Street Dance in Hong Kong, and how the Hong Kong Street Dance Development Alliance (HKSDDA) is working more closely with government sectors in order to secure more financial funding as well as visibility through educational outreach programs. Yau, who interviewed the chairmen of HKSDDA, unravels the debate regarding whether street dance should move into the theatre. Quoting Lau Siu-ming, Hong Kong’s veteran practitioner from the dance and film industries (who was mentioned earlier), Yau emphasised the factor of authenticity — described synonymously as the ‘wonton noodle’ from local Hong Kong cuisine (p.99). Indeed, many dance students decide to pursue a professional career, based on after school breakdancing with friends. Through social dance battles or the more competitive street dance competitions, these teenagers can become future dance artists, and even compete in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, winning medals and honour for Hong Kong. Thus, I also agree that for street dance to turn toward the establishment is not an act of betrayal to their roots in the streets, but an important opportunity for transition and development of this lively and organic form of dance.
To conclude, 2019 marks a year of historic accomplishment in the publication of dance research in Hong Kong. Both The Unspoken Dance and Studies were released within the same year, only few months apart. Obviously, the planning, research and writing of these took many years of organising. During a year of social unrest, the local choreographers also gave their best in producing world-class dance works, which even toured to Taiwan, such as the restaging of Helen Lai and City Contemporary Dance Company’s Rite of Spring. I witnessed both performances in Hong Kong and Taipei, with the new cast of Chou Shuyi in the lead, and was deeply moved.
I truly hope that with the close connection between the dance communities in Hong Kong and Taiwan over the past few decades, this strong collaboration can be maintained, if not, enhanced. Writing in the autumn of 2021, with the COVID-19 pandemic creating an unforeseen halt to live performances, I wish we can support each other to get through this crisis together, one step at a time.
 For more info on Li Meikuang, please refer to the Perennial Tree Psychotherapy Center website https://perennial-tree.org/li-lecture/ (accessed 6 Sept 2021).
 Helen Lai and CCDC are also studied in my monograph Sino-Corporealities: Contemporary Choreographies From Taipei, Hong Kong, and New York (TNUA Press, 2015).