C South, Edinburgh – until 13 August 2019
I did not know what to expect from a Hong Kong-based circus dance theatre show. So why did I feel surprised by what I did see? As I walked up to the venue, a man appeared from behind a tall hedge, launched high into the air, rehearsing, face covered in colourful warpaint that reminded me of some sort of classical Eastern theatre mask (that, again, I know nothing about). Once in the theatre, this man multiplied into six; six uniformed, facepainted men in black training clothes, jogging around the space.
From this introduction, the highly proficient, tightly synchronised martial arts-based choreography of flipping and tricking did not surprise me. For some reason, the satirical humour and parody of machismo and meaning-making did. Although none of the cast speak, pre-recorded text is supplied at intervals from an interview with kung-fu philosopher Bruce Lee. Lee’s voice instructs the men onstage towards expression and individual style. They take his words as training exercises. It’s like the process of trying to move from classical physical training into contemporary, expressive performance brought to life. At one point, the Western interviewer’s voice interjects on the voice-over: ‘Like a ballet dancer? Ha!’
Perhaps the bright yellow trainers should have given the humour away from the off. In any case, I couldn’t help thinking that if Barely Methodical Troupe were from Hong Kong, this might be the entertaining, acrobatically skilled work they’d be making.
Loud music has me tapping and bouncing along – ‘Uptown Funk’, the Pulp Fiction theme tune, a neo-classical string concerto. The rhythms of TS Crew’s bounding, twisting, spinning bodies are timed to perfection with the music, whether boy-band synchronised or splitting into physical polyphony.
The painted battle faces become a comic device in Hugh Cho‘s choreography. It’s rare to see this sort of wordless acrobatic fusion done to overall comedic effect (although this may be more common in contemporary dance). There’s banquine, toss-the-bloke, and leaping tricking twists. One highlight for me is a variant of the walk-across where the top mounter steps on a path made of the folded, hyper-macho arms of his collaborators.
The beauty of bodies in motion switches up a gear before the end, however, and Along becomes something of a double bill. The political situation in Hong Kong right now is dire. Violence is erupting from the authorities over peaceful protests at the deliberate erosion of their legally inscribed citizen rights. As the situation is brought to our stark attention in a powerful video presentation, and yellow trainers are replaced with yellow safety helmets and gas-masks, I worry, for the first time in my life, that my written words could bring more than emotional harm to the artists I’m discussing. But they are here to make sure their political situation is communicated, and people need to take notice.
I’ll leave the final words to the small child behind me, clarifying the final images after the applause. ‘They don’t want to get shot in the face’.
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