Upcoming production seeks to expose the various Chinese dance forms to a wider audience.
When dancer-choreographer Jack Kek studied Chinese dance at the hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, he was exposed to the various styles that defined and constituted the dance form. It opened up his world to more than just the standard handkerchief or fan dance that most Malaysians would come to associate Chinese dance with.
For five years, he studied the intricacies, origins and backgrounds of some of these dances. Kek warmed up to the likes of classical dance (with movements derived from a combination of martial arts and Chinese opera) and tribal dance before graduating and later establishing himself as a principal dancer with a renowned dance organisation in Taiwan, the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre.
Upon his return to Malaysia, Kek wanted to contribute to the Chinese dance scene here and expose the various dance forms.
“You’ll find that the han group, which makes up China’s main ethnic population, would usually perform the fan, ribbon or handkerchief (dance), while different folk groups would have their own dances too,” said the 37-year-old Kek at his dance studio in Kuala Lumpur recently.
“It is my hope to introduce these diverse styles to as many people. Some of these dances are rarely performed in Malaysia,” he added.
Kek drew up the proposals and came up with the Chinese dance production titled Collecting Wind And Cloud, featuring 10 different dance pieces. It will be staged at the Thean hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 28.
With Kek as the artistic director, the upcoming production is presented by the Qi Dancers Chinese Dance Troupe.
It is co-choreographed with the help of guest choreographer Chris Lam Wai Yan from hong Kong, who was Kek’s course mate at the same academy (hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts).
The production, explains Kek, will be very much a demonstration-type performance in which the expressions, movements and gestures of different dances will be explained to the audience.
“It’ll be an exciting evening of dance when different cultures from different places are pieced together under a common theme. I feel there’s a lot culturally and even aesthetically for the audience to absorb,” said Kek.
“Some people may wonder why are we doing some of these traditional dances and if a mainland Chinese type of dance is suitable or relevant to a Malaysian Chinese audience. But I think dances and arts are a lot about appreciation and enjoyment, even more so as we have become increasingly connected.”
Kek says the production lasts for 90 minutes. Some of the Chinese dance categories included are the Sword dance, Xinjiang Bowl dance, Thousand hand Bodhisattva, Mongolian dance, Korean Drum dance as well as the Long Sleeve dance which is his specialty.
explaining further on the Long Sleeve dance, Kek says it is based on the Chinese classical work called Dream Of The Red Chamber, featuring 12 blossoming beauties as portrayed in the novel (among its sizeable number of characters).
however, the performance is only a 15-minute version of the novel as Kek reckons that the content is too lengthy and comprehensive.
Meanwhile, Lam who was also present in this interview, says she choreographed the Korean Drum dance, the Mongolian dance and Chinese fan dance. According to Kek, flying Lam down to prepare for this show was a collaboration he had wanted to realise for a long time.
“Both of us have known each other for over 12 years. I’m grateful for the collaborations we had in the past and we have this natural chemistry working together,” he said.
Lam says the embedded characteristics of the Korean dance very much reflects her own personality. It is a calm and gentle piece without any exaggerated expressions.
“The dance itself requires practice by (using) breath training, which is a little like tai chi. But I didn’t make it too traditional or it will be too slow, which the audience would find hard to accept. however, I still tried to keep it as authentic as possible, save for the music that is tweaked to a faster beat,” said Lam, 38. The Mongolian dance is a big contrast from the Korean Drum dance, she says. It captures the loud and brash nature of nomadic Mongolians.
Through her choreography, even the act of milking cows has been adopted in the Mongolian dance.
Lam, who started dancing at the age of six, enrolled in formal dance lessons 10 years ago.
“Initially I liked traditional dance, but after attaining a certain level, it prompted the question of how much more I could achieve. Of course, I’m still a traditionalist at heart. I’m worried as to whether tradition can still be preserved among the future generations of dancers,” she said.
Kek reveals that there was an earlier version of the production back in 2004, but there wasn’t much variety at that time and it had performance at the Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 28. featured mostly his own solo performance. he won’t be performing this time and leaves it in the good hands of some 25 dancers from the Qi Dancers Chinese Dance Troupe.
“We have spent nearly RM80,000 for expenses like props, costumes, lighting, musical instruments where some had to be brought in from China,” said Kek.
The production is partly supported by My Performing Arts Agency and national Department for Culture and Arts under The Royal Arts Gala Fund which facilitates collaborations between Malaysian and international arts practitioners.
Collecting Wind and Cloud will be staged at Thean Hou Temple, Persiaran Endah, off Jalan Syed Putra in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 28 at 8.30pm. Tickets are priced at RM50 (VIP) and RM20. For enquiries, call 03-62423440 / 017-2859981 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fan the passion: Jack Kek (left) together with his guest choreographer Chris Lam Wai yan (from Hong Kong) dressed in their respective dance costumes that represent the different dance forms to be performed at Collecting WindandCloud