In the show – 10th February 2009

Among the highlights of this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival are a series of works by a drama director who wants to take theatre to new and challenging places.

For Brighton-based theatre-maker Tim Crouch, theatre is primarily about transformation, a willing agreement between audience and players that the actor becomes the character. This year he is bringing three plays to the Hong Kong Arts Festival: “An Oak Tree”, “My Arm” and “England”. “An Oak Tree” is about the loss of a child. The child’s father is played by an actor who has never seen the script before, without rehearsal, and regardless of gender. In Hong Kong, three different people are taking on the role at three different performances.

“Male or female, actor and actress, they all play the same character,” says Crouch. “It is more interesting to the audience that the actor doesn’t look like the character, because the audience will transform that actor into the character, the play will make that transformation happen.” In “England” Crouch is transforming an art gallery into a theatrical space.

Turning to movies, no fewer than four of the actors in John Patrick Shanley’s film “Doubt” have been nominated for Academy Awards this year. It’s based on his play “Doubt: A Parable”, which was, in 2005, awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Drama Desk Award and Tony Award for Best Play. “Doubt” is set in 1964 in a school called “St. Nicholas in the Bronx”. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the charismatic priest, Father Flynn who wants to instill a sense of warmth into an environment ruled by the rod. In this, he’s implacably opposed by Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) who soon comes to believe he has a less than healthy interest in one of the schoolchildren. Our reviewer Gary Pollard tells us it doesn’t manage to escape its theatrical origins.

Over the weekend, Hong Kong music lovers had the opportunity to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Composer Igor Stravinsky called its sound: “The most precise and flexible in the world”. In its Hong Kong programme the orchestra played Mozart, Mahler, and Richard Strauss under the baton of veteran conductor Bernard Haitink. The three-week five city Asia tour is a long celebration not only of the its 35th anniversary but also of Haitink’s 80th birthday. Haitink, who became the orchestra’s principal conductor in 2006, talked to us about the tour, and why he’s looking forward to visiting Shanghai.

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From the orchestra to a solo instrument. Also part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, on 20th February, is a concert by local harpist Teresa Suen. Her programme will open with 19th-century French pieces composed in the romantic style most associated with the harp. But to show both her own, and the instrument’s flexibility, she’ll go on to the more percussive 20th century sounds of composers such as Carlos Salzedo and Paul Hindemith. We talked to her.

To see a streaming video of the show, please click here.

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In the Show: February 3rd 2009

oxWe’re now officially in the Year of the Ox. To celebrate the new year, a former cattle-holding depot and slaughterhouse has become the venue for an exhibition devoted to the bovine beast. In the ongoing exhibition at the Artist Commune, “Cattle 101”, local artists welcome the Year of the Ox.

The ox is often seen as a symbol of hard work, strength, power, and even virility. But in the exhibition, such innovations as a plastic bag ox, a cow-shaped pond, a tree bark ox, or a wooden ox, put new spins on the old symbolism. Materials used by the artists include wood, metal, stone, ox horns and plastic coat hangers. While some focus on capturing the animal’s special qualities, others want to convey specific messages. We talk to the exhibition’s curator and some of the artists.

For many local ballet fans the Lunar New Year has got off to a somewhat shocking start. The 2009 calendar for the Hong Kong Ballet prominently features principal dancer Faye Leung. So does publicity material for the “All Bach” programme, a production to mark the company’s 30th anniversary.

But Faye, whose performances have frequently been a highlight of the company’s productions over the past thirteen years, will not be dancing in that programme. Just three weeks before the performance, the company’s board dismissed her with immediate effect.

She had been chosen by all four visiting choreographers for the “All Bach” show and was still in rehearsal when told to leave on 23rd January. She says the dismissal came out of the blue. The company says “the board felt Faye Leung and the company are going in different directions.” Outgoing artistic director John Meehan has expressed shock that any ballet company’s board would fire a principal dancer without consulting the artistic director.

Faye, who has said she has “done nothing wrong” is now retracting a termination agreement she feels was signed under duress, and is asking for a proper explanation of her dismissal.

The chairman of the board of Hong Kong Ballet John Ying, is expected to brief the Home Affairs Bureau, which subsidises the company, on Leung’s dismissal this week.

When The Works went to film the “All Bach” rehearsals last Friday we asked who is replacing Faye Leung, but were told “no decision has been made” and yet “the show must go on”. We show clips from the rehearsals and interview some of the choreographers involved.

Some of the art we feature on The Works, such as painting or sculpture, is very specific and concrete. You can collect it. Hold it in your hand. But tonight we’re also looking at what UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, calls our Intangible Cultural Heritage. That includes oral traditions and expressions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship. An exhibition at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum until 16th February is focusing on what the organisation has selected as “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in China.

In “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, loosely based on a 1921 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Brad Pitt plays a character who is born with the physical appearance and condition of someone in his eighties, but who then gets physically younger throughout his life. The movie, which is directed by David Fincher, has been nominated for no less than thirteen Academy Awards. It’s been called a “meditation on mortality and time’s inexorable passage”. Our reviewer Gary Pollard felt it was rather too close to “Forrest Gump” for comfort.

We also feature the story of a mouse who takes a walk through a deep, dark wood and the mysterious beast he encounters. Now the deep, dark wood, the mouse, and the beast have all come to the Hong Kong stage in an adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s children’s book “The Gruffalo”.

Please click here to see a streaming video of the show.

The Works – A Year in Music

For this special Lunar New Year edition of The Works, we’re welcoming the Year of the Ox and saying goodbye to the Year of the Rat by taking a look at some of the musicians who have visited our studio to perform over the past year.

We also have in our studio tonight an all female troupe, “Qing Hua Nu Zi Ci Yue Tuan”, who play a unique set of musical instruments  made entirely of porcelain.

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According to Chinese historical records, porcelain was once used for musical instruments. The art, which had died out, has been revived in Jingde Town, famed for its porcelain. “Qing Hua Nu Zi Ci Yue Tuan” was set up expressly to play these exclusive intruments. The seven kinds of porcelain instrument they are playing are worth HK$5 million.

As well as tonight’s special guests, in the past year, in our studio we’ve had jazz, folk, flamenco, klezmer, classics, and hits from Broadway.

These are the pieces and performers you’ll see on tonight’s show:

“The Sweetest Sounds” from “Cinderella” – Lea Salonga

“Fly Me to the Moon” – Toku (Japanese Jazz Saxophonist and Singer)

“3rd String Quartet” (3rd Movement) Philip Glass – The Smith Quartet

“Noah” – Kolsimcha (Klezmer Band)

“Have You Heard?” – Clementine is My Sunshine (Folk)

“Dakouron” from “The Dreamgiver” – Esteban Antonio (Spanish Guitar)

“Huevos Verdes y Jamon” (Green Eggs and Ham) – David Braid and Matt Brubeck (Jazz Cello and Piano)

porcelain2“”Chinese New Year Greetings” – “Qing Hua Nu Zi Ci Yue Tuan” (Porcelain Instrument Troupe)

From all at The Works:

Kung Hei Fat Choy!