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Art in combat

By Cheng Yuezhu | China Daily | Updated: 2022-08-04 08:23
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Hou Ying's latest work Disappear made its Beijing premiere in July.[Photo provided to China Daily]

A new work blends modern dance and fencing to portray human resilience, Cheng Yuezhu reports.

Modern dancer Hou Ying says creating her latest work Disappear was quite an experience for her, from conception to choreography and rehearsals. Fusing fencing with modern dance, the piece made its Beijing premiere at Tianqiao Performing Arts Center on July 27, as part of the Spring for Chinese Arts Festival.

Hou recalls that in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was unable to return from the United States to China. The sounds of ambulance sirens, which she never paid much attention to in the past, distressed her so much that she couldn't fall asleep.

"This sound made me feel that the lives of individuals that were once right beside me began to disappear quietly, with or without connections with me," she says. "For the first time I felt a sense of helplessness as an individual when facing adversity, and also the estrangement among people, as well as the state of being torn apart."

About six months later when she returned to China, she started thinking about translating her feelings into physical expressions, and the image of two fencers emerged in her mind as a symbol of confrontation.

"This is a regular sport, but its mask conveys to me a strong symbolic message. Because during that time, I felt that we, humans, have something concealed beneath the surface. We cannot understand it, because the situation we face is completely strange to us," Hou says.

She initially thought of composing only a duet, and then Shanghai International Arts Festival saw the project and commissioned the dance for her. Co-produced by Hou Ying Dance Theater and Ming Contemporary Art Museum, the production invited Austrian musician Cornelius Berkowitz as the composer and Dutch artist Kevin Polak to work with sound design. The dancers started training for fencing from scratch since last March with professional coach Tian Yuchuan and referee Liang Jiayue.

The creation process was also unconventional. Unlike her previous works, including Tu Tu and Track, where Hou was very clear about the structure and logic, she couldn't use her previous choreography experience in Disappear and gathered inspiration from observing the dancers' fencing training.

"The moves were inspired by fencing, but fencing training completely changed our ways of movement as dancers. Sometimes in the rehearsal room, I'd ask the dancers to practice some difficult moves and capture some ideas from their physical state."

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