Dominic Wong's Blind Chance
One of the most rapidly-rising modern dance choreographers in Hong Kong, Dominic Wong talks to Winnie Chau ahead of his first full-length work for City Contemporary Dance Company. Photography by Calvin Sit.
Strictly speaking, Dominic Wong isn’t a dancer. He’s a character. And, there’s little dispute, a comedic one. There’s always a role in City Contemporary Dance Company productions where the performer can bring into play his comical traits (possibly with the exception of the unsmiling, bespectacled Qu Yuan in last year’s The Legend and the Hero). Even in Helen Lai’s lyrical Plaza X, he found himself in the role of a clownish, melancholy traveller, suitcase in hand and red rose between lips. That role, by the way, earned him the Hong Kong Dance Award in 2001.
In person, the dancer-choreographer possesses, under his Ascot cap, a poker-faced calmness characteristic of many a brilliant comedy actor off-screen. As a matter of fact, drama was Wong’s first love. He was once a professional actor at Asia Television Company before officially becoming a dancer in his 20s. “22 years old,” corrects Wong with a chuckle that seems to carry a slight embarrassment and an implicit sense of pride.
Just before finishing the two-year contract with ATV, hosting children’s programmes – including an appearance onscreen in a Ninja Turtles costume – Wong was accepted by the modern dance programme at Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. “I used to dislike dancing. When I went to a disco or a party with friends, I’d never get near the dancefloor. Whenever I stood there, I felt uncomfortable,” recalls Wong, who took his first dance course with a friend at 21. “I [then] realised that the feeling of dancing in a dance studio is very different from dancing at a disco or party. I can release myself even more than when I act.”
Acting allowed Wong to play different characters but, more crucially, it helped him overcome ‘a psychological barrier’. He says he sweated profusely when meeting strangers or being in an unfamiliar place. With dance, however, he discovered something else. “I realised, when I narrate with words, [the meaning of] many things can be twisted from black to white and white back to black. But when I dance with my own body, everything is truth. Your body doesn’t lie and it will speak the truth,” says Wong.
The now ‘40-plus’ dancer joined CCDC in 1996. When asked about the challenges from his late romance with dance, Wong responses quickly: “I’m talented, yes – in the sense that I’m full of energy. If sometimes there are moves I can’t do, no matter what, I overcome them with time.” Despite his previous choreographic experience, Wong only got recognised as a ‘new wave’ choreographer fairly recently. CCDC’s artistic director Willy Tsao described the dancer-choreographer as ‘very intelligent’ and ‘full of ideas’. “I think Dominic Wong’s creativity is still at its peak. Thus, there are breakthroughs in every piece [of his works]. There isn’t a specific style to speak of,” says Tsao of his company’s rising star.
Indeed, Wong’s usual sense of humour in Men’s Chop Suey (2003) and Punk Side Story (2010) will recede from sight in his forthcoming debut feature-length work Blind Chance, exploring the intricate relationship between chance, choice and fate. It looks like the choreography itself is more or less a chance encounter. “When working things out with the performers, they may do something other than what I have assigned but, in fact, they can express what I wanted to. So, in this work, I will develop those things I didn’t ask for and put them into it,” explains Wong.
If there was one thing we already knew about this philosophical work – which is still being constantly edited – it would be its physical challenge to the dancers. Throughout the 60-minute performance, they will perform non-stop on the minimalist stage by Yuen Hon-wai to the capricious music by Shum Lok-man, without any entrance or exit points and blackouts. “No water, no towel, no nothing. They can’t even wipe their sweat,” says Wong. He is also frank about the injuries dancers can sustain during rehearsal: “There are many movements where I take risks.”
Perhaps it is still too early to nail down Wong’s choreographic style – but there’s one thing he is certainly more concerned about. When I tell him my impressions of his choreographic work What’s Next? (2009), he suddenly interrupts. “Could that dancer express the message well?” he asks. “Was that dancer you?” I ask in return, vaguely recalling the performer’s face. “Yes,” he says and bursts out laughing.
Blind Chance 別有洞天 is at Cultural Centre’s Studio Theatre Apr 20-22.