Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers opened their 50th anniversary season with a pair of works by independent choreographer Ming Hon.
Taken together, they are evidence of her remarkable gifts as both dancer and choreographer. Watching one of her performances, you are constantly struck by the beauty and the versatility of the human body.
Her dance is irresistibly visceral; as a viewer you are constantly watching to see what will happen next, and you are invariably surprised by where she takes you.
Hon is as much a performance artist as a dancer, so it is not always clear what word to use in describing what she is doing.
Love with a Xerox machine
Her opening performance is called, The Exhibitionist. Hon assumes the title role and is assisted by Brent Lott, WCD’s artistic director, who performs the role of the ‘office assistant’.
The other character is a Xerox machine, whose function as a replicator of images makes it especially attractive to the exhibitionist. So attractive, in fact, that Hon and the machine engage is an amorous pas de deux, which culminates in a rather noisy orgasm. (It is worth noting that Hon’s performances, while full of sound, are without music).
It's a focused and pared down art: its economy proves the maxim that less is more.
The consequence of making love to the Xerox machine is that the exhibitionist gets pregnant and gives birth to a dozen or so babies (we shouldn’t be surprised by this paper fecundity, given that the father is a piece of technology whose only function is replication).
All of them look like Hon, which is also not surprising; she is a complete narcissist, impregnated by her own self-regard. Hon uses the ingeniously simple technique of Xeroxed images of faces and other body parts as stand-ins for the real thing; when the exhibitionist nurtures her children, we see black and white images of breasts; to show her swelling stomach, she stuffs crumpled and crushed paper under her clothing.
Hon is a compelling presence. In the mating dance she performs for the Xerox machine she moves – and sounds – like a peacock, all seduction and paper tailing. Her ability to replicate the movements of animals is uncanny. At the end of the performance she transforms herself into some kind of young bird surrounded by a nest of shredded paper.
The Exhibitionist is an absolutely delightful piece of performance art.
Any attempt to describe what Hon is doing makes it sound improbable. But what I say is not what you get; what you get is an intelligently-conceived and flawlessly-embodied piece of dance performance that is unlike anything you will have seen before. It is an absolute must-see.
Forever in Blue Jeans, the second piece on the program, is set on three dancers.
The title comes from the 1976 Neil Diamond hit with the saccharine lyrics “Money talks/ But it don’t sing and dance/ And it don’t walk."
Hon’s piece, though, does walk and dance, and it uses the penny, a now useless kind of money, as the tool to get across an astonishing range of human behaviour. To be accurate, it uses thousands of pennies that are scattered about the performance space throughout the dance.
The three dancers, Natasha Torres-Garner, Kayla Henry and Ali Robson, wear blue jeans, denim jackets and white T-shirts. (There is a lot of denim in this show; before the dancers enter the space the audience sees five lines of six pairs of jeans carefully laid out on the floor).
As the dance progresses the dancers take off and put on their tops many times, so a significant portion of the dance is performed topless. What is remarkable about this gesture is how quickly it becomes normal and how discretely Hon uses this emphasis on the human form as an integral part of what the performance is telling us.
Forever in Blue Jeans is an absolutely brilliant piece of choreography, in which we witness a whole world of human emotion — including anger, cruelty, love, humiliation, ecstasy — impeccably performed by the three dancers.
'Real and physical and profound'
I can’t say enough about their performances. This is extremely demanding dance and they execute every one of the moves with complete assurance.
Let me offer a few quick examples of the inventive way that the dancers use pennies and denim, the two shaping props in the piece. In one moment the pennies are dice; in another they become water held in a denim basin; at still another they are confetti tossed on to a newly married couple. The denim jackets function as a hanging noose, as rags to gather in the ubiquitous pennies, as a burial shroud.
The ingenuity of Hon’s choreography is everywhere apparent. The piece moves with an unpredictable but understandable logic. The dancers do what they do, however odd it seems, because they can do nothing else.
The pacing of the performance is one strength among many. In a way that I can’t fully explain, I was reminded of Waiting For Godot, Samuel Beckett’s masterful play about endless and unrealized imminence. In Forever in Blue Jeans you are also waiting, but in this case the waiting leads you somewhere, then that leads you somewhere else.
At the end of Thursday night’s 45-minute performance you could feel (and hear in the applause) that you had witnessed something real and physical and profound.
Never has so much insight and satisfaction been generated from a few sheets of Xeroxed paper, handfuls of scattered pennies and some pieces of tattered denim.
Don’t miss this remarkable evening of dance. It will constantly surprise and just as constantly enrich you.
You’ll be the beneficiary of pennies from Ming Hon’s heaven.