L'Amour Immortal

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Nov 27-Nov 29
 

Ahead of the Hong Kong Dance Company’s new production L’Amour Immortel, Eunice Tsang speaks to artistic director Yang Yun-tao and principal dancer Tang Ya

There’s certainly no lack of ghost stories in traditional Chinese literature, but rarely is one so poignantly romantic instead of frightening, as in A Chinese Ghost Story (倩女幽魂). Originally a short story from the Qing dynasty classic Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling, the story has been adapted numerous times in the form of film, TV drama, animation and comics. If you ask any Hongkonger, they will immediately talk about the 1987 movie of the same name, produced by local film giant Tsui Hark and starring the lauded Leslie Cheung. The plot, common to all versions, details a romance between Ning Choi-sun, a cowardly scholar, and Nip Siu-sin, a kind-hearted ghost. Siu-sin is enslaved by a hermaphrodite tree demon that forces her to trap men so that it can devour their souls. The two fall in love and Choi-sun tries to free Siu-sin’s soul, starting a battle between good and evil. Now, the Hong Kong Dance Company (HKDC) is taking this beloved tale to the stage with its brand new production L’Amour Immortel.

Yang Yun-tao has been dancing with the HKDC since 2002 and was appointed artistic director in 2013. His charmingly dishevelled facade, all bedhead and scraggy beard, belies the talent and passion that comes across so clearly when he talks in his Mandarin-infused Cantonese (he is part of the Bai minority in Yunnan) about his enchanting production. “I love the [1987] film’s Hong Kong-ness – wuxia, Leslie Cheung, songs written by James Wong,” Yang recalls. “But now I see more in it. There’s so much beauty in its aesthetics, in the romance, the purity of the protagonists and the golden era of Hong Kong cinema. But that’s all gone now.” There is a strong sense of nostalgia when Yang talks about the romance between Choi-sun and Siu-sin, as if he’s recalling his own past loves. “Any artistic creation is personal and intimate,” Yang states. “With this dance I want to explore the simplicity and purity of wanting to be with another person despite knowing it can’t last. This kind of love is rare nowadays, because we’re constantly planning and weighing the odds of our actions. People are so realistic and obsessed with immediate returns.” 

Tang Ya, the principal dancer of the HKDC, looks perfect for the role. It’s not that she appears ghostly, but with long black hair, perfect skin and delicate features, it’s as if Tang has freshly stepped out of a classical Chinese painting. She explains that although the entire production takes a year to prepare from scratch, the dancers only have two months to practise. To get into her role, Tang researched and watched all versions of the original story to understand the personality of Siu-sin and the relationship between the lovers. “The focal point of the show is not on the fact that Siu-sin is a ghost, though we try to create an illusory, supernatural atmosphere... Ultimately it’s all about beauty,” she smiles.

But don’t expect a straightforward interpretation of the classic story. L’Amour Immortel focuses on the emotions of love at first sight rather than providing much background, so it’s recommended one acquaints oneself with the story beforehand. Yang has specifically asked his composer to write new music that alludes to the original 1987 soundtrack, while also directly employing certain songs from the film that will be familiar to locals. “The stage provides a space for imagination,” Yang explains. “Dance needs no words. It’s about simplicity – a gesture conveys happiness or sadness; there are no complex concepts.” Talking about the overall aesthetics of L’Amour Immortel, Yang says that he prefers minimalism – “It’s magical, surreal, it’s going to tug on heartstrings.”

L’Amour Immortel Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Nov 27-29. Tickets: $160-$360; urbtix.hk.

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