This event has passed
Dec 11-Dec 12

Eunice Tsang speaks with Helen Lai and Peter Suart ahead of Soledad, a new experimental interpretation of the classic novel One Hundred Years of Solitude

Hong Kong dance guru Helen Lai and British multimedia artist Peter Suart have come together to reinterpret One Hundred Years of Solitude, the masterpiece of acclaimed Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez, in their upcoming dance theatre Soledad. But how do you adapt one of the most famous novels in the world, a story that spans over 100 years and seven generations of one family, into one dance theatre performance? The answer is that you don’t. At least not exactly.

Lai, founding member of the City Contemporary Dance Company, is an unassuming lady with a gentle air of nonchalance and a constant smile. One of the most significant contributors to the Hong Kong classical dance scene, she talks about her love for words and reading, which inevitably led her to read Gabriel García Márquez. “I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude in the 1980s, and I loved it so much I couldn’t put it down,” Lai recalls fondly. “I didn’t think of doing a show based on it at that time, I just enjoyed the read.” Suart, who had lived in Hong Kong before but is now residing in the quieter regions of Greater London, is what you’d call an artistic polymath. An illustrator for classic and children’s books, a writer, musician and actor, there seems to be no limit to Suart’s artistic exploration. Lai and Suart have known each other for more than 25 years, originally in the same artistically minded circle in Hong Kong, but it was only two years ago, when they bumped into each other at an event, that Lai brought up the idea of collaboration. Both agreed to tackle the Colombian classic novel, known for its timelessness and touching depiction of humanity. The magical realism novel written in 1967 chronicles seven generations of the Buendía family living in the secluded town of Macondo, over the course of a century. A poignant and complex story involving varied, colourful characters like José Arcadio Buendía, the patriarch and founder of the family whose obsessive quest for knowledge ultimately drives him insane, or Rebeca, a mysterious orphan with an affinity for eating soil, who infects the town with an amnesia-inducing insomnia. 

When asked about her most memorable character, Lai says, “There’s a woman who falls for a man who loves somebody else. She tries to stop them from getting together, and when the man finally comes back for her, she rejects him, and all other men. She remains a virgin and spends her life knitting a shroud around herself like a cocoon, and in the end dies alone.” Instead of taking these fascinating characters and retelling them one by one, Lai and Suart take a more experimental approach. “The book is way too complicated,” Suart explains. “So we took parts of the book which interested us most as a starting point. I hope Márquez [who passed away in 2014] won’t mind!” That also explains their choice of title, Soledad –‘solitude’ in Spanish, as a reference to the main theme of the novel. 

The two have been mainly communicating through emails for the past year in preparation for the show – “I’ve never written so many long emails in my life,” exclaims Lai. Now that Suart is back in Hong Kong, the duo is able to work together on specific technicalities of the show. 

Before that, Lai had been working on the choreography with local dancers. “I don’t like to do research so much. I start off by guiding my dancers to improvise movements inspired by emotions. My dancers are my co-creators.” On the other hand, Suart revels in research, as he ploughed through almost the whole oeuvre of Márquez, in addition to understanding the history and politics of South America. In his London home, he composed the minimalistic soundtrack, wrote some of the texts that he will perform as Melquíades, the novel’s somewhat immortal gypsy, and even made illustrations as inspirations for the stage settings, which are featured in his solo exhibition at PMQ. “Poetic feelings comes first, the story second,” Suart murmurs, “Márquez understands humanity, society and life.” Speaking about the universality of loneliness in life, Lai adds, “Actually, it may even be about Hong Kong. I like to try and find a parallel – maybe 100 years of Hong Kong. But even if it’s not, I won’t force it.”

Soledad Dec 11-12, Kwai Tsing Theatre. Tickets: $140-$250, 


Add your comment