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OzAsia review: As If To Nothing

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This complex and mesmerising OzAsia Festival show – incorporating clever video work and soundscapes – showcases Chinese artists at the cutting edge of contemporary dance.

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Behind a white wall with one small window, several members of Hong Kong’s City Contemporary Dance Company are bending and contorting their lithe bodies in time to a rhythmic cacophony of screeching metal overlaid with heavy electronic beats.

Different views of the performance are offered, depending on where in the auditorium you sit. To further challenge perceptions, the real-time dance moves are being filmed and played back on different parts of the set, sometimes synchronising with the actual movements, sometimes slightly delayed, sometimes repeated or missed altogether.

This is As If To Nothing, the latest work from one of the Chinese dance world’s brightest stars, choreographer and set designer Sang Jijia. It’s a conceptually powerful and stylistically astonishing piece of contemporary dance that explores aspects of memory and perception while delicately unpicking the fragile web of human experience.

The performance brings together a tight sequence of eight perfectly balanced dance pieces, peppered with repetition and similitude but also revelling in contrast.

All 14 dancers are on stage for the opening piece, performing a series of interwoven movements that seem to combine the daily routines of washing and cleaning with scenes of conflict and distress against an aural backdrop of clock noises (ticking, alarm, chimes).

The second piece involves a smaller group of performers and the insanely clever video work of Adrian Yeung, while the third contrasts the harsh sounds of the previous set with an intertwining of delicate piano arpeggios and heavy repetitive beats, navigated with balletic grace by the two dancers left on stage.

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The whole company returns for the fourth piece, which is more frantically paced with aerial views of the stage projected onto a giant screen like the video feedback of a military drone. The washing and cleaning motions performed by the dancers in the first set are now repeated frantically so that they resemble nervous tics, more OCD than daily routine.

The performance continues with conceptual and physical repetitions, creating a choreographical ebb and flow that speaks of our need to make contact with one another and the damage that often arises when we do.

Jijia’s choreography combined with Willy Tsao’s artistic direction is dazzling in its visionary complexity. And it’s seamlessly executed by the City Contemporary Dance Company dancers whose juddering contortions and fluid symbiosis perfectly embodies Dickson Dee’s superlative soundscapes.

A deeply complex and intelligent work, utterly mesmerising, endlessly thought-provoking. Don’t miss this stunning testament to the innovation of Chinese contemporary dance.

As If To Nothing is at the Dunstan Playhouse until Saturday, September 24, as part of the OzAsia Festival.

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