Double Happiness: The Promise of Red
Photo: Ziv Chun
Photo: Eric Hong@Moon 9 Image
Photo: Eric Hong@Moon 9 Image
The dance unfolds according to the rituals of a traditional Guangdong wedding: betrothal ceremony, hair combing ceremony, leave-taking, tea ceremony and bed setting.
Also interwoven into the framework are the singing of bridal laments in Hong Kong walled villages before the 1960s and the tale of Princess Changping’s honourable death after marriage in the classic opera title The Flower Princess.
By finding the intersection, dialogue and interplay among these three thematic lines, Double Happiness: The Promise of Red portrays a picture of marriage based on female murmurs.
1. Chasing time
2. Fellow boat passengers who can’t foster their union
3. A red umbrella that doesn’t shield all
4. Wedding tea that can’t be offered
5. A nuptial bed that can’t be placed
6. Disorder that can’t be smoothed out
7. A bridal chamber that can’t be consecrated
8. Betrothal gifts are a big deal
An Interview with Mui Cheuk-yin and Chan Kin-man
Mui Cheuk-yin (Mui)
Chan Kin-man (Man)
Question: How did you conceptualise this dance?
Mui: At first I thought of using food as the theme, but later decided to focus on wedding rituals instead because it also seems to be a necessity in life that is actually quite complicated. Although marriage is between two people, it is not as simple a matter as “one plus one”.
Man has a background in theatre. I am friends with him on Facebook and thought it very interesting when I learnt that he had become a wedding chaperone. When I had decided on having wedding rituals as the subject, I immediately thought of collaborating with him.
I did not want to do a solo dance this time, and really wanted to include the element of a wedding chaperone because this figure is both an insider and an outsider who can critique the entire process. The presence of a male body on stage can also bring out different dynamics.
Man: A lot of friends would ask me to be the master of ceremonies. Later, I thought that it would be fun to be a wedding chaperone, as I also enjoy the celebratory atmosphere of weddings, so I decided to take some wedding chaperone courses. At the same time, I am homosexual myself, so I would like to help other same-sex couples with their wedding ceremony, because it seems slightly strange for homosexual men to get a female wedding chaperone.
Although Mui’s production is based on Guangdong wedding rituals, I did my own research and found that different places have their own wedding culture, and their ceremonies can be very different from Guangdong’s.
Mui: Marriage is actually only the starting point for this creation. The general direction is that under the umbrella of “marriage/wedding chaperone”, there are many aspects that can stimulate our thoughts and interests. The blueprint is currently based on the procession of a wedding ceremony based on Man’s experience, text and description, such as the procedure of the betrothal ceremony. We then did further research and extracted interesting elements to incorporate into the performance. An example would be the bed setting ceremony, which would conventionally require recruiting a virgin boy to jump on the bed. This somehow made me think of trampolines. After including the trampoline, which brings in its own unique quality to the performance, and the addition of other props, a new imagery has emerged.
Question: Marriage is a very ritualistic event, what are your thoughts on this?
Mui: Rituals are dispensable. I think that a ritual is an event – everyone thinks that marriage entails going through such a ritual as an announcement in hopes of sharing the experience with others. But once it becomes formulaic, it is a big problem. This prompts us to search for the deeper meaning within. Marriage is personal, but it can also be considered at a broader societal or political level. For instance, the marriage of Wang Zhaojun to the Xiongnu was a political manoeuvre to prevent war, and the marriage of Princess Changping was even more impressive.
Man: I think that rituals are symbolic: they make a moment memorable and give special meaning to an event. This is the importance of rituals. In traditional wedding rituals, many procedures have their own designated meanings.
Mui: The reason behind going through with wedding ceremonies could be for fun and creating memories; it is like doing certain things to remember having gotten married. The more seriously it is being done, the more memorable the event becomes. To most people, a wedding is completely like a show, with props and ceremonies. It is a special experience for the couple, the most significant moment in their life. But if you only focus on this aspect, it's a bit…
Man: I also think that rituals are associated with memories, and rituals also provide a guideline. For instance, if Mui and I are getting married, we could host a banquet at a cha chaan teng or do a destination wedding. I think some people don’t know what they want to do, so they follow the tradition but they may not necessarily understand its meaning.
Question: The two of you come from different artistic backgrounds, tell us more about the creative process.
It is now February, we are still finding materials. Man is also exploring different creative methods to incorporate the role of a wedding chaperone into the performance. We tried workshopping the first section and the betrothal ceremony part today with some interesting results.
Man: As a wedding chaperone, I provided a lot of creative material. The process is kind of like kids playing with toys. But the creative method of a dance is very different – dramas will start with a script, but working with Mui this time is starting from zero. It is like performing magic, you only discover how certain things can be used through assembling things together. Never say no. In theatre, you put aside what you don’t find productive, but in this collaboration, I find that some ideas could be used after repeated trials. What I found slightly perplexing is that I would usually project certain reasons and emotions onto the performance, but some aspects of this presentation are not backed by any reason – I still haven’t understood this yet.
Mui: We have some sections, such as the part with the two ribbons, which were slowly formed after messing around. I have a mask that shows a simultaneously sad and happy face, and I wondered whether it can be used with the ribbons. After the bittersweet mask was combined with the two joyous ribbons, I found the physicality for my movements. Next I thought of the image of the nightingale. A lot of people think that women who marry well are pampered like nightingales, but they are actually being incarcerated. And so I went searching for music related to the nightingale, and found the suona work Hundred Birds Worshipping the Phoenix. The whole work grows out of step-by-step experimentation until a certain state emerges. This is how choreography works sometimes.
We are now at the second stage (of creation), and we are still looking for materials. Then it’s incorporating the figure of the wedding chaperone into the dance with text and other things, that is probably the third stage. We will find out about the fourth stage when we get there.
Since we have a venue, we can try the effect of specific staging and props as we conceptualise the work. It feels great to be able to rehearse inside the venue so early on because it is very important to know what works and what doesn’t.
Man: The designer will try some effects these two days, so we will get a better idea about the possibilities.
Mui: Sometimes creation gives back possibilities. Returning to your earliest question, it’s actually about searching for something rather than trying to say something. It’s difficult to articulate what you are searching for, but in the process, you will make certain choices and you will gradually find what is in your heart. The experience is fascinating; it is not something you can record in writing.
Man: Theatre is very different, there is a framework and it’s about how to break through the framework. Dance doesn’t seem to have one, or rather, the framework of dance is very wide.
Mui: There actually is a framework, and in fact, it’s quite narrow. The mask and two ribbons, for instance, constitute the framework.
Man: But in theatre, you feel like you have to find things to serve the narrative.
Mui: Dance, or at least my production this time, is not about service but finding characteristics.
Man: You mentioned “search” just now, but maybe “explore” is the more accurate term in English. Dance is about exploring, while theatre is deep down searching. (Mui: Dance also has this.) But I mean the background and psychology of the character, it gets at the level of psychology. Our process now is about continuously searching for possibilities; dance is more lateral.
Mui: When we search for possibilities, it actually also includes what you just mentioned. For example, in the section with the double-faced mask, we need to find certain movements that correspond with the sad face, or some to work with the happy face. We’re just starting with images rather than text.
Man: Actually, when you were experimenting with the mask a few days ago and arrived at a certain routine, that for me is the script.
Mui: Oh! So it’s like devising in theatre practice. We often start with devising in dance.
Man: Some devising also begins with text.
Mui: Actually we also have a text in the creative process this time, it is the wedding procedure that you described, which is where we have started to devise from. That is the framework, only it is not written in text; perhaps it’s also a bit unpredictable.
Question: After carrying out your creative practice in Hong Kong for so many years, has Mui found any changes in the dance scene? Are female and male choreographers in Hong Kong confronted by different circumstances?
Mui: I’m not familiar with other places, but I think there is not much difference between female and male choreographers in Hong Kong. In fact, female choreographers seem to have even more advantage. You can create using more intimate subject matters without much criticism. Unlike in the mainland, you might be criticised for being trivial, so they don’t really accept the works by Eileen Chang. It’s fine in Hong Kong, it is more diverse here. There are big productions, but small productions can also be performed.
As for the dance scene, I think it was even more imaginative back in the day. As long as you were willing to do something, there’s a way of making it happen, no matter how wild it might have been. There were less resources back then, but you could do a lot. Now there are more resources, you can create with a peace of mind. Back then there were no resources and you could only improvise. To create something serious, I had to work with a company. When there are resources, you have the money to try different things. The most ideal situation would be to rehearse in the theatre every day, because you can only try certain things like lighting inside the theatre.
It is difficult to make a clear-cut comparison between then and now. It’s ultimately about the original intention of the creator, everything else is an act. It’s just like whether the intention or the ritual is more important in a wedding, of course it is the best to have both.
Written by Daisy Chu
English translation: Narratives Studio
- Concept, Choreographer and Performer Mui Cheuk-yin
- Wedding Chaperone (Dai Kum) Consultant and PerformerChan Kin-man
- TextChris Shum
- Lighting DesignerLee Chi-wai
- Set DesignerYuen Hon-wai
- Composer and Music Designer Steve Hui
- Costume DesignerRibble Chung Siu-mui
Sound DesignerAnthony Yeung
West Kowloon Cultural District Production Team
- Producer Anna Cheng
- Assistant Producers Grace Yu Yvonne Yau
- Project Officer Tiffany Lim
- Project Coordinator Pete Chui*
- Project Assistant Charmaine Jon*
- Production Manager Roy Leung
- Stage Manager Jason Ma*
- Deputy Stage Manager Carmen Hung*
- Assistant Stage Manager Jo Chan*
- Production Assistants Wesley Lee Macy Tse Casey Leung
- Wardrobe Coordinator Linda Lee*
- Make-up & Hair Styling Priscilla Choi @Spectrum*
About the Artistic Team
Photo: Leo Yu
Concept, Choreographer and Performer
Mui Cheuk-yin is an internationally renowned solo artist and dance ambassador for Hong Kong. Her choreography has a distinctive voice and often mixes contemporary and traditional elements. Mui’s commitment and passion to strive for the best in dance have earned her numerous honours, including Hong Kong Dance Awards and the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Hong Kong Dance Alliance for her dedication and long-standing commitment to developing dance in the city over three decades.
Wedding Chaperone (Dai Kum) Consultant and Performer
Chan Kin-man graduated from The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in acting. He has since taken on several roles, including being a freelance actor, drama instructor, master of ceremonies and certified wedding chaperone (dai kum). Between 2015 and 2016, he did a one-year acting residency at Drama Gallery as part of a talent scheme funded by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. Chan is also trained in dance and is an instructor certified by the Hong Kong Ballroom Dancing Council. In 2018, he won the first runner-up prize in the Open One Dance Rumba category at the Donnie Burns Cup Dance Championships. He was named the Latin dance champion in Group C of the Rising Talents category of the Tuen Mun International Open Ballroom and Latin Dance Championshipsin 2019.
Chris Shum is a celebrated lyricist with work spanning musicals, plays, movies, television dramas and pop music. His accolades include winning the Best Original Song at the Golden Horse Awards in 2006, Best Original Song at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2013, Best Serious Composition (2011) and Best Alternative Composition Award (2006) at the CASH Golden Sail Music Awards. Shum is also a four-time recipient of the Best Original Song at the Hong Kong Drama Awards. Among his recent work is The Impossible Trial – a musical (2022), co-produced by Freespace (West Kowloon) and the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre. Shum has authored several books on lyric writing and theatre.
Lee Chi-wai is a lighting designer who works predominantly in the dance industry. He is a former member of the City Contemporary Dance Company technical team. His design work includes Diary VII The Story Of… by Mui Cheuk-yin, The Centre by Chou Shu-yi and Cheng Chih-chung, Almost 55 by Chou Shu-yi and SoLow by Lai Tak-wai.
Yuen Hon-wai graduated from The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, majoring in set and costume design. He received the Hong Kong Jockey Club Scholarship and Jackie Chan Overseas Scholarship to train at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the UK. In a career spanning two decades, he has created about 200 set designs for art performances. His accolades include the Best Costume Design Award at the Hong Kong Drama Awards in 2004 for The Good Person of Szechwan, Best Set Design Award at the Hong Kong Drama Awards in 2017 for The Golden Dragon and Best Art Directions/Technical Arts of Year at the IATC (HK) Critics Awards in 2018 for Tête-bêche. Yuen was also included on the professional exhibition shortlist of World Stage Design 2022, organised by The International Organisation of Scenographers.
Photo: Dennis Wong
Composer and Music Designer
Steve Hui is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice mines the boundaries between contemporary music, sound art, multimedia theatre and underground cultures. With a background in contemporary classical music composition and rave culture in the 1990s, he often experiments with tradition and art forms. Hui is the co-organiser of experimental music organisation Twenty Alpha and a part-time lecturer at The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. In 2017, he received a fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council to explore and research in New York.
Ribble Chung Siu-mui
Ribble Chung graduated from the Wimbledon College of Arts, University of the Arts London and The University of Hong Kong. As a veteran arts administrator, Chung is actively involved in both the arts and education industries. She has also organised many festivals and arts programmes locally and overseas. Chung was an elected member of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council for six years and a member of the Audience Building Office of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. She is currently an arts administrator at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and serves as a voluntary board member at many local arts organisations.
Anthony Yeung graduated from The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Since 2003, he has taught sound-related subjects at various universities and tertiary institutions in Hong Kong. Yeung serves as an adviser to sound art organization Soundpocket and a sound consultant for Dolby Laboratories. His accolades include winning the Best Sound Design at the Hong Kong Drama Awards in 2003 and the Outstanding Sound Design at the Hong Kong Dance Awards in 2017. His recent work includes Brown by City Contemporary Dance Company, Nine Songs by the Hong Kong Dance Company and live sound mixing for Swire Symphony Under The Stars by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.