A delight, witty but profound exploration of the power relationship between choreographer and dancers, From the Top, choreographed by Hong Kong-based Victor Fung, is a send-up of a dance rehearsal where anyone who has been to a class will recognise this expression. However it will appeal not only to dancers and choreographers, but members of the audience who have wondered what goes on inside a rehearsal studio or who have been mystified by pretentious programme notes. At a deeper level, the show also resonates with implications concerning other power relationships, whether personal or political.
A serious message underlies the humour.
The performance starts with two figures clothed in black, one with a hessian bag upside down on his head. Haze and sinister electronic music, composed by Ruth Chan, set a grim scene. (A victim and kidnapper? Prisoner and executioner?) The victim remains rigid as a mannekin however much he is moved from side to side by his captor. The lights go up, the victim takes off the bag and a voice-over starts suggesting improvements. The audience has been misled. We are in a rehearsal.
As the show progresses, the voice-over makes demands such as more abstraction or more risks. The dancers, Kenny Leung and Ronny Wong, politely listen and smile but their thoughts are displayed on a lit screen at the back. ‘What the f*k?!’, ‘You try it’. Even funnier are the thoughts that have nothing to do with choreography such as ‘Does my bum look big?’
Despite the frustration for the dancers having perfected a new version, the choreographer may then decide to stay with the original but the pair accept this gracefully. More and more complex lifts and manipulation, two of the main demands from male dancers, are seemingly effortlessly performed, only to be rejected again.
A fascinating glimpse into how choreography might be developped is then enacted as the dancers are asked again and again to be more extreme and we can see moves being pushed to almost impossible limits, requiring amazing agility and strength.The potential for backache or injury doing the splits becomes clear from the many expletives on the screen.
The third thing most asked of male dancers is that of being Superman or Spiderman. Hilarious, stereotypical poses follow. As the choreographer asks them to transform, imagining the iron filling their insides, or the dragon (a nice bit of fun from an Asian company) the dancers’ thoughts are rather more basic. No Method acting for them.
A short exquisite piece, (30 minutes) with depth. A serious message underlies the humour and reminds us of the importance of the dissenting voice.