ROOM 2048: a threatened language and culture

Room 2048, the latest multimedia dance theatre piece produced by Vancouver-based interdisciplinary arts company Hong Kong Exile, explores the realities facing the Cantonese diaspora.

Michelle Lui of Hong Kong Exile. | Photo courtesy of Caulfield White Creative Industries

This piece has been in development for a couple of years now. We have received a lot of generosity from the community,” says Natalie Tin Yin Gan, co-artistic director of Hong Kong Exile. “In theory, we started two and a half years ago. It has been an accumulation of what we built in NINEEIGHT; it prepared us for Room 2048. ”

Combining fog, top-down projection and live-generated electronic sound, the multimedia dance theatre piece started its journey sourcing well-known Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai’s film 2046 with the intention of exploring the socio-political realities of the Cantonese diaspora.

Room 2048 premieres Apr. 11 and continues until Apr. 15 at the Firehall Arts Centre.

Underlying meaning

From Gan’s perspective, the name of the show not only refers to Wang Kar Wai’s romantic drama film 2046, but also connects to the year 2048, the first year following the transition period. Hong Kong’s sovereignty was handed from Britain back to Mainland China in July, 1997, after a 50 year-period of the ‘one country, two systems’policy.

“The beginning of our project started sourcing Wong Kar Wai’s films, the name of the title refers to both Wong Kar Wai’s film 2046 and it also makes reference to 2048 the year. It has been the first year after a 50-year period of one country, two systems,” says Gan.

Having observed changes happening both in Hong Kong and Vancouver’s Chinatown, and the Cantonese community facing reduced space to reside and to preserve their culture, Gan’s major concern is that the Cantonese language might be endangered in the near future.

“We work with a linguist who is a UBC Ph.D. candidate who studies Cantonese tonality. She said that within the next three years, we could lose Cantonese as a language,” Gan says. “Cantonese could become extinct. That’s a source of concern for myself.”

An open approach to choreography

Diverse and collaborative are the two words Gan uses to describe her approach for her choreography. For Gan, the choreography of Room 2048 involves engaging with others, exploring the feelings, emotions and messages that transpire between people in the space and being open to all sorts of information.

“I would like to think of it as an exhibition. Sometimes I think of it as collecting information and part of the creative process is looking at your materials you have cultivated and explored,” she says.

Born in Scotland, Ontario, Gan spent most of her childhood and adult life studying and working in Vancouver. In her words, this land refers to the unceded territory of the coast Salish People and is home to a lot of vibrant artists.

Gan, who has a double degree in contemporary dance and international studies from Simon Fraser University (SFU), met her collaborators for Hong Kong Exile, Remy Siu and Milton Lim, on campus. The trio decided to work together, and in 2011, Gan became the co-artistic director and choreographer for Hong Kong Exile.

“Working with Hong Kong Exile and being a choreographer of 2048 does not really mean I am asking the performer to do certain moves in terms of dance and vocabulary. That is not how I engage with choreography,” says Gan.

Committed to creating innovative art through collaborative and interdisciplinary exploration, the interdisciplinary arts company, with Room 2048, stays true to its goals.

“As a choreographer I am looking at the space for my collaborators to offer ideas, to bring themselves and their personalities to the work, and to bring their skills and their points of view,” says Gan.

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