Asian City Crossings

Pathways of Performance through Hong Kong and Singapore
4:00 pm – 5:45 pm

  • Andrea Riemenschnitter, Chair
  • Rossella Ferrari, Ashley Thorpe, “The City as Method: Hong Kong, Singapore, and City-to-City Pathways of Performance”
  • How Wee Ng, “Dialectics as Creative Process and Decentering China: Zuni Icosahedron and Drama Box’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude 10.0—Cultural Revolution’”
  • Mirjam Tröster, “The City and the Artist: Alice Theatre Laboratory’s ‘Seven Boxes Possessed of Kafka’ in Shanghai”

This panel explores practices and politics of performance collaboration as practitioners move across cities in Asia. It investigates the dynamics of city-to-city creative exchanges by addressing performance interactions between Hong Kong and Singapore, and between these and other Asian cities. It foregrounds the city as a distinctive locus of transnational crossings and a relational space for forging and performing intercultural connections. Hong Kong and Singapore have emerged from histories of imperialism to become global economic and cultural hubs. Both have played a seminal role in shaping cultural relations across the Sinosphere and the wider Asian region, as focal points of transnational and intercultural exchange. Their shared standing, yet highly differentiated contexts, as postcolonial, multicultural, and multilingual city-states offer unique vantage points from which to explore pathways of creative production across cities in East- and Southeast Asia. Whereas Hong Kong and Singapore socio-economic developments have been compared in many studies, theatre and performance connections between and from these cities have yet to be explored. The panel seeks to theorise the city as a method for performance analysis and illustrate the city-to-city framework through case studies of collaborations between established and emergent performance ensembles that illustrate dynamics of creative exchange and embodied mobility through tours and festivals, and dialectical engagement with questions of identity, transregional politics, and current affairs.

Rossella Ferrari, Ashley Thorpe, “The City as Method: Hong Kong, Singapore, and City-to-City Pathways of Performance”

The city has been discussed widely as a subject, site, and space for performance, but less so as a structure of performance—namely, as the framework that enables its production and circulation. This paper foregrounds the structural functions of the city in enabling pathways of performance—connections between two points—and intersections of performance networks across Asia, taking Hong Kong and Singapore as key referents in establishing a framework for inter- and cross-city referencing in Asian theatre and performance research. The first part of the paper proposes the “city as method” as a new and specific intercultural paradigm to theorise patterns of collaboration in the postcolonial contexts of Hong Kong and Singapore, drawing on an understanding of the city as a strategic (infra-)structure that offers an alternative to nation-to-nation, or state-to-state, patterns of cross-border creative exchange and cultural diplomacy. The tensional dialectic between city, state, and nation resonates with the unique historical conditions of Hong Kong and Singapore, where such notions are constantly negotiated in (re-)defining place identity, political allegiance, and affective belonging. The second part draws on postmodern theory to explore notions of “authenti-city” and “specify-city” and conceptual relations of “city” and “place” in the context of Hong Kong and Singapore in order to foreground city-to-city collaboration as an act of place-making that exposes the distinctiveness of each city because and through the connections they share.

How Wee Ng, “Dialectics as Creative Process and Decentering China: Zuni Icosahedron and Drama Box’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude 10.0—Cultural Revolution'”

In 2011 and 2012, Zuni Icosahedron collaborated with the Singapore theatre group Drama Box and presented “One Hundred Years of Solitude 10.0—Cultural Revolution.” As one of the best-known iterations since its inception in 1982, this is a politically charged and zeitgeist series on history and current global events. This edition is particularly significant for drawing from themes and ideas about revolutions related to and beyond China, including the Cultural Revolution and events in the more immediate socio-political contexts of Hong Kong and Singapore. Based on interviews with the Singapore creative cast, this paper builds upon the research on East Asian intercultural theatre studies. I first unpack the term “dialectics” in Zuni’s practice before examining how actors variously respond to the director Danny Yung’s dialectical approach to theatre. My findings reveal gaps in the different understandings of what an ideal intercultural collaboration should entail, and the role, purpose and agency of actors in relation to the director. Positioning my analysis at the intersecting ideas of minor transnationalism, Inter-Asia exchanges and Sinophone intercultural theatre, I argue that the production decentres China and subverts audience expectations in that it is actually not just about the Cultural Revolution, but rather, the creative process which the Singapore actors underwent, which involves a dialectics requiring them to rebel against their own learned beliefs and training backgrounds and negotiate the potentialities of artistic autonomy and innovation whilst conforming to strict rules, despite tensions, uncertainty and ambiguity.

Mirjam Tröster, “The City and the Artist: Alice Theatre Laboratory’s ‘Seven Boxes Possessed of Kafka’ in Shanghai”

In 2010, Hong Kong theatre company Alice Theatre Laboratory staged “Seven Boxes Possessed of Kafka” in Shanghai. Interweaving fragments of Franz Kafka’s works and life, the play engages with the role of the artist in multiple ways. It investigates the artist’s need for an audience and the possibilities for exchange in a present-day urban environment or, more specifically, Hong Kong. “Seven Boxes” was performed at the Beijing–Hong Kong–Shanghai Young Directors’ Showcase @ Modern Drama Valley Expo Season, a specific format that stands at one end of the continuum of performing arts collaboration. The showcase’s title suggests that the play’s focus on both the artist and the city ought to intersect well with this framework. As this paper will demonstrate, however, the format and its multi-layered framing in publicity materials strongly impacted on the meaning-making process during the Shanghai tour of “Seven Boxes” and colluded to divert attention from the production’s focus on the artist to a comparison of the three cities. What is more, precisely by ascribing an alleged “unique Hong Kong flavour” to “Seven Boxes,” “public discourse” (Knowles) delocalised the play, only to force the label of the local on it in turn. Despite the overbearing impact of the showcase format, however, the Shanghai tour of Seven Boxes reveals artists’ perseverance to communicate through art and establish links among soulmates that defy the specific intricacies of city-to-city exchange between Hong Kong and Mainland China.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room G
Pathways of Performance through Hong Kong and Singapore