Room 2048, created by Vancouver company Hong Kong Exile, was presented at the 2019 Expanse Festival by Mile Zero Dance and Azimuth Theatre in February. This multimedia dance theatre work is described as “a dream machine for the Cantonese diaspora.”
Room 2048 choreographer Natalie Gan and local artist/organizer Grace Law come together as members of the Cantonese diaspora to talk about their work and the show. A handful of reflections are captured here as part of an ongoing dialogue.
On Room 2048
GL — Some images from the performance that moved me and has stayed with me are: a figure agitating, carrying then dropping a body, running away, two figures in a tense never ending repose, and the ongoing gap between us.
On the dance in Room 2048
NG — While the work may not adhere to conventional dance codes, in simplest terms, I see the show as the choreography of light, sound, fog, and body. Much of the dance lives in tension. The tension of staying still when needing to move, the tension of trying to reach the other, the tension of what we let others see of ourselves, the strictness of the digital light in tension with the roundness of breath and the flaws of the human body. Through the lens of tension, you can really see the influence of Hong Kong filmmaker and director, Wong Kar Wai, on our process. His cinematic construction of nostalgia, loss, and longing greatly inspired how we translated our own diasporic experiences onto stage.
On what dance means to you
NG — I started making dances practically at the same time that I started dancing. I was six and I remember choreography feeling so natural that dances seemed like they would fall out of me. These days, awareness of the politics around body, mobility, and movement makes dancing more complex and arguably, more essential than ever.
On the Hong Kong Diaspora
GL — During Room 2048, I was counting along in Cantonese thinking I was learning, but not realizing until the end that it was wrong. I was learning numbers all wrong! My friend who is fluent was frustrated. I was unaware. This resonated with me deeply as I think about the gap between me and my parents’ generation and me and the homeland, which I’ve not yet even visited. My relationship to Hong Kong is different than my parents, but because of them there is an ancestral line that pulls my heart to a place I’ve not set foot on. There is a tie that calls me to be in solidarity with Hong Kong’s struggle.
On Creative Fuel
GL — Right now, anger is the only thing that gets me to make things. Although, it is a rage that stems from grief; a pain of losing things. Places like our Chinatowns are our diasporic safe spaces to connect to home, so when Edmonton’s Chinatown icon was removed without permission I felt a responsibility to say something.
NG — My creativity mostly ignites from messy, complex grief. Room 2048 was powered by personal loss and political grief: the sobering aftermath of the Umbrella Movement, the local and global degradation of spaces for Cantoneseness to thrive, my own fight to keep the language alive on my tongue, the death of my grandmother, the disappearance of my uncle…just to name a few. That said, laughter and playfulness in contemporary performance is one of my favourite things. I am not funny (although I love laughing) so I am lucky my collaborators are wonderfully silly. It is this spirit that has created the most compelling creative results time and time again.
Natalie Tin Yin Gan is a Vancouver-based dance, interdisciplinary, and performance artist working on the unceded ancestral lands of the Coast Salish peoples. Natalie is a late sleeper, a late riser, a late bloomer, a latecomer, a late-night snacker, and the co-Artistic Director of Hong Kong Exile. nataliegan.com
Grace Sum Yun Law lives in amiskwacîwâskahikan . She is an organizer, visual artist, and cultural worker who works in the public realm. She is one of the founders of aiya!, a collective addressing the cultural erasure and gentrification in Edmonton’s Chinatown.