Hong Kong has been convulsed by an ongoing protest movement which has increasingly been seen as a last stand for its semi-autonomy from China since March 2019; a year which also saw the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Solidarity movements have formed across the globe, including repeated gatherings of up to 4,000 people outside the Chinese embassy in London.
Providing a platform for the often overlooked perspective of British East Asians and Hong Kongers based in the UK, Papergang Theatre brings the one-night-only Invisible Harmony 无形的和谐 at the Southbank Centre as part of the Chinese Arts Now Festival and Freedom Hi 自由閪 at VAULT Festival to ground geopolitics in the very human level experienced by many British people with Chinese heritage. They offer a kaleidoscope of perspectives on complex events, and hopefully some healing and resilience.
Invisible Harmony 无形的和谐 bears witness to East Asian political resistance through poetry, spoken word and dance. A howl of pain from one of the most censored, silenced and sanitised ethnic groups on the planet, it asks how much freedom matters and what East Asians will risk and sacrifice for it. This poetic dance piece sees choreographer Julia Cheng (BBC Young Dancer 2019 mentor; founder of House of Absolute) and playwright Daniel York Loh take on the politics of oppression and protest produced by Papergang Theatre, in a collaboration with performance artist enxi (Dark Matters; Clouds Over Beijing), director Kim Pearce (Forgotten; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), video artist April Lin (award-winner at Zubroffka International Short Film Festival), sound designer Nicola Chang (SiX; STOMP!) and lighting designer Simisola Majekodunmi (SOHO; UKIP the Musical). The piece is followed by a panel discussion on images of East Asian political resistance.
Freedom Hi 自由閪 is a collage of multi-disciplinary expression about the Hong Kong AntiELab protests that, by March, may be a retrospective but, then again, may not be. Building a conspiratorial relationship with the audience, they will choose which performance pieces to experience within the framework of the show. Personal experiences and geo-political commentary combine in an act of total theatre and performance art created by UK-based Hong Kong and British East Asian artists during the protests. They don’t know how this ends, how this will ever end – everything about this show is subject to change.
The creatives involved include theatre-maker Bonnie Chan (Little Bean Theatre), actor Yik Sau Chung (Boh Boh Finds Home), performer Isabella Leung (Instant Acts: Against Violence and Racism), playwright and actor Daniel York Loh (Forgotten; The Good Immigrant), actor and filmmaker Jennifer Lim (A Monster Calls), and actor and writer Gabby Wong (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). Alongside them are dancer Shum-Shum Pui Ying (The Devisers Company), performance artist Max Percy (My Dad’s Gap Year), musician Angela Hui Wa Nok (Joy Hockings Percussion Prize) and multi-disciplinary artists Ghost and John (Meniscus).
On Invisible Harmony 无形的和谐, Daniel York Loh comments, “Harmony” (和谐) has been a central obsession of Chinese authoritarian rule for thousands of years. The name of the system may change but still we are rigidly “harmonised”. Expected to comply. As a passive monolith. Change is seen as “revolution”. It disrupts, it dismantles, it dances with defiance. Invisible Harmony 无形的和谐 is a free flow of poetry, of dance, of a cry for freedom. It is inspired by events in history, of 30 years ago in Beijing Tiananmen Square and on the streets of Hong Kong right now, as seen on the screen and hidden in the screen.
On Freedom Hi 自由閪, director Kim Pearce commentsed: “For those from Hong Kong and those that care about Hong Kong, 2019 was devastating, traumatising, inspiring and demanding. Articulating the present moment, triangulating between colonial history and an increasingly totalitarian Chinese government is endlessly complex. The work that UK based East Asian and Hong Kong artists have created around this is important and asks big questions that apply to anyone with a stake in democracy. It’s been my privilege to work with these artists and to create this platform for their work at VAULT Festival 2020.”
Invisible Harmony 无形的和谐 will play at the Southbank Centre as part of the Chinese Arts Now Festival for one night only on Tuesday 4 February and Freedom Hi 自由閪 will run at VAULT Festival from Tuesday 10 – Sunday 15 March.