The Lion Born to Rock & Roll Contempo Lion Dance Choreographer Daniel Yeung

The last time I met Daniel Yeung was in last year’s summer, where he and the lion dance team of master Kwok Man-lung were preparing to attend the Internationale Tanzmesse in Germany. Just a year from then, they are busy working on the latest edition of Contempo Lion Dance which combines lion dance, lion theatre, parkour and environmental dance with Haw Par Music Farm. All these contribute to a major highlight of the Jockey Club New Arts Power programmes.


By Pianda | Translated by Renee

But in my sense, lion dance is the one truly belongs to our culture and the dance duet that rocks.

Contempo Lion Dance—refers to the contemporisation of lion dance while positioning it as a master of the artistry of dance. Daniel Yeung has been studying the culture of Cantonese lion dance since 2016. From the very first time he watched the video of lion dance training, he exclaimed, “Hey, we’ve missed a diamond in the rough!” Why say so? “They didn’t take that lion head on when practicing highly difficult moves. Those moves were just a brilliant pas de deux in my eyes, yet with entirely different principles applied in the partnering lift they’ve made and those we learned in ballet.”

Dancers learn to master lion dance

Daniel Yeung immediately prompted, “We have to learn this dance duet! The now so-called classical Chinese dance often applies ballet technique. But in my sense, lion dance is the one truly belongs to our culture and the dance duet that rocks. A dance duet which is, however, not being taught anywhere else in the world, including dancing schools in China.” This provoked the creation of the short dance piece, LionDance, in 2016. Dancers were arranged to learn the artistry of lion dance and transform the essence into a brand new dance piece which was later presented at 8/F Platform of the Hong Kong Dance Company.

The concept of “LionDance” has soon received recognition from peers. In 2017, he received commission from ArtisTree for a cross-cultural collaborative project Contempo Lion Dance n. In August 2018, he even brought the lion dance to the Internationale Tanzmesse in Germany, with another one following in November—the premiere of Guan Yu’s Ride of 1,000 Miles at the Newvision Arts Festival Hong Kong, which combined contemporary dance with lion theatre. This year, he will further take the Contempo Lion Dance to the next level by evolving it into an environmental dance to be staged at the Haw Par Mansion.

It is both dance and martial arts, at the same time incorporates Feng Shui theories, belief and custom, festival and celebration. This time in our performance, it is an environmental dance.

More than western puppet theatre

There was a time not so long ago when I watched a Britain’s premier puppet theatre, the “LionDance” series of Daniel Yeung came up to my mind. Noting my thought, he smiled back and knew that I was still not quite understand the lion dance. “In western countries, they have puppet theatre. Lion dance could be regarded as Chinese puppet theatre, but way more complicated. It is both dance and martial arts, at the same time incorporates Feng Shui theories, belief and custom, festival and celebration. This time in our performance, it is an environmental dance.”

Designed to be staging at Haw Par Mansion, Contempo Lion Dance epitomizes Daniel Yeung’s 4-year study in lion dance. “Lion dance is originally an environmental dance. Once we enter the Haw Par Mansion, we’re just like the traditional lion dance team making its debut at the village. We’ve to think how to perform from the entrance to the village’s end.”

Dancing for the heritage

Daniel Yeung revealed difficulties in performing at heritage site. “Every space in the cultural heritage site comes with restrictions. Performance in each of the areas requires approval from the bureau.” Established in 1935, Haw Par Mansion has been listed as Grade I historic building and revitalised as Haw Par Music Farm. Given an exceptional opportunity to tailor made a dance piece for the heritage, he endeavours to resonate with the unique space of the Haw Par Music Farm. A special addition to the performance is the inclusion of a parkour expert to collaborate with the lion dance team. “The high jumping moves of parkour runner vibrantly echo with the acrobatics on poles in the lion dance, and that creates a perfect mirroring of a dance battle between the traditional and modern styles. Runners believe that the environment will support them to move forward no matter where they are. This is very much in sync with the idea of environmental dance.”

Spin the traditional drum music with an electronic twist

Lion theatre combines dance and parkour, while presents traditional drumming sounds of lion dance in electronic music style. This innovative twist has resolved the glitch of the systemic differences in beating time between lion dance and contemporary dance. “By doing so, lion dance master does not need to adapt to the beating time of contemporary dance. On the other hand, the beat of electronic music is not the most important areas of concern for dancers, but rather they emphasize on how to engage their rhythm with the tempo of the ambience.” Daniel Yeung offers a tip for audience: ready to be amused by the variation of styles presented at each outdoor performance in the garden, which will change in line with the shifting of daylight. Each performing session of Contempo Lion Dance is set to be an unparallel sensual experience for audience.

Contempo Lion Dance
Daniel Yeung
A roaring lion is flying over the Haw Par Mansion! Joining hands again to inject new life into the traditional art of lion dance, veteran local dancer Daniel Yeung and Kwok’s Lion Kung-Fu & Dragon Lion Dance Team combine contemporary dance, experimental music and Parkour to re-choreograph their signature multimedia performance Contempo Lion Dance, which breaks the boundaries surrounding theatre. As it roams around historic buildings and the outdoors, its movements lifelike and highly stylised, the dancing lion creates a flowing landscape where the traditional and the contemporary are beautifully interlaced.
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