Performing Arts on the Cutting-edge

Hong Kong’s New Vision Arts Festival is one of the world’s most innovative arts events. Here we look at two exciting programmes

Hong Kong’s New Vision Arts Festival (NVAF) has established itself as one of the highlights in the performing arts calendar in Asia. Founded in 2002, the biennial NVAF became an annual event starting from its 10th edition. The NVAF strives to push boundaries across different cultures, disciplines and regions, introducing to Hong Kong audiences pioneering, trendsetting and groundbreaking performing arts from around the world. NVAF sets out to broaden audiences’ minds and open them up to new possibilities in everyday life. It is also committed to fostering exchange and collaboration between local and overseas artists, nurturing new talents, commissioning new works, and bringing local productions onto the global stage. Renowned for its use of cutting-edge technology and imaginative stagings and its melding of styles and artforms, this year’s event, held from 28 October to 20 November, is no different.

“Since its founding, the New Vision Arts Festival has been steadfast in its mission to promote crossover works,” says Anne Tsai, Senior Manager of the Festivals Office, Leisure and Cultural Services Department. “We continue our efforts this year with commissions by outstanding local and overseas artists, among them two new works celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government. The first piece, chasing waterfalls (pictured, top), is an AI opera focusing on the symbiosis of men and machines, investigating manifold manifestations of humanity in our digital age. Produced by the German Arts Tech collective phase7 performing.arts and featuring music by Hong Kong’s rising musical star Angus Lee, chasing waterfalls received its world premiere in Germany with Lee as conductor.

“The New Vision Edition proactively creates opportunities for local artists, as members of the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble take part in this performance. The second commemorative programme is Jungle Book reimagined by England’s distinguished Akram Khan Company. Our Festival offered an opportunity for a partnership between Akram Khan and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA)’s School of Dance. Eight outstanding students travelled to England to audition and rehearse with the master and his company; Jan Mikaela Villanueva was chosen to participate in the world premiere in England, she also received a two-year contract as a full-time company member. Villanueva will perform the principal role of Mowgli, which is an inspiration to us all.

“We are proud that our Festival has fulfilled its role after many years of concerted efforts in connecting local artists with world-class performing arts troupes, helping our own talents land on the international stage in their pursuit of greater artistic maturity”.

Tsai continues: “Because of the pandemic, the public’s aesthetic needs have also changed. The New Vision Arts Festival is unwavering in promoting arts tech, and commissioning local artists to produce both onsite and online shows, thus expanding creativity in multiple dimensions. Such examples include: HACK, where GayBird and Ata Wong focus on the intricate relation between machines and humans; Olivia Yan’s interactive music theatre work Zoetrope, involving audience participation; and Choi Sai-ho’s Live-Earth-Space, using electronic music and video to explore our universe.

“In 2016, the New Vision Arts Festival presented the first instalment of the tripartite A Concise History of Future by the intrepid and singular theatre artist Yan Pat-to. This year, the second instalment, Posthuman Condition, explores the new era of technological warfare in which AI progresses in leaps and bounds. Yan uses his unique and distinctive perspective in foretelling the future of mankind. Zuni Icosahedron presents its Mindfulness Arts Tech Theatre Hua-yen Buddhaverse and Hua-yen Concert, bringing the sūtra’s journey to yet another realm. Finally, MaD (Make a Difference)’s A Date with Dogs reflects on interspecies co-existence with multi-arts – art is for all!”

(stage photo by Manfred Vogel)

One can never step into the same river twice: it’s the same with the digital landscape, which changes in the blink of an eye. The ‘AI opera’ chasing waterfalls, depicting humanity’s pursuit of the intangible digital self, received its world premiere at Dresden’s Semperoper in September.

Co-commissioned by the New Vision Arts Festival, this opera – developed and co-presented by the German multimedia artist collective phase7 performing.arts – makes its Asian premiere in Hong Kong on 5 and 6 November. Local rising musical star Angus Lee co-composes the music and also assumes the role of conductor, while Berlin’s Studio for Sonic Experiences kling klang klong contributes the electro-acoustic composition alongside the innovative AI voice which was specially created together with T Systems MMS – following the algorithms of the music, AI therefore engages in deep learning and gradually becomes sentient…

We are somewhere between Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. AI learns to simulate pixels and the singing voice, even challenging real-life opera singers. ‘Ego’ (‘I’) and ‘Ego fluens’ (the ‘fluid I’) chase each other to the point where it becomes hard to differentiate between real and fake. In the end, even the audience becomes a part of the digital waterfall.

As boundaries gradually dissolve, can ‘I’ insist on my veracity and ability to think as ‘human’?

Conductor – Angus Lee
Concept – Sven Sören Beyer, Johann Casimir Eule, Christiane Neudecker
Staging – Sven Sören Beyer
Set Design – Sven Sören Beyer, Pedro Richter
Costume Design – Pedro Richter
Lighting Design – Henning Schletter
Visuals – Studio Eigengrau, Frieder Weiss, Ployz
Composition – Angus Lee, kling klang klong
AI Creation – kling klang klong, T Systems MMS (Technical Support)
Audio Supervision – Das DUR/ Christian Steinhäuser, Max Trieder
Dramaturgy – Johann Casimir Eule
Real Me/Virtual Me – Eir Inderhaug
Live Music – Hong Kong New Music Ensemble

Book tickets for chasing waterfalls here:
Please note: Stage photos of the World Premiere are for reference only. Stay tuned for the Asia Premiere (New Vision Edition).

A JUNGLE BOOK FOR TODAY (pictured above and below, photos by Ambra Vernuccio)
The time has come: Nature is exacting its revenge. The world has become a dense forest of vines and gullies where animals reign supreme and humans become their enemies. Where can one find shelter? Climate refugee Mowgli, an injured black pantheress who still retains her compassion versus a lab monkey and its fervent, raucous followers: Each reflects the contrast of the humane and beastly.

At age 10, Akram Khan played Mowgli in The Jungle Book, adapted as an Indian dance production directed by Peter Brook. That young talented dancer is now almost 50, a world-renowned choreographer and a father. For him, now is the time to adapt this much-loved classic. Akram Khan Company last appeared in Hong Kong three years ago in XENOS. This time, Jungle Book reimagined requires no set shipped across the seas. Instead, the animal instincts internalised by the dancers leap out amidst thunderous original music enveloping our senses with animated projections that look fanciful and yet compellingly realistic.

For this production, which is to be staged at the Grand Theatre in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on 11 and 12 November, the role of Mowgli is alternatively played by Jan Mikaela Villaneuva and Akram Khan Company member Shum Pui-yung, who is also from Hong Kong.

Director/Choreographer – Akram Khan
Creative Associate/Coach – Mavin Khoo
Writer – Tariq Jordan
Dramaturgical Advisor – Sharon Clark
Composer – Jocelyn Pook
Sound Designer – Gareth Fry
Lighting Designer – Michael Hulls
Visual Stage Designer – Miriam Buether
Art Direction/Director of Animation – Adam Smith (YeastCulture)
Producer/Director of Video Design– Nick Hillel (YeastCulture)
Rotoscope Artists/Animators – Naaman Azhari, Natasza Cetner, Edson R Bazzarin
Rehearsal Directors – Nicky Henshall, Andrew Pan, Angela Towler (Tour)
Dancers – Lucia Chocarro, Tom Davis-Dunn, Thomasin Gülgeç, Max Revell, Matthew Sandiford, Pui Yung Shum, Fukiko Takase, Holly Vallis, Vanessa Vince-Pang, Jan Mikaela Villaneuva and Luke Watson
Producing Director – Farooq Chaudhry

Book tickets for Jungle Book reimagined here: