The Hong Kong Dance Award 2006 is presented to Abby Chan and Yeung Wai Mei, for their creations McMuiMui’s Love in a Doggy Bag.
In this madcap dance theatre production, Chan and Yeung, the quintessential thirty-something Hong Kong girls, revisit their roots and take us on a zany and nostalgic journey to growing up behind the folding gated door of a public housing flat.
Through a blaze of classic Mandarin torch songs, cantopop, and sop opera themes and amidst furniture that continually morphs from one use to another, Chan and Yeung present a deeply humanist and humorous portrait of paradise that could be every (wo)man’s childhood.
Well, you might if you had lived there during the fast-changing 1980s like dancers Abby Chan and Yeung Wai-mei did.
The duo, who make up McMuiMui Dansemble, left for the United States in the 1990s – one to marry and the other to study. But they then discovered that their hearts still longed for Hong Kong. To deal with it, they conceived their 90-minute dance piece in 18 episodes which they called Love In a Doggy Bag.
Each episode riffs on jia, the Chinese word for family. Thus is Love part autobiography, part parody. In their performance here, the duo tried for honesty and frivolity, while avoiding overt political references. They made the stage a habitat gone topsy-turvy, with such things as toilet brushes turned killer weapons.
The women themselves were decked out in funky costumes and did mickey moves to a roulette of well-loved Cantopop classics, including those of the late Roman Tam.
Throughout their performance, they spoke in Cantonese, Mandarin and English as they explored community cultural codes evoking shared imagination and identity.
With conscientious flair and deadpan irony, they also created ample visual gags – like dinner scenes enacted as gong hustles and a spoof on family bonding in front of the telly – to express their trial of cultural dislocation.
“The material may sound familiar, but how it was depicted and spoofed never felt mundane”
by Malcolm Tay
Production – Love in a Doggy Bag
Company – McMuiMui Dansemble
Reviewer – Malcolm Tay
Date – 16/02/2005
Place – The Esplanade Theatre Studio
While watching Love in a Doggy Bag, I was mentally kicking myself, again and again, for not having a better grasp of Cantonese. I should have paid attention to those old television serials that my mother used to rent. Had I been more observant at the time, I would have been better equipped to enjoy this 90-minute offering by Hong Kong’s McMuiMui Dansemble. As it is, the show was still a hoot.
Much of its appeal, I think, stems from its deeply nostalgic story about two girls growing up in Hong Kong (the girls are played by McMuiMui founders Abby Chan and Yeung Wai-mei, who also choreographed the piece) and their shifting notions of home and identity. (This was Chan and Yeung’s way of understanding their yearning for Hong Kong after leaving for the United States in the 1990s.) The material may sound familiar, but how it was depicted and spoofed never felt mundane.
Love unfolds over 18 episodes – each episode plays on “jia”, the Chinese word for “family” – though keeping track of the line-up of episodes didn’t matter after a while. The setting for the duo’s display of quiet domesticity and comic horseplay is a lived-in abode with multipurpose furniture and a metal front gate near the theatre’s entrance, through which an usher made me pass before I took my seat. As it happens, Chan and Yeung were raised in the city’s public flats during the 1980s, which all have this sort of folding gate.
Both performers are graduates of The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and their performance styles complemented each other: Chan was a stable, nurturing foil for Yeung’s impetuous passions. They had a kind of chemistry that perhaps only exists between old friends. You could see it when they danced together, deadpanned in perfect timing, or gaggled in a stew of English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. After all, Love was inspired by their own lives, so that personal connection between them, conveyed through the dance, was palpable throughout the evening.
The rough-cut choreography was more concerned with characterisation and mood than with academic precision, which agreed with Love’s rojak nature. Towards the end, a roving duet between the two girls – an ever-changing dialogue of wills and household objects, smacking of contact improvisation – aptly visualised their volatile relationship. At other times, they hustled and adjusted themselves to the music.
And what fitting music they chose. With Lau Tin-ming’s help, Chan and Yeung hit all the right spots with a winning soundtrack of classic tunes. The great songstress Yao Li’s 1940s Mandarin pop hit, Rose, Rose, I Love You, shared airtime with Frankie Laine’s lame English cover from the 1950s, along with Cantopop songs by Roman Tam and Nancy Sit. When TV soap opera theme songs accompanied a dinnertime send-up, we roared in recognition – it was that funny.
Lee Chi-wai’s set and props also did a fabulous job of evoking scenes from the characters’ memories. When stacked in columns, storage boxes turned into shelves, a stereo and a TV set. In near darkness, an upturned table lined with small candles became an open window from which to look out during a blackout – a respite from the humid chaos. Apparently, blackouts were common in Hong Kong’s public housing – and we haven’t forgotten last year’s island-wide incident either.
Indeed, Love used many props quirkily and effectively, but the significance of some items just failed to register in my mind. Take the stuffed pigs, for instance. They were damn cute but I wondered if they had any link with Love’s Chinese title, which literally means “The Story of Finding the Family Pig”. Or perhaps “pig” was someone’s childhood nickname. Maybe I missed a clue that was uttered in Cantonese, but it seemed as though some things were privately important to the dancers and were just beyond our grasp.
Still, I can’t wait for the McMuiMui girls to return to Singapore. Their work remains refreshingly honest and heartfelt, even when it gets unwieldy at times. If I ever watch them again, I’ll make sure my Cantonese is up to scratch.
文化意象的拼貼也是它的特色。從伍佰到李宗盛的國語流行歌曲，從 Piazzola 的探戈到 J.S. Bach 的G弦之歌，都是配樂的靈感；中丶西雜燴，古丶今不分的假髮丶摺扇、水䄂、高跟鞋，全成了理所當然的趣味。幾個過場與反覆出現的熟悉旋律則是兒歌＂王老先生有塊地＂（英文原名為 Old McDonald has a farm)，在歌詞中不倫不類地融合了英文單字和粵語＂笑魁＂，將港產的無厘頭精神發揚光大。
South China Morning Post Fringe Club, Central Simon Wu
Something Strange In The Air, the literal translation in Cantonese being “craziness in the wind”, is a multi-media dance theatre piece performed by the McMuiMui Dansemble, a local dance company formed by Abby Chan and yeung Wai-mei.
“Craziness” – or the Cantonese homonym of ” craziness” – was used as a frame work for a montage of scenes about contemporary Hong Kong.
The performance began with Chan and Yeung hosting a charity show, caricaturing well known Hong Kong personalities.
With long pink and purple wigs , Chan and Yeung danced holding hairdryers that hung from the ceiling.
Their lyrics covered government intervention in the stock market, health scares, the Snoopy fad, mainland mistresses, mass sackings and a panoramic view of newspaper headlines from the past few months.
Then came a blackout. They panicked, they complained and they bitched about each other. Both dancers were expressive and performed with great commitment.
The second of the two main pieces portrayed how insatiable materialism can drive people insane.
The performance was full of innovative concepts, seasoned with wit, camp humor, sarcasm and, above all, craziness.
Scenes included Chan being bombarded by brand labels projected on to her body, Chan and Yeung dancing in a handstand position with their feet in fluffy shoes and a doll stripped naked by electric fans.
This continued with empty political slogans being juxtaposed with the vacuous ambitions of beauty queens and a home music video.
Then the audience was asked to participate in a lesson in which we were taught both the Chinese characters for “forgetful” and “busy” were made up of two words – ” heart” and ” dead”. The message is when our spirituality dies, what we can do is to keep ourselves busy and forget what is important.
Two robotic security guards, brilliantly acted by Michael Wong and Paul Lam, provided a poignant contrast to the expressive women.
Scene changes were a bit abrupt, more like a variety show than a coherent piece. But McMuiMui was fun and popular with the audience – being self-confessed crazy it was beyond logic anyway.