by Zohra KhanSep 21, 2023
A very unusual work caught my fancy last month while scrolling through Instagram. The juxtaposition of miniscule human bodies and skyscrapers in Hong Kong seemed like a canvas worth exploring. On June 5, World Environment Day, UK-based choreographer Corey Baker’s dance company, Corey Baker Dance, put out a film called Lying Together. In the video, dancers of the Hong Kong Ballet - Chen Zhiyao, Amber Lewis, Li Jiabo, Ma Renjie, and Forrest Rain Oliveros dance to the tunes of Oh Baby by French multi-instrumentalist and singer FKJ.
Amidst the picturesque rural landscape and atop the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, the dancers paint the canvas with their flowy movements.
Lying Together shines a spotlight on nature and how humans can coexist with it. To me it also alluded to human’s insignificant presence, particularly in frames that have dancers performing in the giant buildings and the aerial shots, but Baker isn’t telling a sad story. Just like Antarctica: The First Dance, launched on Earth Day 2018, Lying Together is a celebration of nature.
“I love Hong Kong. Sometimes I would be in a towering building, so big you couldn’t see the top of it. But if you look one metre to your left, there is endless greenery. I wanted the film to reflect this and also help pull focus to the importance of green spaces and greenery in cities,” mentions the choreographer in an email interview with STIR.
The film had its world premiere screening through BBC’s Culture in Quarantine, and in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on UNEP’s YouTube Channel, on June 5, 2020. It was created in partnership with Hong Kong Ballet as part of their Ballet in the City – HKB Goes Viral campaign.
Baker is a trained dancer from New Zealand and for years he has been trying to take dance from the stage to spaces easily accessible to the public such as parks, rugby fields, shopping plazas and more.
“I don't think dance sits on a stage very well. It’s too confined. Look at the roots of dance – it’s about celebration, big things, full body visceral engagement. As a dancer (and maybe also as a New Zealander) I always found it hard to feel that when performing inside. Whenever I performed outside, I would feel much more alive. I feel taking dance outside traditional theatre spaces is important in developing new audiences. Whether it be for economical, geographical, or cultural reasons, some people can’t and don’t want to go to the theatre. That shouldn't stop them from having access to and enjoying dance,” says the choreographer.
Antarctica: The First Dance, the dance film choreographed by Baker to highlight climate change in 2018, is a milestone in his career. Nobody before Madeleine Graham, of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, had danced on the ice-covered landmass. The film has been seen by over five million people around the globe to date. In an interview for Antarctica, Baker had mentioned how a location as powerful as that came to determine several factors. When asked if Lying Together also posed similar challenges given the tall skyscrapers, he says, "The skyscrapers were not overly problematic as such. Practical limitations such as how do we get the crew, dancers and equipment up 40 flights of stairs with no elevator, no easy access to a bathroom or shelter from rain etc were of course obstacles, but did not affect the overall creative process/ directing of the film,” the dancer responds.
However, architecture did inform the creative process of the film. Sharing insights, Baker says, “First, understanding the best way to film these staggering buildings and locations, then letting that shot/ frame dictate where best to put the dancers for visibility, then from there figuring out what choreography would work, that was the process. This was similar to the way we had to work in Antarctica - letting the environment dictate the angles, framing and position of choreography”.
Baker wants people to interpret the work the way they desire to but there is indeed a plot to follow. The film starts in a natural environment and on progression the surroundings become less and less naturally green. “Along the way, the cast of dancers seem to grow and collect their own greenery and appear to be taking it with them and greening up spaces. There is a domino effect along the waterfront as your actions have the impact to affect many,” says the dancer.
As all the dancers are classically trained, Baker says the classical language became the common starting point. “However, I am much more interested in contemporary movement. I also work in a very collaborative way with the dancers who draw on their own movement interests to assist me in creating the entire work. I like to see dancers feel comfortable in their bodies and feeling human as much as possible, rather than being distant athletes doing crazy things all the time,” states the choreographer, who is now editing a new dance film called Swan Lake Bath Ballet for BBC/The Space, filmed in the (filled) baths of elite ballet dancers from around the world.