Creative minds don’t let COVID-19 get in the way of a good show! That much was clear from a theatre performance hosted by Eaton HK on 2 and 3 April this year, which put a clever twist on social distancing restrictions. The two-day cultural showcase, Through the Looking Glass, was performed on the hotel’s fourth-floor Terrible Baby terrace, with audience members watching on from their respective hotel rooms above.
The show’s title paid homage to the work of Lewis Carroll, and it explored a world, like that explored by Alice, where logic is turned on its head. There were three separate performances: a piece by renowned choreographer Sudhee Liao, in collaboration with dramaturg Constantin Leu, followed by an appearance by the HK New Music Ensemble, and finally “The Orpheus Cabaret”, performed by Hong Kong Ballet.
We spoke with Sudhee Liao, and also the Director of Culture at Eaton HK, Chantal Wong, about their involvement in this groundbreaking approach to theatre.
How was the idea formed for this unique performance?
Last year was tricky. The previous year, Eaton HK had hosted 680 events; so the 2020 lockdown was a rude awakening. We were, and still are, committed to social distancing and keeping our community safe, so we did our best to produce compelling programming online. But I think people really missed the ‘live’ element of performance. With a livestream, your gaze is controlled by the camera lens, but when taking in a live performance, your focus might drift to the set, the lighting… even the reaction of other audience members. It’s undeniable that a live show offers a totally different viewing experience.
We decided to adapt to the ‘new normal’ by coming up with this crazy idea – to put on a live performance whilst keeping everyone ‘safe’. We opted to activate one of our most precious spaces – the Terrible Baby terrace – and use the surrounding hotel rooms as theatre boxes. The rooms actually surrounded the terrace ‘stage’ in the same way balcony or stall seats in a theatre hall would.
What were you hoping audiences took away from it?
The performance presented something whimsical and fantastical, like journeying down a rabbit hole into Alice’s Wonderland. More importantly, it allowed guests to get a sense of life before COVID – the experience of taking in a live show as part of a live audience.
Have you ever been involved in a production of this kind, or one with similar elements to this?
I’ve been involved in outdoor site specific performances, but never in such an unique one where the audience members are isolated from the performers, looking down from above in the comfort of their own hotel rooms. It kind of feels like members of royalty in their private boxes in the theatres back in the day!
It’s interesting to see how perspective shifts when you view the performance from a different level. I would say this was definitely an unconventional performance, and I guess it could change how people view performances in the post-pandemic times to come.
How did you come to be involved?
Alice Rensy Productions proposed a wacky idea and concept she had with artist Constantin Leu. They invited me to participate in this whimsical journey that would happen at Eaton HK; the hotel is also known for supporting artists with unusual ideas and thought-provoking concepts.
When I heard about the idea, I was onboard immediately. I’ve done works in theatres and gallery spaces but nothing like this; I thought this could go really wild. I also enjoyed working with this duo as they have been very open about eccentric discussions and were down to try things out. Despite having to communicate via Zoom the whole time, the process was still a fruitful one.
What were some of the particular challenges when it came to the performance?
I did face a few challenges, one of which is how the audience’s perspective is shifted and how they have to view the performance from above. That was a big consideration but a really interesting idea to play with. Another challenge was the sound experience the audience would get from their hotel rooms and looking at the performance. It’s something unusual, but I do enjoy challenges like these. It’s personal training for the soul!
What are you looking forward to for the rest of 2021 and beyond?
Although this feels like the least creative time, I will continue to work and create. But it is actually fundamental to hold on to the only outlet that allows us to be in a different time and dimension – a quick escape from reality. In a way, being too comfortable is never good for an artist.
See more in our Living in Hong Kong section