The Turkish experimental modern dance group known as Taldans did their bit to correct the massive trade imbalance between Turkey and China by bringing a refrigerator to the Hong Kong Arts Festival this week. It was an unprepossessing appliance, held together by tape, as the door had come off its hinges. Dancer-choreographers Mustafa Kaplan and Filiz Sizanli, clad in workmanlike gear and wool beanies, spent the better part of an hour tipping the darn thing off balance – mostly batting it back and forth at each other while lying on their backs on the floor and catching it with their feet before it crushed them. They managed to rotate the fridge on its axis while doing this, showing off the unlovely fridge to the audience from various angles, rather like a ballet dancer promenading his partner on pointe.

<i>Dolap</i>(Mustafa Kaplan and Filiz Sizanli, Taldans) © Courtesy of the Hong Kong Arts Festival
Dolap(Mustafa Kaplan and Filiz Sizanli, Taldans)
© Courtesy of the Hong Kong Arts Festival
When they tired of that, they stood up and played more tipping games. Periodically, one of the pair would walk offstage nonchalantly, while the other would wrestle the fridge single-handedly. They scaled the fridge, using it as a kind of outpost from which they appeared to scout for enemy forces. With no obvious threat on the horizon, they leaned into the fridge until it went crashing onto the floor while they clung to it tenaciously. 

At one point, Sizanli grabbed a knife and sawed off the tape, allowing Kaplan to remove the door and experiment with balancing it on his head. In his careful movements he looked rather like one of the miraculous army of dabbawalas who balance crates loaded with tiffin boxes on their heads, conveying them to office workers throughout the Mumbai lunch hour.

Sizanli maneuvered herself into the open fridge, treating it variously like a bathtub, a boat, and an exoskeleton. Deciding to tape the fridge door back on, the pair procured massive rolls of tape and, in one of the most beautiful moments of the piece, Sizanli raced around the fridge in a wide circle, unspooling the tape and winding it around the fridge. There was something magical about the way the light caught the tape, the shimmering tautness, and the satisfying sound that it made together with the racing rhythm of Sizanli’s sneakers on the marley floor.

At the end of the piece, both dancers clambered onto the fridge, gradually found its tipping point, then BAM, the fridge hit the floor with an explosive thud, the dancers huddled protectively on top of it. In the ensuing calm, they sat companionably with their backs to the audience, dangling their feet off the edge of the fridge.

<i>Dolap</i>(Mustafa Kaplan and Filiz Sizanli, Taldans) © Courtesy of the Hong Kong Arts Festival
Dolap(Mustafa Kaplan and Filiz Sizanli, Taldans)
© Courtesy of the Hong Kong Arts Festival

With no soundtrack save for the whoosh of the sticky tape and the soft thudding of sneakers, hands and other body parts hitting the ground, punctuated by the occasional boom as fridge hit marley, Kaplan and Sizanli have created a thing of visual and aural splendor. As dancers they remained imperturbable throughout – even during the fraught moments when it seemed like death-by-fridge might be imminent – but most striking was the expression of mild skepticism on their faces, as if they were never quite sure how things would work out.

Dolap, as the piece was called (in Turkish it has many meanings including cabinet, hoist and cabal), was a unique reminder that a duet is above all a matter of trust and instinct. These two qualities were on ample display in the other dance of the evening – Stephanie Lake’s intriguing and virtuosic Dual for Alisdair Macindoe and Sara Black. The intention was to deconstruct a duet by having the dancers perform their movements alone, then come together to repeat the movements in a shared space. The interlocking of those movements transformed how they were perceived.

<i>Dual</i> (Stephanie Lake) © Courtesy of the Hong Kong Arts Festival
Dual (Stephanie Lake)
© Courtesy of the Hong Kong Arts Festival
Obviously many of the partnering moves, notably the lifts, could not be perfectly reproduced in isolation. That only added to the intrigue. The conceit was cleverly articulated, and in the intimate environment of the black box at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, one sensed the collective ah-ha moments from the audience as the duet unlocked mystery after mystery. What had originally appeared to be random gestures when executed in the solos became bodily manipulation, caresses, physical entreaties and offers of support. The explosive, twitchy vocabulary seemed to express defiance in the solos but revealed hints of desire, submission and conflict in the duet. Lake’s formidable intellect was clearly on display here, enhanced by the sometimes uncomfortable electronic score by Robin Fox.

The pairing of these two works in what is now the ninth installment of the Festival’s Asia Pacific Dance Platform was not ideal. Both were spare and severe in aesthetic. But while on the surface enigmatic, Dolap subtly conveyed drama, comedy and suspense. Dual in contrast felt a little too clinical and would have been better matched with an overtly lush, expressive piece.

****1