Review- The Legend of Mulan- Hong Kong Dance Company


By: Joyce Wong


Based on the famous folklore of one of China’s most iconic historic heroines, Mulan by the Hong Kong Dance Company was a captivating dance drama that told the legend of Mulan in beautiful choreography, seamless storytelling, and visually arresting production. Director and Choreographer Yang Yuntao continues to impress with his work and I can now call myself a fan. 


The story is well adapted from The Ballad of Mulan (Mulan Ci), a canonized Northern Song poem narrating the historical tale of the heroine. You will find none of the Disney fantasy here; rather, the focus is on Mulan’s filial piety and her bravery to enlist in the army, dressed as a man, in place of her ageing father. Mulan’s heavy-hearted determination and her father’s torn reluctance were enacted in an emotional duet in Act I between Pan Lingjuan and Huang Lei. The duo danced a tug-of-war over a soldier’s helmet until Mulan finally takes it from her father, symbolically taking on the burden to enlist in the army. The duet flowed into a dancing chorus of soldiers in seamless transition and Mulan started dancing with a bamboo stick in martial movements like the rest of the army in training. Act I closed with Mulan dancing solo under a single spotlight and Pan won much applause with her skillful spinning of the bamboo stick. 


The standout is definitely the battle scene of Act II, with its powerful routines and full utilization of the simple and smartly designed set by Yuen Hon-wai. Mulan entered the Act with a strong grand jeté and it was a great to see the contrast between Pan’s graceful emotional routines of Act I and the powerful masculine choreography of Act II. Pan managed both with great skill; she was fluid and feminine to the tips of her fingers as Mulan the maiden and powerful with leaps and lifts as Mulan the warrior. Chen Jun also danced with vigour as the General in companion to Mulan and the male chorus suited in all black military costumes (Karin Chiu) was also a delight to watch. 


The backdrop was a simple mountainscape made with moveable set pieces of peaks. Behind each piece were hidden staircases that allow the dancers to climb the mountains. The whole design was so simple yet when the dancers positioned themselves across the peaks on different levels, the result was a spectacular mountainscape with a fighting army, especially when they stood waving battle flags. Another highlight in the Act was the use of two large moveable slopes that served as challenging platforms for the dancers to flip, jump, turn, and slide in a showcase of what the company’s dancers can do. Together with the wonderful lighting design by Yeung Tsz-yan, Act II also gave some of the best stage pictures in the show, including, what was the most powerful image for me in the entire performance, the lone shadow of Mulan on top of an illuminated mountaintop. 


Other memorable numbers included a military routine with shields, a nostalgic routine by the female chorus as the homesick Mulan reminisces about her innocent days of sewing at home, and a dance with lanterns as the women welcome home the returning soldiers. Wu Hei-man, who played the childhood Mulan, also deserves a honourable mention for her performance. Though she only had two short routines in the entire show, she was a joy to watch with her youthful energy.  


The entire production was quite impeccable from choreography to performance to design. The slightly lackluster aspect for me was probably the music (Matthew Ma). The score was piano-based for many scenes, distinctly opening the show with a delicate piano melody. Favouring western instruments was perhaps a decision made to give the traditional story a modern interpretation musically. Yet, I feel the piano, which is a more syllabic instrument by nature, didn’t really go with fluid movements of the dancers. Strings, and the nuances they allow, might have been a better accompaniment. It was also odd that hints of erhu or Chinese flute would flash in at random points in the mainly western score. Mulan’s homesick sequence and the lantern sequence towards the end both used more Chinese flavoured music that felt out of place with the other numbers in the show scored with piano or synths. Nonetheless, it should still be mentioned that the battle scenes were well accompanied with percussion, especially during the army’s ominous sequence with shields. The music didn’t interfere greatly with the overall effect of the production, but it would have been nice to hear a score that blended the East and West more harmoniously. 


Mulan is the HKDC’s second run of the show here in Hong Kong after a successful touring performance in New York’s Lincoln Centre earlier in March this year. This re-run made modifications clearly for the better, as I overheard more than a few audiences saying the show is more concise, better choreographed, and more visually appealing than the first time. Mulan will not disappoint and it will definitely get you looking forward to the company’s exciting productions upcoming this year. 

The Legend of Mulan is playing through June 14th. For more information, click here.

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Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 3.3


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