Backing Down in the Face of Suppression Not an Option, the World Is Our Stage : Deaf Dancer

With the political environment in Hong Kong continuing to deteriorate, the arts sector, like all others, has also been under enormous pressure recently. Jason Wong Yiu-pong, a deaf dancer and choreographer of the inclusive stage play “Resonance Dance” scheduled for its first performance in March, received a sudden notice in February informing him of the cancellation of the play.The play was organized by the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation, which is a Hong Kong NGO. This may be related to his past role as a sign language interpreter for “Glory to Hong Kong,” the protest song, and other activities during the anti-extradition bill protests. As the artistic space in Hong Kong appears to shrink, Mr. Wong accepted an exclusive interview with The Epoch Times to discuss his future.Although deaf individuals lose their capacity to perceive audible signals, they can still dance to the rhythm the hard way, and that means they need to put in much more effort to accomplish that than their uninhibited counterparts. For more than ten years, Mr. Wong, who adores dancing, has strived to overcome that barrier; at the same time founded the deaf dance group “Fun Forest,” and pioneered Hong Kong’s local sign language dance.Last year, the stage play “Sign In Dance” that he choreographed for people with disabilities was well received, which led to his invitation by the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation to perform in the new stage play “Resonance Dance.”He has been an advocate for democracy in Hong Kong and whole-heartedly fought for the rights of the deaf community. His sunny and optimistic image is deeply anchored in the hearts of the public. In the face of suppression, he still chooses to remain optimistic: “There is not just one path for me to take; the world is big enough [for other things]!”Earlier this year, when the performance met some roadblocks, Mr. Wong initially felt lost but soon picked himself up: “What I want to say is that life is very short, and you only have one go at it. I hope everyone will keep fighting for opportunities, meet the people you want to see, and do whatever you want. Just do it, don’t wait for opportunities.Related Stories“The road ahead may not be as clear cut, or it may not be perfect, there will always be difficulties, but you must cherish the people in front of you. The most important thing is that everyone unites and walks hand in hand, like a family charging forward as one.”In February 2023, Jason Wong served as the choreographer of an inclusive stage play, “Sign In Dance,” and the performance was well-received. (Courtesy of Jason Wong)When the Stage Is No Longer Safe in Hong Kong ...Hong Kong, after the “National Security Law (NSL)” is full of “red lines,” which have recently spread to the art sector, and many groups have been suppressed since the beginning of the year. In mid-January, the Hong Kong Arts Development Council suspended funding for the Hong Kong Drama Awards Ceremony organized by the Hong Kong Federation of Drama Societies.In early February, the theatrical group “Fire Makes Us Human” was criticized for “online comments” made by its members, which led to the refusal of the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity to let its venue, citing its adherence to the guidelines of “National Security: Specific Measures for Schools,” resulting in abrupt stoppage of the stage play after full rehearsal.A month ago, members of the “Fun Forest” dance troupe were still actively preparing for “Resonance Dance.” The performance was scheduled at the Youth Square Y Studio, where it had done a similar event last year. However, they received, unexpectedly, a notice from the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation, the organizer, to cancel it. All corresponding event information was deleted from relevant websites and social platforms. It is speculated that the association’s disqualification from the performance may be related to Mr. Wong’s involvement in filming the sign language MV for the “Glory to Hong Kong” song and his past role as a sign language interpreter during the anti-extradition movement.“Glory to Hong Kong,” the trademark anthem during the Hong Kong anti-extradition movement, has been widely sung. It was sung spontaneously by people at various scenes of the pro-democracy movement, also widely shared on the Internet, heard during Hong Kong athletes’ participation in international sports events, and occasionally even played as the “official” national anthem of Hong Kong during ceremonies.On June 5, 2023, the Hong Kong Secretary for Justice applied to the High Court for an injunction to stop this song, prohibiting the public from disseminating it on any social platform. Even though this injunction has not been granted as yet, it has triggered worries within the Hong Kong cultural groupings, causing the art sector to impose “self-censorship” and virtually suppressing artists who have played any role during the anti-extradition movement.For the abrupt cancelation o

Backing Down in the Face of Suppression Not an Option, the World Is Our Stage : Deaf Dancer

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With the political environment in Hong Kong continuing to deteriorate, the arts sector, like all others, has also been under enormous pressure recently. Jason Wong Yiu-pong, a deaf dancer and choreographer of the inclusive stage play “Resonance Dance” scheduled for its first performance in March, received a sudden notice in February informing him of the cancellation of the play.

The play was organized by the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation, which is a Hong Kong NGO. This may be related to his past role as a sign language interpreter for “Glory to Hong Kong,” the protest song, and other activities during the anti-extradition bill protests. As the artistic space in Hong Kong appears to shrink, Mr. Wong accepted an exclusive interview with The Epoch Times to discuss his future.

Although deaf individuals lose their capacity to perceive audible signals, they can still dance to the rhythm the hard way, and that means they need to put in much more effort to accomplish that than their uninhibited counterparts. For more than ten years, Mr. Wong, who adores dancing, has strived to overcome that barrier; at the same time founded the deaf dance group “Fun Forest,” and pioneered Hong Kong’s local sign language dance.

Last year, the stage play “Sign In Dance” that he choreographed for people with disabilities was well received, which led to his invitation by the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation to perform in the new stage play “Resonance Dance.”

He has been an advocate for democracy in Hong Kong and whole-heartedly fought for the rights of the deaf community. His sunny and optimistic image is deeply anchored in the hearts of the public. In the face of suppression, he still chooses to remain optimistic: “There is not just one path for me to take; the world is big enough [for other things]!”

Earlier this year, when the performance met some roadblocks, Mr. Wong initially felt lost but soon picked himself up: “What I want to say is that life is very short, and you only have one go at it. I hope everyone will keep fighting for opportunities, meet the people you want to see, and do whatever you want. Just do it, don’t wait for opportunities.

“The road ahead may not be as clear cut, or it may not be perfect, there will always be difficulties, but you must cherish the people in front of you. The most important thing is that everyone unites and walks hand in hand, like a family charging forward as one.”

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In February 2023, Jason Wong served as the choreographer of an inclusive stage play, “Sign In Dance,” and the performance was well-received. (Courtesy of Jason Wong)
In February 2023, Jason Wong served as the choreographer of an inclusive stage play, “Sign In Dance,” and the performance was well-received. (Courtesy of Jason Wong)

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When the Stage Is No Longer Safe in Hong Kong ...

Hong Kong, after the “National Security Law (NSL)” is full of “red lines,” which have recently spread to the art sector, and many groups have been suppressed since the beginning of the year. In mid-January, the Hong Kong Arts Development Council suspended funding for the Hong Kong Drama Awards Ceremony organized by the Hong Kong Federation of Drama Societies.

In early February, the theatrical group “Fire Makes Us Human” was criticized for “online comments” made by its members, which led to the refusal of the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity to let its venue, citing its adherence to the guidelines of “National Security: Specific Measures for Schools,” resulting in abrupt stoppage of the stage play after full rehearsal.

A month ago, members of the “Fun Forest” dance troupe were still actively preparing for “Resonance Dance.” The performance was scheduled at the Youth Square Y Studio, where it had done a similar event last year. However, they received, unexpectedly, a notice from the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation, the organizer, to cancel it. All corresponding event information was deleted from relevant websites and social platforms. It is speculated that the association’s disqualification from the performance may be related to Mr. Wong’s involvement in filming the sign language MV for the “Glory to Hong Kong” song and his past role as a sign language interpreter during the anti-extradition movement.

“Glory to Hong Kong,” the trademark anthem during the Hong Kong anti-extradition movement, has been widely sung. It was sung spontaneously by people at various scenes of the pro-democracy movement, also widely shared on the Internet, heard during Hong Kong athletes’ participation in international sports events, and occasionally even played as the “official” national anthem of Hong Kong during ceremonies.

On June 5, 2023, the Hong Kong Secretary for Justice applied to the High Court for an injunction to stop this song, prohibiting the public from disseminating it on any social platform. Even though this injunction has not been granted as yet, it has triggered worries within the Hong Kong cultural groupings, causing the art sector to impose “self-censorship” and virtually suppressing artists who have played any role during the anti-extradition movement.

For the abrupt cancelation of “Resonance Dance,” the organizer did not respond directly. After being pressed by Mr. Wong a number of times, the organizer just repeatedly mentioned to him that “production rescheduling” was in place and still refused to provide a reason for the cancelation.

On Feb. 14, with all the hard feelings, Mr. Wong typed a few lines on social media: “You can disqualify me as an individual. That’s fine for me. But you cannot cancel the entire performance just because of one person’s remarks.”

Faced with suppression, Mr. Wong and the members of the dance troupe felt very helpless. Some deaf dancers joined the group for the first time, and their chance to perform was gone before they even took to the stage, which was a significant blow to them, seemingly shattering their dreams.

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In February 2023, the cast and staff of “Sign In Dance” took a group photo. (Courtesy of Jason Wong)
In February 2023, the cast and staff of “Sign In Dance” took a group photo. (Courtesy of Jason Wong)

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When the small stages in Hong Kong were forced to close, Mr. Wong and the members of the dance troupe set their sights on the bigger world stages elsewhere: “After the performance was blocked, I received support from friends and many people. What’s really touching is that not only Hong Kong but also the whole world cares about me.” Having been deprived of the opportunity to perform in Hong Kong this time, he is also actively thinking about a way out, hoping to look beyond Hong Kong for opportunities in the future.

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Challenge the ‘Impossible Tasks’ Again and Again

There is a catchphrase in the movie, “The way we keep dancing: For the sake of dancing, how far can you go?” These words are also a portrayal of Mr. Wong’s breakthroughs one after another over the years.

Music is a luxury in Mr. Wong’s family. He was born in a “silent” environment. His parents, brother, and aunt are all deaf, and only his sister has normal hearing. When he was a child, he could also hear sounds. Once, he went to a neighbor’s house to listen to music, and he would also compete with his sister to answer the phone quickly.

Unfortunately, after he had a fever when he was three years old, his hearing began to decline, and he was completely deaf by the age of six. He then went to a special school and learned sign language. After leaving school, when people with good hearing surrounded him, and he was the only one who was deaf, he would feel unhappy whenever he saw people chatting. Because when no one realized he was deaf, they often tried to talk with him. As there were also not sufficient sign language interpreters in Hong Kong, he found it difficult to integrate into society.

When he was 20 years old, he saw someone dancing on the street, and he could not help but try it himself. Later, he found an institution where the deaf could learn dance. Three months later, he participated in a Hong Kong dance competition. Out of all expectations, he came second and got the chance for a free dancing tuition course.

Most of the students in that school were normal-hearing people. Most of his deaf classmates who came with him quit one after another because they could not keep up with the progress. He was the only one who persisted and studied for a full year. During that time, he came up with the idea of ​​starting a dance company of his own, hoping to provide additional opportunities for more deaf people to be exposed to dancing.

In this way, “Fun Forest” was born in 2010. It is so named to give the impression that the world of deaf people is like a quiet forest, but as the people outside of it are also curious about what happens in this mysterious forest, it is hoped that through music and dance, a bridge can be established, allowing outsiders to enter the forest and understand the world of the deaf.

In 2014, he received funding from the Arts with the Disabled Association Hong Kong to further his dance studies at the Broadway Dance Center in New York. After returning to Hong Kong, he led the dance troupe to perform around the world. He used a special method of experiencing music, observing movements with his eyes, and feeling the rhythm with his body, through the vibration of the stage and the motley of light colors to match the inaudible music. And in this way, the “impossible task” of deaf people dancing to the beat of the music is realized.

Mr. Wong’s story touched many people, and through his efforts, he helped many deaf friends regain their confidence in life. He also directed and starred in Hong Kong’s first sign language musical, “Lighting Dance of Silence,” in 2014, which was adapted from his personal experience. It was selected for the 4th Hong Kong International Deaf Film Festival and became a winner of “International Deaf Film” at the 4th India International Deaf Film Festival.

After “Lighting Dance of Silence,” Mr. Wong once again played the leading role and left Hong Kong to shoot the film “The Voice of Dance” in India. The film had its world premiere at the 10th Hong Kong International Deaf Film Festival.

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Jason Wong (C) was in Greece to participate in the World Deaf Basketball Games in June 2023. (Courtesy of Jason Wong)
Jason Wong (C) was in Greece to participate in the World Deaf Basketball Games in June 2023. (Courtesy of Jason Wong)

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In life, Mr. Wong always has a sunny smile. He lives in a silent world, but his life is more colorful than many ordinary people. He has a wide range of interests and loves to play basketball. In June 2023, he represented Hong Kong in Greece to participate in the World Deaf Basketball Competition.

In 2022, he also represented Hong Kong and went to Thailand to participate in the Miss & Mister Deaf Universum. He won third place in the 9th Mr. Deaf World Beauty Pageant, setting a record for Hong Kong deaf people in the history of international male beauty pageants. His story inspired deaf friends around him. In 2023, the competition was held in Italy. Marco, a deaf friend, became Mr. Photogenic and Champion of the 10th World Deaf Beauty Pageant, proving the ability of Hong Kong people on the world stage.

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After Jason won the second runner-up in the 9th Mr. Deaf World Pageant, his deaf friend Marco (L) became the Mr. Photogenic and the winner of the 10th Mr. World Deaf Pageant. (Courtesy of Jason Wong)
After Jason won the second runner-up in the 9th Mr. Deaf World Pageant, his deaf friend Marco (L) became the Mr. Photogenic and the winner of the 10th Mr. World Deaf Pageant. (Courtesy of Jason Wong)

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He Hopes to Have More Opportunities to Perform Abroad

The stage of “Fun Forest” is not limited just to Hong Kong. Before the pandemic, they had performed in the United States, Singapore, Japan, and Thailand to promote the dance culture of Hong Kong’s deaf people. Their performances were also very well received by the locals in those countries.

Mr. Wong shared: “Our performances in foreign countries are very popular, and they accept us very much. Compared with Hong Kong, foreign countries fare better in art and dance. There are also many deaf people in them, and more and more deaf people are participating in the arts because there are lots of people who support and fund them, which is quite rare in Hong Kong. There is almost no development of deaf people in artistic activities and very little overall. So, it feels like you must do it yourself and use your own money for that purpose, making it exceedingly difficult.”

He continued: “There are places that I have never been to before, and I want to go there to perform. So, I may not just focus on Hong Kong, as we all know that will be difficult here. There would not be much chance for government funding approval even if we apply for it again. So, we all know that the road is difficult. But it doesn’t matter, there are always ways to solve it. Think out of the box for ways to deal with it and solve it by yourself. For future development, I hope to go to various places to see more and find opportunities for cooperation there. Maybe also in Hong Kong if some other artists or groups want to work with us. They are very welcome, and I hope there will be such opportunities for collaboration.”

Mr. Wong revealed that although the performance in Hong Kong was canceled this time, they will not give up on performing. Currently, there is one Asian city that is in contact with them, and they are discussing performance arrangements. They hope that the audience can see it on stage again soon.

He also mentioned that the dance company is preparing to shoot a new sign language dance MV, tentatively titled “Road”: “‘Road’ means what has happened to everyone recently. It seems difficult to face the road ahead. Then how to find hope? How to persevere? How to trek this path? Everyone should continue to keep faith in their dreams!”

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