Mixing it up just for fun

Mixing it up just for fun

Is it comedy? Is it dance? No, it's Condors! The Japanese performers talk to Chris Lau

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Condor Grandslam_L
Photo: Keith Hiro
When the lights have dimmed and the pounding rock music has kicked in, the silhouettes of 13 dancers leap into the air.

With arms and legs stretched, they make a breathtaking turn before their toes touch the ground again.

But before the audience has the chance to respond with applause, the same dancers put on funny costumes and perform quirky, laugh-till-you-drop routines.

Combining dance moves with humour is the unique performing style of the Japanese all-male dance group, Condors.

Last week, the group blew their Hong Kong audience away when they performed their show, Grandslam, at the Hong Kong Arts Centre.

Condors' routine is a reinterpretation of contemporary dance, intertwined with comedy skits, such as puppet shows, short videos and live game shows.

The group was formed in 1996, and four years after their debut, they had already made it to New York - home of Broadway.

There, the crew performed their first show outside Japan, at an Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference. Since then, they have performed in 20 other countries.

Apart from Condors' strong choreography and whimsical comedy, the group has gained a reputation overseas by incorporating local elements into their shows.

"We always interview the local people," says Kojiro Yamamoto, one of the actors.

While touring, Condors always leave part of the script blank. They start writing it after they arrive at their performance destination.

With only three days in Hong Kong before their performance, Condors spoke to local people and journalists, and artfully wrote in new material for their tailor-made production.

The result was a show packed with references to Hong Kong.

"J for [popular Canto-pop singer] Joey Yung," the cast yelled during the puppet show segment, in which puppets are taught to remember the alphabet. "C" stands for our Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Here, a cast member held a placard reading, "Can Hong Kong trust this man?".

But, says director Ryohei Kondo, there is no tried and tested formula.

"We are not sure, of course, if Hong Kong people will like our jokes," he says. "So we have to adjust the show after our first performance ... [it's trial and error]."

Kondo says the dance style he brings to Condors is very unique. However, the football lover, who spent most of his childhood in South America, says the humour Condors convey is universal.

The inspiration to blend dance and comedy together came from old Japanese comedic legends, The Drifters - a four-person group famous for combining jokes with rock music, who once opened a show for The Beatles in Japan.

Condors' success does not just lie in this winning combination, however, but in the commitment of its members. Although most of the actors have full-time jobs - from teachers to yoga tutors - each one makes time to do their bit for Condors, aside from just acting. Some of them help make props, while others are videographers.

Nonetheless, a well-oiled machine cannot do without a good team leader, and Kondo is the soul of Condors.

Drawing inspiration from the game of football, he says: "I like to [run my company] like a football team. For example, the goalkeeper is here, and the defender is there ... They all have [their own] individual roles."

Playing the game has actually boosted his managerial skills, he adds.

Be it sport, humour or dance - it's quite clear that Condors perform for their love of the game.

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