Sex and the solo dancer Choreographer Ming Hon puts pornography in the spotlight in provocative PTE production
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This article was published 18/02/2020 (959 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Wearing knee-high stockings and a lacy camisole, Ming Hon tosses herself gracefully onto a twin bed in the rehearsal space at Prairie Theatre Exchange. Her every move is followed closely by a camera operator.
The 36-year-old Winnipeg dancer, choreographer and performance artist is the star and creator of Exciting Consequences, a new production that uses movement, dialogue and live video to discuss pornography and its impact on sexuality in real life. It premières Wednesday night at PTE.
For Hon, the work is the climax of her artistic career — at least for now.
“I’m known as this person who does sexually provocative work,” she says. “This is about me reflecting back and thinking about all the sexual narratives and themes of the past work and (asking), ‘Where do I go on from here?’ ”
Hon was born in Hong Kong and raised in Winnipeg. Her dance journey started at age six and was inspired by two very different experiences: watching a performance of the ballet Swan Lake and a taking in a screening of the 1983 movie Flashdance with her parents.
“It was like those two things that made me who I am today,” she says, laughing.
She studied with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet until she discovered the delightfully abstract, yet somehow more realistic world of contemporary dance at the age of 15.
“It was just so physical in a way that was in such opposition to ballet and everything I had learned,” Hon says. “It just looked so human and it really sparked me that there was another way of performing.”
She enrolled in the School of Contemporary Dancers’ professional program, and upon graduation, realized she wanted to be more than a vessel for choreographers. She wanted to create her own work.
An opportunity with Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art opened the door to performance art and inspired her first solo show, Cleaver Piece, in 2010. It was a response to dance teachers who advised Hon to make art about her Chinese heritage and her experiences growing up as an “outsider.”
“Even then, I’d take (the advice) and then critically, by myself, I’d be like, ‘This is such bullshit, as if I have to make something about just being Chinese,’” she says. “It’s inspired me to just keep working and just be seen for who I am and it doesn’t have to be always attached to being Asian or Chinese.”
In Cleaver Piece, Hon wore a little black dress and played provocatively with her grandmother’s hefty Chinese meat cleaver.
“You want me to make this piece about my cultural heritage… this is what you’re gonna get,” she says. “It was aggressive, but I was really proud of it.”
At the same time she was finding her way in the dance world, Hon was consuming as much pop culture as she could through movies and film. As a teen she worked at a local Pick-A-Flick, a now-defunct video rental store, and later took a position on the Manitoba Film Classification Board, where it was literally her job to watch movies. The recurring tropes and clichés she noticed in films have influenced her own work.
For the last five years, Hon has been travelling the world performing Chase Scenes #1-58 — an hour-long show that presents 58 cinematic chase scenes back-to-back without context. A gender bias quickly emerges that sees men depicted as heros and women portrayed as victims running away from attackers and towards their own demise.
“What does it do to a young girl to see a woman run away in distress over and over and over again?” Hon asks.
That same line of questioning is what inspired Exciting Consequences.
Described as an “autoerotic autobiopic,” the show explores the common tropes of pornography framed by Hon’s formative sexual experiences — like discovering her dad’s stash of X-rated videos at a young age — and the growth of the porn industry since the 1980s.
“Pornography is for arousal and it works, but fast-forward to today and it’s accessible all the time, 24 hours a day, and there’s no holds barred on who can access it,” she says.
According to PornHub’s 2019 Year in Review, there were 42 billion visits to the adult entertainment website and 6.83 million new videos uploaded last year.
Exciting Consequences follows the familiar structure of heterosexual pornography: foreplay, penetrative sex, switching of positions and external ejaculation. Hon wonders what effect this format has on youth, who may be taking their cues from porn rather than sex education classes.
“Is that actually what private sex looks like?” she says. “I think for youth seeing it and if that’s their first encounter of what sex looks like, that might be problematic because it’s a fantasy.”
As the mother of a six-year-old, the subject hits close to home for Hon, who wants her daughter to grow up with a healthy understanding of sex, but isn’t exactly sure how to achieve that. It’s a surprising admission for someone whose comfort zone is being sexually provocative onstage.
“I’m open to talking about it, but I’m still uncomfortable thinking about how I’m going to have that conversation,” Hon says.
While Prairie Theatre Exchange has presented shows with mature content in the past, Exciting Consequences is the first that only allows theatre-goers 18 and older.
“I don’t consider it risky,” company artistic director Thomas Morgan Jones says. “For some it may feel risky or be uncomfortable in reception, but it’s not meant to shock.
“It’s doing what great theatre does, which is to put real life onstage courageously.”
Hon’s 60-minute performance is explicit but abstract and presented as if filmed in front of a studio audience, with actors playing the roles of a camera operator, makeup artist and stage manager. A live video will be projected on a large screen and the show is narrated by the Winnipeg choreographer and dance archivist Stephanie Ballard.
“We really want to show the strings and we like when the audience can see how things work,” says Jaymez, Hon’s longtime collaborator, who does not use his last name. “I think the audience needs to know that it’s a safe work. It’s challenging, but we take care of the audience.”
Ticketholders can expect a story that is equal parts serious, sincere, tender and funny, “because you can’t talk about sex without having some giggles,” says Hon.
Exciting Consequences is a production of Hon’s new company, A.O.V Adults Only Video — an homage to the now-shuttered Canadian adult movie rental chain of the same name and a reference to the mature themes often explored in her work. She received a good omen when she went to register the company name last year.
“I took my little tickertape number; it was actually 69,” she says, laughing. “I walked up to the kiosk and was like, ‘This is my lucky number.’ “
After Exciting Consequences wraps Sunday, Hon will step away from sexual themes — for the time being — to tackle the subject of death with a new Winnipeg dance collective.
“I like those topics,” she says. “It’s being an artist, it’s what you do, you pick at the things that people don’t want to talk about, you pick at the zit.”
— With files from Randall King
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Prairie Theatre Exchange Leap series
● February 19 – 23, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.
● Tickets $25; 18-plus only
● Audience advisories: nudity, sexual subject matter, mature themes, explicit imagery and strong language