The DANSCROSS 2009 Blog which follows is now presented chronologically as an archived blog narrative.
The DANSCROSS 2009 Blog which follows is now presented chronologically as an archived blog narrative.
I’ve been in Beijing for three days now, spending time in the studio both with Shobana Jeyasingh and Zhang Yunfeng and their respective dancers. In Shobana’s case in particular, the choreographic process is a process of working out what the choreography is. This gives me food for thought – but it also begs a question regarding my own role, since I feel the same could be said of that: the research process is a process of working out what the research is. I have a sense of what it is, but it’s not something I want to discuss on the blog.
Instead, I will make a few observations about how this is playing out.
1) Where should I put myself, and what should I do? I try to make myself scarce, half-hidden behind the piano. I try not to move too much, which of course puts me into an ironic relationship with my ‘objects of study’; I have joked that my immobility is in direct proportion to the dancers’ activity. What a slob!
2) The dance studio is a dynamic visual space – these dancers are people who have grown up looking at themselves in the mirror, subject to an exacting degree of corporeal discipline and surveillance by their teachers, and trained to be looked at by a paying public. Everyone in the room is watching and learning in one way or another.
3) But should I do anything other than watch? When I see a performance I may be studying, or even listen to a conference paper, I never take notes. It’s a distraction. I am reminded, too, of a comment in an article on rehearsal ethnography by Gay McAuley, where actors told her that they couldn’t work out the rationale behind when and why the researchers took notes, and that this unsettled them. I took a few notes with my back to the group on the first day, but it didn’t seem right. Yesterday afternoon, though, there were so many little details and fragments that were of interest, it felt appropriate to write. So there’s a right time for writing.
4) Interviews? I’m discinclined. I’d rather chat.
I laughed when I saw this photo of me on the Chinese blog. It reminds me that as much as I look towards the dance, not only do I look away from myself, but am oblivious to the fact: and being ‘reflective’ is only half the answer. There’s an ethnographic parable in that.
Because this trip was arranged quite late, it took a while for final ethics approval to come through from my university for things like formal interviews and video documentation. Up until then, this was the only picture I took. No human subjects!
There are many studios like this at the BDA – seven per floor (I think), on 7 floors: some are larger. It’s hot right now, and as you approach the building, you catch the sound of 49 pianos (give or take a Korean drumming class and a Danscross project or two) wafting out of the windows, and glimpse the slender backs and necks of resting dancers, catching the breeze.
Having got into the habit of not documenting the dancers directly, I’m minded to carry on in the same vein – by indirections find directions out, and all that. This is the view from studio 405.
As they warm up at the barre, the dancers’ spines align with the tower (it’s closer than it looks in the picture), and their legs with the arm of the crane. Occasionally, while they are dancing, the crane swings in, right over the roof of the BDA – a graceful counterpoint, not unlike the relationship between this picture and the one below, in the posting ‘Another moment’.
So, as per ‘Notes on observing’, the process has its blindspots. But I guess this city/body relationship is the kind of thing an observer is predisposed to notice, born as it is of a wandering gaze, the sharpening and blurring of focus as one’s attention is by turns compelled and released. Marginalia? No more or less, I think, than the researchers themselves.
In a short presentation to the group yesterday, I described the choreographer Zhang Junfeng as having a velevety Chinese smoker’s voice. He talks a lot to his dancers as he works with them. The tone is soft, almost hypnotic; the voice deep, though not so much rough or gravelly as richly burred. It’s a reminder, as if we needed one, that there is a materiality to speech, and that the choreographic process entails the transmission of corporeality as much as the embodiment of ideas.
For Junfeng’s dancers, then, it’s a kind of passive smoking: that somehow they incorporate the material effects of his habit into their muscles, movements, sensibilities. Minus the carcinogens, of course. More generally, passive smoking is a feature of social life in China that is striking to the non-smoking visitor from places where the default setting for public space is, as the sign in the Golden Peacock restaurant round the corner says, a ‘No Smoke Region’. And anyway, as far as I can tell, in places like the UK, smoking is in decline – except among dancers. The other day, I overheard a woman talking about her daughter: “She turned down a job offer from British American Tobacco. She said to me: ‘If the Chinese want to smoke themselves to death with their own cigarettes, that’s their choice – but I’m not going to persuade them to do the same with BAT’s'”.
The weather is changeable. Brilliant blue skies give way overnight to a hazy fug. A crisp, cooling breeze transforms into harmattan-like flurries of dust and sand that topples bicycles and launches litter briefly skywards. It’s played out in miniature when a smoker’s exhalations catch the light. Similarly, for the first few days I tramped the thoroughfares, wondering where the life had gone, and reflecting that Beijing was anything but human-scale. What, I wondered, is the place and value of dance in such a spaced-out city, where even crossing the road is a journey in itself. No wonder so many of the otherwise featureless modern office buildings fill their street-level retail spaces with foot massage parlours!
Of course, the human is here. Just behind the BDA, there’s a buzzing street scene, and as the heat of the day lifts from the pavements at about 6, the smells and scents of the place rise with it and separate out: flowers, fruit, piss. At night, the grilled meat stalls fire up: to order, you must enter a cloud of charcoal smoke, scented with fat and seasoned with szechuan pepper. At 1.30am the other night, I looked up from my low plastic stoll to see it shafted through with streetlight, like a nightsun. Yesterday, Shobana’s dancers were working on an unusually melliflous sequence. (I know ‘mellifluous’ refers to sound, and was going to invent ‘mellifluent’ to describe it, but given the point I began with, it seems apt enough). I said to Janet O’Shea, who arrived yesterday, that they looked like heavenly maidens, wafting through the clouds. Later, the interpretor told me that she translated one of Shobana’s instructions using the Chinese term ‘move like the clouds’.
Soon, I too will be moving through the clouds – substantially faster, but nowhere near as elegantly. I’ll breathe the rarified air of the plane, and perhaps commit to it some residues of the atmospheres I’ve been enveloped by over the course of my stay.
I have just found a video of Elisabeth Gilbert talking about the artist creation process (see link below). As DanceCross questions this matter, among others, I wanted to share this with you all. It is just 15min, it’s worth watching until the end (when the dancer and the “olé!” are brought together!).
PD We will miss you Paul!
Both of you!
How can I refuse a summons like that? (Paul’s ‘Over to you, Jay’, below)
I arrived in Beijing midway through phase one of the project. I can’t comment with any authority or conviction on the choreographic process, because I entered the studio and saw nearly finished dances being rehearsed.
So I am going to talk about the dances, not about their process of being made. I tell my students that looking at movement dynamics is a way in to writing about dance, especially if it is unfamiliar. Here’s a chance to try out my own advice.
I’m also taking this approach because I think movement dynamics is an area of difference between the two dances and, possibly, between the dancers’ experience of working on them.
Continuous, sustained movement characterizes Zhang Yunfeng’s piece. A breath rhythm governs the dance. Momentum carries the dancers through from one position to the next. This is not like the ‘moving like the clouds’ material that Paul observed because the movement is rarely light; it is grounded without being rooted. There is also a clear sense of attack that launches each phrase. But this attack throws the dancers into sweeps and spirals (now I’m talking about space, I know; but these things are not easy to separate) that carry forward seemingly until the momentum dissipates. A fall-and-recover principle seems to generate much of the material.
Fast and staccato are the key features in Shobana Jeyasingh’s dance. The phrases are grounded, punctuated by sudden, articulated jumps. There is a clarity to each movement, giving the dance an architectural quality. Changes of level and direction are frequent (space again, I realize); they add to the sharp, clear-edged quality of the material. Momentum is interrupted so that positions emerge in focus. An occasional indirect movement leads almost inevitably into an angular, articulate shape.
I’ve never seen Chinese classical dance but I wonder if some of the principles that Yunfeng uses emerge from that movement vocabulary. This way of moving seems more organic to the BDA dancers than the dynamics of Shobana’s piece.
I read that Dancross is designed to facilitate inter-cultural collaboration and I’m thinking about what that term might mean in this context.
In the US and in Britain, when we speak of ‘intercultural’ dance work, we refer to movement languages, an exchange between the vocabularies (units of movement) and syntaxes (systems of organization) of different forms. A dialogue between movement languages does seem to be at issue here, especially in the work that Shobana Jeyasingh has done with the BDA company dancers, who are trained in Chinese classical dance and Chinese folk dance.
However, a central issue, at least from what I have seen in rehearsals and heard about in the roundtable discussion, is less movement language than choreographic process. Specifically, it seems like the dancers found unfamiliar Shobana’s task-based approach to working with their own movement vocabulary. The dancers working with Zhang Yun Fang seem more comfortable with his method of teaching completed movement.
This is a matter of culture, but not of national ones. As Mu Yu and Shobana have both pointed out, there is no reason to assume that a choreographer will be representative of her or his (national) culture. But there is reason to think that choreographers’ work engages their experience and intersects with the institutional structures, working conditions, and funding opportunities that the work develops out of.
The dancers come from a large-scale, nationally funded conservatoire that is geared toward producing excellence in performance. I have seen dozens of classes, in ballet, Chinese classical dance, martial arts, Chinese folk dance, for students of a range of ages, all clad in identical leotards, tights, and ballet shoes, drilling in technique. It’s not hard to see, in this, the link to Russian ballet training – the rigors of training, the emphasis on technical accomplishment, the sense of being part of a system.
The contrast with the working conditions of the dancers in Shobana’s company is evident: project-based work in a small, regularly, but not heftily funded company, developing out of independent dance work or other small company experience.
What is interesting here, I think, is the way in which economic and institutional conditions contribute to expectations around ways of working. Patterns of project creation and of funding facilitate certain working processes. This returns me to the linguistic metaphor: what needs translating in this case is not only the languages, but also how they are spoken.
Ok… it may appear that I have been hiding… but I have been here in Beijing for almost 5 days now swimming in thoughts & actions… I am in my hotel room (gorgeous room that it is) I have a can of (luke warm) Tsing Tao beer & music playing & the sun is setting over the National Library on a Monday night.
The first & perhaps the most important thing I want to say is that how amazing & beautiful the dancers are… & I have worked with lots of amazing & beautiful dancers from all over the world. Here I find a generosity & openness that I have not experienced for quite some time. I am surprised at how the dancers have responded so quickly & articulately to the movement sequences & directions I have given them. Stylistically there is a move away from my “habitual”, “idiosyncratic” movement language – which is a linier / angular / yet a “round – flowing” one, to a very organic / grounded / smooth round flowing one …
I often ponder about the time as to when the choreographer hands over the work to the dancers… How does the choreographer maintain his/her signature / thumb print on a work? Is it necessary? Who does the work belong to? Do I want to see 6 John Utans’s dancing on stage? Or do I want to see Liu Xiao, Chen Chen, Ya Bin, Sheng Feng, Wei Feng & Yuan Jia?
I think I want to see Liu Xiao, Chen Chen, Ya Bin, Sheng Feng, Wei Feng & Yuan Jia… far more interesting & beautiful then looking at JU…
I might order some ice & open another beer…
Now, back in London, I have had some time to think about the experience of being in Beijing, working with Shobana and the dancers in the studio. What was my position in the project? As Paul Rae suggested to me in one of our inspiring conversations, I could say I was a kind of translator or mediator: I was trying to express with my body what Shobana wanted to get from the dancers, the quality of movements, the precision, the intentions…
Of course, the main problem was the language barrier. The translator was with us from the very beginning (not easy to get used to the time delay when passing across the information). But as we had simultaneous actions happening in rehearsals (as is usual with Shobana), by the begining of the second week I felt I had managed to communicate with the dancers using a kind of esperanto vocabulary. This consisted of very basic English words (verbs and directions mostly), some Chinese expresions (like numbers, “one more time”, bits…) and finally, and most usefully, sounds. I managed to develop an incredible repertoire of sounds to express movement dynamics. This was new for me. It’s true that I always tend to let the breath tell me what to do while dancing, but that’s very different from teaching movement dynamics through sounds. It actually worked very well and, like the system, we all (the dancers and myself) felt we were communicating in order to achieve what Shobana wanted. They also gained a certain understanding of the intentions behind the movements, and how to apply them while dancing the full piece.
I imagine this project (dealing with Shobana’s movement) has been a difficult task for the dancers, as they found themselves having to work very differently from their previous experiences. After my time with Danscross, I feel the universality of dance is not quite as obvious as we might think (I need to keep thinking about this…) But I’m glad to know that during the process we crossed that difficult edge and, after lots of hard work, I managed to establish a common land where sounds (and a full range of nuances between them) became a point of contact between two dance worlds.
Hope the new team have a good time there and enjoy the process. Best regards from London.
Where else on earth can one sit, have a delicious Chinese lunch, an iced-coffee complete with a mountain of whipped cream, write on the ResCen blog & have a cigarette ???
My last day of my first week – I return to Hong Kong this evening. It will be good to have a distance of time & space & to return to the whipped cream mountain of material that the dancers & I have made at the end of the month. I can see changes & additions & cutting away already. I mentioned to the dancers that I will send directions via email & that the piece may change entirely from what it is today to the day I return, & then again…
We are going to have a showing this afternoon, sharing week one with the dancers & choreographer from the other group. We have made a lot of material, all open to possibilities, that ran for about half an hour at the last run !!!! Don’t panic as the phrases, duets etc will overlay each other, fall apart, go faster & slower… We have decided to do an “extended mix” this afternoon and see what happens… The performance work will be structured & decided upon… this afternoon’s impro play is part of the process and will also be part of the performance. In a way we are rehearsing the “uncertainties” of the work itself – which is also something that shouldn’t be rehearsed, planned, structured… Confused? (Sorry – I think I have started in the middle of the story.)
The dancers are working on a title for the work… I’m intrigued to see what they come up with. & I love the idea of finding a Chinese word & translating it into English.
I hope to add some images & video here when I get back home…
I would love to hear from people who have been in the studio with the dancers & I – & particularly if anyone sees the run this afternoon… words, images, impressions & thoughts of actions…
Again, I must say, the dancers are beautiful & I could watch them for hours…
Shobana and Zhang Yunfeng have
completed rehearsals and have left
the studio, Zhao Ming and John then
enter the studio and start new
rehearsals with the dancers. Paul,
Janet, Mu Yu and Zhang Ping have
completed the observing and
thinking, and left the studio; Anita,
Liu Chun, Jin Hao then enter the
studio and begin to look into the
rehearsal process. It is like a
kind of interesting relay race.
The difference is that people are
handing on the passion of creation
and the sparkle of new thoughts instead of a
baton. There is no result called win or
lose, everyone will meet at the end
point and share the experience of
After the first phase and half of
the second, the choreographers,
scholars and dancers are already
gathering some unique experiences.
During this period, I was coming in
and out of studios accumulating a random sample
of feelings and impressions.
However, one consistent aspect was the deep feeling of the
meaning of “crossing boundaries” that initiated
DANSCROSS. There are at least three
main aspects: creative process
(practice) and academic studies
(theory); different professional/aesthetic
areas of choreography, research,
performance and design; different
cultural backgrounds and perspectives.
All this is being woven into and through these days
So, see you at the end point.
Things contextual and cultural
Where to start from … and I have tried to start three times and changed my mind each time! I finally decide to start with a question about the context in which John (Utans) and I find ourselves in this project. We both work at the HKAPA (Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts), and thus work in what is very much a Chinese environment – but one which has a fascinating inter-cultural mix (and ‘inter-cultural’ used here in a broad sense). The APA is – a BFO!* – in HK which is part of China; at the same time, however, it stands (politically) apart from China. But the APA also has a strong western influence that comes through in various ways: leadership at the top, for instance, is (and has been for most of its 25 years) in the hands of non-Chinese; certainly that applies to Deans of Schools – currently 3 of the 5 are from the west, and one of the other two has strong connections with the UK. This inevitably affects/influences what is done and how it’s is done. In the School of Dance more specifically, each of its five Deans (starting with Carl Wolz) has been/is from the west – initially from the USA, and more latterly from Australia (although I bring some UK experience to the job). Many of the teaching staff, however, are Chinese, either local Hong Kongers, or from Mainland China, with one from Taiwan: we are roughly 50:50 in respect of east/west mix. By contrast our student population stands at 97% Chinese – this includes those from Hong Kong (the vast majority: we have only about 26 students who are non-local (including one from the Ukraine!), the number capped by the government at 20% of the Academy’s total undergraduate population of 750), from Mainland China, from Malaysia and from Singapore. So working intensively with young Chinese dance artists in a creative, artistic environment is nothing new for either of us. That said however, there are distinct differences between students from the Mainland and those from Hong Kong, differences that are due largely to the education and social conditions that prevail/have prevailed in each.
The School also has a mixed dance culture in that we have students majoring in Ballet, in Chinese Dance, or in Contemporary Dance. At the same time, we have gone a long way to break down the walls between the three streams, to the point where Ballet students have Contemporary Dance technique classes and vice-versa, and Chinese Dance students are able to choose either Ballet or Contemporary Dance. Importantly each semester we have what we call a ‘cross-stream’ work for performance – a work (contemporary) where the dancers are from all three streams. (John has choreographed three of these.) So: intercultural in more ways than one!
Given the context, I am constantly aware of being an ‘outsider’, and so constantly aware of cultural differences, and being sensitive to these differences (although I don’t always succeed!). Some of this awareness is possibly heightened by my own background as an immigrant child – the one with a funny name, who had dark rye bread sandwiches for lunch, and whose parents would insist on talking to her in a funny language! (This at a time in Australia when immigrants, no matter where they were from, where labelled ‘wogs’.)
* BFO stands for Blinding Flash of the Obvious – a term used by one of the lecturers at the Management Development Programme I attended at Harvard; and a term that has stayed with me. Its meaning is self-evident (or – in the context of the below – is it??)
Musings on language
It’s often been said that dance needs no words – it’s a universal language that crosses all [cultural] boundaries. I have never been convinced! Language of the more specific kind certainly matters when you are choreographing – to get your ideas across, to go into the detail, of explaining the inspiration/deeper meaningfuls behind what you’re doing. Some things remain difficult to articulate in your own language, let alone in someone else’s!
If I had any reservations, then they have been put to rest by the experience of this past week. Language, and the detail of the communication, is quite crucial. Let me just illustrate with a couple of examples of things that have happened ….
Take for instance, translation ….
John has/we have an excellent translator in – firstly – Emily Wilcox. She is an American doctoral candidate who has spent considerable time in China over the past 6 or so years, some of that time spent in intensive learning of the language (and so the culture as a whole: no way can you access the culture other than superficially without being able to use the language to communicate with people – and to communicate on more than a superficial level). So Emily is fluent in Chinese, and the same time has a good understanding/sense of movement/ dance (including observation): she’s able to give fluent instruction/ explanation …… But at times she also appears to expand on what John is saying – I say ‘appears’ as I don’t have any understanding of Chinese (beyond ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and the odd other word or two!), so have no real clue, other than the observation that she speaks for a good more time that John (a man of relatively few words). There are also times when she and the dancers engage in discussion that is [obviously] outside what John has said; and times when John gives some instruction to a dancer – who then asks questions/ for clarification – which are answered without reference to John. This may be simply connecting to what he’s said before – or it may not be. His humour, too, is possibly not translatable – at times a bit edgy, with a bit of a bite to it (and, some might say, very Australian!).
Our second translator – Annie – is Chinese/local, doing a masters at UCLA Riverside (if I remember correctly): while her English is good, she is not a native speaker, and in this particular context, appears not to be totally at ease with her role.
The dancers have a range of English capability – if they have more, they are reluctant to use/show it, although there is some evidence of one or two being able to do a little more as time goes on. Y however has a reasonable facility, and at times acts as translator. She is quick to ‘cotton on’ to what John wants, and this leads me to ponder …….the need for a dancer to be able to access the more subtle aesthetic and creative nuances that are part and parcel of a choreographer’s ‘tools of the trade’ (and thus an integral part of the creative process?). Choreographers work through the body/its movement (another BFO!), but they also rely heavily on imagery, on putting the practice/process into a context, on drawing on aesthetic principles – all of which have language implications. John also throws in the odd phrase in Cantonese – but this tends to confuse rather than help things (mainly because it’s so different from Mandarin/ Putongua). He also makes various ‘throw-away’ lines/ comments that are probably not translatable – even were they understood! (So for instance: “… trying something altogether different – because it’s Saturday”.)
So, then, the question of what gets lost in translation – and more to the point perhaps, what is comprehended in the first place.
The problem of language is less overt (in respect of the creative process) in the other group where the choreographer – Liu Ning, who is assistant to designated choreographer Zhang Ming – and dancers both speak the same language. But of course, I have little access to what is going on there because I rely on translation – and some of the time there is no-one to translate as Annie is often translating for John while Emily is attending class. So what I glean about the process comes from my observations – so even more subjective than normal, and inevitably superficial. I confess that at times it can be difficult to stay fully engaged as a result – even though there are always things of interest to pick up on.
One of my great frustrations – and one I’m sure shared by other expatriates – is the lack of Chinese, and thus the limitation on getting into deep discussion about whatever with the majority of my Beijing colleagues – and the dancers. This inevitably means that I remain the ‘outsider’, with all that that entails (the intention to learn more Putongua being one!)
In some ways it reflected some of what was happening in the studio: my train of thought could not be as fluent as it would were the presentation not translated … I had to be conscious of simplifying my words – although I did not want to simplify them too much: so needed to strike the right balance. Essentially it was a process of negotiating my way through, rather than being able to freely present (simply an observation and not a criticism!).
There were then questions from the floor: for most part they were translated … and so were my answers … However I think this went reasonably well – the questions were not so particularly choreologically oriented, so were perhaps less ‘problematic’ in respect translation. But again it brought home to me some of the issues inherent in language and translation, and in words – their use and their meaning.
Phrases and such (John’s)
Try not to use the mirror
[… the task] becomes more complicated …. but more fun ….
A little bit like a conversation ….
…. but all this could change …
In a way you shouldn’t listen to the beat …. I don’t like it when it becomes very on the beat ….
Looking really Chinese ….
OK la …beautiful ….
For the moment
So – I enter a liminal space that begins at the airport, when everything I am doing ceases to be and everything I am about to do has not begun. The moment of traveling. The moment of being in between places that is simultaneously a moment of here and now. There is nowhere else to be although I am in no place.
I am upgraded to business class – yea! Upgraded liminality – sublime!
Jet lag, reeling, floating. Take a map from the hotel foyer, begin wandering. For a while, maybe an hour, I relish being lost, in the moment, not knowing where I am going, not knowing where I want to go. Concrete blocks of buildings, functional, living and business spaces. Down town, highways, cross at your peril, even though there is a ‘green man’ traffic comes from all directions. Better to cross by the footbridges. No, I want to cross the road. I will mingle with this Chinese family and weave with them, they seem quite confident to meander through the multiple flows of traffic. Watermelons and peaches sold off the back of a donkey and cart, bicycles on
Small restaurant, I sit outside, under the trees, hot grey sultry evening. Rice, veg and some kind of steamed meat — pork? Chop sticks practice. I think about tomorrow. Dialogue with Kerry, she is here with her son. Go with the flow and a pretty fast flow it is. Perhaps approach the writing from four initial angles: Kerry’s communication with dancers and translator; description of developing process; description of what I see and the questions that emerge. Lets see what happens tomorrow.
I come prepared, with Proust, Cixous, Goat Islands’ Small Acts of Repair and a Thesaurus.
A diamond in the heart.
Summary: a rich, full and fast day. Kerry introduces her movement language, through class exercises, taught phrases and task based methodologies. The movement language and style of working is challenging and new for the dancers. The day was positive and energised, with the different qualities of the dancers becoming evident. I am including the notes of the first day (below) as they begin to indicate the source of a depth of knowledge, history and cultural difference that is within the movement and the transference/translation of movement between bodies. The notes include fragments of Kerry’s spoken words (in italics), descriptions of what happened, descriptions of process, issues of translation and some emerging questions.
Beginning in the studio
An atmosphere of curiosity, with introductions, people meeting in small groups in studio 702 – one of many identical dance studios in the building. This is a large square space, with a wall of mirrors, no different to any other dance studio the world over. We do not really notice the site, it is familiar, neutral within the context of dance training..
Kerry is excited, energized, going fast. She talks with Mandi, the interpreter, discussing how they might work together.
I can go fast, if you don’t understand, please stop me.
A group of 6 dancers, sit together on the floor, stretching legs and backs.
Eyes are eager, waiting, looking at Kerry. Kerry introduces herself and identifies each dancer by name.
Lets make a start.
The dancers immediately stand up, spread out facing the mirrors, with equal space between each body – the universally understood protocol for the beginning of a contemporary dance class.
Kerry demonstrates and talks simultaneously.
Stretch up, arms overhead, curve down, hang down, weight of the head pulls you to floor. Just hang there. Take big breath in, exhale, push back onto heels. Breathe, slowly rolling up the length of spine working.
A familiar beginning to a Limon based class. Kerry works for Wayne McGregor at Random Dance Company. She is here in Beijing as choreographer and in her role as Co-Director of Creative Learning, which also promotes Wayne’s work through her manipulation of his methodologies. The phrases and tasks she constructs are her own composition, yet drawn from Wayne’s style and movement language.
Falling to the side, arm comes up above head, hand flat, arm stretches in front of body, back arches away from arm… Bring arms come up like an eagle.
Plie, slow, four to stretch, using arms to help us up.
As Kerry demonstrates the dancers pick up the exercise through seeing and copying, a learning from outside to in, not through the words that are spoken. Kerry turns to ask Mandi to interpret ‘eagle’. The difference is immediate, the dancers fully embody that particular movement on hearing the word, the metaphor.
Mandi and Kerry now find a way to work together. Mandi stays right inside the action and translates as Kerry speaks.
What is ‘suspension’ in Chinese? We need the feeling of suspension a lot in this work.
This is discussed, and again there is an ‘aha’ moment, as the shared term brings deeper understanding.
Here is my hug, here my arms are really expansive, here is my fall, throw this arm over the top and my spine reaches over. My body is trying to stay leaning forward, like superman, I land onto my left, right, low on the floor – lovely. In my parallel, push this leg, cut underneath, then just walk 7,8. Mandi do you know ‘rebound’ in Chinese? No OK – so don’t lose momentum. Suspend, suspend, same thing here, then fall. Good lovely.
I watch a dancer as his leg goes up effortlessly high to the side. He hardly notices his own hyper extended leg. High legs are currency amongst these dancers, a necessity for a successful career. Yet, there seems to be little awareness of the extension. Perhaps because these dances were trained so young to achieve this extension, through a regime of stretching, that it is difficult now for the dancers to consciously own their extensions. I wonder if that they have dissociated from the pain, therefore dissociated from conscious placing and effort. The same leg finds it hard to take a normal step forward. Two contradictory qualities are at play, the hyper articulated and the pedestrian.
… 5,6,7,8, ear, ear, arm behind, don’t forget low, high, I am in curve, arch curve, like a tiger, my arms come with m… I should still be here on releve, step back on 4… my arms take me, in the air on 5, we run we run back, right leg, left, right, close. Suspend and fall, Attitude retire, my arms go swimming, my arms push the space away, step, bring foot to ankle… then we do left side.
I see you do arms and legs and not the spine. I am interested in what the back is doing –
The short but strenuous class allows dancers to meet Kerry, the atmosphere is eased through the familiar universal structure.
Kerry notices how the dancers are exhausted. Then remembers that this is new material for them, new ways of moving, new uses of the body – of course they are exhausted.
Kerry talks to the dancers about the work. We sit in a small circle on the floor.
For me, the work has got to have attack.
For two weeks, you may get tired, because the energy is like this (punches her fists in the air), but you are fantastic dancers and I want to show you off…
You have to meet me and be alert when we come in the studio.
For me ugly is good. I don’t want you to look in the mirror and making a pretty shape, it is more a sensation, more about the feeling than what it looks like. A lot of my language is distorted, and so quite extreme. Your bodies are trained, and I want to see how far we can take them. You may get sore in the lower back. So stretch when you can. I will sometimes give material, a lot of the time I give tasks for you to find the answers. This is interesting for me as well, as a choreographer, you can push me in another direction as well. So I feel it is a sharing of ideas rather than me leading. We are a company, I am in the company and I am learning from you as well. When I set a task and you are solving it, how you solve it is important to me, the process of how you get to the answer is sometimes more interesting than the answer. Remember! Till I say, this one is in the bin, remember everything. Wayne always says his dancers are his computer software, so you are my memory. I am going to be pushing your brains as well as your bodies. This will feel weird, but go with it.
Kerry teaches the dancers her 1st phrase.
She takes a deep lunge to the side, elbow jutting forward, arm at right angles. She circles her elbow outwards. Her chest moves against the circle, arching back, avoiding the arm. Now she has got two elbows jutting forward, circling without dropping…
You are a little bit polite and small, make it big, scary, I want it scary.
Her elbows break again like wings behind her back, she suspends, throws her arms forward, falls, her body curves over, her arms come down fast, then head, sharp sharp. Broken birds. She shunts, hips through, body pulled back distorted, all weight on the back foot.
Do you have a lighthouse in China, by the sea with a light shining all the way round? Mandi looks puzzled. Probably not. So this movement is broken at the hip, back straight, eyes looking, focus all round as you turn.
She transfers two phrases onto the dancers bodies, called part 1 & part 2.
I observe the process of learning, picking up the material, connecting mind and body, watching as the dancers try to keep their weight low, co-ordinate arms and legs in different directions, use their backs, remember complex sequences – all this seems new to the dancers, breaking habitual patterns of movement. As the material is performed faster and faster there is no chance for them to hold onto conventional aesthetics.
Kerry’s words as are often metaphorical in describing the movement. What is being translated is not what she does but what she says. The dancers pick up the shape of the movement from watching. The quality of the movement they learn from the translations of the language, from one metaphor to another.
The dancers do not know what Kerry is saying while she is moving, so she is being observed from 6 different perspectives. Kerry might be speaking about what her arm is doing, but the rest of her body is also moving. So the dancers, who do not understand what she is saying, might be focusing on something else that catches their eye.
Does dance transfer solely through the body?
Do words allow a deeper understanding in the body?
Is copying movement enough?
Movements are unpredictable, always catching a surprise, playing with dynamics, texture, speed, drop, turn, curve, circle, jump, arc, smooth, low, effort, hard, soft, sticky, silky, long, dragged, punctuated, staccato, one gesture at a time, with very fast changes. This is contemporary dance post Forsythe – fragmented, non hierarchical, continuous, multiple directions, movement that defies conventions of beauty, yet creates the beauty of distortion in its place.
Lets do: 1st group part one, part two, go away, 2nd group: part one, part two, go away, 1st group, part one, part two, go away, 2nd group, part one part two – lunch!
The work is in the task of learning and translating the surface of movement into a deeper place in the body. The work is in about becoming familiar or comfortable with the material. With so much extreme effort, I notice chaos, and I feel empty of centre, like a shell. The idea is to move so fast that the body is intuitively caught up in the movement, not perfecting or understanding at this stage. At this stage Kerry wants to jump their bodies out of complacency, out of smooth risk-less perfection. For her, working at speed is vital.
Kerry introduces a task-based methodology for creating material.
Today’s task evolved from Laban’s shape and effort, to Forsythe, to Wayne McGregor to Kerry Nicholls.
For now, lets call it ‘The point solo’.
Kerry instructs the dancers:
The dancers create solo phrases.
This requires concentration, detail, and precision, thinking into movement. Focus goes to the different body parts in juxtaposition with each other. When awareness is with one body articulation, intelligence is moving in other directions. No part of the body is sleeping. This requires direct attention and precise memory to a multiplicity of directions.
Next task –
Make duets with your solos, you are in the same cube together. Stay really close. Work through the material without crashing. I want it look like a conversation. Be aware of what the other person is doing, give attention to each other, and weave with each other without losing individual precision.
The dancers are tending to look in the mirror rather than relate to each other. They tend to make it look ‘right’ as a duet, rather than going for the discomfort and strangeness. There is a desire for confluence rather than conflict.
Keep going, the task is never done.
5 interventions are inserted into the duet.
Try to be investigative, keep going back to work it again.
I don’t want to see anyone sitting down; I want you up and in full energy all the time. You need to be up and creating without stop for 10 minutes, in a place of presence.
Kerry works closely on one duet, she looks at the material, pausing the dancers when she wishes to intervene. Adding, editing, creating the conversation, changing the timing, playing with dynamic, altering speed, looking for moments of contact, moments of risk, points of stillness, sharp stops, looking for changes in height, weight, sharpening, making rhythm, sorting eye focus, looking where and when, filling moments of dullness. She is directing and crafting the material. The dancers giggle, the energy high, there are accidental bumps and punches of knees and elbows. Kerry is inside their material as they dance, detailing exactness.
What are you looking for Kerry?
Looking for things that attract me, the extreme of physicality.
By bringing in a detail of my style, I can see how to get in and out of that moment. The detail tells me if I need the movement that follows. If it is too organic, I give them something to change that direction, diverts the pathway.
We have a debriefing process at the end of the day.
How do you feel?
Many things are new.
What is new?
The style and energy.
This is a good new style for everybody.
After two weeks with me it will feel like home.
We discover that the dancers have known each other for 10 years at the Academy.
Three dancers worked with Shobana. One worked with John Utans.
Three trained in Chinese classical dance, three in Chinese folk dance. None have had ballet as a first training.
What is the main difference between Chinese dance and this work?
Chinese dance is soft and circular. There are not the angular, sharp straight lines of this work. Chinese dance is like a ball of energy in the heart.
While this work is more like a jagged diamond in the heart.
Video clip: day 1 Wey fong & Wang lei
Video clip: day 2 Wang lei & Wang yabin
A day for Merce.
So – the dancers are sore in the ‘right’ places, inner thighs, abdominals, lower back and their necks. This is to be expected, and indicates to Kerry that they are working intelligently with the language, as the tension is not held externally, in their thighs or upper backs.
The style is more familiar to the dancers in class this morning; they execute the size of the material with more confidence. They retain the corrections from yesterday, only needing a gently reminder, so Kerry is able to build from there.
Kerry begins rehearsal with a task:
She teaches a phrase primarily for the legs, followed by a phrase primarily for arm gestures and torso. The task for each dancer is to put the arms and legs phrases together in his/her own way.
The leg phrase travels through space, sharp scissor like cuts and shifts of weight, low lunges contrasting high releve turns. Set to phrases of ‘8’.
Kerry’s persists with speed, driving the dancers onwards, keeping a fast rhythmic attack in the learning that keeps the dancers engaged. She demonstrates and talks – particularly calling out the counts as she demonstrates the movements:
Hip 5, knee 6, push7, heel 8… lunge 1.
Hidden in the leg phrase is a sideways triplet.
Did you see that Emilyn – that is for Merce!
Lets try it up to speed, with music…
The dancers do the phrase. Kerry corrects them:
This is all fine, then here — we need this to be very sharp and precise. This is good here and good here… but here I need you to go lower, stay longer here, and this should feel like a fall. Here, you have just got to move… this leg needs more energy, I didn’t see the energy of that heel, so push that first… these are really sharp, this has resistance, then it drops, it is a different feeling… this is all about this leg, not this leg… I am not interested in jumping, I am interested in long… (She darts across the space). Here I use my stomach and my knee – oh, it is hard work. This is lower, higher, a definite drop, one turn only, break, let me see the heel, then it opens, now you go up, break.
Mandi, Can you ask them if they are ok with the counts?
After the correction dancers do the material again, attempting to incorporate changes although the material. This is a challenge as the speed does not let up.
If by next Tuesday, it is still too fast, I will change it.
Kerry begins the arm phrase.
Arm stretches out to side, comes round to front, other arm comes up and through, quick shoot up above head, open arms out, explosive, throw it away, bring arm closer across body, fingers tickling, twist body with arm, shoulder lifts, two fingers pointing, plant them over head to other side, use focus as well to plant them, shoulder height…
I am going under my armpit, left hand 3,4. Picking up the arm, 5,6. Right arm comes through sharp, break in elbows 7, 8. This is like taking off a jacket. This is like a tortoise. This is like boxing – I love that.
The metaphors translated, bring instant recognition and laughter with the dancers.
Now the dancers take over, creating material that brings arms and legs together. They work as a duet and a trio (Sun rui is away today). Kerry stressed that she doesn’t want to see legs and then arms, but legs and arms working together throughout.
Kerry created these two separate phrases outside the studio. She did not make one phrase and then separate arms from legs. This way there is more chance of the material not making sense, encouraging a discontinuity as the dancers make their own dis/connections.
There is a paradox here – Kerry wants the dancers to work their whole bodies at once, yet not making sense — a non-sensical wholeness.
Dancers are happier with being more weird today!
Studio is alive, music playing, dancers chatting and warming up, changing T-shirts, Kerry working out a new phrase on her own, observers keenly watching. There is alive-ness and creative openness.
The afternoon begins with some exercises from class as a warm up. This is the 2nd day and the dancers have assimilated the exercises into their mind bodies, memory and body becoming one.
Kerry revises the phrases from yesterday -
She shouts above the music as dancers move — whoop, whey, sharp, reach, travel, yes, stop, and go, go… good, lovely, I like it!
New task: the dancers are asked to use inversion to create new solos with the leg/arm phrases. Turn your bodies inside out and upside down: Legs become arms, pelvis becomes head, head become the back and arms become legs. Solve the task in your own way; you can work on the floor. You work on your own. There is no right or wrong answer.
Material is composed and shown in two duets and a solo. An astoundingly beautiful depth of focused material emerges, fully embodied and assimilated. With the switch from arms to legs, the dancers are often upside down, standing on their arms, working from the floor into the air with distortion, wrangling articulation, twisting torso from legs, arms from shoulders, punching striking, stripping the space. Different qualities are emerging.
Kerry begins to choreograph two duets, giving material, hard and sharp and without pause…
At this point I go next door to observe Wang mei’s process.
I come back into Kerry’s work in studio 702 at the end of the day.
I missed a task, which was:
Lie on the floor and visualize the duets we have just made. Visualize both parts, imagine both parts. (3 minutes). Now stand up and show me your version of the duet – stay inside your visualization. Fix that visualization.
We are going to recap everything for 20 minutes, and then you can go home. The dancers are exhausted, but they are with Kerry. She holds them with her positive high energy, determination and no nonsense approach to the work.
We have 13 pieces. Recap.
Kerry sees each piece twice, working on a few details – they are knackered!
Debrief at the end of the day.
Thank you lets talk.
Your concentration in the task exercises was brilliant today. Yesterday was good but I can see the difference today. Did you feel the difference?
More productive today!
Do you feel you have worked your brain and your body?
More in the body.
For me there was more honesty today in attempting to do the task.
Any differences from yesterday in what you feel?
The way you approach your work feels more familiar.
How does your body feel? Other than tired.
I give speed because I think you can do it. I don’t give it because I want you to sink; I give it because I want you to do fly. I trust you; I will keep pushing because I believe in you.
Don’t push too much!
Are there any new differences?
The use of weight, the power, the attack to start. Our training before, in Chinese classical dance, is about lines of movement, following the patterns, following the lines. While your work interrupts the line with points.
What are you saying about the point and line?
The discussion that follows unpacks the difference between the linearity of classical forms and fragmentation of linearity in contemporary dance forms today. In classical Chinese dance there are no attack points, only smooth phrasing. Kerry’s work goes directly from point to point without climactic phrasing. Suspension itself is another point. Rather than a pull back breath of longing in order to go forward, there is simply the necessity for suspension for making the point. (I can get academic about this when I have time!) For now, it is exciting that the dancers are experiencing in their bodies these differences between convention and displacement. The theory is in the practice.
As I observe the material, I think again of Cunningham and see movements derived from his vocabulary embedded in Kerry’s work. I am thinking how a movement travels, like an epidemic, catches hold, is adopted, fostered, manipulated, transferred, handled, engineered, sold, borrowed, stolen, discovered by a thousand different choreographers and still manages to slip away to find a new inauguration elsewhere. And there is a Goat Island quote to insert here via Bergson & Deleuze – but I don’t have time to find it, I must get going on day 3.
Wang mei works at the Academy as a teacher and choreographer. Her background is ballet and Chinese folk dance. She is working with Liu mengchen, Ma linzhi, Chen maoyuan, and Shao junting. These dancers have been working together with Wang mei for a while and the material that they are working on was made previously.
As I walk in to the studio I see four dancers sitting on the floor, tapping the backs of their knees rhythmically on the floor, and then bouncing along the floor on their bums using their arms. Fast taps, then a drawn out lift of the bum, shifting in space, then drop.
Wang mei is looking at detail, spending time with timing. It seems important exactly how many bum bounces it takes before the hands move, the placing of the hands on the floor needs to be precise, who looks at who when and how, needs to be specific. Dancers watch each other and learn from each other.
Music begins. Bach (treated in some way, I will find out details tomorrow). Wang mei stops, starts, stops, starts, seeking the precision in timing that she requires.
Movements are repetitive and require unison of time and space – a challenge when movements are simple.
The interpreter tells me they are playing a game, like children, ‘natural and relaxed’. Yes.
Wang mei is now asking the dancers to keep their feet still, legs straight, and only the bums move in space, so that they move into a circle on the floor, their feet acting as a axle centre.
Now the dancers are squatting on their heels, bouncing in rhythm in rhythm, moving along the floor by twisting the feet and then shifting weight, with hands on the floor. Wang mei demonstrates the detail of how the foot twists. She does this without words. Liu mengchen copies, but is not exact. The dancers take time to observe the detail and assimilate it. Where to place the hands, how many bounces before the hands move forward, which foot moves first – these details are carefully resolved. The dancers try many different variations of a bouncing squat walk, playing with different rhythms of feet, moving forwards, backwards and circling – like a tongue twister, the hands and feet quickly become tangled. They experiment with folk dance steps while squatting! Wang mei works seriously with occasional long bouts of laughter.
Within a short while of watching I become aware of the differences between styles of working. (First impressions obviously).
Wang mei is working with simple repetitive movement and focusing on structures, choreographing shapes in time and space.
Kerry is constructing a complex movement language on the dancers bodies, where the focus on structure has not yet begun.
Wang mei is working closely with the music and the timing and placing of the movement.
Kerry plays music throughout the day to add energy, background atmosphere and attack to the movement tasks. Movement is not fitted to sound.
Wang mei stops the sound immediately she sees something that does not fit. She does not go on until is it correct.
Kerry is not working on perfecting movement to sound, as she does not yet know who will be performing the movement.
Wang mei is working on the complexity of timing with simple movements.
Kerry is working on the complexity of movement with simple timing.
Watching Wang mei work I observe a contained stillness and clarity, an attention to minimal gestural simplicity, no frills, no fuss, no explosive exaggeration or distortion. She is quiet while she thinks about the next movement, goes inwards to focus on herself. The dancers are left on their own to play with the squatting gestures, like a gathering of young playful frogs, trying out their tricks.
Kerry never leaves the dancers alone, even when they are working on tasks; she is in there with them. She arrives prepared with loads of material, holds the energy high all day, talks energetically to her dancers, rarely letting them rest, she is always facing outwards towards the dancers, never inwards to herself, the high speed rhythm of the day rarely breaks, she drives on persistently.
Today Wang mei’s dancers are always sitting down.
Kerry’s dancers are not allowed to sit down!
Wang mei is working slowly, exploding a moment of time into an hour, where less is more.
Kerry works fast, where three hours can become one minute of material and more is less.
These are my day 2 observations, without judgment or criticism. Both studios feel focused, alive, creative and concentrated, with strong relational contact between dancers and choreographers.
I leave Wang mei and the dancers in studio 703 as they continue to resolve details of timing, when to accentuate a movement on which beat in which phrase of music.
Getting lost at night, walking for hours, trying to find the subway. I come to a square with hundreds of people milling around. No, they are not milling, they are engaged in different physical pursuits. They are dancing. Over here are the roller skaters, wheeling round and round a central point, which consists of a bicycle, some boxes and a loud speaker with pop music blaring. Over here are disco line dancers. About ten lines deep, 30 people to each line, moving in unison timing, each in his/her own way, young and old. I can’t see a leader, but everybody seems to know what to do when the music changes. I move further around the square, here are lines of women dancing Chinese folk dance, led by two women who perform, smiling, engrossed in their dance. The women follow behind in lines, knowing what to do, old, young, fat, thin, energetic, minimal, many versions of the same material. The music blares out – but strangely drowning the disco happening 10 yards away. I walk on. Next there are the tango couples, with their own space, their own sound system, ignoring the sounds from around. Then lines of men two-stepping, separately but facing the women, a courtly dance, not touching, stiff and upright. Moving on I observe the fan dancers, in lines waving their colorful fans in unison rhythm. A big crowd is clustered round.
I am caught up in the sounds, the closeness of the bodies, each group of dancers’ oblivion of the existence of other formations, yet knowing they are all there together. Out to socialize, to dance together on a hot summer’s evening – every evening. The mundane ordinariness of the repetitive actions becomes special when performed by large numbers of people, everybody dancing alone, but together. How are the spaces divided? I wonder, does this depend on how many turn up, or are the territories fixed? The observers form a wall around each dancing group, acting as a boundary. I wander along the periphery catching glimpses, atmospheres, moods, dancing styles. Skirting the square are walkways and trees, couples resting, kissing, old men lying on their backs on benches working their abdominals, young children roller skating round trees, little children, heads shaved, naked, pissing on the ground.
I slip amongst the crowds, stared at by those closest, otherwise invisible, and drinking in what is an every day activity here.
Summary. After a very creative and energized day yesterday, everybody is tired — the dancers are exhausted. So the day does not produce so much material. Even so, what does emerge is ample for a day working at this level of complexity. The day focuses on the relationships between the dancers and Kerry, a playing out of power dynamics, who has control of time and how. There is good rapport; laughter and generosity circulate between them.
I walk into Kerry’s rehearsal near the end of the morning. A Zoë Keating track is playing. Dancers are working on duets.
Make obstruction duets. Using ‘elbow phrase 1’ from day 1, dancer A attempts to complete the phrase. Dancer B interrupts, intervenes, attempts to stop dancer A from performing the phrase. Roles can change. Compose this material. The terms stop, obstruct, prevent, encourage the quality required – fragmented, broken, jagged, complex yet playful and relational.
The music Kerry is using as texture during her process include: John Adams, Max Richter, Zoë Keating, Deru, together with Wayne’s Random sound tracks.
Kerry does not look happy. We chat. She is very tired from lack of sleep. The dancers also. They arrived this morning unable to move, exhausted. It took over an hour to get them with her. So she is rethinking her plans for today, in order to allow dancers to rest. The duet task this morning allows the dancers to talk with each other and this is giving them energy.
Early break for lunch.
Noticing one’s own process as a choreographer and how that affects the dancers — this is part of the relational process for creative contact. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’, we are all in this together and how we meet each other requires respect, awareness, enquiry and presence.
Kerry discusses starting points for this afternoon. She shows me a folder with 22 transparencies, 22 diagram drawings of a city. You are the City, Observations, Organisation and Transformation of Urban Settings, (Petra Kampf 2004). Each transparency represents another interpretation. The 22 diagrams are divided into four categories: ‘Cosmological Ground, Legislative agencies; current, Flows and Forces; Nodes, Loops and Connections’ (p.11).
‘Cities are an everyday invention. They are informed and imagined by many people at a time…. Cities are an open stage for complimentary and conflicting encounters, and allow for multiple identities to emerge and evaporate. They are backdrops for dreams and desires, a platform for departures and arrivals. … Cities are impermanent – they are in a constant state of transformation, in which unpredictable changes keep their structural organisation shifting from one state to another’… Cities need to be viewed as transitional entities in which their local is to be found in the idea of moving points, animated by different forces that interact with the urban construct’ (Kampf 2004 p.2).
For Kerry, this notion of the city is the quality she is looking for in the work. For me, the notion of complementary and conflicting parallels the discussion we are having with the dancers on linearity and fragmentation.
She is also playing with a title: ‘Cleave’, suggesting a contradiction between piercing/ cutting and adhering/being faithful.
Kerry explains the transparences to the dancers.
We are looking at one transparency today. Lets take this one.
Working as 6 people, choose one journey; follow any of the lines of movement in the transparency. But work together.
Without much debate the dancers agree on the line they wish to take.
How are you going to represent those jagged lines?
Where is your audience?
Work as if you are one person.
There must always be two people in the air being lifted.
When one person comes down another person comes up.
Lifts can be quick, but as soon as one comes down another goes up.
All 6 of you have to working, so join together.
If you are not lifting you are working to change places.
You will find yourselves laughing; I want you to take it seriously, not to miss the possibilities.
Every person needs to be in the air twice.
It should have a watery kind of feeling and it needs momentum.
You can work with flow, impulse — show me Chinese flow.
You are one animal, you move together.
Working as a sextet the dancers begin to work the task – and yes, much laughing begins the process. Kerry is close by, engaged, anticipating. They begin to get more serious, talking, constructing, and resolving clumsy potential. I wonder if they have had any contact improvisation? Possibly not! They construct the lifts looking in the mirror. They play, create, and fall, thump. I am interested to notice how they relate, who is in, who is out, who has the power, who makes decisions. Without understanding what they are saying, they appear equally involved, working things out together.
I wonder about improvisation rather than construction. Yet, in a sense, constructing in this way is new for them. Usually they work with harmony and flow they are very skilled at that. So this awkward sticky playful design is creative conflict – the flow can be added later.
I leave Kerry to go next door to Wang mei.
I come back as Wang lei is performing his solo. He is dynamic, strong, dark, dramatic, makes bullet points. He is fluid yet weighted, into the ground, sultry.
Kerry works with Wu shuai on his solo material. Kerry crafts, shifting directions, dynamics, changing arms, placing of feet, elaborating the material, directions in space and deciding on eye focus. In contrast to Wang lei, Wu shuai is a light dancer, particular, petite with delicate finesse.
Today Kerry has added two more nuggets to the repertory of material.
14. Obstruction duets.
15. Water sextet (based on the architectural transparency).
Kerry talks through plan for tomorrow.
She is thinking — no new material, but dancers teach each other material, a giving of gifts, teaching and learning, which will bring greater ownership of material.
Giving the movement away brings closer ownership.
Kerry is on the edge of beginning to structure and craft the material. The music is giving her suggestions as to the order of material.
In Wang mei’s studio the dancers are on the floor again, this time lying on their stomachs. I have not yet seen these dancers standing up! Wang mei is also on her stomach with her toes turned under so the balls of her feet are on the floor. She is explaining to the dancers how she wants the feet to move, tiny stutters that move sideways, curving her body.
One body rolls slowly over, while another stutters her feet. Chen maoyuan sits and judders with his toes, they all judder forward on their stomachs, moving on the balls of their feet, hands supporting them, elbows tucked in. Small movements, precise, the focus is on timing and choreographic structure rather than the complexity of dance language.
Now comes a long search for the exact moment in the music for this particular sequence. Wang mei needs a technician to run the sound for her.
Working for so long on one small detail, I wonder where in the piece this 30 second section might be. I feel as if I am peering into a tiny brush stroke on a painting – the stroke expands to become a whole work – before pulling out to see how miniscule this moment is within the bigger frame.
I notice I am becoming absent, this is not because of the material or the process. Rather because I do not know what is being said – and so much is being spoken.
But even without the language there is something here about how the process is exchanged. Liu mengchen is turning from her front onto her back perfecting the detail of how that is done. Again and again she tries, each time slightly different, the placing of arms, legs, sharpness of the turn, facial expression. Eventually Wang mei calls her over to closely watch as she demonstrates the move. As she demonstrates, Wang mei lets out a cry as she turns onto her back, a cry between pain and ecstasy, with her neck slightly arched, yet her arms and legs relaxed and suspended in the air. The dancer watches the sudden anguish of the demonstration and copies. We move on. Every move is given this amount of attention.
Ah – a translator comes to sit with me, Rae.
She is asking the dancers to move more like in daily life, to try not to be like a dancer.
I ask if this is familiar work for these dancers. No, he says, the work is different for them, for Wang mei has very strict requirements. Yes, clearly!
Because of the simplicity of the material, nothing is hidden in this work, all is transparent, and all is revealed. Hence the attention to detail.
Another single moment becomes a search for movement quality. Chen maoyuan is rolling onto his back fast, his legs in the air. We take time here. What is happening?
He is trying to find the quality of the movement that Wang mei requires. She wants him to throw his body over fast, move his legs up sharply, yet not fix his legs, so his legs continue to move with the weight, yet suspend, yet control, yet without letting people know that. And in time with the music. Controlled freedom, using weight, finding the place between tension and release. Abdominals needed here!
I am aware of the luxury of time here at the Academy. In the independent dance scene in the UK, how many choreographers can afford the time to spend a day working on the minute qualities of one or two movements?
I quote from Jay O’Shea’s blog. The differences between the choreographers’ ways of working is perhaps ‘a matter of culture, but not of national ones… there is no reason to assume that a choreographer will be representative of her or his (national) culture. But there is reason to think that choreographers’ work engages their experience and intersects with the institutional structures, working conditions, and funding opportunities that the work develops out of’ (O’Shea blog May 25th).
I need to find out more.
(I am aware that I am not asking questions of the work as I said I would do on day 1. I am not asking questions of relational aesthetics, ecological practice, devising processes, cultural difference, language translation, and choreographic practice. Nor am I asking questions of the dancers’ relationship with Kerry, how knowledge is transferred, the mirror techniques, the affects and attunements of the process. Nor am I making parallels with theories and philosophies that emerge from the work. The immediate is too present! I am simply writing what happens in the studio – for now).
Weifou is not here, he is in hospital, with an old back injury. 5 dancers again. Plans are scuppered for this morning.
Kerry begins with Zhao zhibou and Wu shuei, working with the obstruction duet; cleaning, finding stops, extending lines, sorting phrasing, making, breaking. Kerry pulls out moments, signposting points that consequently have a shared consciousness. With her interventions, she enters into the duet, creates fissures, and cracks in the material. These moments become points of shared awareness, beginnings and ends of phrases, places from which to start, pick up and continue. Shared ownership.
What began as an obstruction, an interruption to the material, has become a movement. The cut becomes a space, the space becomes a movement.
Kerry works on a new solo for Sun rui, testing their relational contact through the sharing of the material. His long thin legs go up and up.
Men — back to the leg/arm phrase. — with a new front, facing the windows. Ladies — facing the back of the space. Men once through without arms, then ladies join, all do the leg phrase with arms.
Kerry is beginning to layer the material in the space, bodies in space and time.
2pm start. But no one is ready. Two dancers are asleep and no one else is here. 2.20 the dancers have arrived but no one has warmed up. Kerry decides to talk with them, even thought there is no interpreter.
I am getting a little unhappy, this may be a cultural thing, but in UK if class begins at 9.40am then dancers are in the space warmed up and ready to go. Here, you are asleep. If I say rehearsal begins at 2pm, I mean 2pm… I need you with me.
Kerry gets the message across positively and respectfully, yet clearly. She needs the dancers to be with her for the length of the rehearsal. The dancers tell us that this two weeks is summer holiday time, and they are coming in especially to do the project. Perhaps this contextual information helps to explain their attitude.
I can feel Kerry’s frustration in my body. I know that feeling of expecting to work with dancers and finding them low, tired, with sleepy energy – how difficult it is to lift their energy – I feel myself dropping and with that goes confidence. The relational contact breaks down. I see it happening here with Kerry. Her talk with them helps to catch that feeling early. She is so ready, so ‘up’, speeding, moving three paces ahead, punching the air, driving the beat, hauling the dancers along with her. If they drag behind it is five times more exhausting for her to keep going at this pace. (Many questions here of ways of devising/directing).
Kerry is crafting, structuring material. The dancers are spaced in a flat horizontal line, coming forward, men in unison, and women in unison. Adding new material as she goes. The line travels down front, with sharp cutting movements, one gesture for each beat, each gesture thrusts in a new direction. Nothing is smooth; all is fractured; yet the shards create a whole. The solo material coming forward in the line breaks into duet material.
The dancers copy the material beautifully, immediately after Kerry demonstrates. Yet retaining this image in their bodies appears to be more of a challenge. The tendency is to lose not only the shape of the gesture, which inevitably includes a multiplicity of specific directions in space, but also the ability to shift between movements with clarity. Wang lei and Wang yabin have this ability. On the other dancers the material can look mushy, lacking articulation and precision, details are compromised. If the dancers work a little slower they find the clarity. Working at Kerry’s speed is a new experience for them. (Again questions here of devising methodologies).
I go next door.
Wang mei is on her stomach demonstrating how the legs scissor and slide. Yes, they are still on the floor, working slowly. Wang mei has a blister on her elbow. I am not surprised! She is waiting for a plaster.
I leave and go back next door.
Contrast – POW! Kerry is asking the dancers to do the next run full out, so she can see if her answers work. Kerry is going even faster, pumping out her counts. The dancers are straining, staggering, but they are with her.
So, what is the intention here, working fast with movement in a complexity of directions?
This seems to be becoming a challenge of power and endurance — can the performers keep up? Will Kerry give a break in the marathon?
This is a challenge of technical skill, will power and stamina for the dancers. Is that the core of the work?
We are inside the engine of a technical dance language, (we are inside the racer that is Wayne McGregor!). And what history do these dancers have of Wayne’s work. Do they know the context in which they are working? There is a myth that if dancers are not working full out when Wayne enters the studio, he might decide to get on with something else. (A myth, but there is something here about the need for dancers and choreographer to meet and match creative energy). Kerry carries this legacy. She has to – she has a piece to make. Yet she does not want to set up a hierarchy of power and fear. Testing testing. Driving on (edited august 3rd).
Would it be useful for the dancers to learn more of the context, to watch some DVDs of Wayne’s work for instance?
Scaffolding is being erected on the windows outside. Men are walking on single planks and poles, constructing the platforms, 8 floors up, without harnesses attached. Another test of endurance?
Men, do you remember this phrase? Kerry goes through one of the phrases she taught them.
Task: Work a version of that phrase on the floor.
Task for the women:
Take the letters: C L E A V E
Take 6 body parts: left side of the ribcage, sternum, hip, shoulder blade, foot and ear.
Take each letter and each body part and find a movement to describe it on the floor.
Write on the floor as if writing in the sand.
The 6 movements should flow.
How Kerry relates to the dancers influences the material that is made. Her fighting energy brings the attack and drive into the work. Translation of language is not just about the content, or the ‘what’, but the ‘how’, the quality of the translation, the style of contact and transference.
The men play as children, making a compelling piercing phrase. How can this child like creative enthusiasm be contained? Will the articulation be retained tomorrow? Explosive energy comes in waves, it is unsteady, unpredictable, dazzling. When it is not there we have fuzzy, mushy, unarticulated scratchy, fiddly, sloppy dancing. I am not sure these young dancers know how to sustain and contain energy.
Kerry works with Wang lei for another 15 minutes, extending his solo.
This is perfect, this quality is perfect, this is just what I want.
I go next door to Wang mei.
Although continuing to work on the floor the dancers have changed position in space. They are sitting up, facing the window, in a vertical line upstage. They continue to work with the movements of babies, and the contradictions between pedestrian released gestures, precise timing and exact unison, which gives the work a quality of taut simplicity.
They work on the moment of change between the horizontal line and the vertical line, who goes where, and who moves first, to achieve the shift in two beats, 7,8. There is much laughter and discussion, as they try to accomplish this task. It is achieved by using less effort, going there directly without wasting energy.
I am caught up again by the difference.
For Wang mei less is more, movements are stripped to a bare minimalism, requiring concentration on details of placement and timing with a centered stillness and core strength.
For Kerry, energy is pounding outwards, attack is outward, stamina and technical brilliance are always required, in a survival of the fittest.
Wang mei has until November to make the piece.
Kerry has two weeks.
Working the Gaps
Kerry looks like she might be riding a slight panic (with positive energy of course). There are 4 dancers in the space. Wu Weifong is injured and will not be back till Monday. Zhao zhibou is off this morning, and Sun rui will be off this afternoon but zhibou will be back. Kerry asks the dancers if they will all be there next week. Reassured, she accepts that today and tomorrow will be without full cast. She needs all 6 dancers to work the sextet, the trios and the legs/arms line. As yet, she has had only one day with all 6 dancers present.
She shows me her rehearsal notes, she has structured most of the material now on paper, with the sound score. Now her structure needs to be worked in the space, which is tricky when dancers are not present. There is no time for re-thinking, the dice is thrown, and there can be no wondering or wandering into the gaps that have appeared. Kerry needs the dancers here, present and full in the space.
She begins rehearsal working with the men’s floor phrase, begun yesterday. Wu shuei, Wang lei, Sun rui. Cleaning the details, counts, spacing.
I watch the solo for Sun rui.
…Slide through, deliciously pointed foot, shove hip, look, turn, arabesque, perfect, deep on supporting leg, spin, arms over the head, drop hands, stagger, stagger, hands on bum, travel, drop head, leg up, clap hands around knee, slide hand down sternum, hands to ribs, hands to bum, extending those legs, those violently beautiful extensions, slicing in the air. Exquisite, a tall sinewy swan, sharp swift and linear.
I watch the solo for Wu shuei.
…Reach arm back, step forward, parallel rise, stop, drop, jump, thrust hips, circle, smooth, catch, throw arms down, straight legs jump, snake through, pull out, sharp arms down, smooth ripple of back. Small, tough, cheeky, direct hits and fluid as a butterfly!
Kerry begins to structure material. Wu Shuei’s solo links into the men’s feet phrase. Kerry sorts the spacing, fronts, diagonals, facings, corners. Concentration on the legs.
A gap appears — 4 counts need filling before the repeat of the leg phrase. Kerry pauses, her body hesitates, opening up the gap for a new something that has not yet been figured. She searches for a movement that travels, she knows where she needs to be, how many counts. What will be the movement that emerges? Hold that moment unfixed, just for a moment — then she is off, the movement appears and fills the space — two runs and a skidder — and the gap is filled.
We are in positive space, punctuating points in space, on the beat, movement happens on 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 7 & 8 – even the stops are sharply accentuated. Gestures cut rather than absorbing the space.
And then there is dancers’ remarkable ability to remember material! We tend to take this for granted, for it is assimilated into daily training from an early age. Memory of movement is a fine skill.
Have some lunch gentlemen.
Studio 703 Wang mei
I have gathered information. The piece is based on a poem. I am given 4 translations. Here is the first (translated by Lin Yutang):
In my young days,
I had tasted only gladness.
But loved to mount the top floor,
But loved to mount the top floor,
To write a song pretending sadness.
And now I’ve tasted sorrow’s flavors, bitter and sour,
And can’t find a word,
And can’t find a word,
But merely say, “What a golden autumn hour!”
The composer is Bach with an overlaying score treated by a Chinese composer names Fan ZongWei.
As expected, the company is sitting on the floor, discussing the fine details of moving forward on their bums. Who moves first, how they move, on what count, the quality of the move, the extent of each lean forward — are discussed through collective wrangling. The timing of the movements reminds me of musical counterpoint.
Wang mei often steps into the piece and one of the dancers takes over the direction. Her energy matches the dancers, no more, no less. Yet she clearly has the final say. The work looks inwards to its internal functioning, its group rhythms, rhythms composed of 4 parts, 4 layers. Each dancer’s part brings a different counterpoint to the whole, a 4 part score. The question is – how are they reaching decisions – as it seems to take a very long time! Wang mei seems passionately absorbed in the problematic details of space and time.
I return to studio 702.
Kerry is working with Wang yabin. Here are some of Kerry’s words, caught as she directs.
… Yea, so from here, quite like to see the hands, hands go, hands drop, can this be bigger, exactly, carry on, judder, hit emilyn, travel, carry on, small, small, small, big. Exactly and carry on. Ah, so could I have this with this shoulder, big, big, exactly, just make sure, stop it, then go, then shoulder, yea, and then yabin, you can do this one on 4, nice, two arms legs in, good yabin, where does your solo finish? Urr, so literally from here I want you to go… do you need a minute to think?
Yabin does the solo again, this time I try to catch what I see – writing as I watch.
…Still, eyes, mouth smiles, step, leg round, arm air swift, sway, shunt out sideways, criss cross, hand on floor, curve, split legs, turn, swan lake wrists, elbows in, hug self, circle arms, throw above head, head snake, foot up, cramp, elbow, heel, lunge, hips turn, spin, twist arms around, fingers judder, ripple back, whoa, fall to floor, circle hips, tiger walk, skidder on feet, shoulder circle small, small baby, fetus, lengthen out, hips smash, hands flipped, draw along the floor, skidder round on one hand, lie back, shoulder twist, turn, kneel, skim along floor, stomach tense, head lifted, snake whisper with hair…
We go downstairs to the BDA office, to look at Random videos, to give context to Kerry’s work.
Kerry discusses the rehearsal process and checks out how the dancers are remembering the material and assimilating it into their bodies. She is used to seeing dancers working all the time. These dancers rest while not working and then get up and do the material pretty well remembered. So how do you remember?
Dancers: In middle school this is most important in the training.
Tomorrow is Saturday, we will start at 11am. I want you there with energy, focus, for three hours. I want you there with bright eyes and energy. Good plan?
Dancers happy to begin later tomorrow!
Day 6 Pulling together
Wayne’s blog comment reminds me to write what I respect and learn from Kerry as she works. Her tireless driving energy and rhythmic pace is an inspiration, as is her thorough preparation of material, her ability to demonstrate and translate the language onto the dancers bodies, her patience and her ability to cut the crap and get on with it. Yet there is something else very special that I learn to do with how Kerry relates in the studio. She has the ability to surrender to the creative process. I don’t mean a ‘giving up’, but a generosity, a giving of self to the dance that emerges, a giving of self to the relational dialogue. What I mean by this is that the work is not about her, rather the translation of material between them. She leaves her ego elsewhere to be inside the process with the dancers. Her body acts as a conduit, through which the material passes, from its history with Random, through Kerry to the dancers. There is humility here and a lack of self-consciousness. At the same time she directs with authority and drive, there is no room for doubt in the studio. I learn a lot from this quality of delivery: her play between drive and surrender.
(Yes, doubt can be a creative tool as it open up the gaps, but not here, not in a two-week process with a piece to make).
Saturday. We begin at 11am with a warm up class. Five dancers all on time!
Small group, talk the plan for the day:
This is every thing we have done so far. (Kerry shows the dancers her hand written list of numbered items, each one crossed off). There are some things we will be able to forget but I want to see them today and then I can tell you if we can throw them away. We have 25 things, 2 or 3 we can’t do because Wu weifeng is injured. Without him we have 21 and I want to see them with clarity and precision.
Kerry leads a short 2-hour rehearsal, going through all the material so far. After each fragment she cleans up some details before moving on. She demonstrates the material when necessary, indicating where she wants the stops, changes in quality, space directions, unison moments, breaks in the material and emphasizing specific gestures that have got lost. Here are the fragments:
I am thinking about plie here, eyes are to the audience, drop out. Sharp elbow.
Knee clasp with double pirouette. What did we say yesterday about this, travel, moving, I am moving, remember crab, crab? I am thinking about my ear… Lets try again everybody.
Wang lei solo
Walking in from upstage, shake, and stop. Ooze, pin, scythe, flick.
Men feet phrase.
Knee, up, screw heel, fouette, thigh lift, knee, limp sideways, slide, cut through, skidder. Wu shuai ends the phrase by falling into ‘splits’. Don’t do that Wu shuai or I will put it in! Laughter follows.
Men & women, feet and arms. (Track 2.29)
Can I see the arms on their own please?
Its not small, its about reaching away from you, something is happening here as well, this is sharp, then remember the tortoise, heavy.
Kerry attends to the details of the hands and wrists.
Wu shuai and Wu weifeng duet — can’t do today.
Kerry’s unison duet
Begins with fingers pointing to shoulders and roll down through spine. Includes the partner work, tortoise head movement, head to partner’s stomach, split leg drags, women lifted parallel to floor.
Sun rui solo
Points and lines duets
Do you remember your points and lines solos? Well you don’t need to, you can forget forever. We have the duets with that material.
Duet with Wang lei and Wu weifeng. Cannot do today.
Sun rui and Zhao zhibou duet
She is working well, the lines are more defined and clear, she is gathering strength, she seems more weighted.
Men floor material
Exquisite, sharp, sorting out timing – with laughter. Playful teasing relationships between Kerry and the men.
Sextet (water) – can’t do without Wu weifeng.
Kerry wants them close together in space, four bodies of complex material. She sorts out timing, so lifts come together, unison shapes, and canon after the stop.
Sun rui & Wu weifeng. Duet (not today)
The line coming forward.
Wu shuai solo:
I love you Wu shuai! (‘I love you too’ he responds – they tease).
Very clean, very nice.
Kerry runs all the material in a constructed order, which is split into two sections.
She then runs the material again, running sections 1 and 2 together.
The piece is beginning to take shape. The weaving and linking from solos to duets and trios and quartets is well paced and Kerry’s meticulous attention to timing has paid off as one fragment slips and overlaps into another.
A good week’s work. How do you feel? Tired. I am very happy at the end of week one.
Tomorrow you sleep, eat chocolate, sleep. Any body want to say anything to me?
Thank you guys.
marathon trio: working it out day 7
Kerry has listed the methods she uses when teaching and transferring knowledge of her movement language to students and dancers. This also represents the qualities that are important to her. I attach an image here.
Task (new material):
Insertion into the quartet.
All four dancers working together.
Choose moments of stop in the quartet. Insert a ‘fall’, ‘rotation’, ‘flight’ and ‘catch’.
Then continue with the material.
Three stops, three insertions.
Kerry describes the difference between ‘flight’ and ‘lift’. In a lift, you stay in contact, in flight you come out of contact, travel through space and then you are caught.
They begin to work, they have 10 minutes, while Kerry shapes Weifeng’s solo and his duet with Sun rui. Yes Weifeng is back so the full cast is present. Kerry choreographs Weifeng to walk in from upstage, Sun rui to catch him in a lift before he stops.
Kerry uses the term exquisite to describe Sun rui’s movement quality. Attempting to explain the term to the translator takes me to the dictionary definition
1. very beautiful and delicate or intricate
2. perfect and delightful
3. sensitive and capable of detecting subtle differences
4. felt with a sharp intensity
Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999
The atmosphere in the studio is vibrant, active, full of creative input, from Kerry, photographers, observers, dancers and translator.
Kerry returns to the quartet, to see the material.
The task has been misunderstood; they have been working in pairs rather than as a group of four.
Kerry explains again. I should see just one fall, one rotation, on flight, one catch. There is one action and it does not matter who does it, but you work as a group.
That is a lift, not a flight.
Even if I am over there, I am always watching!
Kerry is happy with the atmosphere in the studio, everybody working. I sense it too. This is not just about a discipline and a shared creative focus. When dancers are scattered, working in different pockets of the space like this, highly energized, they simulate the desired structure of the choreography, as different layers of material and focus happening simultaneously. So the dancers begin to live the style and the process becomes the choreography.
We are going for a marathon. 30 minutes of new material. And Kerry is going to work fast! She begins by talking with the translator, explaining certain terms that she is going to use with the dancers, so the translator is ready to translate fast.
You will say the word after me quickly, and then they respond quickly. So I will say, catch, drag, and fall. I will say: one person is the pencil, and another person is going to draw with them, draw in space. I will say ‘find the sky’, limbs — connect and rotate. I will say the floor, the ceiling, and behind, (which is not about turning their backs, but about being aware of something behind them). I will say up and down, backwards and forwards, ‘move your heart sideways’, ‘filling ribcage with air’, sternum, elbow, change facing, lift, a lift that changes position in space. I will say point as in point at something with a body part.
I want the dancers to make decisions without talking, I want their bodies to answer, to go immediately, to get quicker at making decisions, I am going to direct them with an instruction, I would like you to instruct back loudly, so it goes: English, Chinese, body, English, Chinese body, English Chinese body’ so they don’t have time for thinking. We are working with ‘back changing’. I will keep going back to the beginning. Make a phrase, remember it, go back to the beginning, repeat, add on, remember, go back to beginning, repeat, add on, remember and back to the beginning. I would like you to be urgent and focused for 30 minutes. We need to be really clear so we can direct them. We are going to label each dancer as A, B, C and I shall refer to the dancers by these letters.
The translator asks – what is ‘connect’?
Kerry demonstrates two limbs connecting.
Try to be instinctive, not planned. I will lead, but you be there.
Kerry is riding high, well in control and directing with style.
All of this is then explained to the dancers.
We are not talking; we are solving the task without talking. For 30 minutes, we don’t have water, we don’t look at our phones, we don’t go home, 30 minutes of an urgent energy…
Kerry divides group into two trios, Wang lei, Sun rui, Wang yabin and Weifeng, Wu shuai, Zhao zhibo. Each trio is given a piece of paper with 6 written numbers.
Label yourself A, B or C in your group.
Have water before we start.
The 30-minute marathon begins.
I find myself carried into the marathon as a writer, attempting to catch what happens, staying in the moment, forgetting to breathe, no pause to think, just writing. And it went something like this (I have included some commentary although this could be extracted to get a better sense of the rhythm of the work):
No more talking.
A have a look at your piece of paper. Use B as a pencil, quick. C punctuate a point behind you and change direction. Go. Draw, not like a rag doll, be clear. C find a point behind and change direction.
Dancers are somewhat dazed; the process is slowed down because of translation. Like Kerry has bundled them all into a train and the doors have closed. They are off but they don’t know where they are going.
From the beginning. Once more. Draw, point behind, change direction.
Now C is going to lift B, to change space.
From beginning, and draw, and lift and change space.
No walking, think of a way to get there.
From the beginning, draw, you lift, change space.
From the beginning. Draw, approach, change space.
All look at 2nd letter. Draw your 2nd letter with your elbows.
From the beginning.
You draw, approach, lift and take space and elbows.
Once more from the beginning. Quick.
Draw, lift, go, elbow.
B & C lift A and change facing. Don’t talk, do. This should be a lift.
From beginning, and elbow and lift, change direction.
Kerry demands faster connections between figures.
From the beginning.
And draw, lift, change space, elbow, approach, lift.
C draws with A.
I feel an excitement rising, as I did yesterday at the Great Wall, crowded up against the stone wall, trying to get through a small gap, with thousands of people behind me pushing, like time is ending, like 9am rush hour at Victoria station, like those dreams where you are running very fast and not getting anywhere!!
And draw, and elbow, and lift, change space, and draw and sternum.
C get into the lift quicker.
C fall on A and B, A and B catch C. Go!
A and B drag C.
The scaffolders are back outside, balancing on the bars, no harnesses, hanging nets.
The dancers are safe with their falling, no risk taken. Do they know how to fall? No time to teach them, no experience of contact impro. They stay safe, falling back with arms outstretched; to be caught almost before the fall begins.
From the beginning.
Draw, lift, change space, draw elbow, lift two people, change space, draw, fall drag.
From the beginning.
B draw the 4th number, using C. A move your heart sideways and fill ribcage with air.
Kerry demonstrates nothing, all is verbally transferred.
From the beginning. Weifeng –get out quickly.
Dancers are shocked out of patterns, out of careful placing of arms and legs, jump started into movement as task.
Draw, lift, travel the lift, go go go, draw with the elbow, lift, readdress space, and draw, and fall, drag, rotate, draw.
I need to see you fall first then catch, not just catch.
From the beginning, here we go. Keep with it guys.
Kerry is shouting, dancers are looking dazed! But they are with her.
From here A, B & C, show me something up and down, backwards and forwards. Go.
Nothing happens, dancers seem stilted. Kerry demonstrates, translator joins in.
Let me see it.
Its up, you go down, you go backwards, you go forwards and it’s gone. Fast.
From the beginning.
Draw, lift change space, elbow, into lift and change space and draw and fall, drag and go, draw, up, down, backwards and forwards.
Have a moment to think about it, you can talk for one minute.
From the beginning.
Look at the 5th number. A is going to draw number on floor, B on ceiling, C behind you.
So it goes, up down, back forward, 5th number.
Lets go from the falling. Fall, drag and draw and up, down, back forward and it draws.
A and C connect limbs and rotate. It can be small, connect, rotate. B find the sky.
Lets go from up, and down, are you ready?
And up, down, back, forwards, draw a number, connect, rotate, find the sky.
Then, as a trio, change places.
From the beginning.
Keep going; keep working on it, no water. Only two more events to go.
A solo — 6th number.
2nd time through, C stops you.
B uses C as pencil.
I have a solo, I have a stop, and I have a drawing.
When C uses B, A steps away.
From the beginning.
Draw, lift, travel, travel, big elbow, lift, rotate, draw nice and clean, fall, drag and you draw and you go up, down, you draw. Connect and rotate, find the sky, change places, solo, duet, and step away.
Lets go from the 6th number.
Last thing – A falls, B & C catch, drag.
From the beginning.
From the beginning.
We have the material!
I see two trios, completely different, yet created from similar instructions — verbal unison, visual difference.
I go next door to Wang mei and calm down!
I come back to a run through of sections 1 & 2.
The order today:
Wan lei entrance and solo.
Wang lei and Weifeng’s duet.
Two duets – quartet adding new material today (drop, rotate, flight, catch)
Men traveling feet phrase.
Women and men feet and arms phrase.
Weifeng walking into duet with Sun rui + Yabin solo
Wu shuai solo + yabin solo
Sun rui solo
Zhibo and Sun rui’s duet – music slows.
Walk down, line.
Kerry’s duets, unison
Sun rui solo
Into marathon trios from today, new material.
Break into weifeng’s solo.
Back to marathon, new material.
Wu shuai & weifeng’s duet.
Pause – gap in material, to be filled.
Men’s floor material with women unison duet.
The material and structure are nearly complete. 5 days to go.
Wang mei has decided to perform in the work, so now there are 5 performers.
I watch a run of a small section, to music. Dancers are sitting on the floor facing front, swaying slightly, forward and back. I am caught by the concentration, the stillness within the movement, a contained attention to detail, the ability to be empty and full simultaneously. The minute changes in gesture, for instance one dancer’s change of direction, or an extended rocking that takes a dancer onto his back, becomes magnified, almost a shock. I am pulled in.
The run through lasts maybe 1 minute. Then they gather round the video recording, to watch this short section several times, discussing details, shifts in the material. The attention to detail is astonishing. I am looking at the micro made macro. I am reminded of that movie about the life of ants, when a blade of grass becomes a tree, and we are looking into a tiny world enlarged.
I sense a collective working together, although Wang mei has the final decisions, different dancers step out to direct material and all the creative discussions and changes are discussed as a group.
I gather that they discussing real and empty.
I am fascinated watching the group work out the subtle differences in a single gesture. Lifting themselves on their hands, legs straight out in front, they rock sideways in rhythm. The difference between a sharp rocking movement and a swinging rocking movement is discussed at length. The swinging rocking movement is required. They watch each other to perfect this.
Later – after the marathon next door, I come in and slow down.
Five bodies are sitting, facing the mirror, knee tapping and sliding backwards on the floor.
Qier explains to me a little of Wang mei’s working process. For Wang mei, when one dancer is communicating with another, this is reality. If you are working alone you are empty. I interpret this as a play between bein in the world relationally and focusing inwards when alone. Wang mei seeks a co-operation between everybody. Every movement must be comfortable for each person; if one person is uncomfortable then the movement will be changed. Each dancer has a different movement, yet they work together in unison, so each person can see the other do his/her movement. They are working with an inside awareness as well as the outside image, to come into together differently in unison.
I need a deeper understanding of her methods. I arrange to interview Wang mei tomorrow at 5pm.
day 8 beginning
I spent the morning writing up yesterday’s process.
Kerry is talking to the dancers -
— You know the sextet, the lifting phrase altogether? Well good news, it is scrapped.
Kerry sets new line material, as a possible ending and echoing the earlier line material. Three A dancers and three B dancers. A’s are in unison, B’s are in unison. Kerry teaches two phrases of 8. This is gestural with arms, elbows and hands featuring. She then works another phrase of 8, new duet material, still in the line. She works fast, without hesitation, phrases constructed before the rehearsal began. There is no break in the rhythm of her delivery of material. She continues for the 4th phrase of 8, with a reworking of each dancer’s solo, which they perform together in the line, before walking upstage for 4 counts to end.
It is all in the preparation! To reach the ending within the time available, the preparations need to be thoroughly considered, which I imagine Kerry does before entering the studio. To prepare, Kerry will need to unweave from the final image, back to the first figure, in order to choreograph forward to the final image. E.g. Everybody turns and walks 4 steps upstage with her/his right leg first, which means each preceding solo needs to end with the right leg free, which affects how each solo begins, and how each solo begins depends on each dancer’s placing in the new line material, so this spacing needs to be considered before the line material is choreographed in order that the follow on material can unfold from there. And of course before any of this can happen, Kerry has decided on how many beats and phrases of 8 she requires, so that the final image will meet the end of the music.
At the end of the day I see a run of the last section of the piece. Bother – the music ends before the material. Somewhere there is an overspill. Kerry unravels, tightening up a few moments to see if the material will fit. It does, tight. No gaps, no letting go, no moments of rupture or empty time. No time to breathe out.
I notice as the dancers get tired, their movements tighten, become small and tense, losing grounded-ness, breath and risk. Their gestures hit the space with short punches, rather than extend and thrust into an expanse of space. When they are tired they work on the surface of their bodies. What they need to do is work deeper as they get tired, finding an economic use of energy that expands from inside out rather than outwards in.
Charlie Balfour has arrived (lighting designer). Just in time to see the first full run today, with 80% energy.
Then another run, 100% energy. No talking on the sides, stay focused for the dancers working in the space. When it gets fast you need to look at each other, take time to approach each other. You are a company of 6, not 6 soloists.
The piece is nearly there. A few gaps, a few spacing questions and then the cleaning begins!
I enter as a discussion is in process about how far to drop their heads as they sit on the floor.
…Time passes, I am watching them all lying on their backs. They are now discussing exactly how Wang mei wants them to initiate arching their necks so that their eyes can look back behind. A very slight movement, imperceptible at first, grows out of nothing. They expand the very start of the gesture as their hair slides on the floor. Does it begin with the movement of the eyes, or the shift in the neck? Nothing becomes something. Something small becomes magnified.
Today I interviewed Wang Mei. Hopefully it can be loaded onto the blog site. It was informative. However by the time my questions/comments were translated, and Wang mei had responded, and then her words translated back to me, I was left feeling that the response seemed to have moved away from the question to a new place, which took the dialogue in another direction and opened up other questions. Dare I say it – we seemed to be playing Chinese whispers!
I will see about transcribing the interview or uploading it in iTunes format.
A crucial point I remember – Wang mei is not interested in technical codified dancing, she is interested in working with dancers as people, to explore human-ness, human gesture, rather than dance technique.
Walking — what happens when dancing stops and walking begins. Can the dancers break out of dance code to walk from A to B, or will the walk become a codified statement? Does walking constitute a gap in the dancing, a pragmatic move from A to B, or is it a full statement. Is a gap a statement? Kerry is asking for urgency, a presence, in the walk, yet not codified, I wonder how this is being interpreted – as grandly present, or internally focused, in time to the music or just an embodied moment of walking.
Looking — how do the dancers see each other? At present they work in duets with no eye contact, body-to-body, soldier-to-soldier, waiting for the beat to begin, and then bang into the fast partner work — the meetings between them are coldly robotic. What is Random’s aesthetic on looking? Kerry begins to address this, looking for the links into partner work so there is continuity between meeting and dancing. For me, the dancers are mirror bound, they see themselves and each other in the mirror, and I don’t sense they are in contact with each other relationally, as different live bodies.
Endings — allow yourself to breath, settle, allowing you to register the end of the duet, before walking off. How much of this is translated? Or is the image of pausing before walking off stage copied from Kerry’s demonstration? How does this become assimilated internally? Does it matter? How do you perform pause?
Throughout this creative process, learning has been externally directed, and then internally assimilated. Mirror learning. Remembered by image. So the code is transferred. Question — what is the relationship here between semiotic and symbolic language, how does one inform the other on the dancer’s body?
Run through of 1st section.
Links have been made, for Yabin’s solo; this is stronger with Zhibo added.
Links made into Sun rui and Zhibo’s duet at end of section.
Much smoother links into men’s feet and arms phrase.
Kerry has changed Wang lei’s ending. While the others walk upstage, he walks down stage and goes into his initial move at the beginning of the piece. Bookends, nice. Of course this adds an accessible narrative!
End of the day and Kerry is aware of a ‘larking about’ atmosphere in the studio, like school kids anxious to get out to play.
The quicker we can do these two runs the quicker we can go home.
I like a relaxed atmosphere, but I get a sense when it gets to much fun it gets uncontrollable. Especially when you are tired, if one person laughs, then two people laugh, then it goes crazy. Then you are having a party and I don’t know what is going on. I need you to focus otherwise I don’t know if my decisions are correct. So focus for me for another 20 minutes. Also, try not to laugh at each other, be supportive. I know this material is strange. No we don’t feel strange, it is normal now. I think you look beautiful I am proud of what you have done…
The dancers tell Kerry that it does not feel strange any longer; the movement language is assimilated into their bodies. So this brings another question — if the material feels comfortable then is that an achievement — or is it the discomfort, the strangeness, that actually defines the quality of the material? So — are the dancers’ aiming for comfort in their dancing? Or can Kerry encourage them to continually question and play with the movement to ensure that it retains its strange awkward-ness. For the awkward fractured quality of Random’s work is its strength.
Run through 200% then home!
Issues emerging – welcome discussion and expansion.
Unfortunately I have to leave Beijing before the final day’s showings.
Although I missed the final day, I saw a full run of both pieces at the end of the previous day. I have these on film, and hope to find a way to upload them.
I was most surprised by Wang mei’s piece. Most rehearsals I had watched over the previous days were spent discussing small details, and I saw only fragments of the whole. Now I see the piece complete I am amazed by its tight fit to the music. The movement follows the phrasing and qualities of the Bach music exactly. Choreographically this is clever, I am drawn to the exactness and the detail and layering of movement, by the fact that the dancers never stand up, that small pedestrian gestures become stylised. However for me, the movement language, which is unconventional and beautifully minimal, loses some of its power when fitted so tightly to the sound score. The piece becomes more like a musical study and loses some of the emotional power I had seen on previous days. This tight relationship to the music brings it closer to Kerry’s choreography, where all movement is fitted to the music, and there is only occasional pause for breath. The challenge for the dancers in Kerry’s piece is to find the human-ness in performing the material, particularly how performers look at each other and support each other. Also, the fast rhythm tends to influence the size of the movement, which gets smaller, therefore the material no longer looks fast. The challenge is to expand into space rather than tightening, in order to increase the impression of risk taking speed.
On Day 9 & 10 Naomi and I decided to interview all the dancers. I also interview Wang mei about her choreography. These will be added as soon as we have transcribed the material. In between inerviewing I watch Kerry rehearsing the dances. Cleaning the material, fine tuning the phrasing, and counts, looking for the stillness, the held moments, tableaus between dancers. Running the piece again and again, building stamina and confidence. Her assured energy in the directorial role continues to inspire the dancers, to keep them going. Kerry understands the need to find a rhythm in the day’s energy, not to flag, not to lose the momentum, otherwise dancers become exhausted. Dropping energy and then having to find it again is so much harder than staying energized throughout the session. Liminality of time might offer potential as a creative space for choreographers, but for dancers’ bodies in action it is slow road to collapse. Teachers know this, choreographers tend to forget. Kerry is also a good teacher!
Interview with Wang Mei August 7th
Translator: Xu Rui.
Interviewer: Emilyn (transcribed September 2nd)
Xu Rui’s presence as the translator was integral to the interview process. However, I have edited the text to reflect a direct dialogue between Wang Mei and myself.
Emilyn: I am fascinated in your process and I would like to know more about your work. I would like to ask about your concerns in this piece. Perhaps we could start with the wider context of your work?
Wang Mei: What I am concerned with most is my current personal feeling, about life, the reality of living — people.
Rather than the codified dance?
Does that thread through all your work?
Yes. I would like to say I do not like dancing at all. (We laugh).
Yes I can appreciate that. We have choreographers in the UK who are concerned to find the real pedestrian body in the performance rather than the codified body…
So, what about this piece? What are your particular concerns for this piece?
Concerning this piece, there should be two layers, one is about myself, my own feelings about life and reality. Another layer is about the theme of The Shaking World, the theme of this project. About this theme –we have quite a lot of international communication and exchange. Many Chinese artists, when they have the chance to exchange with foreign culture, they have a kind of feeling they are not as good as the foreign artists. This is to do with cultural difference, and Chinese artists are not very confident. I think this is not good, that before you begin to do something you feel you are not as good as foreign artists.
I imagine this has gone on for a long time, this sense of hierarchy. Have you felt it here during this two weeks?
It is not a question about right or wrong, it is nothing personal, it is the history. We have this feeling, passed down. For example, During the Qing Dynasty, China was very strong and everybody would learn Chinese. Now we have a strong influence from the Western world and we speak English. It is like a standard and we pay attention to the Western ways.
Yes, I see it on the subway here, there are little TV screens, portraying Western faces, and the worst of American advertising, and I want to say, no, no, don’t go there, don’t go there! In a project like this, I would like see how we can begin to unravel this unevenness — I am not sure if that is happening?
I was in France several years ago for the international competition and the foreign artists I met were very kind. Facing them I never felt uneven or unequal. That is why I think it is not the foreign people’s problem but a problem of ourselves, how we look at our tradition. As a consequence, sometimes Chinese artists will focus on our own tradition a lot, so people can see it is Chinese, what is really Chinese. I do not think that is right thing to do. That is why I decided not to do Chinese dance in this project, but to focus on my own ideas.
As I observe the work next door and the work in here, I notice a big difference. If I was to compare the pieces I would say that Kerry’s movement cuts the space while your movement absorbs the space. It is not that one is better or worse, just different. So I am curious about the idea of emptiness rather than fullness in your work. I am wondering if that is part of your process?
I think the issue of space is the biggest issue for a choreographer. You mentioned fullness and emptiness, this is very important. If you have the right quality you will have the big space, but if you do not have the quality you have just a small space.
I am reminded here how every small movement is magnified because it is given time and space… Is there anything more you would like to say about the piece?
The original idea comes from a little event in my teaching last year. I was teaching the graduate class majoring in modern dance. And we were going to make a full length ballet together, all the students of this class. Then the students had a discussion to decide whether they wanted to do this or not. But only a few students wanted to do this, so the four dancers you see in this piece are the students who said yes. They have graduated now. I really wanted to put my personal feelings into this piece, the relationships between people. There is something not serious but playful about it. The starting point was an ancient Chinese poem that is hard to translate. A feeling that in the middle of your life, after a lot of experiences of life, you have a kind of understanding. You want to say something but you cant say it in words. I chose this subtle feeling about life as a starting point.
I am picking up on you telling me that only 4 dancers wanted to do this piece — so where is your place in Beijing as an artist? Is your work supported? Or do all the dancers want to do technical spectacle? Is there support in Beijing for your work?
It is nothing about the piece itself. It is a personal understanding about life or art. My life or my world is different from yours, but I cant require you to follow me.
But the performance by Yabin last night was very different. So I am wondering how your work is placed in Beijing? The language is different.
Oh yea. There is a big problem about the attitude. China is changing very fast, Beijing city is changing every day. You go to some area, say the eastern area, and you go there the next day and it is changed. In this very fast rhythm of life, people are rushing, they don’t want to stop, they don’t want to concentrate on something.
So in your work you are slowing down. How do you want the performers to perform, what is you concern with performing presence?
Of course there are a lot of details and requirements about the technique and the movement. Yet there is a basic concept about the performing and presentation. I ask each dancer to be ‘human’ not a ‘dancer’. Because there are dance performers who create a big distance between the audience and the performers and I want to close that gap, to be human.
Creative Process Phase 4 will begin on 19 October in Beijing
Watch the process as it unfolds here with:
Choreographers – Jonathan Lunn, Carolyn Choa, and Zhao Tiechun
Blog October 19, 2009 k Mezur
Aware of organization: how will they meet and start. How gracious will they be? We (Westerners) seem really focused. Lots of media about. This makes Jonathan a bit uneasy. We work out how to use the interpreters. I suddenly feel like I have a body guard. Emily is like a shadow with Jonathan and Carolyn. He hands out the poem that is one of the texts of the work, Wet or winter Snow is the name, chills huh. Very beautiful choice as I see movement begin to fidget out the 6MALE VERY DIFFERENT BODIES. They move so differently from the Guadong Dance Company, recently in San Francisco. I miss having female bodies. Does this make the dance easier to make? Evens out the territory, there is a ”broad” gender difference here. See notes on the Chinese choreographer.
Working on ”words” or characters of the poem, not for ”meaning” I think; what does meaning do? How does it act or dance. Why do many choose to query “meaning”? What is meaning in Chinese. Tiny Shifts all day over Chinese words and English words. Like that.
Bird image, cold, wetness, a fisherman, 10,000 is next to alone, solitary, single, this poem is weighty but has birds to fly on. Don’t do images, break away from obvious. But this Tang poet was brush stroked these words into being, are we beating them back into the inked landscape?
I watch Jonathan watching for bodies, which speak. Repeating changes things. Tasks are gesture packages.
Bodies: some make the same rhythms, hard to break your own patterns and comfortzones. Gumby arms, sensibility of everyday movement doesn’t stay still on their bodies, fist becomes turning and crumpling. My kinaesthetics may be jet lagged. I see lines and lovely bodies, but, hmm.
More phrase and sounds of ”words” hands over eyes. Slashes into the ground. Rolls over somersaults.
CaoYu is the playwright for tiny section of dialogue between two men from play Beijing Man, maybe written in the 20s or 30s. Famous playwright one of first to take on Chinese spoken drama “huaju”. Chinese and Japanese studied western forms simultaneously.
Chinese on Chinese
Ah, got his name: Zhao Tie Chun, starts talking about “Chinese-ness” what is Chinese? Way cool. Talks about how dances he teaches and makes are drawn from specific regional folk/traditions, very specific and set. Theme of shaking and other ideas of environment, chaos in world, very important, how can the folk/ethnic set forms change to work with these contemporary themes? Is it possible? He wants the traditional gestures to go to another level, the ethnic must do more than meet the modern, shows how a gesture in dance means “happy” in one ethnic dance, arms over head jutting upward expansive. So Xgesture EQUALS Xfeeling. He wants to question that. He has chosen the music already: (have to ask him about this choice) Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor and it may be a requiem because he talks about how the music like the traditional dance is “set: to, it is about mourning, after death and the gesture or practice that would go with that from traditional dance might be throwing paper coins. Wants to break that direct connection, press “folk” stylization into everyday.
Important to break from habits. He feels challenged. Talks about “expression”
Later on stage rehearsal makes it harder for direct communication. Tie Chun has to walk up to stage and jump onto stage and jump off stage and down again. Active. Now dancers are in a configuration of father, mother, and two small “pet-like” children. Woman/mother does small figure 8 steps from opera or? Another kind of folk dance. Now Tie Chun stops and goes, picking out exact. Pulls bodies, presses, repeats repeats slaps for timing. Exacting. Says for them to make their butts ugly, wants more make it larger or way too small, miniature. Be freer.
Make a tableau: one figure center, male, is the center figure of woman on side, with two “children” like puppies beside her rolling and jumping and scuffing. No smiling, really strange, surreal quality of figures and gestures. Claps timing, controls and repeats. Wants angles of bodies and focus just right. NOT improv here. Setting it. Falls and rises timed over and over again. Two women make the dance different. NO ONE comments on the work. k
October 20, 2009
Today I get this sense of frontal focus and the North South and East West planes of the dances dominate in both groups. There is very little use of repetition yet.
Zhai Tiechun’s group
Two important concepts from Tie Chun today: (Remember this is in translation, and I should get the Chinese to look it up later)
2) Nostalgia, he says inspires his him. I ask him about the way he starts with the dancers doing “natural” movements, like falling backwards from a crouched position, and then he keeps stylizing or refining the movement (to me) into a set phrase of movement that is no longer a gesture from everyday pedestrian movement. He disagrees to a certain extent and goes on from there. He is doing a new process here to move out of his way of doing things. He does not feel it is stylized, but stays very close to the original gesture from daily life. Instead, he says the dancers start making it something else and he pulls them back to the base of the gesture in timing, breath, and to me what looks like design.
The walk: “where the man makes the path and the woman walks” from traditional way, says the rehearsal director also a choreographer. He and Tiechun wear the same outfits, jeans, sweat shirt, shaved head with a baseball cap on occasion.
Then Tie Chun works with the two “children” on an arm swinging and body swaying sequence. They are cute. He has them stand side by side like cutout dolls, legs in second, staring slight upwards, chest pressing up and back (changed this later). Arms swing, then this swing moves into a sway side-to-side, again doll-like with flexed feet off the ground.
When he plays the Mozart Mass for run-throughs of sequences, it gets this surreal sensibility. Like one of those greeting cards with a pop-up character or landscape, his dance pops out of the background, makes the Mass a strange landscape.
The mini-works based on poems (as base only for engaging physically) and a scene fragment, continue. They review the exhilarating mass of gesture and words generated yesterday and make a new sequence with a new poem, a language-body-encounter. The dancers are amazing how they remember each gesture and facing and sequence. They use the words to remember. Prompting with words is an interesting body memory triggering.
Jonathan puts pairs together. A ”water” pair sequence is done in close proximity, with each having their own rhythms to maintain. One starts later, end together. Jonathan has them do it over and over again, while he is listening to music on his ipod with earphones. Interesting tech trick. Says he is playing Madonna. Interesting. Like a Virgin. Late this is done again with a kind of postmodern jazz-like electronic work, cool. Movements have a wave-like shiver, shaking, small hand gestures over face, hair, one stays in place while the other runs a loop, a diagonal back into same spot. There is an ending where they both have a hand and finger sequence, which they pop and punctuate to match the music.
When I see these sequences, I small dances like brushstrokes. But it is very hard to ”write” them here.
Instructions to 3 dancers doing one dancer’s sequence:
2 dancers doing both sequences
They re-remember yesterday’s scene work with “dialogue.” I think this has produced really interesting sequences that have light and dark sides, some emotional spaces/relationships. Does what Jonathan has pressed for: breaking away from meaning, finding corporeal encounter with words or associations with sound/word spaces.
In general so this is not for ALL of these miniworks but there are small hand gesture sequences that are like tiny quotes or partial references left in mid air: these draw the eye, but have less kinaesthetic impact than the gestures of hands which move into and out of larger postures or locomotion or when they touch themselves. There are designed movements with great lines and patterns through space, but I am first drawn through my eye, not my kinaesthetic fibers….which means I am seeing deliciously but not “moved” and I do not mean emotionally or melodramatically, I mean the impact of some dance that rocks you out of your seat, from the skin and guts. More on this later. These are studies, just becoming dances.
October 21, 2009
What ever I hear or ask is filtered through different people. Even when they say that “primary source material” (like face to face encounter) is what a researcher wants to get, that this is the raw material of research, but really “in translation” means a kind of change has happened to the source material: it is already transformed. Thus research is creative and dynamic, not the ”truth.” Alive.
I keep wondering when Tiechun will name his “work.” The walk with the male dancer lifting the feet of the female as she glides forward, down stage in the hip swing, body twisting away from the center/ Emily, a walk from a Chinese minority
I would like to talk to each dancer about their ideas about this project from the beginning until now in its 4th phase. What does the theme of the world “shaking” mean to them now? How has this changed?
Today I will make lists. Some very famous authors (Sei Shônagon) made themselves famous for their lists.
Tiechun’s room and ”making strange”
Tiechun works on the two “children” Wu Shuai and Huang Dong Mei in their rocking and now whirling dervish dance. They must: stare forward with out blinking. They must get faster and faster, they practice many many times. They spin out they fall they laugh they spin they work with their heads to one side arms over head, spinning: bend straight bend straight bend straight, Tiechun calls and claps and makes them spin over and over and over again. But it works. The voice of the soloist in the Mozart Mass in C Minor begins her most sweet sad song with Guo Jiao’s raised walk downstage, and the doll-like rocking figures in the background. Figures in a landscape. Many phrases of the mother and father figure repeat but with slight variations, her fall and jump into his arms, crouching on his knee, again and fall, again and fall forward, again. This is a precarious world.
Jonathan and Carolyn’s room
I sit on the bench across the front mirrors so the 6 men are always looking directly at us to adjust their movements, posture, look etc. I feel invisible and like I am an obstruction.
I am reminded of Pina Bausch’s different shoulder stands and parades making humans strange and strange humans.
October 22, 2009
In a conversation with Tiechun: He thinks this experiment is really worthwhile. He has a chance to create a dance in a way that he has never done before: he usually has his own theme and vision but now he keeps the ”shaking” theme and does not know what will happen as he choreographs. He talks about the ”twists” in the bodies that he keeps putting in the movements. The torso twists are exaggerated from a folk or traditional body carriage movement. Perhaps this indicates the way that the world is coming apart. He is subtly moving the tectonic plates of the sedimented traditions. He explains this image of tossing paper coins at traditional funerals and how this enters the larger theme: the passage from life to death, we hover and/or shake at that precipice. More on that later.
Jonathan and Carolyn review and rearrange the poem, dialogue, and dream sequences into lines, formations, and astonishing unison works. I kept seeing these very idiosyncratic gestures (almost like hieroglyphs) that the dancers developed on their own, become dance phrases: is this a bit sad? Is there something lost in this transition? Sure, the tiny nuances that breathed with that individual dancer’s body and feelings are only traces in the danced version. Somehow in that passage, the movement becomes rhythmic, spectacular, and graceful, no longer the strange awkward and personal engraved gesture.
There is a dream sequence I missed the creation of: Jonathan asked them to think of a dream they had, put it into four phrases of movement that described the dream, These had to have an experiential quality that made the audience experience their dream’s feeling and we should also see the content of the dream. They had to create these spontaneously, without preparation. These phrases are filled with quick and large changes in body shapes and movement with facial expressions. These also are done in unison in different formations.
More on Jonathan’s structures tomorrow, but he said the work is really about dialogue. One instruction today to get movement more deeply in the body: “don’t fully do it, think about doing it.”
Each dancer reveals his own rhythmic dynamics, his own way of sensing the world, taking it in, struggling and pressing it out through gesture.
They still stay in place to dance most of the phrases. When Jonathan has them move in a line in unison upstage, it is like a gasp, a breathless space: we need that.
October 23, 2009
Jonathan and Carolyn
I’ve been on earth for more than half a century, and writing about dance and performance for more than half that time, and yet this is my first time to China. Kung Fu Panda was, I think, a good choice for an airplane movie. (Best line: ‘We do not wash our pits in the Pool of Sacred Tears.’) I shrugged off and then slept away jet lag. It helped that, instead of crashing as soon as I’d unpacked, I went on an excursion to the nearest shopping/eating vicinity in this district of northwest Beijing. Street life! The real thing, too. Virtually no other Westerners visible apart from me and my guide, Danscross Big Daddy Chris Bannerman. Highlights include sharing a sweet potato as we strolled; the many mannequins in the dance shops whose collective dress sense Chris aptly dubbed ‘Ninja boogie’; the fish that jumped up out of the tank in the market as if to say ‘Eat me!’ (or ’Save me!’?); and, on the negative side, the woman who barked viciously at a tot who was bawling as he waited for an old man to repair his battery-operated toy gun with cellotape. In the main, however, the people I either saw or met seemed to peaceable and not unfriendly.
Enough local colour. My purpose in being here is to play fly on the walls of the Beijing Dance Academy as i watch some creative juices flow. I’m impressed, too. Jonathan Lunn may have had a baaaaaaad last night (food poisoning?) but he sure didn’t let on today in BDA’s theatre space. And to have created so much detailed material in just a week. He is quick, he says, but so are the six young men in his work-in-progress. They know each other so well, he adds, that he can can just set some moves on one of them and it’ll spread to the others like a virus.
Like the dancers themselves Lunn’s piece looks muscular and wiry, and it’s peppered with a gestural filigree that offsets their bold, grabbing energy. Working with the soft-spoken Carolyn Choa as a second, collaborative brain and pair of eyes, the long-haired Lunn juxtaposed a couple of duets and clarified their spatial relationship. These twosomes feature headstands and splits, and boys tunneling between each other’s legs. The fleet, often spiraling complexity of connections made here can be dazzling. A third duo was just as nimble; I recall in particular a compact lad vaulting one-handed over his tall, skinny counterpart’s arched body, using the latter’s pelvis as a springboard. Lunn appears to have tapped into the cast’s youthful spirit. The extended fragments he worked on today suggest a kind of dreamy hijinks that suits their collective talent and temperament. Already this dance, although unfinished, seems to belong to them.
The same can’t yet be said of the quartet — two of each sex — that spent time with Tiechun today, but that’s okay. Fellow blogger Katherine Mezur tells me that in Danscross this Chinese choreographer is challenging not just his dancers but himself as well. I slip into the studio — one of 49 in BDA’s main building — as he’s drilling them in a unison passage. They must advance downstage while mainly doubled over, using hands and feet to negotiate a fast, twisty rotation. It’s a fiendish little pattern, and particularly daunting for one quick-to-clown-around boy in a blue shirt. (He sticks out, too, because the others are all wearing rehearsal clothes in combinations of red and black.) Tiechun has this boy do the sequence again, alone; he gives it a go but slips inside his socks, giggling good-naturedly. Other tricky bits follow, as when the dancers hold hands and pretzel round each other like a knot trying to undo itself only to become further entangled. After that everyone’s in a line flat on the floor, holding onto the ankles of the person ‘above’ them; slowly this braided chain of bodies rolls across the space. None of this is meant to illustrate the music (Mozart’s Kyrie) that Tiechun is using, and yet his movement has its high-flown moments. As if to counter this he turns two of his dancers, a man and a woman, into dog-like creatures who scamper about on all fours. Meanwhile another couple executes a precisely timed duet on several levels; at one point they roll on the floor, feet hooking together, only for the female to be hoisted up into a sitting position atop the male’s raised thigh.
Tucked inside a denim jacket, and quite notably bald, Tiechun makes a quiet, even brooding taskmaster. He’s prone to take a brief ‘time out’ to work out next steps, or to solve any problems that may have arisen from those that already exist. Like Lunn, he’s putting together the pieces of a puzzle that he also has to manufacture on the spot. Based on my first-day observations, it’s working. Earlier in the afternoon the transitions between sections in Tiechun’s dance might have seemed awkward or arduous. But by the end of the day his doggedness, coupled with the dancers’ discipline, had smoothed over some of the bumps. He was even able to share in the dancers’ jokes about how easily they could slip into t’ai chi instead of Tiechun. Not taking yourself too seriously is perhaps a good sign at the start of a new week.
Oct. 26 2009 Music sound gesture
Dancing to and beside music.
I THINK WE NEED TO STOP FACING THE MIRROR. In order to get out of the frontal gaze, the dancers need to be placed elsewhere to get the dance out of dance-hood or the proscenium stare.
Ok, so the Bach fugue channeled the emotional links from tender to silly but I think Jonathan also felt it could mask what else was going on and thus: the electronic work is now in place. As Jonathan also suggested, sometimes the music can run outside the dance and I was thinking how it streams and sometimes pushes the movement in interesting ways, but not forcefully. That is a problem though; the music does not create any kind of sound/body tension that can make a work really rich and provocative. The music seems to stand directly beside the dance.
Aside: the electronic choice can also make the dancers work very hard on an expressive encounter with each other and wherever
Enough. I know the poly-stage is large but I have seen Pina Bausch send a dancer onto an opera sized stage and whisper making the entire theatre lean forward and reach for those syllables.
I keep thinking of the things that are HUGE in Beijing: the Forbidden City, Tiananmen square, the new buildings like the National Performing Arts center (it’s a HUGE like a drop of water on the surface of the earth. Perhaps China wants to be BIG now, what does that mean?
Twists, like the Chung Guo Jie that is the woven/braided knot that is used in Chinese knotted hangings. Tiechun used every twist today: In one group encounter they hold hands and knit and unknot their bodies. Tiechun directed a powerful suggestion: lift through the weaving when you start, the chest should press forward up and over and then the limbs take over the ”twisted” distortion as he called it today. Keep the legs together, the knees in, tighter, concentrate, flow within that pretzel.
Back to those costumes and music
A long ribbon of twisting bodies, a hurdle of twists, like a human “Bird Nest, ” the flinging flying stomping twists, followed by. …Those WONDERFUL FLOATING WHITE COINS made out of paper. These are the reappearance of the funeral practice like the early parade: These are the coins that are tossed somehow. Tiechun adds these small triangles of red silk that float like brilliant flames with the white coins over the dancers’ dancing.
Like the Mozart Mass in C Minor, the clothe and the changes in the shapes of gestures with sleeves and billowing pants wrench the work out of its simpler space into a public one.