Intercultural…? Some speculations on process, institutions, and funding

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.

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