Notes on joining a project midway through

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.

dscn01141Continuous, 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.

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