Day 1 a diamond in the heart

Day 1

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:

  • List 1 – 10 on a sheet of paper.
  • Think of a body part to write at the side of each of these numbers. Try to choose small parts of the body, e.g. not the whole arm.  You need to know where on your body are the parts you have chosen! Ear – elbow, back of the knee.
  • At the bottom of the page write your mobile phone number. Take the ‘1’ off.  You should have ten digits.
  • Bring your paper into the space. Imagine yourself in a cube. Number the corners and spaces of the box. One to ten.
  • Use your mobile number to navigate your way round the cube. Match your mobile numbers to the body parts and create 10 movements in the sequence of your mobile phone number.  Strange and weird is good.

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.

  • Look for a question and an answer.  One person asks a question in movement, and the other person answers, then carry on.
  • Look for a moment of stillness. Both of you are completely still, then either leave together or one goes and the other follows.
  • Find two points of touch.
  • Find two points of dependent touch or lifts — when one of you really needs the other.
  • Use each other to travel to take you somewhere else in space.

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

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