Day 2 for Merce

Video clip: day 2 Wang lei & Wang yabin

Day 2

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.

  1. Elbow phrase 1
  2. Arm hip phrase 2
  3. Point and line solos
  4. Sun rui and Zhao zhibo conversation duet.
  5. Wu weifeng and Wang lei conversation duet.
  6. My leg phrase in isolation
  7. My gesture phrase in isolation.
  8. Coordination phrase put together, trio and duet.
  9. Ladies Inversion duet.
  10. Men’s inversion duet.
  11. Wang lei inversion solo.
  12. Unison duets.
  13. Visualization solos

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.

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