Day 2 studio 703

Studio 703.

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.

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