Wang Mei interview

Interview with Wang Mei August 7th

Translator: Xu Rui.

Interviewer: Emilyn (transcribed September 2nd)

Xu Rui’s presence as the translator was integral to the interview process. However, I have edited the text to reflect a direct dialogue between Wang Mei and myself.

Emilyn: I am fascinated in your process and I would like to know more about your work. I would like to ask about your concerns in this piece. Perhaps we could start with the wider context of your work?

Wang Mei: What I am concerned with most is my current personal feeling, about life, the reality of living — people.

Rather than the codified dance?


Does that thread through all your work?

Yes. I would like to say I do not like dancing at all. (We laugh).

Yes I can appreciate that. We have choreographers in the UK who are concerned to find the real pedestrian body in the performance rather than the codified body…

So, what about this piece? What are your particular concerns for this piece?

Concerning this piece, there should be two layers, one is about myself, my own feelings about life and reality. Another layer is about the theme of The Shaking World, the theme of this project. About this theme –we have quite a lot of international communication and exchange. Many Chinese artists, when they have the chance to exchange with foreign culture, they have a kind of feeling they are not as good as the foreign artists. This is to do with cultural difference, and Chinese artists are not very confident. I think this is not good, that before you begin to do something you feel you are not as good as foreign artists.

I imagine this has gone on for a long time, this sense of hierarchy. Have you felt it here during this two weeks?

It is not a question about right or wrong, it is nothing personal, it is the history. We have this feeling, passed down. For example, During the Qing Dynasty, China was very strong and everybody would learn Chinese.  Now we have a strong influence from the Western world and we speak English. It is like a standard and we pay attention to the Western ways.

Yes, I see it on the subway here, there are little TV screens, portraying Western faces, and the worst of American advertising, and I want to say, no, no, don’t go there, don’t go there! In a project like this, I would like see how we can begin to unravel this unevenness — I am not sure if that is happening?

I was in France several years ago for the international competition and the foreign artists I met were very kind. Facing them I never felt uneven or unequal. That is why I think it is not the foreign people’s problem but a problem of ourselves, how we look at our tradition. As a consequence, sometimes Chinese artists will focus on our own tradition a lot,  so people can see it is Chinese, what is really Chinese. I do not think that is right thing to do. That is why I decided not to do Chinese dance in this project, but to focus on my own ideas.

As I observe the work next door and the work in here, I notice a big difference. If I was to compare the pieces I would say that Kerry’s movement cuts the space while your movement absorbs the space. It is not that one is better or worse, just different. So I am curious about the idea of emptiness rather than fullness in your work. I am wondering if that is part of your process?

I think the issue of space is the biggest issue for a choreographer. You mentioned fullness and emptiness, this is very important. If you have the right quality you will have the big space, but if you do not have the quality you have just a small space.

I am reminded here how every small movement is magnified because it is given time and space… Is there anything more you would like to say about the piece?

The original idea comes from a little event in my teaching last year. I was teaching the graduate class majoring in modern dance. And we were going to make a full length ballet together, all the students of this class. Then the students had a discussion to decide whether they wanted to do this or not. But only a few students wanted to do this, so the four dancers you see in this piece are the students who said yes. They have graduated now. I really wanted to put my personal feelings into this piece, the relationships between people. There is something not serious but playful about it. The starting point was an ancient Chinese poem that is hard to translate. A feeling that in the middle of your life, after a lot of experiences of life, you have a kind of understanding. You want to say something but you cant say it in words. I chose this subtle feeling about life as a starting point.

I am picking up on you telling me that only 4 dancers wanted to do this piece — so where is your place in Beijing as an artist?  Is your work supported? Or do all the dancers want to do technical spectacle? Is there support in Beijing for your work?

It is nothing about the piece itself. It is a personal understanding about life or art. My life or my world is different from yours, but I cant require you to follow me.

But the performance by Yabin last night was very different. So I am wondering how your work is placed in Beijing? The language is different.

Oh yea.  There is a big problem about the attitude. China is changing very fast, Beijing city is changing every day. You go to some area, say the eastern area, and you go there the next day and it is changed. In this very fast rhythm of life, people are rushing, they don’t want to stop, they don’t want to concentrate on something.

So in your work you are slowing down. How do you want the performers to perform, what is you concern with performing presence?

Of course there are a lot of details and requirements about the technique and the movement. Yet there is a basic concept about the performing and presentation. I ask each dancer to be ‘human’ not a ‘dancer’. Because there are dance performers who create a big distance between the audience and the performers and I want to close that gap, to be human. 


2 comments to Wang Mei interview

  • petra johnson

    Dear Emilyn
    Fascinating reading,
    and good to hear-read
    you are (now part of you will always be) in China

  • Katherine Mezur

    I think this format of an interview works to balance the “blogger” sensibility of shorter comments. I love hearing from the inside about the East/West perceptions. best k

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