touch and duets October 20

October 20, 2009
Blog-a-way at BDA
My context: Found out more about the Cultural Revolution. Depends so much on generation, more on that later. Took a Mongolian Dance Class at the nearby University of Ethnic Studies. Amazing revelations, incredible teacher. Could understand better where some of the gestures come from in the improvisations in Jonathan’s group and the dance training for all the dancers and one of the choreographers draws on this kind of vocabulary. All the gestures involve the focus of the eyes, the center is mobile and charged, gestures lift high and forward and out: onto the great grasslands of Mongolia.

Today I get this sense of frontal focus and the North South and East West planes of the dances dominate in both groups. There is very little use of repetition yet.

Zhai Tiechun’s group
Going over the section from yesterday, which keeps emerging differently every time they do it as Tie Chun probes and pushes and keeps pressing new relationships to emerge. I can notice the ”stray” gestures that arise from some of the folk dance training of the dancers, mixed with ballet. Tie Chun I very intense. On his feet in the middle of the studio, he moves with a dancer to get the foot action right, he does it to find it and then refine it with the dancer. When the dancer’s get stuck, he moves in tries it.

Two important concepts from Tie Chun today: (Remember this is in translation, and I should get the Chinese to look it up later)
1) After one run through of the current sequence, where they are moving in and out of family portrait-like tableaus, he asks them to use more mental rhythm, to get into synch with each other, to make the jump to fall to jump to fall to push to shove to slip to slide to pause to stop. He asks them to be stable inside, not to rush.

2) Nostalgia, he says inspires his him. I ask him about the way he starts with the dancers doing “natural” movements, like falling backwards from a crouched position, and then he keeps stylizing or refining the movement (to me) into a set phrase of movement that is no longer a gesture from everyday pedestrian movement. He disagrees to a certain extent and goes on from there. He is doing a new process here to move out of his way of doing things. He does not feel it is stylized, but stays very close to the original gesture from daily life. Instead, he says the dancers start making it something else and he pulls them back to the base of the gesture in timing, breath, and to me what looks like design.
He mentions old photographs of his family and that some of the images he has in his memory of his own family. He says the movement in this work so far must be life-like. It may become “generalized” from authenticity (his word/translator) of the daily. He says he works with a kind of ”internal logic” that seems from his gestures to take off as he works with the dancers, so he does not come in with a plan. His work here is to make the work with the dancers. He usually does not work this way.

The walk: “where the man makes the path and the woman walks” from traditional way, says the rehearsal director also a choreographer. He and Tiechun wear the same outfits, jeans, sweat shirt, shaved head with a baseball cap on occasion.
Tie Chun works over and over again with Guo Jiao who is the ”wife,” and Yuan Jia who is the ”father” figure (these are very loose “roles” not characters). This walk downstage by Guo Jiao is a very stylized walk from her classical Chinese dance and folk dance training. The foot is turned in and then turns out when wt. is placed on the foot, the upper torso twists away from the lifted foot and moves in opposition to the hips, which really stabilized everything. The head can remain center or move opposition to the torso, so you get a twisted and spiraling effect through the spine. This spiraling energy is in most Beijing Opera movements. Yuan Jia starts beside Guo Jiao just lifting one of her feet over his leg where he sits after a fall backwards. This becomes a dance of the father lifting the feet of the mother so she progresses downstage only by means of his lifting and placing of her feet. In reality, she is walking and his becomes more and more gestural behind her, shifting side to side.

Then Tie Chun works with the two “children” on an arm swinging and body swaying sequence. They are cute. He has them stand side by side like cutout dolls, legs in second, staring slight upwards, chest pressing up and back (changed this later). Arms swing, then this swing moves into a sway side-to-side, again doll-like with flexed feet off the ground.

When he plays the Mozart Mass for run-throughs of sequences, it gets this surreal sensibility. Like one of those greeting cards with a pop-up character or landscape, his dance pops out of the background, makes the Mass a strange landscape.

Jonathan and Carolyn
I notice how no one choose stillness, not just a pause, but deep stillness for a word or character. They do not use repetition very much. Not exactly, but some use a theme and variation process for a sequence.

The mini-works based on poems (as base only for engaging physically) and a scene fragment, continue. They review the exhilarating mass of gesture and words generated yesterday and make a new sequence with a new poem, a language-body-encounter. The dancers are amazing how they remember each gesture and facing and sequence. They use the words to remember. Prompting with words is an interesting body memory triggering.

Jonathan puts pairs together. A ”water” pair sequence is done in close proximity, with each having their own rhythms to maintain. One starts later, end together. Jonathan has them do it over and over again, while he is listening to music on his ipod with earphones. Interesting tech trick. Says he is playing Madonna. Interesting. Like a Virgin. Late this is done again with a kind of postmodern jazz-like electronic work, cool. Movements have a wave-like shiver, shaking, small hand gestures over face, hair, one stays in place while the other runs a loop, a diagonal back into same spot. There is an ending where they both have a hand and finger sequence, which they pop and punctuate to match the music.

When I see these sequences, I small dances like brushstrokes. But it is very hard to ”write” them here.

Instructions to 3 dancers doing one dancer’s sequence:
1 teach your partner your dance so you get it into your body too
2 learn it and teach it EXACTLY so you become his body
3 learn it so well that you can perform it very very quickly over and over again.
Cool variation: do it together but in your own time: produces a cool tension dynamic that pushes each dancer into more exact and focused sequences.

2 dancers doing both sequences
1 learn each other’s phrases
2 put them in an order and make transitions between
In this duet the two sequences become more dynamic and use more space.

They re-remember yesterday’s scene work with “dialogue.” I think this has produced really interesting sequences that have light and dark sides, some emotional spaces/relationships. Does what Jonathan has pressed for: breaking away from meaning, finding corporeal encounter with words or associations with sound/word spaces.

In general so this is not for ALL of these miniworks but there are small hand gesture sequences that are like tiny quotes or partial references left in mid air: these draw the eye, but have less kinaesthetic impact than the gestures of hands which move into and out of larger postures or locomotion or when they touch themselves. There are designed movements with great lines and patterns through space, but I am first drawn through my eye, not my kinaesthetic fibers….which means I am seeing deliciously but not “moved” and I do not mean emotionally or melodramatically, I mean the impact of some dance that rocks you out of your seat, from the skin and guts. More on this later. These are studies, just becoming dances.
Hand across a face moves the face, traces face and gesture into space.
Pointing becomes something like a million arrows going everywhere on a map.
Focus is internal because they are remembering; I am curious what will happen with that.
Would they rather be leaping?

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