Dream Speech

Below is a slightly doctored version of my summarising contribution to Danscross, delivered at a day-long conference following the two public performances of the eight finished pieces. Again, as in my previous review entry, I’m given myself permission to retrospectively comment on my own text [in square brackets].

‘I suspect I’m the only one of the panelists today who, rather than preparing for what we in the West might colloquially call his five minute song and dance, was instead having a foot massage until 2am. But I maintain that an experience like that could, and in this context, possibly enlarge my understanding of the dance I’ve seen in Danscrsss and elsewhere during what is my first visit to China. [The foot massage was an amazingly relaxing, highly choreographed and completely clothed experience. Three young women worked on my two female companions and me as we lay in a dim, paneled room in lounge chairs eating strange-to-us sweets and channel-hopping, eventually settling on a beautifully shot and wonderfully manipulative black and white Chinese film about rural children rebelling against an oppressive military regime. The massage was quick but thorough, and so well calibrated in terms of the masseuses’ co-ordinated timing and depth of touch from feet to fingertips. I won’t forget the film or, more to the point, the massage.]

I’m not an academic. I write about dance, theatre and the arts for the mainstream press and specialist magazines and websites. I feed on cultural experiences like this one. It’s been a great privilege to be an observer and guest here, gathering impressions, having – I trust – insights, making some perhaps incorrect assumptions, finding meaning and basically absorbing everything I can both in and out of this organisation. [That is, BDA.]
I think I learn more about dance seeing it in the place where it was created – and here it was being created in front of me. Liao bu qi! [This was an attempt to impress my listeners with my new-found but extensive knowledge of Mandarin. I’m being ironic. ‘Liao bu qi’ means, or so I was told, amazing or extraordinary. Apologies if I’ve written the sounds in incorrect phonetic English.] This privileged [obviously a key word for me vis a vis Beijing/Danscross] kind of situation informs all of my perceptions. Right now those perceptions are fully charged. I feel filled up, a little drained but intoxicated and hugely, deeply curious.

I arrived halfway through Phase V. How could I catch up? Be quiet. Look. Listen. Don’t impinge or interrogate — I’m not the choreographers’ dramaturg or confidante. And so I danced around the work, on its periphery. I saw fragments and quick sketches, caught some shapes, guessed at form and aspiration. I saw struggle and play. I wrote down ‘everything,’ silently dialoguing with the process in my notebook and occasionally, gently grabbing bits of information from Jonathan and Caroline during breakfast at the hotel. Doing this, I made my own spider’s web of connections in the studio.

What is just as important for me is finding those connections in the wider world outside the studio. I see the movement of Beijing’s citizens strolling or practicing t’ai chi in Zizhuyuan or Jingsan parks. I look at a calligraphy exhibition in the grounds of the Forbidden City and see some of the writing in the air that the six male dancers — ‘Jonny and Caroline’s boys’ — are doing in Beijing Man. I go to the National Library – I joined the National Library in my first full day here: liao bu qi! – and see people studying or slumped over computers and tables. Are they dreaming? I think the dances I saw being created – Beijing Man and Zhao Tiechun’s Ghost Money – are a kind of dreaming too. From the tallest point in Jingshan I gaze at the snow-dusted rooftops of the Forbidden City, hazy in the smog of Beijing, and I see the dream of those two dances hovering above those rooftops.

So I’ve been dreaming while wide-awake in Beijing.

The audience is dreaming too. Or maybe in China they’re chatting, or reading and texting messages on their mobiles, as can be done in the modern world. [But why would you want to? Boredom? A too-full life? Odd…] In these dances I see the present but also the past, and a glimpse of eternity. This last comment applies especially to Ghost Money, in which Tiechun’s onstage family inhabits a world between earth and heaven. For me it’s a view of China. [And one that I’d certainly never had before.] Last night’s foot massage is another, equally valuable view of China. I’m not sure yet what it’s taught me about dance, or dance in China, but it was a highly and subtly choreographed physical experience. [Sorry about the repetition.] My colleagues and I also enjoyed watching on television a channel advertising Magic Underwear Show Time. This was a kind of dance, too, about support for the breasts. [My attempt at off-the-wall humour might’ve fallen dead at the feet of most ofthe audience, but I couldn’t resist it. As far as I can gather Magic Underwear Show Time, bless its commercial little heart, is all about extolling the life-changing virtues of a certain brand of brassiere. Needless to say, and especially in a foot massage context, it held us fascinated and had us in stitches – a winning combination.]

I suppose the big phrase I’d use for my research process in a very process-oriented project is ‘subjective contextualisation.’ How cultural connections affect change. [Or something like that. Here the attempt was to give my words an academic spin, or some intellectual weight. Maybe I should’ve said ‘quasi-‘ or ‘pseudo-academic,’ which is not to invalidate my thoughts and views but, rather, is an acknowledgement that I don’t know how to talk that talk.]

Like watching – or dreaming – any dance, my investment in Danscross and Beijing – and its investment in me – has deeply aroused my emotions, stimulated my brain and senses, and changed me in ways I expect I will know better only after I go away tomorrow and, ideally, when I return to China. Xie xie. [That’s Mandarin for thank you, and as good a way as any to bring my contribution to the Danscross blog to a close.]

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