DANSCROSS 2009 http://rescen.net/blog Dancing in a shaking world Tue, 22 Oct 2013 16:31:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.6.1 Swept Away http://rescen.net/blog/2010/02/swept-away/906 http://rescen.net/blog/2010/02/swept-away/906#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2010 08:52:17 +0000 Katherine Mezur Final blog Swept Away

I am swept away. You are not supposed to be “swept” away. I keep thinking about the references to Bruno Latour’s “intermediary” and ”mediator.” Perhaps I am a mediating intermediary? I go back to my first Sunday night in October in Beijing at the Beijing Dance Academy anniversary performance at one [...]]]> Final blog
Swept Away

I am swept away. You are not supposed to be “swept” away. I keep thinking about the references to Bruno Latour’s “intermediary” and ”mediator.” Perhaps I am a mediating intermediary? I go back to my first Sunday night in October in Beijing at the Beijing Dance Academy anniversary performance at one the national “Military” Theatres. The red flag, covering the stage, with its brilliant glowing five stars, one large representing the communist party and four smaller stars radiating on an arch from the larger one. Those brilliant four stars are supposedly the different kinds of people (or classes), as written by Mao Tse Tung: the working class, the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. I was so moved. I was so caught in my own history of this history, wanting so much to say that I dreamed of coming here for so long because of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Mao’s Red Book, Beijing Opera, the erhu, this red flag, and those revolutionary dance operas created by Jiang Qing. She had taken the ballet, folk dance, Beijing Opera, martial arts, classical Chinese dance, and folklore of the revolution to make this outrageous mixture into a ”teaching” dance drama for propaganda. Did she know she made a brilliant fusion of modern, postmodern, and avant-garde with melodramatic and pop sensibilities? How right on. It still works: I am swept away. (Stumbling, that afternoon of my first Sunday I felt that surge of the famous Beijing wind and dust storms. full of dust. I become a kite in the hutong and I am blinded. It takes a lot of time to get to places here when you are blown away and swept along.)

I am swept away by the power of Chinese dance, or of Chinese to use dance or dance dance to communicate kinaesthetic resonance that has a very specific aim. I still find it hard to understand the dance and the dancers without doing more research on the last two decades in China and Beijing. I have to do that, to understand the contemporary transformation in this powerhouse, the Beijing Dance Academy. I remember those stars on the flag: the large one and the smaller stars, radiating out from that central force, not unlike how the Beijing Dance Academy works: “star” power (and I do not mean soloist or fame or Hollywood stardom). What stays with me beyond all the choreographic changes, inflections, transformations … is this sense of power that dance has in China. What is this power about? Who does it serve? What does it have to do with the new/old China? I am sure there are many answers and more questions. There is something about the centralization of dance education for the dance stages, which will stage these dances and dance dramas that can and will “move” the audiences beyond and outside their daily lives. I will take that further in my essay for the Danscross book. It was remarkable how much the Chinese choreographers’ works “moved” (swept away?) the audiences and by contrast: how the ”foreign” choreographers’ works made the audience carefully watch and consider…I was told by one young dancer friend that perhaps I could not understand how much “feeling” meant to the Chinese. I know I must avoid ALL essentializing and of course I am swept away, but I also have to reflect and question this power “across” Danscross. I am an intermediatrix.

In Hongse niangzi jun (The Red Detachment of Women)

I went to this revolutionary opera ballet by myself in a 3000 plus seat Beijing theatre that was packed and sold-out. Everyone in the 2nd balcony seats was leaning forward toward the stage to the effect that I thought the balcony my very tip into the orchestra area. For this work, they had a full orchestra and chorus, and dance ensemble of thirty-five to sixty-five members. It was one of the most “power-full” performances I have ever seen. It was not about technique, but power in devices fueled by overwhelming beliefs and passion for those beliefs. You do not have to believe me, but when the Red Detachment of Women strut, leap, and swagger (with big rifles) down stage on the long diagonal for their first full out stage appearance, the whole audience came to their feet. And the soloist, especially when she is striving and writhing during her scenes of capture, liberation, and revolution, dances everyone’s heartache: Surge. Hearts beating. Wow factor. Dance Power. More later, more and more.

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Dream Speech http://rescen.net/blog/2010/01/dream-speech/895 http://rescen.net/blog/2010/01/dream-speech/895#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2010 06:38:09 +0000 Donald Hutera 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 [...]]]> 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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Reviewing the review http://rescen.net/blog/2010/01/reviewing-the-review/893 http://rescen.net/blog/2010/01/reviewing-the-review/893#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2010 06:32:18 +0000 Donald Hutera I make my living primarily as a critic, although it’s not a label with which I’m particularly comfortable. In any case, after I returned to London the magazine Dance Europe accepted my proposal to write about the Danscross performances, both of which took place at Beijing’s swank Poly Theatre. What follows are excerpts from that review, occasionally sprinkled with [in square brackets] my retrospective commentary.

‘At their best the pieces devised for Danscross [...]]]> I make my living primarily as a critic, although it’s not a label with which I’m particularly comfortable. In any case, after I returned to London the magazine Dance Europe accepted my proposal to write about the Danscross performances, both of which took place at Beijing’s swank Poly Theatre. What follows are excerpts from that review, occasionally sprinkled with [in square brackets] my retrospective commentary.

‘At their best the pieces devised for Danscross functioned like short stories, all of which were expressed in the language of the body. And that meant specifically Chinese bodies.
[This notion of each body containing the rhythms of the societies and cultures in which it exists continues to be of interest. I’d love to go back to China, see more of the country and spend more time simply watching how people move and interact…] The BDA Dance Company is a highly capable, attractive entity well versed in Chinese classical styles… It appears that the group adapted well to the rigours of contemporary dance offered by the foreign choreographers. By the same token, the Western dance-makers had to accustom themselves to a different system of circumstances and disciplines than they might have previously known. [The learning process on both sides was understandably immense and complex, and therefore not always easy. Again, what a privilege to witness some of those struggles – and the joyous breakthroughs.]

And the result? Not unexpectedly, perhaps, a mixed bag of dances that ran a gamut from Western abstraction to Chinese emotionalism. It was my good fortune that the two pieces I, in fly-on-the-wall fashion, watched being made in the studio turned out to be among the strongest on the bill. Set to the percolating rhythms of the American electronica duo Matmos, Jonathan Lunn’s Beijing Man is a male sextet cleverly combining an almost calligraphic gestural filigree with quick-witted athletic vigour. It was quirky, sexy and fun but delivered with a seriousness of purpose that deftly balanced its more playful qualities. In complete contrast, Zhao Tiechun’s Ghost Money was a moving, beautifully expressive contemplation of earth and heaven, or life and death, built round a four-person family unit clad in vaguely peasant garb. According to those in the know the choreographer was stretching himself here, redefining his knowledge and use of a twisty but limited folk style juxtaposed against Mozart’s Kyrie (Andante Moderato). It’s undeniably big music, but he had the measure of it. [I’d gladly watch these two pieces again, particularly if I could do so out of their Beijing context. I’ve long maintained that seeing dance in the country it was made can be a hugely different experience from seeing it abroad.]

The programme opened with Shobana Jeyasingh’s Detritus, a bold attempt to capitalise on the hybrid nature of the BDA dancers’ training. Sharpness and speed are the watchwords of Jeyasingh’s style. The piece’s admirably unsettling drive was, however, undermined by a score (credited to Andy Cowton and Ryoji Ikeda) played at ear-splitting volume. Kerry Nicholls’ Cleave was similarly fast and frenetic and, as such, a suitable exemplar of the shaking world theme. Nicholls works closely with UK choreographer Wayne McGregor, and it shows. That’s not a bad thing, and probably quite welcome in the context of both the BDA and Chinese dance generally. Cleave showed plenty of craft and kinetic complexity but, from this Westerner’s perspective, it was written in an overly familiar vocabulary. [I’ve never met up with Kerry to discuss her time in Beijing. As for Shobana, I know she had her bumpy moments there. Before the end of 2009 we agreed to get together for a post-mortem, but it’s yet to happen. Some day, maybe soon…]

Temperamentally I felt much closer to John Utans’ Water Mark, a liquid piece of structured improvisation musically bookended by a version of the American standard Stormy Weather and Tim Buckley’s vibrant Song to the Siren. Marked by a fine sense of stillness and an undertow of romantic melancholy, this was one of the evening’s most poetic and elusive dances and, in all likelihood, no less of a challenge for the dancers than Jeyasingh’s and Nicholls’ more aggressive work-outs. [It’s unavoidable that you have the strongest feelings for the work you saw being made in front of you. Alright, I only saw John’s work after it was finished, but only just. My response to that run-through – immediate, tactful yet honest and heart-felt – might’ve helped shape or shade the way it was subsequently interpreted. If so, I take no credit for this. If anything it’s a humbling reminder of what a sensitive state artists are in when they’re creating work, and how that needs to be respected. But how they deserve to be told the truth of what you think and feel, whether the work is fresh out of the oven or older than the proverbial hills. That, I guess, is one of the main functions of the critic/dance writer.]

The dances by the other Chinese choreographers was, unsurprisingly, quite distinct from their foreign counterparts and of likewise variable effect. Zhao Ming’s Trust or not took swine flu as the topical inspiration for a fairly obvious study in group dynamics with, in its favour, a hopeful ending. Zhang Yunfeng’s starting point for The brightest light in the darkest night was Liu Yan, a BDA dancer injured during the final preparations for the 2008 Olympics and now a wheelchair-user. Set on two levels, this heart-on-sleeve dance was her first time onstage since her accident. An exquisite, long-armed presence in a red ballgown, she occupied a high platform stage right. Until the closing tableau, her three male co-stars danced with expansive sensitivity below her. That leaves the programme’s oddest entry. Cued to an adaptation of a Bach cello suite, Wang Mei’s What a golden autumn featured five dancers in rabbit costumes. The choreographer has been described as the Chinese Pina Bausch. I can’t comment on the comparison. I only know that her unhappy, floor-based bunnies constituted the least successful and yet perhaps most original piece in Danscross. [Those goofy rabbit outfits! And don’t ask me why, but I happen to like rabbit references. But in this case was Wang Mei practicing some weird form of artistic self-sabotage or what? I watched a studio version of her dance, up close rather than long-distance as was the case at the Poly Theatre, and sans the bunny garb. It was a memorably affecting piece. Now I wonder what will happen to it. The same could be said of the other Danscross pieces. For one possible answer, read on…]

What next? It seems that some, if not all, of these dances may be presented in the UK next year. [That is, 2010.] Ideally the project’s next phase would happen there, too, with British dancers on tap for UK and Chinese choreographers. But as a model for cross-cultural exchange, Danscross could probably work anywhere in the world.’ [Here’s to the future…]

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Audience behaviour remembered http://rescen.net/blog/2010/01/audience-behaviour-remembered/891 http://rescen.net/blog/2010/01/audience-behaviour-remembered/891#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2010 06:29:11 +0000 Donald Hutera It’s been more than two months since I returned from Beijing and Dancross but, as has been expressed elsewhere on this site, I also feel that it was an utterly unforgettable and privileged experience. Ironically, perhaps, I still think of some of the things I didn’t get to do. Yes, I visited the Confucius Temple but not the nearby Lama Temple. Yes, I went to the Summer Palace but not the Yuanmingyuan ruins, despite their [...]]]> It’s been more than two months since I returned from Beijing and Dancross but, as has been expressed elsewhere on this site, I also feel that it was an utterly unforgettable and privileged experience. Ironically, perhaps, I still think of some of the things I didn’t get to do. Yes, I visited the Confucius Temple but not the nearby Lama Temple. Yes, I went to the Summer Palace but not the Yuanmingyuan ruins, despite their proximity. And I was just that bit too late for the date I was hoping to have with Mao’s embalmed corpse! It lies in a Memorial Hall in the middle of Tiananmen Square, a vast and highly visited piece of land surrounded on all sides by white barriers and hardly my favourite spot in Beijing. Well, presumably Mao’s remains are not going anywhere soon, so I may yet be able to have that rendezvous with him at some point down the road….

I am of course hugely pleased with all I did manage to see and do, both in terms of tourism and – my main reason for being in Beijing – dance. In early November I’d meant to include in my Danscross blogs the words of Janet Smith, artistic director of Scottish Dance Theatre. The company was touring China at the time. I attended a lecture-dem led by Smith at Peking University (a campus worth exploring, especially for its pond and lake) and featuring Caroline Bowditch, Scotland’s Dance Agent for Change (and such a bright, talented and sexy woman). The night before I’d been to the concert hall of the Central Conservatory of Music to sample a bit of World Music Days. This was the title of a four-day symposium focusing on an exchange between Chinese culture and that of New Zealand and surrounding regions. The evening opened with music by a venerable yet still wonderfully lively male percussion ensemble from western Hunan province who, in 2006, were designated a National Intangible Cultural Heritage. This was followed by songs and dances from a small group of Maori artists. The audience seemed appreciative, but they were also undeniably distracting – and distracted – if the pockets of fairly low-key chat were any indication. Worse, to my mind, was their use of mobile phones (at least to text rather than talk or photograph) even as the show was happening. I was especially taken aback at this very same behaviour coming from two of my Chinese guests, a dancer and his teacher both of whom are connected to the BDA. I wondered — but did not ask — how they would like it if people were texting during their performance. But who can say, maybe they wouldn’t mind one bit. Different country, different customs.

The above is a prelude to an email Smith sent me later that week, which I’ve cut and pasted with only a few minor corrections in spelling: ‘The Chinese audience experience is something you must witness,’ she wrote. ‘The first 15 minutes is like Charing Cross at rush hour, but in a blackout, since they insist on starting bang on time but also letting in latecomers. Then the flash photography and videoing lights up auditorium and stage, along with cell phones (people texting, making shopping lists?). Then a little man in a uniform tries to counter-attack the photographers by sending an infra-red beam of light towards them. This crisscrosses over peoples’ heads and bounces off the walls of the auditorium. There is the constant clicking of high heels as ushers come and go with yet more latecomers, along with the clicking of cameras and the constant murmur of people talking to each other at normal volume. Somewhere beyond the chaos, surrounded by equally disturbing traffic backstage, the dancers focus for their lives and do that beautiful thing that dancers do when they take us to another world.’ Neatly stated and, crazy as it seems, I miss it now that I’m thinking about it, and about being in Beijing.

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Two ideas: on slippage and ways of considering transmission between dance cultures. http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/two-ideas-0n-slippage-and-ways-of-considering-transmission-between-dance-cultures/871 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/two-ideas-0n-slippage-and-ways-of-considering-transmission-between-dance-cultures/871#comments Mon, 23 Nov 2009 01:03:10 +0000 Katherine Mezur http://rescen.net/blog/?p=871 Missing Beijing. After seeing DV8, a ”Diaspora” dance series at Counterpulse, a stunning play performed by the Druid Theatre of Ireland and listening to Yvonne Rainer: new dance makes demands. Before I start reflecting and analyzing as I do with new works that were made under observation, I wanted to explain a process of live [...]]]> Missing Beijing. After seeing DV8, a ”Diaspora” dance series at Counterpulse, a stunning play performed by the Druid Theatre of Ireland and listening to Yvonne Rainer: new dance makes demands. Before I start reflecting and analyzing as I do with new works that were made under observation, I wanted to explain a process of live research that has always been exciting to me: watching the slippages of transmission between choreographer and dancers, dancers and dancers, and improvisation and setting movement. The point here may be obvious to dance makers and dramaturgs and dancers, but the shifts of gesture in time, space, and energy between bodies in different stages of dance making, is the progressive performance that one rarely sees. “Researchers” or academics, who have been dancer makers, probably tune to this right away. I even experience the sadness of loss when I see a choreographer move away from or skip something I thought was brilliant in an earlier edition. Also exciting is the brilliance of dancers who press their own signatures into new gestures, even when, minutely, exactly, taking on, the choreographer’s direction and energy (or another dancer’s). But this can only be seen if one has the time, privilege, and invitation to see and observe a dance in progress over time, and time again.

That said, I keep thinking of two important outcomes from the Danscross observation of process-in-process: on an uneconomic side: choreographers should repeat some of their dances, try them out on other dancers, see what happens, and perhaps make the audiences deeper observers? I see so much the second time. Further, why not invite a dance critic or researcher into your process?

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Questions on transnational exchanges http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/questions-on-transnational-exchanges/869 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/questions-on-transnational-exchanges/869#comments Mon, 23 Nov 2009 00:58:12 +0000 Katherine Mezur I am in need of feedback on methods and ways of considering what happens in transnational creative exchanges: while there are many books, articles, and even dances on this process of transit and transmission between bodies of different “cultural and political practices: I am curious what Danscross choreographers, researchers, dancers, and administrators found (during or [...]]]> I am in need of feedback on methods and ways of considering what happens in transnational creative exchanges: while there are many books, articles, and even dances on this process of transit and transmission between bodies of different “cultural and political practices: I am curious what Danscross choreographers, researchers, dancers, and administrators found (during or after) as the points of ”transformation” (focusing here about the space between not in opposition to):

1) What changes did you notice in what the dancers or choreographers or researchers did, directly related to the circumstances of being in Beijing, with Beijing-based dancers, trained at the Beijing Dance Academy? No matter how small and specific or broad and general: what caused a known pattern to shift, transfer, disengage, remain silent, empty out, or burst, self-destruct, or disappear?

2) Because “change” can be very difficult to know or write about except in retrospect, what was new or unprecedented or unusual in your dancing or dance making or observation process that was (again) directly related to these place/time circumstances of Danscross? In this case, could you describe what that was and what were the circumstances surrounding that moment?

3) While the larger and cumbersome “differences” of dance cultures may seem obvious to some of you, I think it may be still helpful to hear some of these. What were some of the first, most impressive, and continuing differences in this transnational encounter?

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The meeting of creative minds http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/827/827 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/827/827#comments Fri, 13 Nov 2009 15:21:23 +0000 Richard Layzell http://rescen.net/blog/?p=827 At the Beijing Dance Academy on the 9th November, where choreographers, dancers and academics equally shared the billing.

At the Beijing Dance Academy on the 9th November, where choreographers, dancers and academics equally shared the billing.


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I miss you… Someone out there answer back. http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/i-miss-you-someone-out-there-answer-back/820 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/i-miss-you-someone-out-there-answer-back/820#comments Tue, 10 Nov 2009 08:57:01 +0000 Katherine Mezur On the jet plane, somewhere where China becomes the mountains of the sea below me. My last morning I had to decide between taking ballet and one more classical Chinese dance class, so I went to the classical class and felt so charged with the lines of energy, the signs that drift in and out [...]]]> On the jet plane, somewhere where China becomes the mountains of the sea below me. My last morning I had to decide between taking ballet and one more classical Chinese dance class, so I went to the classical class and felt so charged with the lines of energy, the signs that drift in and out of arm movements, the curves and thrusts of feet, and as usual I always find the male movement my favorite.
I miss you.
This is a kind of love letter.
Someone out there answer back. I overheard Chris remark on Sunday that this weekend and the whole Danscross project was really one of the highlights of his life. I had said that to Min too. I do believe in alchemy, how innovation really arises out of daring and now knowing how something will work.

But I want to know how you all are? What pictures come up? What last gestures strike you in your memory planes? What disturbed you? What made you take a pause and reflect differently?
I miss you.

Can someone tell me about the last half hour speeches by the two women dance leaders? I was so struck by their vehemence and power to silence us all. But I did not understand their context? The meaning of their need and drive and desires… can anyone comment?

Paul’s mediator and intermediary were striking like having demons undo all those nasty binaries that are too easily made to frame any dialogue. Let us interrupt each other more, let us be less polite, like innovative choreography: don’t simplify into tensions “between.” Resist the polarized. But what does making it complex do? Take it further, Paul.

The limitations and rules theme panel: Please post those wonderful powerpoints!!!! English and Chinese please.

I did love how the simultaneous interpreter made us “he’s” and ”she’s” randomly. Lovely gender switching.
I miss you.

I miss you. k

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BIG questions http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/big-questions/816 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/big-questions/816#comments Fri, 06 Nov 2009 19:54:05 +0000 Katherine Mezur Wild show. Nov. 6 Big questions I want to ask during the next two discussion and forum times:

After viewing and viewing and viewing the Chinese and the UK, Hong Kong, and Other choreographic works in performance:

What is the deep sweeping emotionalism in the Chinese works? What does it do? How does it work? What does it produce? What is the abstraction of emotion through forms and stylization in the Other works? [...]]]> Wild show.
Nov. 6
Big questions I want to ask during the next two discussion and forum times:

After viewing and viewing and viewing the Chinese and the UK, Hong Kong, and Other choreographic works in performance:

What is the deep sweeping emotionalism in the Chinese works? What does it do? How does it work? What does it produce?
What is the abstraction of emotion through forms and stylization in the Other works? How does this process work? What does it do to ”meaning”?
Can we talk about the power and politics of emotions?
Can we talk about the power of abstraction?

How is dance “used” in these works?
How is dance “employed” in our different culture/nations?

How do you choose and shape the dance with your music, objects, lights, set?
How are we speaking and making meaning through every element of these dances in performance?

I feel that everyone needs to do homework on each other’s histories. Both of the individual and their “culture” and ”nation.” We do not create separated from our local space. We do not create separately from our given circumstances of daily life.

There is so much I do not understand.
Danscross crosses.

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self, emotion, place, scale, spirit, gender http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/self-emotion-place-scale-spirit-gender/805 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/self-emotion-place-scale-spirit-gender/805#comments Fri, 06 Nov 2009 02:47:27 +0000 Donald Hutera http://rescen.net/blog/?p=805 At Sunday’s press conference Luo Bin, chair of the Dance Research Institute of the China Arts Academy, spoke about the scholars and bloggers as ’participants in what we’re observing. In learning about the object of our study we are also the object of our study.’ I suspect that this idea — and I might’ve said [...]]]> At Sunday’s press conference Luo Bin, chair of the Dance Research Institute of the China Arts Academy, spoke about the scholars and bloggers as ’participants in what we’re observing. In learning about the object of our study we are also the object of our study.’ I suspect that this idea — and I might’ve said this before — has manifested itself in different ways during Danscross depending on who’s been in one room together. Or maybe someone else said it. That’s how overstimulated I feel in this city, but in a positive sense. The ideas and the experiences I’m having are all running together, so much so that at times it could almost be that I’m channeling China itself. I’m joking and yet not joking. I guess this blog is one way to study my own responses, and make sense of being here.

I’ve been thinking about emotionalism in Chinese culture, and by extension my own, unexpected pockets of emotionalism about it.. The subject was brought up at dinner on Sunday with Chinese dance scholar and critic Jiang Dong, fellow blogger Qing Qing and the choreographer and BDA staff member Wan Su. And today, en route to the Great Wall, the guide on my coach compared the Chinese character to jade — not sparkly like the diamonds that Americans are said to favour, but smoky, muted and maybe initially reserved; there’s a lot going on inside that self-containment. It’s not just watching the dance that is ‘getting to me’ emotionally, but also hanging out in a park like Jingshan or hiking up on the Wall or being spoken to — in Mandarin, no less! — by a myna bird caged outside a small shop in a hutong behind the Forbidden City. I guess it’s partly the beauty and strangeness here that’s so appealing to me, or is that just some Westerner’s view of exoticism? I trust not. A friend of mine in London, with whom I’ve exchanged a few emails since arriving, implied that I might be finding the Beijing inside me. Somehow I feel this has a bearing on how I perceive and receive the Danscross experience. It reinforces my belief that you can’t beat seeing dance in the place it was created. That includes dance made in Beijing by Westerners! I’ll probably have more to say about context in a future blog.

An aside: I’m thinking, too, about the porous quality of Tiechun’s piece Ghost Money, and the way his dance exists between two worlds (human and, for want of a better word, spiritual). Maybe everyone involved in this exchange between the UK and China is having to test or develop their own porousness. How much will we allow ourselves to be permeated by another culture?

Back to emotionalism and also on to both size and gender. Sunday night I was invited to watch a rehearsal at BDA of a full-length, abstract Chinese classical dance show. This massive undertaking involves three choreographers (all are men), film projections (not part of this rehearsal), some kind of written text, an original score (unfortunately played at a blaring volume) and probably about three dozen 2nd and 3rd year students minimum. (It could be more because several dancers were off sick that night.) Wang Wei — I think I’ve got her name right, and she’s not to be confused with Wang Mei who is choreographing for Danscross — and her virtually all-male team in BDA’s Chinese classical dance department will have been working on the this production for a year. It has three performances scheduled for mid-month and that could be it. As with so many things in Beijing, and maybe in all of China, it’s partly the sheer scale of the work that was impressive. The opening section for a wedge of extraordinarily agile, sober young men only was as tightly drilled, patterned and potently executed a dance as I’ve seen lately. (I was moved by the way they moved — the concentration, speed and precision of the individuals and the group.) The ultra-feminine female ensemble routine that followed featured a bevy of slim, seemingly made-to-measure dancers decorously sporting what could be deemed the Chinese classical version of the pointe shoe, a platformed slipper (most were aqua-coloured) that resembled a cross between bound feet and pony hooves. In such footwear how else can these young women move except with mincing steps and a willowy curvaceousness? (No subversion of gender conventions here then.) There was  an encounter between a scholar and some acrobatic, half-masked demons  and a sweeping finale in which a disciplined hoard of young people in big, fluffy costumes swirled about like smoke. I wasn’t clear if the piece is called Fenmor, which I gather has something to do with  the powdery makeup that Peking Opera performers’ use and, even more than that, the graphic qualities of  ink, or if the meaning of that word was instead a significant inspiration.

There are vast locations in this sprawling city — palaces and parks and avenues, and the Wall, or Tiananmen Square — and large concepts coursing through the whole country’s history. This reminds me — my brain is making some not especially linear connections here — of the recent talk in London jointly organised by Dance UK and Dance Umbrella and entitled Where Are The Women? Essentially it was designed to question the disparity between female choreographers and their male counterparts, starting from a point of view that in the UK the latter are getting more and better breaks than the former. I won’t detail the debate much further except to say that among the issues raised was the notion that women are generally making smaller-scale, more emotional work and, in the main, being less pushy about themselves and their careers than men who tend to make bigger-scale, abstract dances.

How might any of the above relate to Danscross? The eight small-scale dance pieces that will be unveiled to the public tonight are the collective product of some pretty large-scale thinking. Women seem to be fairly well represented in the project.  Having said that, one of the female Chinese scholars I had lunch with on the weekend remarked that, having been in the studio observing Shobana Jeyasingh at work, in her opinion the latter ‘thinks like a man.’ (Now there’s a debate I’d like to pursue with the accused.) Later, after mentioning this at dinner to Jiang Dong and his colleagues, he said it’s typical in Chinese culture to assume that ‘any strong, brilliant idea is by a man.’ I can’t comment on that. I just know that when I watch a dance I’m not dwelling on the sex of the person who made it. To be more specific, this means that to me ideally Shobana would first be perceived as an artist and only then as a woman artist. And then as a British-Asian woman artist? The levels and labels multiply. Nor does it negate the notion of masculine and feminine dance. Unresolvable, this. But another genuinely interesting investigative strand to be wrapped around dance in China — kind of like the raw silk I saw and touched in the Beijing Dong Wu Silk Museum yesterday.

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snow and health http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/snow-and-health/793 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/snow-and-health/793#comments Wed, 04 Nov 2009 15:13:22 +0000 Donald Hutera http://rescen.net/blog/?p=793 It snowed on Sunday in Beijing. A lot. Some have said it was because scientists seeded the clouds. What would happen if they seeded choreographers or — why not — the public? Would there be a mass of dancing in the street? There already is movement in Beijing. The flow and disruption of traffic, yes, [...]]]> It snowed on Sunday in Beijing. A lot. Some have said it was because scientists seeded the clouds. What would happen if they seeded choreographers or — why not — the public? Would there be a mass of dancing in the street? There already is movement in Beijing. The flow and disruption of traffic, yes, but I’m also thinking of the couple of women I saw dancing in the so-called Long Corridor or open gallery at the Temple of Heaven. Or the three middle-aged women (again) who were practicing with shiny curved faux swords today in Jingshan, a gem of a park (once you get away from the tour groups clogging the entrance) just behind the Forbidden City. I have seen men moving. Older men, too. One had his leg fully stretched — ouch! but impressively so — against a round pillar in the Long Corridor. Elsewhere another, less limber gentleman was repeatedly executing a little kick movement on a path. Exercise? Maybe. But you could also regard it as this man’s dance on that particular day.

Apparently Joanthan’s dancers refer to themselves as Iron Men. They think their tough, and I’m sure they are. But everyone has aches and pains. So, a few dancers from within the whole group have been hurt or are ill. One of them told me there’s a clinic at the BDA, but the joke is that anyone who goes there leaves it sicker than when they walked in. No comment. But I’m curious how China’s health care system works, and how much dancers are taught about injury prevention and what treatments are on offer.

On Sunday there was a press briefing in the glass studio behind the main studio building at BDA. It was cold in there, enough to make me feel sorry for the dancers who were visible as they tried warming up behind the production shots of each dance that had been blown up to banner size. The snow had been falling since late the previous night, and it kept falling through many speeches and comments. Several of the Chinese said the weather boded well for Danscross. Maybe the season’s first snowfall (and on November 1, too) can be especially transformative. There were some lofty-sounding comments, like that of Danscfross choreographer Zhao Ming. ‘The deepest meaning of this project,’ he said, ‘is that it’s an opportunity for the rest of the world to find itself in China, and China to find itself in the rest of the world.’ Following on from that, but on a more practical level, an unidentified (to me, at any rate) guest asked if there would indeed be any possibility for Dancross to be seen elsewhere outside of China. Apparently there will indeed be a chance next autumn at the Linbury Studio Theatre in Covent Garden. Good. More would be nice, either in the UK or elsewhere.

I’ve not met them all, but I know that some members of the BDA Dance Company are famous. One is Wang Yabin, who has another career as an actress on a TV soap opera. She told me she’s quite happy if her television fan-base is also lured into the theatre to see her dance. Another is Liu Yan, an award-winning dancer who now uses a wheelchair following an accident while she was rehearsing for the Beijing Olympic Games. I believe she is now commonly referred to as ’an Olympic hero.’ At the press briefing she spoke about the significance of Danscross for her. She is dancing in Zhang Yungfeng’s The brightest light in the darkest night. (I’ve not seen a bit of it.) The piece is the first she’s been a part of since the accident. It was moving and, yes, inspiring to hear her speak of re-entering the studio ‘and not wanting to look in the mirror. Now, after my injury, I’ve become much more aware of all the people involved in putting on a dance performance. They’re the foundation upon which it’s built.’ I didn’t go, but that evening members of the Danscross project were filmed before what was described to me as rent-a-crown audience of dance students for a Chinese talk show. A keyboard player was on hand to provide mood music: if the host said something amusing his quip was capped by a tinkling bit of music; similarly, when Liu Yan talked about herself pre- and post-accident (complete with clips of her dancing with full use of her body, and of the ambulance rushing her to the hospital) the instrumentalist laid on sentimental sounds. Again, I wasn’t there, but was this publicity or exploitation? However it’s viewed, in the bigger picture this TV event was perhaps as much a part of the Danscross process as anything else. At BDA that morning Liu Yan had said that gradually, working on Zhang Yungfeng’s dance, the joy had seeped back into her dancing. It’ll do that sometimes.

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shared exposure, or, share and share unlike http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/shared-exposure-or-share-and-share-unlike/785 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/11/shared-exposure-or-share-and-share-unlike/785#comments Wed, 04 Nov 2009 13:56:36 +0000 Donald Hutera http://rescen.net/blog/?p=785 There’s a real heating up of the Danscross project as the collective energies of those who are involved and in Beijing focus on the public performances as opposed to the process. But these performances are also a part of the process. Will the enormous contradictions in Chinese culture be evident in the eight works to [...]]]> There’s a real heating up of the Danscross project as the collective energies of those who are involved and in Beijing focus on the public performances as opposed to the process. But these performances are also a part of the process. Will the enormous contradictions in Chinese culture be evident in the eight works to be premiered this weekend?

On one level this blog is like writing into some masturbatory void, but I’m aware that I am likely to get caught doing it.

Jonathan spoke at breakfast about how exposed he felt in what was sometimes a fully documented working environment, what with observers in the studio with him and Carolyn and the dancers plus on certain days a photographer or film-maker as well. Amusing, although maybe not at the time: apparently he muttered something along the lines of ’What the hell should I do now?’ and it was duly translated to the dancers as ’He’s undecided what to do next.’ Does process become performance when it’s under such close scrutiny?

My friend, the Beijing-based dance scholar and critic Jiang Dong [who's written a book called Contemporary Chinese Dance which to my shame I've yet to read, but which is available in English] has said that Wang Mei, whom he holds in high esteem [and whom I've yet to meet], isn’t the least bit interested in a career. She’s professor of the choreography department of BDA. and yes, she enjoys it when the public sees her dances. But that’s not why she’s doing it. If no one sees the work it’s okay. She’s really a philosopher, he says. Does this mean process is where it’s at for her?

Danscross has been three years in the making, which is how long it’s been since BDA and ResCen began thinking and talking about the project. The doing of it — the actual making of dances — began less than six months ago. hence the heightened expectations this week. I’m reminding myself of this timeline while thinking about the rules of the game for the choreographers. It’s about numbers: no more than six dancers in a piece lasting ten minutes maximum and made in just eleven days.

Results of Phase 4: on Saturday afternoon there was a sharing at BDA of Jonathan’s and Tiechun’s dances. The latter’s Ghost Money came first. Witnessing the creative struggle of any group of artists to get things right in the studio is a kind of investment, especially if you’re privileged enough to be able to do it over the course of a few days. Maybe that’s why I felt so glad for — and even proud of — Tiechun’s four dancers at the sharing almost in a lump-in-throat kind of way. I was moved by them — and by ‘Jonny’s boys’ too — because they’d really pulled their act together. The two pieces are vastly different in outlook and execution and yet they share a wit, by which I mean an intelligence, that stems as much from each cast’s commitment as their respective choreographic concepts. My Chinese colleague Pan Li was quite right when she remarked that each dance creates its own cohesive world. The high-flown sense of purpose of Tiechun’s piece, set to Mozart, is offset by something quite human. [More on this later.] Jonathan’s Beijing Man, meanwhile, is both serious and, in its own quirky way, sorta sexy. The six men in it are dazzlers. It’s fun — and something more — to watch them sway and float, leap and ’sleep.’

At the sharing Jonathan spoke about being ‘very drawn to the idea of making a piece with men only as the basis for a world that already wasn’t complete.’ His take on the notion of a shaking world is about ‘looking at the instability that comes from the shifting of alliances and people.’ This was possible, he said, largely because of ’the shared trust, connection and feeling’ of dancers whose working relationship he views as exceptionally harmonious. With them, he added, ‘I found I was in one way on very stable ground.’ Not being around during the first week of Phase 4 meant that I missed him/them using poetry from the Tang and Song dynasties, along with contemporary Chinese verse, to find movement. But it was this process, often a part of Jonathan’s practice, that enabled ‘the individual personalities and idiosyncrasies of the dancers to come out.’

Dancer Wang Zihan said that one of the strongest parts about working with Jonathan was the feeling that ‘in creating work there should be no restrictions or limits.’ It’s ironic that this arose out of creative circumstances that were in some ways highly restrictive, at least in their outer casing; it’s what each choreographer and cast have put inside of the dances that constitutes the differences between them. He continued: ‘In China we limit ourselves to a certain style or period. In this situation we were asked to forget about the time period or the meaning of a poem. This gave us more space for imagination and more options for physical expression.’ Fellow dancer Wang Lei added that he knew Western choreographers ‘like to use games to get and build up material,’ but in this case said games can be used in the future ‘when we have the opportunity to choreograph.’ Note that there’s been no time to enquire how such choreographic opportunities  might practically materialize, nor just what that choreography might be.

For his part, Tiechun began by saying how ‘in China we don’t have this practice of having created a piece you have to explain it afterwards.  A lot of times, working with dance, the minute you try to put it into words something’s lost in translation.’ ‘ Could this have been for him one of the 18 levels of hell that he was telling lighting designer Charles Balfour about? He was honest and good-humoured about having no ideas for three or four months. ‘In the past when I created a piece i always had a kind of preparation,’ he explained. ‘This time, no. That kind of approach will give the dance a lack of definition, but this lack of clarity becomes an essential part of the piece.’ Addressing his dancers, he admitted that ‘I didn’t pick you guys because you all majored in folk dance. It’s just that you were the one left over!’ He tried working from their improvisations, but apparently this didn’t prove to be particularly fruitful. What he hit upon, eventually, was shaping them into a family unit in which two of the dancers are ‘not really dogs, but they take on the essence of dogs. In every family there’s always these small lives crawling about. But if this was a family, there needed to be some kinds of twists and contradictions between these people.’ Out of this Tiechun somehow hit upon the idea of using money to signal a transition to another world, ‘a symbol all Chinese people are familiar with. It’s money that works in the worlds of the dead and the living; It connects the two.’ The dance is not about rebirth or reincarnation, he said, but more to do with the meaning of those two worlds juxtaposed against what happens between the actual people or even within an individual. While thematically all of this might sound heavy, on the physical side Ghost Money could hardly have been simpler. A lot of movement was derived from a Chinese folk dance called  jiao zhou yang ge. Tiechun himself called it limited, citing twisting as its major element. ‘The entire piece comes out of this twisting action, and out of the dancers themselves.’

After stating her belief that Tiechun was ‘totally going away from what he’s done before,’ Liu Xiaozhen deemed it ‘a new way of performing Chinese folk or ethnic dance, and of passing down culture and tradition.’ The dancer Huang Dongmei echoed this, speaking of how she and the others were able to ’open up and try things never possible before’ by ‘reaching out and trying to grab onto certain elements about just what is Chinese for us?’ She’d asked Tiechun if his dance was a tragedy or a comedy, but ‘he wasn’t sure. He said it’s sometimes one and then the other.’ As for personal rewards, she believes that working on Ghost Money has strengthened her ‘ability to think and reflect as I’m dancing and creating a dance work.’

I asked if the choreographers could comment on each other’s dances. ‘Talking about someone else’s work is even harder than talking about your own. All i can say is there is a feeling here. Jonathan did an excellent job of deeply accessing material in the dancers’ minds and hearts as well as their physicality. I see elements of Beijing and China in it, maybe, but just an impression. It’s not specific. And if it were an imitation, it would be wrong. You can see the process in the finished work. It’s a product of the way it was created.’

As for  Tiechun, Jonathan said his piece contained ‘a refreshing clarity and purity. There’s a strong sense of a connected group of people, and something from another time.’ The beauty of the dance, he added, was never merely decorative but instead had a carved quality. The work reminded Carolyn of paintings, and also of something ‘not of this world, but making a connection between our past and out future. Maybe that’s the feeling between life and death.’

It was compliments all round then. Ringmaster Bannerman, aka Professor Ban, took the opportunity to sum up the project from his perspective:  ’In the process of research the unknown becomes familiar, but the opposite is also true — things that we think are familiar to us suddenly become unknown.’

It’s more than half a week since the sharing. For me here and now the greatest unknown is still China itself — the people, the place and the dance that is happening both in the studio and all over on the streets of Beijing.

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Blogalong: October 31, 2009, October 30, moving backwards and forwards. http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/blogalong-october-31-2009-october-30-moving-backwards-and-forwards/779 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/blogalong-october-31-2009-october-30-moving-backwards-and-forwards/779#comments Sat, 31 Oct 2009 16:43:58 +0000 Katherine Mezur Where are we? We are in China, The People’s Republic of China. It struck me as I use the yuan money that is printed with many Mao images: a kind of ”Mao” is everywhere. The academy is overwhelming sometimes: dance in five or six studios down 7 floors of classrooms with windows: they are dance rich. In our project, the aim towards the proscenium stage concert might have added pressure [...]]]> Where are we? We are in China, The People’s Republic of China. It struck me as I use the yuan money that is printed with many Mao images: a kind of ”Mao” is everywhere. The academy is overwhelming sometimes: dance in five or six studios down 7 floors of classrooms with windows: they are dance rich.
In our project, the aim towards the proscenium stage concert might have added pressure on these last two choreographers. This is a relay between last choreographing sessions, rehearsals, and the ”sharing” gathering where we see and discuss the works. This is followed by some kind of review by authorities. I am told this is to check the quality of the works to make sure they are of the quality necessary for the funding….hmmm. interesting.
I am not surprised but everyone is very kind, no suggestion of criticism or other ways to do the program. It is certainly an honor to participate, but will this just pass and the impact of ”exchange” and moving across, into, and through each other, fade back when “nationalisms” are on the rise everywhere? I cannot speak.

(A small aside: the music is played incredibly loud at the sharing session, I could hear the molecules in my ears and the digital hissing. Why so loud?)
I see so much tension in Tiechun’s work, it never releases. I don’t feel the brilliant last roll as strongly as I do in rehearsal when it is a small section done over and over. He is eloquent during the sharing session. I wish his characters would tell me their stories or dreams. His students and Pan Li the Chinese researcher on this project say how radical this work is and that this has been an incredible opportunity for them to see him work in a different way. I see his work as a landscape, vast.
Jonathan and Carolyn
If Jonathan wants to keep the shifting, which keeps the ”life” in the work, protects it from stagnation and performance-performance, he needs to set up a trigger movement or signal that pulls the dancers out of the dance, for one moment you are not in the dance then back in. He could use that lighting designed block of light more.
Yesterday they had a talk with the performers about going back to the first encounter with the words, when it was fresh, and there was personal investment in that movement for that character. In the sharing, Wang Lei spoke of the characters of the their language having multiple meanings so that that encounter could be multiple depending on how or if you played with the character’s layers. I love it, language dances: makes us all aware of the indirectness of speech, writing, whereas gesture strikes us with potency of time, space, direction, weight, and force.
Dancers and choreographers should never say they cannot talk about their dances. Articulation of joints meets the symbolic and performative. Cool.

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Helluva spell http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/helluva-spell/764 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/helluva-spell/764#comments Thu, 29 Oct 2009 16:01:19 +0000 Donald Hutera Random thoughts and observations, or else I may never feel caught up with myself here:

The BDA Dance Company, as ringmaster Chris Bannerman put it to me the other day, is kind of the Chinese equivalent to NDT2. I wonder how the dancers perceive themselves, their place in the national (and, why not, global) culture, their sense of achievement and what potential they feel they collectively embody. My colleague Katherine has been [...]]]> Random thoughts and observations, or else I may never feel caught up with myself here:

The BDA Dance Company, as ringmaster Chris Bannerman put it to me the other day, is kind of the Chinese equivalent to NDT2. I wonder how the dancers perceive themselves, their place in the national (and, why not, global) culture, their sense of achievement and what potential they feel they collectively embody. My colleague Katherine has been pursuing some of these issues. More on that in a bit.

Apparently Tiechun is going to use fans to blow paper money around the auditorium when his dance is finally shown to the public. Maybe I got the means of transport wrong, but there will be flying bills. Fake, I presume. Even so, it could start a riot…

The British-based designer Charles Balfour, who will be lighting five of the eight Danscross pieces, has been talking about hell and death with Tiechun. Edifyingly, no doubt, on both sides. I asked Jonathan Lunn is he believed in the concept of hell (no) and if he did, what would his idea of it be? Being stuck eternally on a rugby field in a freezing November rain, he replied. My own playful notion of hell dates back to my schooldays too. I was about age 12 when my older brother and I used a home-made ouija board to contact Marilyn Monroe in our kitchen. She spelled out that she was in hell, and that the devil called all his minions there jazz babies. It would seem that some do indeed like it hot.

Fragments from the interview I sat in on that Katherine was conducting with Tiechun’s quartet. How learning Westerner’s choreography has ‘overthrown some of the things that we think are correct.’ This from sweet, round-faced Huang Dongmei, who also spoke of Chinese movement as typically being ‘more introverted. During this process we’ve had to overhaul ourselves mentally and physically.’ Wu Shuai, whom I see as the class clown, hilarious and endearing, evinced surprising philosophical depth when he spoke of Western versus Asian dance. The first he described as ’several different brooks from many directions going into a big lake,’ whereas the latter stems from one source ‘that pushes the river a long way. It can go on forever, and it activates our imagination.’ Put another way, Western dance moves ‘from the impossible to the possible’ while the route of Chinese dance is the opposite ‘because it has no end to it.’ This notion of eternity intrigues me; it’s the opposite of a quick fix. Also interesting is how the dancers generally question or certainly regard as unfamiliar the whole idea of choreographic personality or, by extension, the individual voice. As Chris Bannerman (or Bannerman Chris; when in Beijing…) reminded me at breakfast this morning, in Asian countries the surname tends to be voiced first. The implication is that identity is about an us before it’s about a me.

I’d like to learn more about Chinese dance drama. I think. What am I talking about? Of course I’d like to know more. I only qualifed this graph’s opening statement after having tonight witnessed what I was told was an example of dance drama staged in the BDA experimental theatre. In this period piece, supposedly based on a well-known and possibly classical story, three main characters were supplemented by a small squadron of identically clad extras of both sexes. The latter were exceptionally well-drilled, their bold, machinated and frankly rather basic moves cued to a score that seemed a melange of blockbuster film music. One of the two male leads strode around in a black robe being commanding and mean to a young woman in pink and a long, thin man in a blue jumper and loose white trousers. The latter pair were plainly some kind of couple. And to what spurious lengths they suffered. (How to say sturm und drang in Mandarin?) Alas, I failed to engage with either part of this duo. The young man was especially and tediously, off-puttingly and frantically pathetic. When the soldierly extras began mincing around him (note, without dropping their aura of implied threat) I thought, Great, could this be a whole new genre? Let’s call it bombastic camp. Dreadful is how I’d describe it, and yet there was still some discipline to admire in this arduously bold dance. Who knows, I may be misreading a masterpiece, and I haven’t got a clue who was responsible for it. Such ignorance could be the price paid for making a spontaneous decision to see something just because I happened to be in the vicinity when it got mentioned, and I went along for the ride. It was bumpy, yeah, but I like to think it’s my tendency to try to actively respond to new and/or unexpected experiences. As Wu Shuai and other dancers remarked today, an open mind is where the new China is at.

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Vital Signs http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/vital-signs/762 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/vital-signs/762#comments Thu, 29 Oct 2009 14:40:29 +0000 Donald Hutera Fascinating and fun to watch Avatara Ayuso prepare to bring Shobana Jeyasingh’s dance — made at the very start of Danscross — back up to speed yesterday. It’s a sextet featuring, with one exception, dancers I have enjoyed watching this week in freshly-made pieces. Avatara is a wonderful teacher, in command yet relaxed. And she’s learning Mandarin!

I’m not quite clear about why the dancers balked at going barefoot. I see now that [...]]]> Fascinating and fun to watch Avatara Ayuso prepare to bring Shobana Jeyasingh’s dance — made at the very start of Danscross — back up to speed yesterday. It’s a sextet featuring, with one exception, dancers I have enjoyed watching this week in freshly-made pieces. Avatara is a wonderful teacher, in command yet relaxed. And she’s learning Mandarin!

I’m not quite clear about why the dancers balked at going barefoot. I see now that it’s probably not because they had no idea it would be required of them when performing the piece, but rather that they weren’t necessarily prepared for a barefoot warm-up on this particular night. I guess I’ve never thought much about footwear in Chinese dance, but bare feet is definitely not the norm. Tonight I dropped by the BDA’s experimental theatre where a string of solos and ensemble pieces in what I am guessing is a dance-drama style were being shown to a smallish group of mainly older people who were marking things on clipboards. I wonder what this evaluation was for. Anyway, the first and quite tall boy wore a costume made up mainly of bits of fake fur and hide. He had on baggy-legged, tight-at-the-waist trousers, and his chest was mostly bare. Despite the faux naturelle look (including glitter lashes!) he was incongruously shod in what looked like black and yellow trainers. Go figure.

Avatara’s class was a challenge to do and a pleasure to watch. The focus was the kind of grounded weight exchange associated with contact improvisation, which is a far cry from what these dancers are used to. She started with a three-person taffy pull where the body in the middle is being stretched from either end. By the end of the two-hour session she’d shifted from testing, toning and training to summoning key elements of Jeyasingh’s work back up from inside the dancers’ bodies. Other moves included leaping backwards and up into your partner’s grasp, or slanting down fast, sharp and back to back, almost like a tree that’s been felled. Although I don’t think I heard her say the word, most of this was about the trust that comes from really working together. Attention was also drawn to the direction of each dancer’s gaze (up tends to expand how the movement is read by an audience) and, even more crucially, to the openness of the chest. ‘From the heart,’ Avatara instructed, ‘like in life.’ She demonstrated what she meant and wanted to see; how almost every move seems to originate in or push out from the chest, so that nothing looks or feels held back. And yet it all must be very controlled, strong, focused, with taut stomachs and some kind of intention. It’s up to each dancer to decide what that last is, but intention there must be. It’s what drives Jeyasingh’s dance, however abstract it might appear.

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Airing My Views http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/airing-my-views/756 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/airing-my-views/756#comments Wed, 28 Oct 2009 19:47:55 +0000 Donald Hutera I’m like a sponge in Beijing soaking up impressions, information, interpretations. I use the latter word even though I’m largely observing the Danscross dance-making sans an interpreter, largely by choice. I guess I figure that if dance is indeed the universal language, that pretty much ought to hold true in the studio too. Which is not to say that I’m not taking advantage of Emily or Annie’s presence, or at all refusing [...]]]> I’m like a sponge in Beijing soaking up impressions, information, interpretations. I use the latter word even though I’m largely observing the Danscross dance-making sans an interpreter, largely by choice. I guess I figure that if dance is indeed the universal language, that pretty much ought to hold true in the studio too. Which is not to say that I’m not taking advantage of Emily or Annie’s presence, or at all refusing their skills. They’re a valuable resource especially for someone like Jonathan Lunn, who does not speak Mandarin.

I usually see him at breakfast in the hotel. Wednesday morning he told me that he’s selected the dancers for Beijing Man via DVD. As I might’ve already indicated, he chose well; they’re a brilliant unit. Carolyn Choa sat with us and elaborated on the well-known play that served as a sort of touchstone for Lunn’s piece: three generations of a family beset with financial problems, some mismatched marriages and a longing to get away, or to connect with other, catalytic characters, and so on. It’s a microcosm of a society in transition, as Choa explained. The characters might be considered products of an unstable world. You could call it a shaking world, which was the phrase that provided the project’s loose thematic impetus. Although this dramatic background — the Chinese/Chekhovian connection — was in no way an overt influence on the dance, Lunn admits that it has somehow informed the creation process. Dreams are important here, too. The cast members all chose and shared a dream during their first week together, and it’s the physicalisation of this subconscious material that they and Lunn have utilised to create some of the movement. I’m sure someone famous has referred to dance as a language of dreams, but I can’t think who it was. It’s certainly not usually best treated as a documentary device.

In the studio Lunn keeps refining and problem solving. The mood on Wednesday was up-beat. He’s drawing upon his dancers in a way that Zhao Tiechun, as far as I can see, is not. It makes me wonder about the nature of the relationship between choreographers and dancers in the UK versus China. How collaborative is it here? Although he’s the ultimate arbiter, Lumn is certainly inviting his sextet into the decision-making process. They were poised identically on the floor, one leg stretched out in front and the other bent back. Lunn simply asked, ‘How do we get out of this?’ A dancer flipped onto his feet, another rolled up. As it turned out, whatever method each one uses to elevate himself they will all rise quickly and simultaneously onto their legs and then slow down. It’s a subtle shift from functional/purposeful to contemplative. The dancers make their moves together and, clever lads, they get it right ‘on the first take,’ as it were.

After catching the tail-end of Tiechun’s morning session, I impulsively headed to the centre of Beijing and the Forbidden City. If I say it reminded me of a vast film set it’s not just because of Bernardo Bertolucci’s gorgeous but, as I recall, over-rated The Last Emperor. (Having said that, now I really long to see that film again.) The scale of the actual place is daunting, which is why I think I preferred the small courtyards and attendant living quarters on the periphery of the high central halls and the grand open squares which they dominate. Passing through one of the quieter buildings off to the side, and one containing painting and calligraphy, I was suddenly struck by the calligraphic grace that Lunn’s dancers possess. At their best they’re writing in or on the air.

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Shake it up Oct 27/28 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/shake-it-up-oct-2728/752 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/shake-it-up-oct-2728/752#comments Wed, 28 Oct 2009 17:03:26 +0000 Katherine Mezur October 27, 2009 Shake it Out Every morning before going to the rehearsals at BDA, I go to the nearby Zizhuyuan Park. The name of the park has something to do with royal bamboo, which is everywhere and there is a separate bamboo specialty garden-within-the-garden. At 7AM the park is hopping, literally with over 15 [...]]]> October 27, 2009
Shake it Out
Every morning before going to the rehearsals at BDA, I go to the nearby Zizhuyuan Park. The name of the park has something to do with royal bamboo, which is everywhere and there is a separate bamboo specialty garden-within-the-garden. At 7AM the park is hopping, literally with over 15 or more “dance” related groups. I walk past tai chi, Beijing opera singing and instruments playing, four or five ballroom dancing groups playing popular songs to waltz, tango etc., three or four types of Chinese Folk dance with fans, no fans, streamers, a soft jazzercise movement class, sword dancing groups, foursomes that hit a feathered ball on their up turned heels, (jumping between hits with turning), and in one part of the park people are in separate spaces and over a loud speaker someone is shouting movements, and they all do these commands in unison, like jumps, walks with kicks, and everyone responds loudly with short shouts. I pass between curtains of music from many boom boxes.
The dances have names: Tiechun’s is now “Ghost Money” (maybe “coins” is better and the word in Mandarin means “paper money” that is used at funerals when it is burned so that the person who died may purchase what they need in the other world—). This goes so well with the Mozart work’s background. Then Jonathan’s is now Beijing Ren or Beijing Man, the name of the play by the playwright I wrote about last week, Cao Yu, (1940). This also stands for the once earliest finding of a human-like remains names Beijing man. Ok now the work gets gendered no matter what you do.
Ghost Money
Tiechun refines and refines. He reworks sections for the two child-like roles after watching a video of the work. Now these two performers are in a stronger opposition to the primary couple. While the dance classes are really strictly divided by male and female styles (even ballet), this dance is coupled (hetero-wise) so we have an intertwining of genders, while the ”roles” are still male/female gendered with women lifted by men and men doing big jumps and turns. In Jonathan’s dance gendering is shifted to different variables of male-ness.
Twisting theme of Ghost Money “Zhi qian”
I took two female folk dance classes and found the twisting of the torso, legs/feet/ankles in walking, and arms/wrists/fingers and shoulders, even turning is like curling up, twisting. This action must have many shades and variations, which I know nothing about, but it seems to function as a movement theme. Tiechun is head of the Folk Dance Division at BDA and he spoke of taking this twisting as far as it could go, “…to extremes,” he said the second day of choreographing. What does “twist” mean? If you do the action, it means you have to hold onto one head of the twist and initiate it from the other, or the center is held and the two ends must twist. It is a contained, bound action. Tiechun frequently directs the twist inward, and on occasion he might emphasize the outward action or untwisting, but most move inward to consolidate the action, control it closer to one’s center. I think Tiechun said to his dancers after one run through: twist until you can go no further, then make the change. Don’t rush, energy is continuous and active … the twist itself has emotion.” An active/passive relationship is necessary according to Tiechun, but not too active nor too passive.

Beijing Ren
While I keep searching for the ”shaking world” theme in this work, the play Beijing Ren is actually quite appropriate, but the dancers nor the choreographer are making use of the work itself, just cut up dialogue. Just a little background on Cao Yu:
In 1940, Cao Yu completed the writing of his fifth play, Peking Man, considered his most profound and successful work. Set in Peking (today Beijing) as its name implies, and in the then present, surprisingly the work does not allude to the war with Japan at all, but chronicles the history of a well-heeled family that is incapable of surviving and adapting to social changes which are destroying the traditional world and culture in which they live. The title of the work is an allusion to the so-called Peking Man, the proto-human who inhabited the north of China several hundred thousand years ago. Cao Yu’s recurrent themes are present, emphasizing the inability of traditional families to adapt themselves to modern society and its customs and ways. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cao_Yu October 27, 2009

Backlog of stuff: Jonathan uses “dream” idea, a kind of surrealism is in the sections and movement but the music drives it differently/ Could the sound be silent for a section? How much do we see when there is no sound to move the movement? Working on relationships needs more work. They are invested but some of the gestures that are small and personal no longer carry that personal stuff. Sometimes seems a bit mechanical, very beautiful but controlled and ”cool.”
I would like to have some time to talk to each performer from this group by himself, because they group think sometimes. Are these dancers in their world of the dance academy perhaps unaware of the shaking world? Or is it hard to think or feel when your life seems set and stable in their system of state supported dance? Are any dances ever controversial? Do their dance dramas go back into pre-20th century Chinese culture to be safe?

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Card-carrying and carefree http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/card-carrying-and-carefree/748 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/card-carrying-and-carefree/748#comments Tue, 27 Oct 2009 22:04:16 +0000 Donald Hutera I’ve only been here two days, but already i feel like a foreigner who belongs. I mean, I’ve become a card-carrying member of the National Library (conveniently located in an impressive new building just across the street from my hotel) and also signed up for a discount card from a nearby shop that sells sweets and all kinds of dried fruit. Now all I need is an invitation to join the Communist Party.

I’d [...]]]> I’ve only been here two days, but already i feel like a foreigner who belongs. I mean, I’ve become a card-carrying member of the National Library (conveniently located in an impressive new building just across the street from my hotel) and also signed up for a discount card from a nearby shop that sells sweets and all kinds of dried fruit. Now all I need is an invitation to join the Communist Party.

I’d settle instead for an all-you-can-dance pass from the BDA. The more I hang out there the more there is to see. Apparently an internationally recognised ballroom couple (he’s American, she’s German) are guest-teaching this week only. I was quite happy spending a few minutes behind glass peering into a first floor studio at young Chinese women wielding fans. Lots of wrist action required, and dipping and swaying. This was in the main building, a real layer cake of a structure with its seven studio on each of seven floors.

In one of them Jonathan Lunn seemed to be in fine fettle, as were the young men with whom he is creating Beijing Man. Or is the piece to be called Beijing Ren? The latter word means people, and that second title is the same as a play by Cao Yu who has been described to me as the Chinese Chekhov. I must remember to ask him about the significance of this reference. In any case, Lunn’s boys jump and lift, walk on their hands or stretch their legs up past their ears effortlessly. It’s bold dancing, but endowed with a certain intangible, floating quality and almost beatific in its dynamic flexibility. This is exemplified by a little dance one of the lads does while being observed by his mates. Lunn calls this soft set of moves with its curving shapes and trailing fingers the angel solo. Speaking to a handful of visitors from the British Council, the choreographer praised all six dancers for their combination of feminine delicacy and masculine force. ‘They make choices Western dancers wouldn’t necessarily make,’ he said, immediately contradicting himself by adding that he could probably name a hundred dancers from the UK or elsewhere who might make similar choices. Note, however, that his first impulse was to recognise a difference. And yet at times, Lunn said, he forgets that he’s in China working with dancers who do indeed have a different training. I wonder what he might be learning from them, or about himself and his methods… suffice to say that, cued as it is now is to percolating tracks by the American experimental electronic music duo Matmos, Beijing Man has a clockwork flow.

Earlier, upstairs in the BDA theatre, where a long row of poinsettia plants lines the base of the raised stage, Tiechun was making progress on Ghost Money. The name, as I understand it, has something to do with the notion of burning money so that deceased relatives and friends will have a rich afterlife. It was no doubt useful for Techun to see his work outside the studio, in a larger and more theatrical space. A good deal of his attention went towards the boy in the blue shirt, as I identified him yesterday. This kid’s got a reckless, tumbling insouciance that can be disarming, but that may also give Tiechun pause. Hence the extra attention. There’s a bit in the dance where he’s downstage and has to raise and grab his legs a few times, do a spin that eventually sees his arms flung behind him and then segue into a jump that ends in a hand-on-knees squat. The boy is sort of a a cross between a colt and a puppy. He has a facility, and he tries hard, but stopping on a dime every time is not necessarily his forte. Still, I enjoyed seeing him pirouette several times yesterday, just for himself I think; he finally got it right, with no wobbles, finishing with his fingers in V for victory signs. Today he eventually managed what Tiechun needs, at least once, and presumably will do so again.

I ended the day with a dusky walk through Zizhuyuan, or Black Bamboo, Park. One of the entrances is just across the street from BDA. The park has something like three lakes, two islets and two rivers running through it. There was a half-moon tonight, and bats dancing beneath the willows. I wonder, given its proximity to BDA, how many dance people follow its paths while clearing their heads about their various lessons or projects.

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Oct 26 Music sound gesture http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/oct-26-music-sound-gesture/743 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/oct-26-music-sound-gesture/743#comments Mon, 26 Oct 2009 17:35:11 +0000 Katherine Mezur Oct. 26 2009 Music sound gesture

Dancing to and beside music. At some point, I have to deal with the music going on here. Jonathan listened to his ipod while watching the work as we moved through last week. He was sorting and feeling out what was going to work best. I think it was Friday or Saturday when he played three music selections to the same movement sequence and asked the dancers [...]]]> Oct. 26 2009 Music sound gesture

Dancing to and beside music.
At some point, I have to deal with the music going on here.
Jonathan listened to his ipod while watching the work as we moved through last week. He was sorting and feeling out what was going to work best. I think it was Friday or Saturday when he played three music selections to the same movement sequence and asked the dancers how they felt and to hear the sound next to the image/kinaesthetic materiality. Two pieces did entirely different things: one a Bach fugue and the other electronic by a new music group out of San Francisco, (will get the name, sorry). Well two things happened, both worked but differently, and one of the Danscross works already has a Bach work on it. BUT, the fugue was spectacular with the movement because it charged the emotional side that the dancers have not really played with directly. See below

I THINK WE NEED TO STOP FACING THE MIRROR. In order to get out of the frontal gaze, the dancers need to be placed elsewhere to get the dance out of dance-hood or the proscenium stare.

Ok, so the Bach fugue channeled the emotional links from tender to silly but I think Jonathan also felt it could mask what else was going on and thus: the electronic work is now in place. As Jonathan also suggested, sometimes the music can run outside the dance and I was thinking how it streams and sometimes pushes the movement in interesting ways, but not forcefully. That is a problem though; the music does not create any kind of sound/body tension that can make a work really rich and provocative. The music seems to stand directly beside the dance.

Aside: the electronic choice can also make the dancers work very hard on an expressive encounter with each other and wherever
My last VOTE: This work grew out of these small moments of physical encounters with words/letters/sounds from poems and a play. It does not matter to me if those texts have been chewed and bitten and danced alive, but there were ecstatic moments that just no longer happen because the dancer does not speak the words… It was really wonderful when a sound/syllable/tone would hit the air and echo with the gesture. I would love even a whispered section or even one dancer doing that word/phase dance. It opened up the dancers’ vulnerability too because it is not something they do all the time. They are such brilliant dancers that sometimes they can sit back, away from their dancing and not tune in the way they did when the words made them be present.

Enough. I know the poly-stage is large but I have seen Pina Bausch send a dancer onto an opera sized stage and whisper making the entire theatre lean forward and reach for those syllables.
The encounter in language and gesture here is charged and nuanced because I remember the poems, the play texts, the choices made…

I walk in and the dancers have costumes on: I was concerned because this work needs costumes but I do not think they should look like Chinese Folk Dance costumes. They have big linen pants dyed so that the brown starts very dark and fades into the off-white.

I keep thinking of the things that are HUGE in Beijing: the Forbidden City, Tiananmen square, the new buildings like the National Performing Arts center (it’s a HUGE like a drop of water on the surface of the earth. Perhaps China wants to be BIG now, what does that mean?

Twists, like the Chung Guo Jie that is the woven/braided knot that is used in Chinese knotted hangings. Tiechun used every twist today: In one group encounter they hold hands and knit and unknot their bodies. Tiechun directed a powerful suggestion: lift through the weaving when you start, the chest should press forward up and over and then the limbs take over the ”twisted” distortion as he called it today. Keep the legs together, the knees in, tighter, concentrate, flow within that pretzel.

Back to those costumes and music
Tiechun is creating a world, the pants, the tops of with their layers of tucked and pleated off-white cloth, on the front of the shirts that are cut on diagonal necklines for the women. This makes them “Han” if they have that kind diagonal flap to close the shirt. Each dancer’s patterned folds are different. While the cloth and tops give me a sense of ”folk,” I am told that they do not feel that way to the dancers. They do add to the strangeness of this work.

A long ribbon of twisting bodies, a hurdle of twists, like a human “Bird Nest, ” the flinging flying stomping twists, followed by. …Those WONDERFUL FLOATING WHITE COINS made out of paper. These are the reappearance of the funeral practice like the early parade: These are the coins that are tossed somehow. Tiechun adds these small triangles of red silk that float like brilliant flames with the white coins over the dancers’ dancing.

Like the Mozart Mass in C Minor, the clothe and the changes in the shapes of gestures with sleeves and billowing pants wrench the work out of its simpler space into a public one.
There is that word again: Public. Dance making made public, an incredible way to challenge all of us.
Like Tiechun asking his dancers to let their breath and movement “coincide”.

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Recent photos http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/recent-photos/726 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/recent-photos/726#comments Mon, 26 Oct 2009 14:32:56 +0000 Andrew Lang http://rescen.net/blog/?p=726 1252b3428b8g214 12520d21abfg214 12525de3cefg213 12525de3793g215 12525e19253g213 1251b554c38g213 ]]> http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/recent-photos/726/feed 0 Introductions http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/introductions/723 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/introductions/723#comments Mon, 26 Oct 2009 13:34:18 +0000 Donald Hutera I’ve been on earth for more than half a century, and writing about dance and performance for more than half that time, and yet this is my first time to China. Kung Fu Panda was, I think, a good choice for an airplane movie. (Best line: ‘We do not wash our pits in the Pool of Sacred Tears.’) I shrugged off and then slept away jet lag. It helped that, instead of crashing as soon [...]]]> I’ve been on earth for more than half a century, and writing about dance and performance for more than half that time, and yet this is my first time to China. Kung Fu Panda was, I think, a good choice for an airplane movie. (Best line: ‘We do not wash our pits in the Pool of Sacred Tears.’) I shrugged off and then slept away jet lag. It helped that, instead of crashing as soon as I’d unpacked, I went on an excursion to the nearest shopping/eating vicinity in this district of northwest Beijing. Street life! The real thing, too. Virtually no other Westerners visible apart from me and my guide, Danscross Big Daddy Chris Bannerman. Highlights include sharing a sweet potato as we strolled; the many mannequins in the dance shops whose collective dress sense Chris aptly dubbed ‘Ninja boogie’; the fish that jumped up out of the tank in the market as if to say ‘Eat me!’ (or ’Save me!’?); and, on the negative side, the woman who barked viciously at a tot who was bawling as he waited for an old man to repair his battery-operated toy gun with cellotape. In the main, however, the people I either saw or met seemed to peaceable and not unfriendly.

Enough local colour. My purpose in being here is to play fly on the walls of the Beijing Dance Academy as i watch some creative juices flow. I’m impressed, too. Jonathan Lunn may have had a baaaaaaad last night (food poisoning?) but he sure didn’t let on today in BDA’s theatre space. And to have created so much detailed material in just a week. He is quick, he says, but so are the six young men in his work-in-progress. They know each other so well, he adds, that he can can just set some moves on one of them and it’ll spread to the others like a virus.

Like the dancers themselves Lunn’s piece looks muscular and wiry, and it’s peppered with a gestural filigree that offsets their bold, grabbing energy. Working with the soft-spoken Carolyn Choa as a second, collaborative brain and pair of eyes, the long-haired Lunn juxtaposed a couple of duets and clarified their spatial relationship. These twosomes feature headstands and splits, and boys tunneling between each other’s legs. The fleet, often spiraling complexity of connections made here can be dazzling. A third duo was just as nimble; I recall in particular a compact lad vaulting one-handed over his tall, skinny counterpart’s arched body, using the latter’s pelvis as a springboard. Lunn appears to have tapped into the cast’s youthful spirit. The extended fragments he worked on today suggest a kind of dreamy hijinks that suits their collective talent and temperament. Already this dance, although unfinished, seems to belong to them.

The same can’t yet be said of the quartet — two of each sex — that spent time with Tiechun today, but that’s okay. Fellow blogger Katherine Mezur tells me that in Danscross this Chinese choreographer is challenging not just his dancers but himself as well. I slip into the studio — one of 49 in BDA’s main building — as he’s drilling them in a unison passage. They must advance downstage while mainly doubled over, using hands and feet to negotiate a fast, twisty rotation. It’s a fiendish little pattern, and particularly daunting for one quick-to-clown-around boy in a blue shirt. (He sticks out, too, because the others are all wearing rehearsal clothes in combinations of red and black.) Tiechun has this boy do the sequence again, alone; he gives it a go but slips inside his socks, giggling good-naturedly. Other tricky bits follow, as when the dancers hold hands and pretzel round each other like a knot trying to undo itself only to become further entangled. After that everyone’s in a line flat on the floor, holding onto the ankles of the person ‘above’ them; slowly this braided chain of bodies rolls across the space. None of this is meant to illustrate the music (Mozart’s Kyrie) that Tiechun is using, and yet his movement has its high-flown moments. As if to counter this he turns two of his dancers, a man and a woman, into dog-like creatures who scamper about on all fours. Meanwhile another couple executes a precisely timed duet on several levels; at one point they roll on the floor, feet hooking together, only for the female to be hoisted up into a sitting position atop the male’s raised thigh.

Tucked inside a denim jacket, and quite notably bald, Tiechun makes a quiet, even brooding taskmaster. He’s prone to take a brief ‘time out’ to work out next steps, or to solve any problems that may have arisen from those that already exist. Like Lunn, he’s putting together the pieces of a puzzle that he also has to manufacture on the spot. Based on my first-day observations, it’s working. Earlier in the afternoon the transitions between sections in Tiechun’s dance might have seemed awkward or arduous. But by the end of the day his doggedness, coupled with the dancers’ discipline, had smoothed over some of the bumps. He was even able to share in the dancers’ jokes about how easily they could slip into t’ai chi instead of Tiechun. Not taking yourself too seriously is perhaps a good sign at the start of a new week.

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elegant distortion and markets http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/elegant-distortion-and-markets/719 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/elegant-distortion-and-markets/719#comments Fri, 23 Oct 2009 17:34:49 +0000 Katherine Mezur October 23, 2009 Elegant distortions and markets Only a short time in Tiechun’s room today. The problem is in this job of observing and blogging, one’s heart and attention is always divided because I have to move from one dance-making session to the next and they are happening simultaneously. Further complications: Jonathan has an interpreter assigned him no matter what, so the interpretation there is guaranteed and I am not totally lost [...]]]> October 23, 2009
Elegant distortions and markets
Only a short time in Tiechun’s room today. The problem is in this job of observing and blogging, one’s heart and attention is always divided because I have to move from one dance-making session to the next and they are happening simultaneously. Further complications: Jonathan has an interpreter assigned him no matter what, so the interpretation there is guaranteed and I am not totally lost in my own intuitive translation. But with Tiechun, who is always commenting directly to the dancers before, during, after, the dancing, even when the Mozart’s Mass in C minor is blasting decibels beyond our hearing capacity. I cannot understand his comments and need an interpreter, but it seems their times and hours are loosely defined. Luckily my student/friend, Min Zhu from the University of Washington is able to help too. I am very interested in what a choreographer critiques and how they say it and amend it as they watch their dancers deal with the text/meaning and stream it into their bodies and movement. When you teach dance technique, you never know if your exact correction or encouragement will really hit home and work for a student’s physical performance and focus, and their creativity.

Jonathan and Carolyn
Today is a short day with only the morning in the studio, but with new material, and new instructions. This is just fragment from Cao Yu’s play Beijing Ren (Beijing Man), but now reduced to one sentence and a longer response by one character. The instructions are 1) to have their own physical encounter with the text and avoid “meaning making” 2) (they drew names so they have one person in their group as their secret person) to have this encounter as the other person. So you have to become as much like that person, thinking of how you really know them inside out. You know their movement choices and how they move. Jonathan includes that this should not be to make fun of them in any way.
The dancers move to the floor and start working. A note on the text: It is one character’s short explanation of Tea culture, “Yes, talking about tea, …whenever he drinks tea, he has to first rinse his mouth, light incense, and meditate. …tea is only a way to satisfy our thirst, but to him, it is a philosophy, to do with taste and discernment.”
He just starts coupling these and we go to lunch to get “costumes” from the market and the mall. This is another whole adventure, strange, just looking for pants and t-shirts can be an encounter with material consumption.
Tiechun’s Twisting Bodies continue
After a long interview with him yesterday, I ended yesterday seeing their bent over from the waist crisscross walk from folk tradition (now upside down). Then he was have them put their hands or fists on the ground and literally stomp with their hands like the hoofs of a horse, or something like that but it was twisted and percussive. They practiced it over and over and over and over again finding rhythm in the percussive jabbing thuds of their feet and feet.
Today I return and they are doing the figure 8 turned in a near slow motion, still bent over from the waist but now the arms float up like the curving oppositional arms of the walk. Are they elegant ostriches? They remind me of egrets too or blue herons whose long long legs make them totally elegant in their picking and dipping for bugs and small sea creatures off the surface of the water or land.
Elegant yet he is asking them to bend their legs more, keep the knees in, float the arms up, and twist to one side until you can no longer go that direction, then start the spiral back the other way. Twist all the way, go further and it is becomes distorted and elegant. Tiechun finds these lovely contradictions. He amplified the cracks and pops in the old but beautiful phonograph record. Perhaps folk patterns are so deeply imbedded in our muscles and minds, we can only twist them, contort them, but not loose or destroy them?
Min notices how the dancers in both rooms use the front facing so much. Is this the use of the mirror now or is it from proscenium-based presentational dances that demand this frontal facing?

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October 22 dreams and twists http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/october-22-dreams-and-twists/713 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/october-22-dreams-and-twists/713#comments Thu, 22 Oct 2009 19:41:26 +0000 Katherine Mezur October 22, 2009 Both choreographers are shaping the movement material that the dancers have created, learned, absorbed, and discovered. Tiechun, Jonathan, and Carolyn compose and/or build these dances surrounded by cameras, observers, student helpers, interpreters, friends, faculty from the school, and designers. Outside in the bicycle lane: Beijing, I know, is not “China” but I see these radical signs of transformation: three wheeled vehicles fill the side “bicycle” [...]]]> October 22, 2009
Both choreographers are shaping the movement material that the dancers have created, learned, absorbed, and discovered. Tiechun, Jonathan, and Carolyn compose and/or build these dances surrounded by cameras, observers, student helpers, interpreters, friends, faculty from the school, and designers.
Outside in the bicycle lane: Beijing, I know, is not “China” but I see these radical signs of transformation: three wheeled vehicles fill the side “bicycle” lanes, where “anything that goes” is ok. Most are barely moving on tiny engines, or still pumped like a bicycle. These transport furniture, or garbage, or fruit and vegetable, or all forms of old junk like mini-moving vans. There are those that have enclosed “cabs” like mini-taxis, with room for one or two people inside. This fleet of patched and battered “expanded bicycles” move the old Beijing along side the giant glassy malls, the millions with shopping bags, and the dark brown population that still squats on the sidewalks and spits.

In a conversation with Tiechun: He thinks this experiment is really worthwhile. He has a chance to create a dance in a way that he has never done before: he usually has his own theme and vision but now he keeps the ”shaking” theme and does not know what will happen as he choreographs. He talks about the ”twists” in the bodies that he keeps putting in the movements. The torso twists are exaggerated from a folk or traditional body carriage movement. Perhaps this indicates the way that the world is coming apart. He is subtly moving the tectonic plates of the sedimented traditions. He explains this image of tossing paper coins at traditional funerals and how this enters the larger theme: the passage from life to death, we hover and/or shake at that precipice. More on that later.

Jonathan and Carolyn review and rearrange the poem, dialogue, and dream sequences into lines, formations, and astonishing unison works. I kept seeing these very idiosyncratic gestures (almost like hieroglyphs) that the dancers developed on their own, become dance phrases: is this a bit sad? Is there something lost in this transition? Sure, the tiny nuances that breathed with that individual dancer’s body and feelings are only traces in the danced version. Somehow in that passage, the movement becomes rhythmic, spectacular, and graceful, no longer the strange awkward and personal engraved gesture.
Still beautiful.

There is a dream sequence I missed the creation of: Jonathan asked them to think of a dream they had, put it into four phrases of movement that described the dream, These had to have an experiential quality that made the audience experience their dream’s feeling and we should also see the content of the dream. They had to create these spontaneously, without preparation. These phrases are filled with quick and large changes in body shapes and movement with facial expressions. These also are done in unison in different formations.

More on Jonathan’s structures tomorrow, but he said the work is really about dialogue. One instruction today to get movement more deeply in the body: “don’t fully do it, think about doing it.”

Each dancer reveals his own rhythmic dynamics, his own way of sensing the world, taking it in, struggling and pressing it out through gesture.

They still stay in place to dance most of the phrases. When Jonathan has them move in a line in unison upstage, it is like a gasp, a breathless space: we need that.

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yunlu and couples http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/yunlu-and-couples/711 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/yunlu-and-couples/711#comments Wed, 21 Oct 2009 19:21:36 +0000 Katherine Mezur October 21, 2009 yunlu and couples

What ever I hear or ask is filtered through different people. Even when they say that “primary source material” (like face to face encounter) is what a researcher wants to get, that this is the raw material of research, but really “in translation” means a kind of change has happened to the source material: it is already transformed. Thus research is creative [...]]]> October 21, 2009
yunlu and couples

What ever I hear or ask is filtered through different people. Even when they say that “primary source material” (like face to face encounter) is what a researcher wants to get, that this is the raw material of research, but really “in translation” means a kind of change has happened to the source material: it is already transformed. Thus research is creative and dynamic, not the ”truth.” Alive.

I keep wondering when Tiechun will name his “work.” The walk with the male dancer lifting the feet of the female as she glides forward, down stage in the hip swing, body twisting away from the center/ Emily, a walk from a Chinese minority

I would like to talk to each dancer about their ideas about this project from the beginning until now in its 4th phase. What does the theme of the world “shaking” mean to them now? How has this changed?
I would like to have an open discussion about the theme with the dancers, researchers. And guest choreographers. I will also ask the choreographers about any preparation they did and how they may be adapting their normal methods to this particular task. I need to see earlier works by the choreographers to see what their work has been like at least in the last few years.

Today I will make lists. Some very famous authors (Sei Shônagon) made themselves famous for their lists.

Tiechun’s room and ”making strange”
Perhaps surreal is not the word but absurd, like Beckett’s characters, we seem to be a strange family caught in its own tiny world. Is this ” shaking” like those little globe worlds used for souvenirs where you shake and ”snowflakes” flurry about this miniature fake world?
Two dancers work two wait
Tiechun wants the yunlu: the patterns in the movement, the rhythmic patterns, the deep structures, the rhythmic structures.
In this walk by Guo Jiao from the folk dance, what began as a distinctive walk almost parade-like appearance has become a walk with Yuan Jia lifting her feet one by one in her rhythm? He must be crouched on the ground to do this. Now she is literally walking on air in the hands of all the dancers, she walks upright across the stage with the hands of the dancers holding her up, until she falls backwards into Wu Shai’s arms.

Tiechun works on the two “children” Wu Shuai and Huang Dong Mei in their rocking and now whirling dervish dance. They must: stare forward with out blinking. They must get faster and faster, they practice many many times. They spin out they fall they laugh they spin they work with their heads to one side arms over head, spinning: bend straight bend straight bend straight, Tiechun calls and claps and makes them spin over and over and over again. But it works. The voice of the soloist in the Mozart Mass in C Minor begins her most sweet sad song with Guo Jiao’s raised walk downstage, and the doll-like rocking figures in the background. Figures in a landscape. Many phrases of the mother and father figure repeat but with slight variations, her fall and jump into his arms, crouching on his knee, again and fall, again and fall forward, again. This is a precarious world.

Jonathan and Carolyn’s room
Have they talked over the theme with the dancers? With themselves? Can we talk or maybe not. I am not sure silence works. I am not sure dancers only want to dance and not talk about their work. I do not think that brilliance disappears if you share ideas about your work.

I sit on the bench across the front mirrors so the 6 men are always looking directly at us to adjust their movements, posture, look etc. I feel invisible and like I am an obstruction.
Has the world disappeared outside of Beijing?
Jonathan puts the 6 into 3 couples to play the male and female roles in a play from the early 20th century by another Chinese playwright. It is a fractured love scene, with only tension and small talk between the characters. I love the small movements that come from an emotion that is lost but leaves traces. I will get an English copy of the play and scene. It seems to be about two people who no longer hear or know each other. Instructions from Jonathan: in contrast to other exercises and tasks think of the physical language as an emotional or ”charged” language. In his critiques: when you do not use the words while moving (to one couple who does not) it is a cop out, using the words gives the movements a different power, without the words, it becomes just a dance. They are asked to lean into the words, push response, and sometimes to wait, hold back, let the movement moment arrive. Wonderful moments where their bodies seem to have different meanings: from I am tired, leave me alone, hands to face, pushing legs between legs, rolling over and off each other. No one is violent with their actions, but something is masked. One dancer clasps his partner around the neck, and Jonathan asks for that moment to be more front, more twisted. The dancers laugh. Is it laughter away from the strangle hold?
One dancer traces the entire body outline of his partner: is this map of the person? Is this the boundaries that he must stay within? Is this the shape of a dead body on the pavement anywhere in a shaking world.

I am reminded of Pina Bausch’s different shoulder stands and parades making humans strange and strange humans.

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touch and duets October 20 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/touch-and-duets-1020/703 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/touch-and-duets-1020/703#comments Tue, 20 Oct 2009 17:59:48 +0000 Katherine Mezur 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 [...]]]> 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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Cold birds and pets October 19 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/cold-birds-and-pets-october-19/701 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/cold-birds-and-pets-october-19/701#comments Tue, 20 Oct 2009 17:58:19 +0000 Katherine Mezur Blog October 19, 2009 k Mezur Cold birds and pets October 19 Beijing Dance Academy BIG BIRTHDAY party last night at the Military Theatre. Security at the door took your temperature on entering with a gun like instrument held near your neck, and you pass through a metal detector. But everyone else thinks this is nothing new. To enter the Theatre you must take off your [...]]]> Blog October 19, 2009 k Mezur
Cold birds and pets October 19
Beijing Dance Academy BIG BIRTHDAY party last night at the Military Theatre. Security at the door took your temperature on entering with a gun like instrument held near your neck, and you pass through a metal detector. But everyone else thinks this is nothing new. To enter the Theatre you must take off your purses and backpacks and put them through a security check. Then VIPs enter 20 min after followed by speeches, speeches, speeches. Three hundred students are about to present the anniversary dances from every type of dance from every region, in ascending order with the original choreographer listed. They bring out the older dancers and choreographers from these past times: about 25? Not sure. They are astonishing, men and women, some look not so old, but a few totter in on canes and with help. A pink flurry of young boys and girls flock it to bestow flower bouquets on these legendary dancer/choreographers/teachers. The audience is thrilled. Then the performance begins with a kind of classical Chinese acrobatic wonder as students fly and fling and bend and splay legs in amazing gymnastic stunts. Tricks to me. Sorry. The ”system” of showing me technique is ok but. In the next hour and half there is a medley of dances from the repertoire. The Cultural Revolution is the vacuum. Here we have bodies in front of us with all that history. Red flag billowing giantly from the stage: world here is RED. Heart =

Here we go: Letting you know I am going to use language like a dance sometimes, and not worry about sentence structures etc thanks.

Aware of organization: how will they meet and start. How gracious will they be? We (Westerners) seem really focused. Lots of media about. This makes Jonathan a bit uneasy. We work out how to use the interpreters. I suddenly feel like I have a body guard. Emily is like a shadow with Jonathan and Carolyn. He hands out the poem that is one of the texts of the work, Wet or winter Snow is the name, chills huh. Very beautiful choice as I see movement begin to fidget out the 6MALE VERY DIFFERENT BODIES. They move so differently from the Guadong Dance Company, recently in San Francisco. I miss having female bodies. Does this make the dance easier to make? Evens out the territory, there is a ”broad” gender difference here. See notes on the Chinese choreographer.

Working on ”words” or characters of the poem, not for ”meaning” I think; what does meaning do? How does it act or dance. Why do many choose to query “meaning”? What is meaning in Chinese. Tiny Shifts all day over Chinese words and English words. Like that.
Men moving so smoothly, silken, but use weight. Front and side and back facings. Diagonals used for locomotion not in place movement. Hmmm. I will add names tomorrow. Beautiful hands. Jonathan pushes for more commitment to feeling or involvement with each choice they make. They show each phrase 3 times with words 2x and then without saying words. I enjoy the words slipping out between movements, on top of a gesture, behind an impulse, creates a tension for them, something to challenge beyond the leg being so high. One tries to slip out of problem. Jonathan pushes him back.

Bird image, cold, wetness, a fisherman, 10,000 is next to alone, solitary, single, this poem is weighty but has birds to fly on. Don’t do images, break away from obvious. But this Tang poet was brush stroked these words into being, are we beating them back into the inked landscape?

I watch Jonathan watching for bodies, which speak. Repeating changes things. Tasks are gesture packages.
Transitions: energy drops happen. Lines are so strong with arms stretched, legs strike high like lightning bolts. Still technique-like. Shake out the dance and boogie.

Bodies: some make the same rhythms, hard to break your own patterns and comfortzones. Gumby arms, sensibility of everyday movement doesn’t stay still on their bodies, fist becomes turning and crumpling. My kinaesthetics may be jet lagged. I see lines and lovely bodies, but, hmm.

More phrase and sounds of ”words” hands over eyes. Slashes into the ground. Rolls over somersaults.
Transitions? Not yet, they blend easily, gesture to locomotion, birdlike stuff. When the guys prompt each other with words it is very dynamic too, layers of voices.

CaoYu is the playwright for tiny section of dialogue between two men from play Beijing Man, maybe written in the 20s or 30s. Famous playwright one of first to take on Chinese spoken drama “huaju”. Chinese and Japanese studied western forms simultaneously.

Chinese on Chinese
Four dancers two men and two women. Different energy. Different presence. Younger? Chinese choreographer is very direct, stands moves close to them. We sit together on the floor. He explains that he is from the North East China and is the Ethnic Dance specialist here at the school. He has a shaved head, bends slightly forward at the waist when he talks and moves over to a dancer in rehearsal. Direct: Something like this paraphrasing: “This is not the way I work. I work with a plan and make dances from vocabulary of a specific region. He knows the students? They are Classical and Ethnic dancers I think, must find out.

Ah, got his name: Zhao Tie Chun, starts talking about “Chinese-ness” what is Chinese? Way cool. Talks about how dances he teaches and makes are drawn from specific regional folk/traditions, very specific and set. Theme of shaking and other ideas of environment, chaos in world, very important, how can the folk/ethnic set forms change to work with these contemporary themes? Is it possible? He wants the traditional gestures to go to another level, the ethnic must do more than meet the modern, shows how a gesture in dance means “happy” in one ethnic dance, arms over head jutting upward expansive. So Xgesture EQUALS Xfeeling. He wants to question that. He has chosen the music already: (have to ask him about this choice) Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor and it may be a requiem because he talks about how the music like the traditional dance is “set: to, it is about mourning, after death and the gesture or practice that would go with that from traditional dance might be throwing paper coins. Wants to break that direct connection, press “folk” stylization into everyday.

Important to break from habits. He feels challenged. Talks about “expression”
Meeting dancers in hallway. They say they made an improvisation about typical family members with gestures of only everyday life. He gives them roles.

Later on stage rehearsal makes it harder for direct communication. Tie Chun has to walk up to stage and jump onto stage and jump off stage and down again. Active. Now dancers are in a configuration of father, mother, and two small “pet-like” children. Woman/mother does small figure 8 steps from opera or? Another kind of folk dance. Now Tie Chun stops and goes, picking out exact. Pulls bodies, presses, repeats repeats slaps for timing. Exacting. Says for them to make their butts ugly, wants more make it larger or way too small, miniature. Be freer.

Make a tableau: one figure center, male, is the center figure of woman on side, with two “children” like puppies beside her rolling and jumping and scuffing. No smiling, really strange, surreal quality of figures and gestures. Claps timing, controls and repeats. Wants angles of bodies and focus just right. NOT improv here. Setting it. Falls and rises timed over and over again. Two women make the dance different. NO ONE comments on the work. k

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Phase four soon to begin http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/phase-four-soon-to-begin/694 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/10/phase-four-soon-to-begin/694#comments Fri, 02 Oct 2009 14:12:05 +0000 Andrew Lang http://rescen.net/blog/?p=694 Creative Process Phase 4 will begin on 19 October in Beijing

Watch the process as it unfolds here with:

Choreographers – Jonathan Lunn, Carolyn Choa, and Zhao Tiechun Documentors – Katherine Mezur, Pan Li and Liu Xiaozhen and dancers of the BDA Company

Creative Process Phase 4 will begin on 19 October in Beijing

Watch the process as it unfolds here with:

Choreographers – Jonathan Lunn, Carolyn Choa, and Zhao Tiechun
Documentors – Katherine Mezur, Pan Li and Liu Xiaozhen
and dancers of the BDA Company

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Wang Mei interview http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-9-10-11-later/669 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-9-10-11-later/669#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2009 17:49:39 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=669 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 [...]]]> 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. 


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Phase three ends http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/phase-three-ends/631 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/phase-three-ends/631#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2009 13:43:41 +0000 Christopher Bannerman http://rescen.net/blog/?p=631 I am picking up the narrative of these postings as the clock robbed Emilyn of the chance to maintain the daily contributions in the final days of this phase of Danscross. I am happy to say that she will fill in the gaps in coming weeks and complete this remarkably rich commentary on the phase [...]]]> I am picking up the narrative of these postings as the clock robbed Emilyn of the chance to maintain the daily contributions in the final days of this phase of Danscross. I am happy to say that she will fill in the gaps in coming weeks and complete this remarkably rich commentary on the phase three process.

The last three days of this period (days 10 — 12) were filled with intense activity as choreographers and dancers honed their works and made final alterations and adjustments. Simultaneously more people were drawn into the studios: Emilyn Claid and Qing Qing were joined by academics Naomi Inata from Japan and Luo Bin from the China National Academy of Arts Research; and lighting designer Charles Balfour arrived from London to work with Chinese designers Ren Dongshen and Shui Wendong. The introduction of these new spectators brought the performance moment palpably closer.

Another interesting element to be added come from material gathered by Emilyn and Naomi who interviewed both dancers and choreographers, so enabling more voices to join this record of the creative processes. These subsequent additions will alter a blog which has focused on the immediate and spontaneous, and perhaps this part of the process will exhibit a change in register — a kind of reflective blogging.

Days 10 and 11

In the midst of the bustle and the preparations for the production the concentration in both studios deepened noticeably. The energy of the dancers became more consistently focused and the longer passages of material both demanded and allowed longer periods of attention to be sustained and enhanced. Academics and designers have commented on the fact that the works and the working methods are virtually polar opposites as the sweeping phrases of Kerry Nicholls’ work are in stark contrast to the minimal sparseness of Wang Mei; and the panoramic scope of Kerry’s attention and energy is contrasted by the pinpoint focus of Wang Mei.

But nonetheless I am struck by the remarkable similarities in the works and processes: both choreographers demand an unusually high level of concentration from the performers and a commitment to being completely present in rehearsal; both have very clear structural concerns and work carefully to hone the structural elements; both are concerned with finding movement languages which challenge the performers albeit presenting very different challenges; both works are present a kind of balance — Kerry finding unity and collective identity within a world of individuality, and Wang Mei finding moments of individuality to balance the strong collective presence. While it might be said that such aspects of the choreographic process are always present, they are more explicitly present, more clearly identified by these choreographers than is the norm.

These points were noted in the discussion which took place on Day 12 as part of the sharing, of the two works. The comments from academics, choreographers and dancers acknowledged the challenges that the works presented, and also repeated a point made in other creative periods of Danscross: that the presence of academics and dance studios is new at the Beijing Dance Academy and the experience is proving fruitful and thought-provoking. It is seen by many of the Chinese academics as fieldwork, which raises interesting issues/tensions about the nature of the ’field’ and its relation to the normal ‘habitus’ of the academics.

‘Believing is seeing’ or the context makes the meaning — or not

I had my own thought-provoking moment from one comment from Luo Bin, the Director of the Dance Department at the Chinese National Academy of Art Research. He commented that the dancers had difficulty in achieving the clarity of detail in Kerry’s work. This was at odds with my perceptions of the work, which puzzled me and that led me to speculate how this disparity might arise and on what he might be seeing.

My first thought was that Kerry’s movement vocabulary may not be familiar to him and as he was only in attendance for the last three days, his eye had not become attuned to the movement. This is not meant in a superficial way — rather it is an acknowledgement that our visual experiences lead to specific interpretations of the world and form a key part of our habitus, that familiar context or world that we reconstruct each day, but which may form a veil which impedes our vision of the new or disrupting.

This reminded me of times in the past when I have experienced a shift in perception that allowed me to enter into a new visual language, complete with vocabulary, syntax and structural form (it is always difficult to avoid the literary metaphor!). On one occasion in India when observing Kathak classes and performances over a period of weeks, I felt almost a physical sensation during one performance, as if the dancer, and dance form, virtually literally came into focus for me and suddenly I could comprehend what I was seeing.

It seems obvious that a process of visual acculturation needs to take place, but what is fascinating about this is that the eye seems unable to physically, mechanically capture the data and a level of confusion arises that cannot be dispelled. This is probably not the case, rather it may be the brain’s inability to process the information — to locate it within a context and make sense of it. The shock of the new means that there is no context in which to view the work — that the act of comprehension (literally taking together) eludes us and so no sense can be made.

This is supported by some findings in science disciplines (eg the University College London scientist Professor Zhaoping) that believing is seeing — that the context forms our perception of visual events. The implication of this is that when the context is unfamiliar, we are inhibited from forming a coherent perception.

In this case and in my Kathak experience, it was not that the context determined what I believed I saw, but simply that I could not make sense of (believe) what I was seeing. While this may be discomforting when viewing an established dance form, in my experience it also plays a more enticing part in watching new dance works, as they often present a number of possible avenues of development, and even display an aesthetic of ambiguity. In these cases the initial visual ‘confusion’ can  be savored as part of the appreciation of a dance coming into being and crystalising before us.

Point of view — translating from the studio to the stage

In this case, I also wondered about the problem of Luo Bin’s field of vision as he was in a dance studio viewing at close proximity material which is designed to be seen in a theatre from a much greater distance. The issue of ’point of view’ influencing the opinion (or, point of view!) of the viewer reminded me that the choreographer is utilising a professional expertise that allows them to transpose the dance material onto an imaginary stage, even while viewing it in a studio, making decisions about the material and structure that only make sense when seen in the proper performance context.

The challenge for viewers in making this translation was made greater by the use of de-centralised space and the complexities of the timing, with events occurring simultaneously in a torrent of movement, sometimes at opposite sides of the studio, interspersed with wonderfully constructed, but seemingly spontaneous moments of synchronicity. It seemed to me that it would be physically impossible for the viewer to take in the full range of this visual information, as so much lay outside an individual field of vision in the studio. In this setting the viewer must accumulate repeated viewings in order to construct not only a familiarity with the movement, but also a ’map’ of the dance so that the totality can be assembled.

Identifying the disparity in Luo Bin’s visual perception and mine is an integral part of this initiative of course, and I welcome the opportunities for further dialogue that phase four and the performances and conference will bring. I may find that my speculations are misconceived, but already the experience of this debate has stimulated thought and reflection, and led me to analyse my own past experiences of the unfamiliar and how it becomes familiar. And the ’believing is seeing’ point is also entirely relevant to me — my familiarity might be a barrier to my ability to perceive what is before me.

Binocular vision

My intention is to apply a kind of ’binocular vision’ to this task. One eye uses my knowledge and experience of the disciplines of dance and dance making to observe, noting any points of interest without making judgements; simultaneously, the other eye is given the task of simply observing, using my human perceptual apparatus to be present and open to whatever might occur. In this way I hope to avoid seeing only what I wish to see, or simply reinforcing my previously held understandings and beliefs. Is this possible? I can’t be sure, but the attempt seems important. How to watch, see and observe will no doubt feature again during Danscross, and may the debate flow freely.

Zhaoping L, Jingling L (2008) Filling-In and Suppression of Visual Perception from Context: A Bayesian Account of Perceptual Biases by Contextual Influences. PLoS Comput Biol 4(2): e14. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0040014

I am writing this from Tokyo where ResCen is undertaking research into community arts practice (this term is not always used in Japan). Yesterday at Setagaya Public Theatre, arguably a unique institution in Japan, with an impressive range of work and a very string reputation, we observed a visual arts/theatre workshop for children aged 6 to 10 and my thoughts turned again to the impact that community arts practices have had more widely. The use of devising processes particularly and the focus on process, although in this case, there is a product to be shared, both at the end of each day and at the end of the series of workshops.

But the focus on the experience of the participants and the process of addressing a particular set of external factors seems intrinsic to both this community work with school children, and the professional context at the BDA. This is dangerous territory of course, as it is all too easy to ascribe the creative act to the realm of childish play and to diminish the expert practitioner status of all those involved, but especially the performers — although there is no denying the expert practitioner status of those leading the Setagaya workshops, they are very skilled indeed.

These are topics for another day, but the proximity of the experiences of the BDA and now the Setagaya Public Theatre has thrown up more food for thought, and more thinking, digesting and processing is required.

Prof Chris Bannerman
Head of ResCen, Centre for Research into Creation in the Performing Arts

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Day 9 Issues emerging http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-9-issues-emerging/554 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-9-issues-emerging/554#comments Thu, 06 Aug 2009 01:33:06 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=554 Issues emerging – welcome discussion and expansion.

The different uses of time and space by the two choreographers. The aesthetics of the different movement languages, classical, fragmented, hybrid, pedestrian. Generic histories of movement languages. Embodying language, outside in and/or inside out. Questions of performing presence — when the dancing stops. Translation and how meaning shifts [...]]]>
Issues emerging – welcome discussion and expansion.

  • The different uses of time and space by the two choreographers.
  • The aesthetics of the different movement languages,  classical, fragmented, hybrid, pedestrian.
  • Generic histories of  movement languages.
  • Embodying language, outside in and/or inside out.
  • Questions of performing presence — when the dancing stops.
  • Translation and how meaning shifts between languages.
  • Communication of ideas verbally and bodily.
  • Devising processes:  hierarchical, directorial, collaborative, collective.
  • Writing processes – writing in the present, past and future.
  • Appropriations, expectations, myths, generalizations and ignorances that inform our current knowledge of Chinese/European dance cultures.

Unfortunately I have to leave Beijing before the final day’s showings.  

Although I missed the final day, I saw a full run of both pieces at the end of the previous day. I have these on film, and hope to find a way to upload them.

I was most surprised by Wang mei’s piece. Most rehearsals I had watched over the previous days were spent discussing small details,  and I saw only fragments of the whole. Now I see the piece complete I am  amazed by its tight fit to the music. The movement follows the phrasing and qualities of the Bach music exactly. Choreographically this is clever,  I am drawn to the exactness and the detail and layering of movement, by the fact that the dancers never stand up, that small pedestrian gestures become stylised. However for me, the movement language, which is unconventional and beautifully minimal, loses some of its power when fitted so tightly to the sound score. The piece becomes more like a musical study and loses some of the emotional power I had seen on previous days.  This tight relationship to the music brings it closer to Kerry’s choreography, where all movement is fitted to the music,  and there is only occasional pause for breath. The challenge for the dancers in Kerry’s piece is to find the human-ness in performing the material, particularly how performers look at each other and support each other.  Also, the fast rhythm tends to influence the size of the movement, which gets smaller, therefore the material no longer looks fast.  The challenge is to expand into space rather than tightening, in order to increase the impression of risk taking speed. 

On Day 9 & 10 Naomi and I decided to interview all the dancers. I also interview Wang mei about her choreography.  These will be added as soon as we have transcribed the material. In between inerviewing I watch Kerry rehearsing the dances. Cleaning the material, fine tuning the phrasing, and counts, looking for the stillness, the held moments, tableaus between dancers. Running the piece again and again, building stamina and confidence. Her assured energy in the directorial role continues to inspire the dancers, to keep them going. Kerry understands the need to find a rhythm in the day’s energy, not to flag, not to lose the momentum, otherwise dancers become exhausted. Dropping energy and then having to find it again is so much harder than staying energized throughout the session.  Liminality of time might offer potential as a creative space for choreographers, but for dancers’ bodies in action it is slow road to collapse.  Teachers know this, choreographers tend to forget. Kerry is also a good teacher!

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Day 9 Qualities http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-9-qualities/548 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-9-qualities/548#comments Thu, 06 Aug 2009 01:12:23 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=548 Walking — what happens when dancing stops and walking begins. Can the dancers break out of dance code to walk from A to B, or will the walk become a codified statement? Does walking constitute a gap in the dancing, a pragmatic move from A to B, or is it a full statement. Is a [...]]]> Walking — what happens when dancing stops and walking begins. Can the dancers break out of dance code to walk from A to B, or will the walk become a codified statement? Does walking constitute a gap in the dancing, a pragmatic move from A to B, or is it a full statement. Is a gap a statement? Kerry is asking for urgency, a presence, in the walk, yet not codified, I wonder how this is being interpreted – as grandly present, or internally focused, in time to the music or just an embodied moment of walking.

Looking — how do the dancers see each other? At present they work in duets with no eye contact, body-to-body, soldier-to-soldier, waiting for the beat to begin, and then bang into the fast partner work — the meetings between them are coldly robotic. What is Random’s aesthetic on looking? Kerry begins to address this, looking for the links into partner work so there is continuity between meeting and dancing. For me, the dancers are mirror bound, they see themselves and each other in the mirror, and I don’t sense they are in contact with each other relationally, as different live bodies.

Endings — allow yourself to breath, settle, allowing you to register the end of the duet, before walking off. How much of this is translated?  Or is the image of pausing before walking off stage copied from Kerry’s demonstration? How does this become assimilated internally? Does it matter? How do you perform pause?

Throughout this creative process, learning has been externally directed, and then internally assimilated.   Mirror learning.  Remembered by image. So the code is transferred. Question — what is the relationship here between semiotic and symbolic language, how does one inform the other on the dancer’s body?

Run through of 1st section.

Links have been made, for Yabin’s solo; this is stronger with Zhibo added.

Links made into Sun rui and Zhibo’s duet at end of section.

Much smoother links into men’s feet and arms phrase.

Kerry has changed Wang lei’s ending. While the others walk upstage, he walks down stage and goes into his initial move at the beginning of the piece.  Bookends, nice. Of course this adds an accessible narrative!

End of the day and Kerry is aware of a ‘larking about’ atmosphere in the studio, like school kids anxious to get out to play.

The quicker we can do these two runs the quicker we can go home.

I like a relaxed atmosphere, but I get a sense when it gets to much fun it gets uncontrollable. Especially when you are tired, if one person laughs, then two people laugh, then it goes crazy. Then you are having a party and I don’t know what is going on.  I need you to focus otherwise I don’t know if my decisions are correct.  So focus for me for another 20 minutes. Also, try not to laugh at each other, be supportive. I know this material is strange.  No we don’t feel strange, it is normal now.  I think you look beautiful I am proud of what you have done…

The dancers tell Kerry that it does not feel strange any longer; the movement language is assimilated into their bodies.  So this brings another question — if the material feels comfortable then is that an achievement — or is it the discomfort, the strangeness, that actually defines the quality of the material?  So — are the dancers’ aiming for comfort in their dancing? Or can Kerry encourage them to continually question and play with the movement to ensure that it retains its strange awkward-ness.  For the awkward fractured quality of Random’s work is its strength.

Run through 200% then home!

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Day 8 Wang mei http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-8-wang-mei/516 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-8-wang-mei/516#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2009 05:50:58 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=516 Wang mei rehearsal video

I enter as a discussion is in process about how far to drop their heads as they sit on the floor.

…Time passes, I am watching them all lying on their backs. They are now discussing exactly how Wang mei wants them to initiate arching their necks so that their [...]]]> Wang-Mei's-Rehearsal
Wang mei rehearsal video

I enter as a discussion is in process about how far to drop their heads as they sit on the floor.

…Time passes, I am watching them all lying on their backs. They are now discussing exactly how Wang mei wants them to initiate arching their necks so that their eyes can look back behind. A very slight movement, imperceptible at first, grows out of nothing. They expand the very start of the gesture as their hair slides on the floor. Does it begin with the movement of the eyes, or the shift in the neck? Nothing becomes something.  Something small becomes magnified.

Today I interviewed Wang Mei. Hopefully it can be loaded onto the blog site.  It was informative. However by the time my questions/comments were translated, and Wang mei had responded, and then her words translated back to me, I was left feeling that the response seemed to have moved away from the question to a new place, which took the dialogue in another direction and opened up other questions.  Dare I say it – we seemed to be playing Chinese whispers!

I will see about transcribing the interview or uploading it in iTunes format.

A crucial point I remember – Wang mei is not interested in technical codified dancing, she is interested in working with dancers as people, to explore human-ness, human gesture, rather than dance technique.

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Day 8 preparing the ending http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-8-preparing-the-ending/513 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-8-preparing-the-ending/513#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2009 05:46:52 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=513 day 8 beginning

I spent the morning writing up yesterday’s process.


Kerry is talking to the dancers -

— You know the sextet, the lifting phrase altogether? Well good news, it is scrapped.

Kerry sets new line material, as a possible ending and echoing the earlier line material. Three A dancers and three [...]]]> day 8 beginning

I spent the morning writing up yesterday’s process.


Kerry is talking to the dancers -

 — You know the sextet, the lifting phrase altogether?  Well good news, it is scrapped.

Kerry sets new line material, as a possible ending and echoing the earlier line material. Three A dancers and three B dancers. A’s are in unison, B’s are in unison. Kerry teaches two phrases of 8. This is gestural with arms, elbows and hands featuring. She then works another phrase of 8, new duet material, still in the line. She works fast, without hesitation, phrases constructed before the rehearsal began.  There is no break in the rhythm of her delivery of material.  She continues for the 4th phrase of 8, with a reworking of each dancer’s solo, which they perform together in the line, before walking upstage for 4 counts to end.

It is all in the preparation! To reach the ending within the time available, the preparations need to be thoroughly considered, which I imagine Kerry does before entering the studio. To prepare, Kerry will need to unweave from the final image, back to the first figure, in order to choreograph forward to the final image. E.g. Everybody turns and walks 4 steps upstage with her/his right leg first, which means each preceding solo needs to end with the right leg free, which affects how each solo begins, and how each solo begins depends on each dancer’s placing in the new line material, so this spacing needs to be considered before the line material is choreographed in order that the follow on material can unfold from there. And of course before any of this can happen, Kerry has decided on how many beats and phrases of 8 she requires, so that the final image will meet the end of the music.

At the end of the day I see a run of the last section of the piece.   Bother – the music ends before the material. Somewhere there is an overspill.  Kerry unravels, tightening up a few moments to see if the material will fit.  It does, tight. No gaps, no letting go, no moments of rupture or empty time. No time to breathe out.

I notice as the dancers get tired, their movements tighten, become small and tense, losing grounded-ness, breath and risk. Their gestures hit the space with short punches, rather than extend and thrust into an expanse of space.  When they are tired they work on the surface of their bodies. What they need to do is work deeper as they get tired, finding an economic use of energy that expands from inside out rather than outwards in.

Charlie Balfour has arrived (lighting designer). Just in time to see the first full run today, with 80% energy.

Then another run, 100% energy. No talking on the sides, stay focused for the dancers working in the space.  When it gets fast you need to look at each other, take time to approach each other.  You are a company of 6, not 6 soloists.

The piece is nearly there. A few gaps, a few spacing questions and then the cleaning begins!

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Day 7 studio 703 real/empty http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-7-studio-703-realempty/480 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-7-studio-703-realempty/480#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2009 05:17:35 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=480

wang mei rocking day 7

Wang mei has decided to perform in the work, so now there are 5 performers.

I watch a run of a small section, to music. Dancers are sitting on the floor facing front, swaying slightly, forward and back. I am caught by the concentration, the stillness within the [...]]]> Wang mei with her dancers day 7wang mei day 7

wang mei rocking day 7

Wang mei has decided  to perform in the work, so now there are 5 performers.

I watch a run of a small section, to music. Dancers are sitting on the floor facing front, swaying slightly, forward and back.  I am caught by the concentration, the stillness within the movement, a contained attention to detail, the ability to be empty and full simultaneously.  The minute changes in gesture, for instance one dancer’s change of direction, or an extended rocking that takes a dancer onto his back, becomes magnified, almost a shock.  I am pulled in.

The run through lasts maybe 1 minute.  Then they gather round the video recording, to watch this short section several times, discussing details, shifts in the material.  The attention to detail is astonishing. I am looking at the micro made macro.  I am reminded of that movie about the life of ants, when a blade of grass becomes a tree, and we are looking into a tiny world enlarged.

I sense a collective working together, although Wang mei has the final decisions, different dancers step out to direct material and all the creative discussions and changes are discussed as a group.

I gather that they discussing real and empty.

I am fascinated watching the group work out the subtle differences in a single gesture.  Lifting themselves on their hands, legs straight out in front, they rock sideways in rhythm. The difference between a sharp rocking movement and a swinging rocking movement is discussed at length. The swinging rocking movement is required. They watch each other to perfect this.

Later – after the marathon next door, I come in and slow down.

Five bodies are sitting, facing the mirror, knee tapping and sliding backwards on the floor.

Qier explains to me a little of Wang mei’s working process. For Wang mei, when one dancer is communicating with another, this is reality. If you are working alone you are empty. I interpret this as a play between bein in the world relationally and focusing inwards when alone. Wang mei seeks a co-operation between everybody. Every movement must be comfortable for each person; if one person is uncomfortable then the movement will be changed. Each dancer has a different movement, yet they work together in unison, so each person can see the other do his/her movement. They are working with an inside awareness as well as the outside image, to come into together differently in unison.

I need a deeper understanding of her methods. I arrange to interview Wang mei tomorrow at 5pm.

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Day 7 30 minute marathon http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-7-back-changing/477 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-7-back-changing/477#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2009 04:44:35 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=477 sun rui & weifeng day 7

marathon trio: working it out day 7

Kerry has listed the methods she uses when teaching and transferring knowledge of her movement language to students and dancers. This also represents the qualities that are important to her. I attach an image here.

Task (new material):


sun rui & weifeng day 7

marathon trio: working it out day 7

Kerry's teachings methods day 7

Kerry has listed the methods she uses when teaching and transferring knowledge of her movement language to students and dancers.  This also represents the qualities that are important to her. I attach an image here.

Task (new material):

Insertion into the quartet.

All four dancers working together.

Choose moments of stop in the quartet. Insert a ‘fall’, ‘rotation’, ‘flight’ and ‘catch’.

Then continue with the material.

Three stops, three insertions.

Kerry describes the difference between ‘flight’ and ‘lift’.  In a lift, you stay in contact, in flight you come out of contact, travel through space and then you are caught.

They begin to work, they have 10 minutes, while Kerry shapes Weifeng’s solo and his duet with Sun rui. Yes Weifeng is back so the full cast is present. Kerry choreographs Weifeng to walk in from upstage, Sun rui to catch him in a lift before he stops.

Kerry uses the term exquisite to describe Sun rui’s movement quality. Attempting to explain the term to the translator takes me to the dictionary definition

ex·qui·site adj

1.            very beautiful and delicate or intricate

2.            perfect and delightful

3.            sensitive and capable of detecting subtle differences

4.            felt with a sharp intensity

Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999

The atmosphere in the studio is vibrant, active, full of creative input, from Kerry, photographers, observers, dancers and translator.

Kerry returns to the quartet, to see the material.

The task has been misunderstood; they have been working in pairs rather than as a group of four.

Kerry explains again. I should see just one fall, one rotation, on flight, one catch. There is one action and it does not matter who does it, but you work as a group.

That is a lift, not a flight.

Even if I am over there, I am always watching!

Kerry is happy with the atmosphere in the studio, everybody working. I sense it too. This is not just about a discipline and a shared creative focus. When dancers are scattered, working in different pockets of the space like this, highly energized, they simulate the desired structure of the choreography, as different layers of material and focus happening simultaneously.  So the dancers begin to live the style and the process becomes the choreography.


We are going for a marathon. 30 minutes of new material. And Kerry is going to work fast! She begins by talking with the translator, explaining certain terms that she is going to use with the dancers, so the translator is ready to translate fast.

You will say the word after me quickly, and then they respond quickly. So I will say, catch, drag, and fall. I will say: one person is the pencil, and another person is going to draw with them, draw in space. I will say ‘find the sky’, limbs — connect and rotate. I will say the floor, the ceiling, and behind, (which is not about turning their backs, but about being aware of something behind them). I will say up and down, backwards and forwards, ‘move your heart sideways’,  ‘filling ribcage with air’, sternum, elbow, change facing, lift, a lift that changes position in space. I will say point as in point at something with a body part.

I want the dancers to make decisions without talking, I want their bodies to answer, to go immediately, to get quicker at making decisions, I am going to direct them with an instruction, I would like you to instruct back loudly, so it goes: English, Chinese, body, English, Chinese body, English Chinese body’ so they don’t have time for thinking.  We are working with ‘back changing’. I will keep going back to the beginning. Make a phrase, remember it, go back to the beginning, repeat, add on, remember, go back to beginning, repeat, add on, remember and back to the beginning. I would like you to be urgent and focused for 30 minutes.  We need to be really clear so we can direct them. We are going to label each dancer as A, B, C and I shall refer to the dancers by these letters.

The translator asks – what is ‘connect’?

Kerry demonstrates two limbs connecting.

Try to be instinctive, not planned. I will lead, but you be there.

Kerry is riding high, well in control and directing with style.

All of this is then explained to the dancers.

We are not talking; we are solving the task without talking. For 30 minutes, we don’t have water, we don’t look at our phones, we don’t go home, 30 minutes of an urgent energy…

Kerry divides group into two trios, Wang lei, Sun rui, Wang yabin and Weifeng, Wu shuai, Zhao zhibo.  Each trio is given a piece of paper with 6 written numbers.

Label yourself A, B or C in your group.

Have water before we start.

The 30-minute marathon begins.

I find myself carried into the marathon as a writer, attempting to catch what happens, staying in the moment, forgetting to breathe, no pause to think, just writing. And it went something like this (I have included some commentary although this could be extracted to get a better sense of the rhythm of the work):

No more talking.

A have a look at your piece of paper.  Use B as a pencil, quick.  C punctuate a point behind you and change direction.  Go. Draw, not like a rag doll, be clear.  C find a point behind and change direction.

Dancers are somewhat dazed; the process is slowed down because of translation.  Like Kerry has bundled them all into a train and the doors have closed. They are off but they don’t know where they are going.

From the beginning.  Once more. Draw, point behind, change direction.

Now C is going to lift B, to change space.

From beginning, and draw, and lift and change space.

No walking, think of a way to get there.

From the beginning, draw, you lift, change space.

From the beginning. Draw, approach, change space.

All look at 2nd letter.  Draw your 2nd letter with your elbows.

From the beginning.

You draw, approach, lift and take space and elbows.

Once more from the beginning. Quick.

Draw, lift, go, elbow.

B & C lift A and change facing.  Don’t talk, do.  This should be a lift.

From beginning, and elbow and lift, change direction.

Kerry demands faster connections between figures.

From the beginning.

And draw, lift, change space, elbow, approach, lift.

C draws with A.

I feel an excitement rising, as I did yesterday at the Great Wall, crowded up against the stone wall, trying to get through a small gap, with thousands of people behind me pushing, like time is ending, like 9am rush hour at Victoria station, like those dreams where you are running very fast and not getting anywhere!!

And draw, and elbow, and lift, change space, and draw and sternum.

Once more.

C get into the lift quicker.

C fall on A and B, A and B catch C.  Go!

A and B drag C.

The scaffolders are back outside, balancing on the bars, no harnesses, hanging nets.

The dancers are safe with their falling, no risk taken. Do they know how to fall?  No time to teach them, no experience of contact impro. They stay safe, falling back with arms outstretched; to be caught almost before the fall begins.

From the beginning.

Draw, lift, change space, draw elbow, lift two people, change space, draw, fall drag.

From the beginning.

B draw the 4th number, using C.  A move your heart sideways and fill ribcage with air.

Kerry demonstrates nothing, all is verbally transferred.

From the beginning. Weifeng –get out quickly.

Lets go.

Dancers are shocked out of patterns, out of careful placing of arms and legs, jump started into movement as task.

Draw, lift, travel the lift, go go go, draw with the elbow, lift, readdress space, and draw, and fall, drag, rotate, draw.

I need to see you fall first then catch, not just catch.

From the beginning, here we go. Keep with it guys.

Kerry is shouting, dancers are looking dazed! But they are with her.

From here A, B & C, show me something up and down, backwards and forwards. Go.

Nothing happens, dancers seem stilted. Kerry demonstrates, translator joins in.

Let me see it.

Its up, you go down, you go backwards, you go forwards and it’s gone. Fast.

From the beginning.

Draw, lift change space, elbow, into lift and change space and draw and fall, drag and go, draw, up, down, backwards and forwards.

Have a moment to think about it, you can talk for one minute.

From the beginning.

Look at the 5th number. A is going to draw number on floor, B on ceiling, C behind you.

So it goes, up down, back forward, 5th number.

Lets go from the falling.  Fall, drag and draw and up, down, back forward and it draws.

A and C connect limbs and rotate. It can be small, connect, rotate. B find the sky.

Lets go from up, and down, are you ready?

And up, down, back, forwards, draw a number, connect, rotate, find the sky.

Then, as a trio, change places.

From the beginning.

Keep going; keep working on it, no water. Only two more events to go.

A solo — 6th number.

2nd time through, C stops you.

B rests.

B uses C as pencil.

I have a solo, I have a stop, and I have a drawing.

When C uses B, A steps away.

From the beginning.

Draw, lift, travel, travel, big elbow, lift, rotate, draw nice and clean, fall, drag and you draw and you go up, down, you draw.  Connect and rotate, find the sky, change places, solo, duet, and step away.

Lets go from the 6th number.

Last thing – A falls, B & C catch, drag.

From the beginning.

From the beginning.

We have the material!

I see two trios, completely different, yet created from similar instructions — verbal unison, visual difference.

I go next door to Wang mei and calm down!

I come back to a run through of sections 1 & 2.

The order today:

Wan lei entrance and solo.

Wang lei and Weifeng’s duet.

Two duets – quartet adding new material today (drop, rotate, flight, catch)

Men traveling feet phrase.

Women and men feet and arms phrase.

Yabin solo

Weifeng walking into duet with Sun rui + Yabin solo

Wu shuai solo + yabin solo

Sun rui solo

Zhibo and Sun rui’s duet – music slows.

2nd section

Walk down, line.

Kerry’s duets, unison

Sun rui solo

Into marathon trios from today, new material.

Break into weifeng’s solo.

Back to marathon, new material.

Wu shuai & weifeng’s duet.

Pause – gap in material, to be filled.

Men’s floor material with women unison duet.

The material and structure are nearly complete. 5 days to go.

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Day 6 Pulling together http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-6-pulling-together/449 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-6-pulling-together/449#comments Sun, 02 Aug 2009 08:51:03 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=449 Video clips:

Day 6 Sun rui day 6 Wang yabin day 6 Wu shuai day 6 zhibou 1

Day 6 Pulling together

Wayne’s blog comment reminds me to write what I respect and learn from Kerry as she works. Her tireless driving energy and rhythmic pace [...]]]> Video clips:





Day 6 Sun rui day 6 Wang yabin day 6 Wu shuai day 6 zhibou 1

Day 6 Pulling together

Wayne’s blog comment reminds me to write what I respect and learn from Kerry as she works. Her tireless driving energy and rhythmic pace is an inspiration, as is her thorough preparation of material, her ability to demonstrate and translate the language onto the dancers bodies, her patience and her ability to cut the crap and get on with it.  Yet there is something else very special that I learn to do with how Kerry relates in the studio. She has the ability to surrender to the creative process. I don’t mean a ‘giving up’, but a generosity, a giving of self to the dance that emerges, a giving of self to the relational dialogue. What I mean by this is that the work is not about her, rather the translation of material between them. She leaves her ego elsewhere to be inside the process with the dancers. Her body acts as a conduit, through which the material passes, from its history with Random, through Kerry to the dancers. There is humility here and a lack of self-consciousness. At the same time she directs with authority and drive, there is no room for doubt in the studio. I learn a lot from this quality of delivery: her play between drive and surrender.

(Yes, doubt can be a creative tool as it open up the gaps, but not here, not in a two-week process with a piece to make).

Saturday. We begin at 11am with a warm up class. Five dancers all on time!

Small group, talk the plan for the day:

This is every thing we have done so far. (Kerry shows the dancers her hand written list of numbered items, each one crossed off). There are some things we will be able to forget but I want to see them today and then I can tell you if we can throw them away. We have 25 things, 2 or 3 we can’t do because Wu weifeng is injured. Without him we have 21 and I want to see them with clarity and precision.

Kerry leads a short 2-hour rehearsal, going through all the material so far. After each fragment she cleans up some details before moving on. She demonstrates the material when necessary, indicating where she wants the stops, changes in quality, space directions, unison moments, breaks in the material and emphasizing specific gestures that have got lost. Here are the fragments:

Phrase 1

Phrase 2

I am thinking about plie here, eyes are to the audience, drop out. Sharp elbow.

Phrase 3

Knee clasp with double pirouette. What did we say yesterday about this, travel, moving, I am moving, remember crab, crab?  I am thinking about my ear… Lets try again everybody.

Wang lei solo

Walking in from upstage, shake, and stop. Ooze, pin, scythe, flick.

Men feet phrase.

Knee, up, screw heel, fouette, thigh lift, knee, limp sideways, slide, cut through, skidder. Wu shuai ends the phrase by falling into ‘splits’. Don’t do that Wu shuai or I will put it in! Laughter follows.

Men & women, feet and arms. (Track 2.29)

Can I see the arms on their own please?

Its not small, its about reaching away from you, something is happening here as well, this is sharp, then remember the tortoise, heavy.

Kerry attends to the details of the hands and wrists.

Wu shuai and Wu weifeng duet — can’t do today.

Kerry’s unison duet

Begins with fingers pointing to shoulders and roll down through spine. Includes the partner work, tortoise head movement, head to partner’s stomach, split leg drags, women lifted parallel to floor.

Sun rui solo

Points and lines duets

Do you remember your points and lines solos? Well you don’t need to, you can forget forever. We have the duets with that material.

Duet with Wang lei and Wu weifeng. Cannot do today.

Sun rui and Zhao zhibou duet

Zhibou solo

She is working well, the lines are more defined and clear, she is gathering strength, she seems more weighted.

Yabin solo

Men floor material

Exquisite, sharp, sorting out timing – with laughter.  Playful teasing relationships between Kerry and the men.

Sextet (water) – can’t do without Wu weifeng.

Stopping duets

Kerry wants them close together in space, four bodies of complex material. She sorts out timing, so lifts come together, unison shapes, and canon after the stop.

Sun rui & Wu weifeng. Duet (not today)

The line coming forward.

Wu shuai solo:

I love you Wu shuai! (‘I love you too’ he responds – they tease).

Very clean, very nice.

Visualisation solos

Kerry runs all the material in a constructed order, which is split into two sections.

She then runs the material again, running sections 1 and 2 together.

The piece is beginning to take shape. The weaving and linking from solos to duets and trios and quartets is well paced and Kerry’s meticulous attention to timing has paid off as one fragment slips and overlaps into another.

A good week’s work. How do you feel? Tired. I am very happy at the end of week one.

Tomorrow you sleep, eat chocolate, sleep. Any body want to say anything to me?

Thank you guys.

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Day 5 Working the gaps http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-5-working-in-the-gaps/399 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-5-working-in-the-gaps/399#comments Sat, 01 Aug 2009 07:22:21 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=399 day 5 wang lei solo

day 5 duets

day 5 Wu Shuai

day 5 wang lei 2

Working the Gaps

Kerry looks like she might be riding a slight panic (with positive energy of course). There are 4 dancers in the space. Wu Weifong is injured and will not be back [...]]]>
day 5 wang lei solo

day 5 duets

day 5 Wu Shuai

day 5 wang lei 2

Working the Gaps

Kerry looks like she might be riding a slight panic (with positive energy of course). There are 4 dancers in the space. Wu Weifong is injured and will not be back till Monday. Zhao zhibou is off this morning, and Sun rui will be off this afternoon but zhibou will be back.  Kerry asks the dancers if they will all be there next week. Reassured, she accepts that today and tomorrow will be without full cast. She needs all 6 dancers to work the sextet, the trios and the legs/arms line. As yet, she has had only one day with all 6 dancers present.

She shows me her rehearsal notes, she has structured most of the material now on paper, with the sound score. Now her structure needs to be worked in the space, which is tricky when dancers are not present.  There is no time for re-thinking, the dice is thrown, and there can be no wondering or wandering into the gaps that have appeared. Kerry needs the dancers here, present and full in the space.

She begins rehearsal working with the men’s floor phrase, begun yesterday. Wu shuei, Wang lei, Sun rui.  Cleaning the details, counts, spacing.

I watch the solo for Sun rui.

…Slide through, deliciously pointed foot, shove hip, look, turn, arabesque, perfect, deep on supporting leg, spin, arms over the head, drop hands, stagger, stagger, hands on bum, travel, drop head, leg up, clap hands around knee, slide hand down sternum, hands to ribs, hands to bum, extending those legs, those violently beautiful extensions, slicing in the air. Exquisite, a tall sinewy swan, sharp swift and linear.

I watch the solo for Wu shuei.

…Reach arm back, step forward, parallel rise, stop, drop, jump, thrust hips, circle, smooth, catch, throw arms down, straight legs jump, snake through, pull out, sharp arms down, smooth ripple of back.  Small, tough, cheeky, direct hits and fluid as a butterfly!

Kerry begins to structure material. Wu Shuei’s solo links into the men’s feet phrase. Kerry sorts the spacing, fronts, diagonals, facings, corners. Concentration on the legs.

A gap appears — 4 counts need filling before the repeat of the leg phrase. Kerry pauses, her body hesitates, opening up the gap for a new something that has not yet been figured. She searches for a movement that travels, she knows where she needs to be, how many counts. What will be the movement that emerges? Hold that moment unfixed, just for a moment — then she is off, the movement appears and fills the space — two runs and a skidder — and the gap is filled.

We are in positive space, punctuating points in space, on the beat, movement happens on 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 7 & 8 – even the stops are sharply accentuated. Gestures cut rather than absorbing the space.

And then there is dancers’ remarkable ability to remember material!  We tend to take this for granted, for it is assimilated into daily training from an early age. Memory of movement is a fine skill.

Have some lunch gentlemen.


Studio 703 Wang mei

I have gathered information. The piece is based on a poem. I am given 4 translations. Here is the first (translated by Lin Yutang):

In my young days,

I had tasted only gladness.

But loved to mount the top floor,

But loved to mount the top floor,

To write a song pretending sadness.

And now I’ve tasted sorrow’s flavors, bitter and sour,

And can’t find a word,

And can’t find a word,

But merely say, “What a golden autumn hour!”

The composer is Bach with an overlaying score treated by a Chinese composer names Fan ZongWei.

As expected, the company is sitting on the floor, discussing the fine details of moving forward on their bums. Who moves first, how they move, on what count, the quality of the move, the extent of each lean forward — are discussed through collective wrangling. The timing of the movements reminds me of musical counterpoint.

Wang mei often steps into the piece and one of the dancers takes over the direction.  Her energy matches the dancers, no more, no less. Yet she clearly has the final say. The work looks inwards to its internal functioning, its group rhythms, rhythms composed of 4 parts, 4 layers. Each dancer’s part brings a different counterpoint to the whole, a 4 part score. The question is – how are they reaching decisions – as it seems to take a very long time!  Wang mei seems passionately absorbed in the problematic details of space and time.

I return to studio 702.

Kerry is working with Wang yabin. Here are some of Kerry’s words, caught as she directs.

… Yea, so from here, quite like to see the hands, hands go, hands drop, can this be bigger, exactly, carry on, judder, hit emilyn, travel, carry on, small, small, small, big.  Exactly and carry on. Ah, so could I have this with this shoulder, big, big, exactly, just make sure, stop it, then go, then shoulder, yea, and then yabin, you can do this one on 4, nice, two arms legs in, good yabin, where does your solo finish? Urr, so literally from here I want you to go…  do you need a minute to think?

Yabin does the solo again, this time I try to catch what I see – writing as I watch.

…Still, eyes, mouth smiles, step, leg round, arm air swift, sway, shunt out sideways, criss cross, hand on floor, curve, split legs, turn, swan lake wrists, elbows in, hug self, circle arms, throw above head, head snake, foot up, cramp, elbow, heel, lunge, hips turn, spin, twist arms around, fingers judder, ripple back, whoa, fall to floor, circle hips, tiger walk, skidder on feet, shoulder circle small, small baby, fetus, lengthen out, hips smash, hands flipped, draw along the floor, skidder round on one hand, lie back, shoulder twist, turn, kneel, skim along floor,  stomach tense, head lifted, snake whisper with hair…

We go downstairs to the BDA office, to look at Random videos, to give context to Kerry’s work.

Kerry discusses the rehearsal process and checks out how the dancers are remembering the material and assimilating it into their bodies. She is used to seeing dancers working all the time. These dancers rest while not working and then get up and do the material pretty well remembered. So how do you remember?

Dancers: In middle school this is most important in the training.

Tomorrow is Saturday, we will start at 11am. I want you there with energy, focus, for three hours. I want you there with bright eyes and energy. Good plan?

Dancers happy to begin later tomorrow!

day 5 yabin & zhibou day 5 duets day 5 zhou zhibou & wang lei scaffolding balance, outside the studio window ]]> http://rescen.net/blog/2009/08/day-5-working-in-the-gaps/399/feed 2
Day 4 Endurance http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/day-4-endurance/369 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/day-4-endurance/369#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2009 02:15:37 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=369 day 4 sun rui

(I am aware that I am not asking questions of the work as I said I would do on day 1. I am not asking questions of relational aesthetics, ecological practice, devising processes, cultural difference, language translation, and choreographic practice. Nor am I asking questions of the dancers’ relationship with Kerry, how knowledge is transferred, the mirror techniques, the affects and attunements of the process. Nor am I making parallels [...]]]>
day 4 sun rui

(I am aware that I am not asking questions of the work as I said I would do on day 1.  I am not asking questions of relational aesthetics, ecological practice, devising processes, cultural difference, language translation, and choreographic practice. Nor am I asking questions of the dancers’ relationship with Kerry, how knowledge is transferred, the mirror techniques, the affects and attunements of the process. Nor am I making parallels with theories and philosophies that emerge from the work.  The immediate is too present! I am simply writing what happens in the studio – for now).

sun rui day 4 Zhao Zhibou & Wu shuai Wang lei, Wong yabin day 4 wang lei Wong yabin day 4 duets  day 4

Weifou is not here, he is in hospital, with an old back injury.  5 dancers again. Plans are scuppered for this morning.

Kerry begins with Zhao zhibou and Wu shuei, working with the obstruction duet; cleaning, finding stops, extending lines, sorting phrasing, making, breaking. Kerry pulls out moments, signposting points that consequently have a shared consciousness.  With her interventions, she enters into the duet, creates fissures, and cracks in the material. These moments become points of shared awareness, beginnings and ends of phrases, places from which to start, pick up and continue.  Shared ownership.

What began as an obstruction, an interruption to the material, has become a movement. The cut becomes a space, the space becomes a movement.

Kerry works on a new solo for Sun rui, testing their relational contact through the sharing of the material. His long thin legs go up and up.

Men — back to the leg/arm phrase. — with a new front, facing the windows.  Ladies  — facing the back of the space.  Men once through without arms, then ladies join, all do the leg phrase with arms.

Kerry is beginning to layer the material in the space, bodies in space and time.

Afternoon session.

2pm start. But no one is ready. Two dancers are asleep and no one else is here.  2.20 the dancers have arrived but no one has warmed up.  Kerry decides to talk with them, even thought there is no interpreter.

I am getting a little unhappy, this may be a cultural thing, but in UK if class begins at 9.40am then dancers are in the space warmed up and ready to go. Here, you are asleep. If I say rehearsal begins at 2pm, I mean 2pm… I need you with me.

Kerry gets the message across positively and respectfully, yet clearly. She needs the dancers to be with her for the length of the rehearsal.  The dancers tell us that this two weeks is summer holiday time, and they are coming in especially to do the project. Perhaps this contextual information helps to explain their attitude.

I can feel Kerry’s frustration in my body. I know that feeling of expecting to work with dancers and finding them low, tired, with sleepy energy – how difficult it is to lift their energy – I feel myself dropping and with that goes confidence. The relational contact breaks down. I see it happening here with Kerry. Her talk with them helps to catch that feeling early.  She is so ready, so ‘up’, speeding, moving three paces ahead, punching the air, driving the beat, hauling the dancers along with her. If they drag behind it is five times more exhausting for her to keep going at this pace. (Many questions here of ways of devising/directing).

Kerry is crafting, structuring material. The dancers are spaced in a flat horizontal line, coming forward, men in unison, and women in unison. Adding new material as she goes. The line travels down front, with sharp cutting movements, one gesture for each beat, each gesture thrusts in a new direction.   Nothing is smooth; all is fractured; yet the shards create a whole. The solo material coming forward in the line breaks into duet material.

The dancers copy the material beautifully, immediately after Kerry demonstrates. Yet retaining this image in their bodies appears to be more of a challenge. The tendency is to lose not only the shape of the gesture, which inevitably includes a multiplicity of specific directions in space, but also the ability to shift between movements with clarity. Wang lei and Wang yabin have this ability. On the other dancers the material can look mushy, lacking articulation and precision, details are compromised.  If the dancers work a little slower they find the clarity. Working at Kerry’s speed is a new experience for them.  (Again questions here of devising methodologies).

I go next door.

Wang mei is on her stomach demonstrating how the legs scissor and slide. Yes, they are still on the floor, working slowly. Wang mei has a blister on her elbow. I am not surprised!  She is waiting for a plaster.

I leave and go back next door.

Contrast – POW! Kerry is asking the dancers to do the next run full out, so she can see if her answers work. Kerry is going even faster, pumping out her counts. The dancers are straining, staggering, but they are with her.

So, what is the intention here, working fast with movement in a complexity of directions?

This seems to be becoming a challenge of power and endurance — can the performers keep up?  Will Kerry give a break in the marathon?

This is a challenge of technical skill, will power and stamina for the dancers.  Is that the core of the work?

We are inside the engine of a technical dance language, (we are inside the racer that is Wayne McGregor!). And what history do these dancers have of Wayne’s work. Do they know the context in which they are working?   There is a myth that if dancers are not working full out when Wayne enters the studio, he might decide to get on with something else. (A myth, but there is something here about  the need for dancers and choreographer to meet and match creative energy). Kerry carries  this legacy. She has to – she has a piece to make. Yet she does not want to set up a hierarchy of power and fear.  Testing testing. Driving on (edited august 3rd).

Would it be useful for the dancers to learn more of the context, to watch some DVDs of Wayne’s work for instance?

Scaffolding is being erected on the windows outside. Men are walking on single planks and poles, constructing the platforms, 8 floors up, without harnesses attached. Another test of endurance?

Men, do you remember this phrase? Kerry goes through one of the phrases she taught them.

Task: Work a version of that phrase on the floor.

Task for the women:

Take the letters: C L E A V E

Take 6 body parts: left side of the ribcage, sternum, hip, shoulder blade, foot and ear.

Take each letter and each body part and find a movement to describe it on the floor.

Write on the floor as if writing in the sand.

The 6 movements should flow.

How Kerry relates to the dancers influences the material that is made. Her fighting energy brings the attack and drive into the work. Translation of language is not just about the content, or the ‘what’, but the ‘how’, the quality of the translation, the style of contact and transference.

The men play as children, making a compelling piercing phrase.  How can this child like creative enthusiasm be contained? Will the articulation be retained tomorrow? Explosive energy comes in waves, it is unsteady, unpredictable, dazzling. When it is not there we have fuzzy, mushy, unarticulated scratchy, fiddly, sloppy dancing. I am not sure these young dancers know how to sustain and contain energy.

Kerry works with Wang lei for another 15 minutes, extending his solo.

This is perfect, this quality is perfect, this is just what I want.

I agree.

I go next door to Wang mei.

Although continuing to work on the floor the dancers have changed position in space. They are sitting up, facing the window, in a vertical line upstage. They continue to work with the movements of babies, and the contradictions between pedestrian released gestures, precise timing and exact unison, which gives the work a quality of taut simplicity.

They work on the moment of change between the horizontal line and the vertical line, who goes where, and who moves first, to achieve the shift in two beats, 7,8. There is much laughter and discussion, as they try to accomplish this task. It is achieved by using less effort, going there directly without wasting energy.

I am caught up again by the difference.

For Wang mei less is more, movements are stripped to a bare minimalism, requiring concentration on details of placement and timing with a centered stillness and core strength.

For Kerry, energy is pounding outwards, attack is outward, stamina and technical brilliance are always required, in a survival of the fittest.

Wang mei has until November to make the piece.

Kerry has two weeks.

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Day 3 Strictly floor work http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/day-3-strictly-come-floor-work/357 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/day-3-strictly-come-floor-work/357#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2009 01:51:24 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=357 In Wang mei’s studio the dancers are on the floor again, this time lying on their stomachs. I have not yet seen these dancers standing up! Wang mei is also on her stomach with her toes turned under so the balls of her feet are on the floor. She is explaining to the dancers how [...]]]> In Wang mei’s studio the dancers are on the floor again, this time lying on their stomachs. I have not yet seen these dancers standing up! Wang mei is also on her stomach with her toes turned under so the balls of her feet are on the floor. She is explaining to the dancers how she wants the feet to move, tiny stutters that move sideways, curving her body.

One body rolls slowly over, while another stutters her feet. Chen maoyuan sits and judders with his toes, they all judder forward on their stomachs, moving on the balls of their feet, hands supporting them, elbows tucked in. Small movements, precise, the focus is on timing and choreographic structure rather than the complexity of dance language.

Now comes a long search for the exact moment in the music for this particular sequence.  Wang mei needs a technician to run the sound for her.

Working for so long on one small detail, I wonder where in the piece this 30 second section might be. I feel as if I am peering into a tiny brush stroke on a painting – the stroke expands to become a whole work – before pulling out to see how miniscule this moment is within the bigger frame.

I notice I am becoming absent, this is not because of the material or the process. Rather because I do not know what is being said – and so much is being spoken.

But even without the language there is something here about how the process is exchanged. Liu mengchen is turning from her front onto her back perfecting the detail of how that is done.  Again and again she tries, each time slightly different, the placing of arms, legs, sharpness of the turn, facial expression.  Eventually Wang mei calls her over to closely watch as she demonstrates the move. As she demonstrates, Wang mei lets out a cry as she turns onto her back, a cry between pain and ecstasy, with her neck slightly arched, yet her arms and legs relaxed and suspended in the air. The dancer watches the sudden anguish of the demonstration and copies. We move on. Every move is given this amount of attention.

Ah – a translator comes to sit with me, Rae.

She is asking the dancers to move more like in daily life, to try not to be like a dancer.

I ask if this is familiar work for these dancers. No, he says, the work is different for them, for Wang mei has very strict requirements. Yes, clearly!

Because of the simplicity of the material, nothing is hidden in this work, all is transparent, and all is revealed. Hence the attention to detail.

Another single moment becomes a search for movement quality. Chen maoyuan is rolling onto his back fast, his legs in the air. We take time here.  What is happening?

He is trying to find the quality of the movement that Wang mei requires. She wants him to throw his body over fast, move his legs up sharply, yet not fix his legs, so his legs continue to move with the weight, yet suspend, yet control, yet without letting people know that. And in time with the music. Controlled freedom, using weight, finding the place between tension and release. Abdominals needed here!

I am aware of the luxury of time here at the Academy. In the independent dance scene in the UK, how many choreographers can afford the time to spend a day working on the minute qualities of one or two movements?

I quote from Jay O’Shea’s blog. The differences between the choreographers’ ways of working is perhaps ‘a matter of culture, but not of national ones… there is no reason to assume that a choreographer will be representative of her or his (national) culture. But there is reason to think that choreographers’ work engages their experience and intersects with the institutional structures, working conditions, and funding opportunities that the work develops out of’ (O’Shea blog May 25th).

I need to find out more.

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Day 3 Exhaustion! http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/day-3-exhaustion/355 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/day-3-exhaustion/355#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2009 01:46:34 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=355 day 3 working it out!


Summary. After a very creative and energized day yesterday, everybody is tired — the dancers are exhausted. So the day does not produce so much material. Even so, what does emerge is ample for a day working at this level of complexity. The day focuses on the relationships between the dancers and Kerry, a playing out of power dynamics, who has control of time and how. [...]]]>
day 3 working it out!

Tiananmon Choreography Sextet construction Wang lei Sextet construction Wu waifeng and Kerry


Summary. After a very creative and energized day yesterday, everybody is tired — the dancers are exhausted. So the day does not produce so much material. Even so, what does emerge is ample for a day working at this level of complexity.  The day focuses on the relationships between the dancers and Kerry, a playing out of power dynamics, who has control of time and how.  There is good rapport; laughter and generosity circulate between them.

I walk into Kerry’s rehearsal near the end of the morning. A Zoë Keating track is playing. Dancers are working on duets.

The task:

Make obstruction duets. Using ‘elbow phrase 1’ from day 1, dancer A attempts to complete the phrase. Dancer B interrupts, intervenes, attempts to stop dancer A from performing the phrase. Roles can change. Compose this material. The terms stop, obstruct, prevent, encourage the quality required – fragmented, broken, jagged, complex yet playful and relational.

The music Kerry is using as texture during her process include: John Adams, Max Richter, Zoë Keating, Deru, together with Wayne’s Random sound tracks.

Kerry does not look happy. We chat. She is very tired from lack of sleep. The dancers also. They arrived this morning unable to move, exhausted. It took over an hour to get them with her.  So she is rethinking her plans for today, in order to allow dancers to rest.  The duet task this morning allows the dancers to talk with each other and this is giving them energy.

Early break for lunch.

Noticing one’s own process as a choreographer and how that affects the dancers — this is part of the relational process for creative contact.  There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’, we are all in this together and how we meet each other requires respect, awareness, enquiry and presence.


Kerry discusses starting points for this afternoon. She shows me a folder with 22 transparencies, 22 diagram drawings of a city. You are the City, Observations, Organisation and Transformation of Urban Settings, (Petra Kampf 2004). Each transparency represents another interpretation. The 22 diagrams are divided into four categories: ‘Cosmological Ground, Legislative agencies; current, Flows and Forces; Nodes, Loops and Connections’ (p.11).

‘Cities are an everyday invention. They are informed and imagined by many people at a time…. Cities are an open stage for complimentary and conflicting encounters, and allow for multiple identities to emerge and evaporate. They are backdrops for dreams and desires, a platform for departures and arrivals. … Cities are impermanent – they are in a constant state of transformation, in which unpredictable changes keep their structural organisation shifting from one state to another’… Cities need to be viewed as transitional entities in which their local is to be found in the idea of moving points, animated by different forces that interact with the urban construct’ (Kampf 2004 p.2).

For Kerry, this notion of the city is the quality she is looking for in the work. For me, the notion of complementary and conflicting parallels the discussion we are having with the dancers on linearity and fragmentation.

She is also playing with a title: ‘Cleave’, suggesting a contradiction between piercing/ cutting and adhering/being faithful.

Kerry explains the transparences to the dancers.

We are looking at one transparency today. Lets take this one.

Working as 6 people, choose one journey; follow any of the lines of movement in the transparencyBut work together.

Without much debate the dancers agree on the line they wish to take.

How are you going to represent those jagged lines?

Where is your audience?

The task:

Work as if you are one person.

There must always be two people in the air being lifted.

When one person comes down another person comes up.

Lifts can be quick, but as soon as one comes down another goes up.

All 6 of you have to working, so join together.

If you are not lifting you are working to change places.

You will find yourselves laughing; I want you to take it seriously, not to miss the possibilities.

Every person needs to be in the air twice.

It should have a watery kind of feeling and it needs momentum.

You can work with flow, impulse — show me Chinese flow.

You are one animal, you move together.

Working as a sextet the dancers begin to work the task – and yes, much laughing begins the process.  Kerry is close by, engaged, anticipating. They begin to get more serious, talking, constructing, and resolving clumsy potential.  I wonder if they have had any contact improvisation?  Possibly not! They construct the lifts looking in the mirror. They play, create, and fall, thump. I am interested to notice how they relate, who is in, who is out, who has the power, who makes decisions. Without understanding what they are saying, they appear equally involved, working things out together.

I wonder about improvisation rather than construction. Yet, in a sense, constructing in this way is new for them. Usually they work with harmony and flow they are very skilled at that. So this awkward sticky playful design is creative conflict – the flow can be added later.

I leave Kerry to go next door to Wang mei.

I come back as Wang lei is performing his solo.  He is dynamic, strong, dark, dramatic, makes bullet points. He is fluid yet weighted, into the ground, sultry.

Kerry works with Wu shuai on his solo material. Kerry crafts, shifting directions, dynamics, changing arms, placing of feet, elaborating the material, directions in space and deciding on eye focus. In contrast to Wang lei, Wu shuai is a light dancer, particular, petite with delicate finesse.

Today Kerry has added two more nuggets to the repertory of material.

14. Obstruction duets.

15. Water sextet (based on the architectural transparency).

Kerry talks through plan for tomorrow.

She is thinking — no new material, but dancers teach each other material, a giving of gifts, teaching and learning, which will bring greater ownership of material.

Giving the movement away brings closer ownership.

Kerry is on the edge of beginning to structure and craft the material. The music is giving her suggestions as to the order of material.

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Between day 2 & 3 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/between-day-2-3/349 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/between-day-2-3/349#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2009 01:40:37 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=349 Getting lost at night, walking for hours, trying to find the subway. I come to a square with hundreds of people milling around. No, they are not milling, they are engaged in different physical pursuits. They are dancing. Over here are the roller skaters, wheeling round and round a central point, which consists of a [...]]]> Getting lost at night, walking for hours, trying to find the subway. I come to a square with hundreds of people milling around. No, they are not milling, they are engaged in different physical pursuits. They are dancing. Over here are the roller skaters, wheeling round and round a central point, which consists of a bicycle, some boxes and a loud speaker with pop music blaring. Over here are disco line dancers. About ten lines deep, 30 people to each line, moving in unison timing, each in his/her own way, young and old. I can’t see a leader, but everybody seems to know what to do when the music changes. I move further around the square, here are lines of women dancing Chinese folk dance, led by two women who perform, smiling, engrossed in their dance. The women follow behind in lines, knowing what to do, old, young, fat, thin, energetic, minimal, many versions of the same material. The music blares out – but strangely drowning the disco happening 10 yards away. I walk on. Next there are the tango couples, with their own space, their own sound system, ignoring the sounds from around. Then lines of men two-stepping, separately but facing the women, a courtly dance, not touching, stiff and upright. Moving on I observe the fan dancers, in lines waving their colorful fans in unison rhythm. A big crowd is clustered round.

between day 2 & 3

between day 2 & 3

I am caught up in the sounds, the closeness of the bodies, each group of dancers’ oblivion of the existence of other formations, yet knowing they are all there together.  Out to socialize, to dance together on a hot summer’s evening – every evening. The mundane ordinariness of the repetitive actions becomes special when performed by large numbers of people, everybody dancing alone, but together.  How are the spaces divided? I wonder, does this depend on how many turn up, or are the territories fixed?  The observers form a wall around each dancing group, acting as a boundary. I wander along the periphery catching glimpses, atmospheres, moods, dancing styles. Skirting the square are walkways and trees, couples resting, kissing, old men lying on their backs on benches working their abdominals, young children roller skating round trees, little children, heads shaved, naked, pissing on the ground.

I slip amongst the crowds, stared at by those closest, otherwise invisible, and drinking in what is an every day activity here.

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Day 2 studio 703 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/day-2-studio-703/339 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/day-2-studio-703/339#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2009 03:23:58 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=339 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 [...]]]> 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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Day 2 for Merce http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/day-2-for-merce/337 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/day-2-for-merce/337#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2009 03:21:15 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=337 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 [...]]]> Video clip: day 2 Wang lei & Wang yabin

CIMG0048_2 CIMG0070_2 CIMG0079_2

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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Day 1 a diamond in the heart http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/day-1-a-diamond-in-the-heart/320 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/day-1-a-diamond-in-the-heart/320#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2009 01:34:13 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=320 Day 1

A diamond in the heart.

Summary: a rich, full and fast day. Kerry introduces her movement language, through class exercises, taught phrases and task based methodologies. The movement language and style of working is challenging and new for the dancers. The day was positive and energised, with the different qualities of the dancers becoming evident. I am including the notes of the first day (below) as they begin to indicate the source of a depth of knowledge, history and cultural [...]]]> Kerry in action Morning class from left front going anti clockwise:  Wu shuai,Wang yabin, Zhao zhibo, ,Wang lei, Wu weifeng, ( missing: Sun rui) introducing Wang Lei day 1 Kerry and Mandi (translator) day 1 introducing Wu Weifeng day 1 introducing Sun Rui & Zhao Zhibo  day 1 Wang lei and Wu Weifeng 'points' solos come a duet day 1 introducing Wu Shuai day 1 Wu Weifeng later day 1 Introducing Wang yabin day 1

Day 1

A diamond in the heart.

Summary: a rich, full and fast day. Kerry introduces her movement language, through class exercises, taught phrases and task based methodologies. The movement language and style of working is challenging and new for the dancers. The day was positive and energised, with the different qualities of the dancers becoming evident.  I am including the notes of the first day  (below) as they begin to indicate the source of a depth of knowledge, history and cultural difference that is within the movement and the transference/translation of  movement between bodies. The notes include fragments of Kerry’s spoken words (in italics), descriptions of what happened, descriptions of process, issues of translation and some emerging questions.


Beginning in the studio

An atmosphere of curiosity, with introductions, people meeting in small groups in studio 702 — one of many identical dance studios in the building. This is a large square space, with a wall of mirrors, no different to any other dance studio the world over. We do not really notice the site, it is familiar, neutral within the context of dance training..

Kerry is excited, energized, going fast. She talks with Mandi, the interpreter, discussing how they might work together.

I can go fast, if you don’t understand, please stop me.

A group of 6 dancers, sit together on the floor, stretching legs and backs.

Eyes are eager, waiting, looking at Kerry.  Kerry introduces herself and identifies each dancer by name.

Lets make a start.

The dancers immediately stand up, spread out facing the mirrors, with equal space between each body – the universally understood protocol for the beginning of a contemporary dance class.

Kerry demonstrates and talks simultaneously.

Stretch up, arms overhead, curve down, hang down, weight of the head pulls you to floor. Just hang there. Take big breath in, exhale, push back onto heels. Breathe, slowly rolling up the length of spine working.

A familiar beginning to a Limon based class. Kerry works for Wayne McGregor at Random Dance Company. She is here in Beijing as choreographer and in her role as Co-Director of Creative Learning, which also promotes Wayne’s work through her manipulation of his methodologies. The phrases and tasks she constructs are her own composition, yet drawn from Wayne’s style and movement language.

Falling to the side, arm comes up above head, hand flat, arm stretches in front of body, back arches away from arm… Bring arms come up like an eagle.

Plie, slow, four to stretch, using arms to help us up.

As Kerry demonstrates the dancers pick up the exercise through seeing and copying, a learning from outside to in, not through the words that are spoken. Kerry turns to ask Mandi to interpret ‘eagle’. The difference is immediate, the dancers fully embody that particular movement on hearing the word, the metaphor.

Mandi and Kerry now find a way to work together. Mandi stays right inside the action and translates as Kerry speaks.

What is ‘suspension’ in Chinese?  We need the feeling of suspension a lot in this work.

This is discussed, and again there is an ‘aha’ moment, as the shared term brings deeper understanding.

Here is my hug, here my arms are really expansive, here is my fall, throw this arm over the top and my spine reaches over.  My body is trying to stay leaning forward, like superman, I land onto my left, right, low on the floor – lovely.  In my parallel, push this leg, cut underneath, then just walk 7,8. Mandi do you know ‘rebound’ in Chinese? No OK – so don’t lose momentum. Suspend, suspend, same thing here, then fall.  Good lovely.

I watch a dancer as his leg goes up effortlessly high to the side. He hardly notices his own hyper extended leg. High legs are currency amongst these dancers, a necessity for a successful career. Yet, there seems to be little awareness of the extension.  Perhaps because these dances were trained so young to achieve this extension, through a regime of stretching, that it is difficult now for the dancers to consciously own their extensions. I wonder if that they have dissociated from the pain, therefore dissociated from conscious placing and effort.  The same leg finds it hard to take a normal step forward. Two contradictory qualities are at play, the hyper articulated and the pedestrian.

… 5,6,7,8, ear, ear, arm behind, don’t forget low, high,  I am in curve, arch curve, like a tiger, my arms come with m… I should still be here on releve, step back on 4… my arms take me, in the air on 5, we run we run back, right leg, left, right, close.  Suspend and fall, Attitude retire, my arms go swimming, my arms push the space away, step, bring foot to ankle… then we do left side.

I see you do arms and legs and not the spine.  I am interested in what the back is doing

The short but strenuous class allows dancers to meet Kerry, the atmosphere is eased through the familiar universal structure.

Kerry notices how the dancers are exhausted. Then remembers that this is new material for them, new ways of moving, new uses of the body – of course they are exhausted.

Kerry talks to the dancers about the work. We sit in a small circle on the floor.

For me, the work has got to have attack.

For two weeks, you may get tired, because the energy is like this (punches her fists in the air), but you are fantastic dancers and I want to show you off…

You have to meet me and be alert when we come in the studio.

For me ugly is good.  I don’t want you to look in the mirror and making a pretty shape, it is more a sensation, more about the feeling than what it looks like. A lot of my language is distorted, and so quite extreme.  Your bodies are trained, and I want to see how far we can take them.  You may get sore in the lower back.  So stretch when you can. I will sometimes give material, a lot of the time I give tasks for you to find the answers. This is interesting for me as well, as a choreographer, you can push me in another direction as well.  So I feel it is a sharing of ideas rather than me leading.  We are a company, I am in the company and I am learning from you as well.  When I set a task and you are solving it, how you solve it is important to me, the process of how you get to the answer is sometimes more interesting than the answer. Remember! Till I say, this one is in the bin, remember everything. Wayne always says his dancers are his computer software, so you are my memory. I am going to be pushing your brains as well as your bodies. This will feel weird, but go with it.

Kerry teaches the dancers her 1st phrase.

She takes a deep lunge to the side, elbow jutting forward, arm at right angles. She circles her elbow outwards. Her chest moves against the circle, arching back, avoiding the arm. Now she has got two elbows jutting forward, circling without dropping…

You are a little bit polite and small, make it big, scary, I want it scary.

Her elbows break again like wings behind her back, she suspends, throws her arms forward, falls, her body curves over, her arms come down fast, then head, sharp sharp. Broken birds. She shunts, hips through, body pulled back distorted, all weight on the back foot.

Do you have a lighthouse in China, by the sea with a light shining all the way round? Mandi looks puzzled. Probably not.  So this movement is broken at the hip, back straight, eyes looking, focus all round as you turn.

She transfers two phrases onto the dancers bodies, called part 1 & part 2.

I observe the process of learning, picking up the material, connecting mind and body,  watching as the dancers try to keep their weight low, co-ordinate arms and legs in different directions, use their backs, remember complex sequences – all this seems new to the dancers,  breaking habitual patterns of movement.  As the material is performed faster and faster there is no chance for them to hold onto conventional aesthetics.

Kerry’s words as are often metaphorical in describing the movement.  What is being translated is not what she does but what she says. The dancers pick up the shape of the movement from watching. The quality of the movement they learn from the translations of the language, from one metaphor to another.

The dancers do not know what Kerry is saying while she is moving, so she is being observed from 6 different perspectives. Kerry might be speaking about what her arm is doing, but the rest of her body is also moving. So the dancers, who do not understand what she is saying, might be focusing on something else that catches their eye.

Does dance transfer solely through the body?

Do words allow a deeper understanding in the body?

Is copying movement enough?

Movements are unpredictable, always catching a surprise, playing with dynamics, texture, speed, drop, turn, curve, circle, jump, arc, smooth, low, effort, hard, soft, sticky, silky, long, dragged, punctuated, staccato, one gesture at a time, with very fast changes.  This is contemporary dance post Forsythe – fragmented, non hierarchical, continuous,  multiple directions, movement that defies conventions of beauty, yet creates the beauty of distortion in its place.

Lets do: 1st group part one, part two, go away, 2nd group: part one, part two, go away, 1st group, part one, part two, go away, 2nd group, part one part two – lunch!

The work is in the task of learning and translating the surface of movement into a deeper place in the body. The work is in about becoming familiar or comfortable with the material. With so much extreme effort, I notice chaos, and I feel empty of centre, like a shell.  The idea is to move so fast that the body is intuitively caught up in the movement, not perfecting or understanding at this stage. At this stage Kerry wants to jump their bodies out of complacency, out of smooth risk-less perfection. For her, working at speed is vital.


Kerry introduces a task-based methodology for creating material.

Today’s task evolved from Laban’s shape and effort, to Forsythe, to Wayne McGregor to Kerry Nicholls.

For now, lets call it ‘The point solo’.

Kerry instructs the dancers:

  • List 1 – 10 on a sheet of paper.
  • Think of a body part to write at the side of each of these numbers. Try to choose small parts of the body, e.g. not the whole arm.  You need to know where on your body are the parts you have chosen! Ear – elbow, back of the knee.
  • At the bottom of the page write your mobile phone number. Take the ‘1’ off.  You should have ten digits.
  • Bring your paper into the space. Imagine yourself in a cube. Number the corners and spaces of the box. One to ten.
  • Use your mobile number to navigate your way round the cube. Match your mobile numbers to the body parts and create 10 movements in the sequence of your mobile phone number.  Strange and weird is good.

The dancers create solo phrases.

This requires concentration, detail, and precision, thinking into movement.  Focus goes to the different body parts in juxtaposition with each other. When awareness is with one body articulation, intelligence is moving in other directions. No part of the body is sleeping. This requires direct attention and precise memory to a multiplicity of directions.

Next task

Make duets with your solos, you are in the same cube together. Stay really close. Work through the material without crashing.  I want it look like a conversation. Be aware of what the other person is doing, give attention to each other, and weave with each other without losing individual precision.

The dancers are tending to look in the mirror rather than relate to each other. They tend to make it look ‘right’ as a duet, rather than going for the discomfort and strangeness.  There is a desire for confluence rather than conflict.

Keep going, the task is never done.

5 interventions are inserted into the duet.

  • Look for a question and an answer.  One person asks a question in movement, and the other person answers, then carry on.
  • Look for a moment of stillness. Both of you are completely still, then either leave together or one goes and the other follows.
  • Find two points of touch.
  • Find two points of dependent touch or lifts — when one of you really needs the other.
  • Use each other to travel to take you somewhere else in space.

Try to be investigative, keep going back to work it again.

I don’t want to see anyone sitting down; I want you up and in full energy all the time. You need to be up and creating without stop for 10 minutes, in a place of presence.

Kerry works closely on one duet, she looks at the material, pausing the dancers when she wishes to intervene. Adding, editing, creating the conversation, changing the timing, playing with dynamic, altering speed, looking for moments of contact, moments of risk, points of stillness, sharp stops, looking for changes in height, weight, sharpening, making rhythm, sorting eye focus, looking where and when, filling moments of dullness. She is directing and crafting the material. The dancers giggle, the energy high, there are accidental bumps and punches of knees and elbows. Kerry is inside their material as they dance, detailing exactness.

What are you looking for Kerry?

Looking for things that attract me, the extreme of physicality.

By bringing in a detail of my style, I can see how to get in and out of that moment. The detail tells me if I need the movement that follows. If it is too organic, I give them something to change that direction, diverts the pathway.

We have a debriefing process at the end of the day.

How do you feel?

Many things are new.

What is new?

The style and energy.

This is a good new style for everybody.

After two weeks with me it will feel like home.

We discover that the dancers have known each other for 10 years at the Academy.

Three dancers worked with Shobana.  One worked with John Utans.

Three trained in Chinese classical dance, three in Chinese folk dance. None have had ballet as a first training.

What is the main difference between Chinese dance and this work?

Chinese dance is soft and circular. There are not the angular, sharp straight lines of this work. Chinese dance is like a ball of energy in the heart.

While this work is more like a jagged diamond in the heart.

Video clip:  day 1 Wey fong & Wang lei

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The day before. Emilyn http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/315/315 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/315/315#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2009 05:53:25 +0000 Emilyn Claid http://rescen.net/blog/?p=315 Getting There.

So – I enter a liminal space that begins at the airport, when everything I am doing ceases to be and everything I am about to do has not begun. The moment of traveling. The moment of being in between places that is simultaneously a moment of here and now. There is nowhere [...]]]> Getting There.

So – I enter a liminal space that begins at the airport, when everything I am doing ceases to be and everything I am about to do has not begun. The moment of traveling. The moment of being in between places that is simultaneously a moment of here and now. There is nowhere else to be although I am in no place.

I am upgraded to business class – yea! Upgraded liminality – sublime!

Jet lag, reeling, floating. Take a map from the hotel foyer, begin wandering. For a while, maybe an hour, I relish being lost, in the moment, not knowing where I am going, not knowing where I want to go. Concrete blocks of buildings, functional, living and business spaces. Down town, highways, cross at your peril, even though there is a ‘green man’ traffic comes from all directions. Better to cross by the footbridges. No, I want to cross the road. I will mingle with this Chinese family and weave with them, they seem quite confident to meander through the multiple flows of traffic. Watermelons and peaches sold off the back of a donkey and cart, bicycles on by-lanes next to the motorways. I walk in straight lines down straight streets, a straight lost. Then I have to find a mark, yes, in order to acclimatize, re-orientate myself I search out the Beijing Dance Academy, (was I looking for that along, did I already have a focus? Was I really lost?) I stand outside looking up at a functional building, dedicated to dance. I breathe the dancer’s breath and gather my linearity. An institution for dance, a factory for constructing dancers. For me right now, a familiar home, from where the map suddenly makes sense. Ah, I was holding it upside down, no wonder I got lost.

Small restaurant, I sit outside, under the trees, hot grey sultry evening. Rice, veg and some kind of steamed meat — pork? Chop sticks practice. I think about tomorrow.  Dialogue with Kerry, she is here with her son. Go with the flow and a pretty fast flow it is. Perhaps approach the writing from four initial angles: Kerry’s communication with dancers and translator; description of developing process; description of what I see and the questions that emerge. Lets see what happens tomorrow.

I come prepared, with Proust, Cixous, Goat Islands’ Small Acts of Repair and a Thesaurus.

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End of week #2… http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/end-of-week-2/309 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/end-of-week-2/309#comments Sun, 05 Jul 2009 11:34:05 +0000 John Utans http://rescen.net/blog/?p=309 CIMG2681 CIMG2684 CIMG2685 CIMG2692 CIMG2700 j eat b ]]> http://rescen.net/blog/2009/07/end-of-week-2/309/feed 1 Photos http://rescen.net/blog/2009/06/278/278 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/06/278/278#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2009 02:44:58 +0000 Richard Layzell http://rescen.net/blog/?p=278 5fa38982t6c08cfb9a07c690 1224c8a1ad9g213 1224c883058g215 1224c88da54g214 ]]> http://rescen.net/blog/2009/06/278/278/feed 0 Things Contextual and Cultural http://rescen.net/blog/2009/06/things-contextual-and-cultural/269 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/06/things-contextual-and-cultural/269#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2009 01:21:59 +0000 Anita Donaldson http://rescen.net/blog/?p=269 Things contextual and cultural

Where to start from … and I have tried to start three times and changed my mind each time! I finally decide to start with a question about the context in which John (Utans) and I find ourselves in this project. We both work at the HKAPA (Hong Kong Academy for [...]]]> Things contextual and cultural

Where to start from … and I have tried to start three times and changed my mind each time! I finally decide to start with a question about the context in which John (Utans) and I find ourselves in this project. We both work at the HKAPA (Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts), and thus work in what is very much a Chinese environment – but one which has a fascinating inter-cultural mix (and ‘inter-cultural’ used here in a broad sense). The APA is – a BFO!* – in HK which is part of China; at the same time, however, it stands (politically) apart from China. But the APA also has a strong western influence that comes through in various ways: leadership at the top, for instance, is (and has been for most of its 25 years) in the hands of non-Chinese; certainly that applies to Deans of Schools – currently 3 of the 5 are from the west, and one of the other two has strong connections with the UK. This inevitably affects/influences what is done and how it’s is done. In the School of Dance more specifically, each of its five Deans (starting with Carl Wolz) has been/is from the west – initially from the USA, and more latterly from Australia (although I bring some UK experience to the job). Many of the teaching staff, however, are Chinese, either local Hong Kongers, or from Mainland China, with one from Taiwan: we are roughly 50:50 in respect of east/west mix. By contrast our student population stands at 97% Chinese – this includes those from Hong Kong (the vast majority: we have only about 26 students who are non-local (including one from the Ukraine!), the number capped by the government at 20% of the Academy’s total undergraduate population of 750), from Mainland China, from Malaysia and from Singapore. So working intensively with young Chinese dance artists in a creative, artistic environment is nothing new for either of us. That said however, there are distinct differences between students from the Mainland and those from Hong Kong, differences that are due largely to the education and social conditions that prevail/have prevailed in each.

The School also has a mixed dance culture in that we have students majoring in Ballet, in Chinese Dance, or in Contemporary Dance. At the same time, we have gone a long way to break down the walls between the three streams, to the point where Ballet students have Contemporary Dance technique classes and vice-versa, and Chinese Dance students are able to choose either Ballet or Contemporary Dance. Importantly each semester we have what we call a ‘cross-stream’ work for performance – a work (contemporary) where the dancers are from all three streams. (John has choreographed three of these.) So: intercultural in more ways than one!

Given the context, I am constantly aware of being an ‘outsider’, and so constantly aware of cultural differences, and being sensitive to these differences (although I don’t always succeed!). Some of this awareness is possibly heightened by my own background as an immigrant child – the one with a funny name, who had dark rye bread sandwiches for lunch, and whose parents would insist on talking to her in a funny language! (This at a time in Australia when immigrants, no matter where they were from, where labelled ‘wogs’.)

* BFO stands for Blinding Flash of the Obvious – a term used by one of the lecturers at the Management Development Programme I attended at Harvard; and a term that has stayed with me. Its meaning is self-evident (or – in the context of the below – is it??)

Musings on language

It’s often been said that dance needs no words – it’s a universal language that crosses all [cultural] boundaries. I have never been convinced! Language of the more specific kind certainly matters when you are choreographing – to get your ideas across, to go into the detail, of explaining the inspiration/deeper meaningfuls behind what you’re doing. Some things remain difficult to articulate in your own language, let alone in someone else’s!

If I had any reservations, then they have been put to rest by the experience of this past week. Language, and the detail of the communication, is quite crucial. Let me just illustrate with a couple of examples of things that have happened ….

Take for instance, translation ….

John has/we have an excellent translator in – firstly – Emily Wilcox. She is an American doctoral candidate who has spent considerable time in China over the past 6 or so years, some of that time spent in intensive learning of the language (and so the culture as a whole: no way can you access the culture other than superficially without being able to use the language to communicate with people – and to communicate on more than a superficial level). So Emily is fluent in Chinese, and the same time has a good understanding/sense of movement/ dance (including observation): she’s able to give fluent instruction/ explanation …… But at times she also appears to expand on what John is saying – I say ‘appears’ as I don’t have any understanding of Chinese (beyond ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and the odd other word or two!), so have no real clue, other than the observation that she speaks for a good more time that John (a man of relatively few words). There are also times when she and the dancers engage in discussion that is [obviously] outside what John has said; and times when John gives some instruction to a dancer – who then asks questions/ for clarification – which are answered without reference to John. This may be simply connecting to what he’s said before – or it may not be. His humour, too, is possibly not translatable – at times a bit edgy, with a bit of a bite to it (and, some might say, very Australian!).

Our second translator – Annie – is Chinese/local, doing a masters at UCLA Riverside (if I remember correctly): while her English is good, she is not a native speaker, and in this particular context, appears not to be totally at ease with her role.

The dancers have a range of English capability – if they have more, they are reluctant to use/show it, although there is some evidence of one or two being able to do a little more as time goes on. Y however has a reasonable facility, and at times acts as translator. She is quick to ‘cotton on’ to what John wants, and this leads me to ponder …….the need for a dancer to be able to access the more subtle aesthetic and creative nuances that are part and parcel of a choreographer’s ‘tools of the trade’ (and thus an integral part of the creative process?). Choreographers work through the body/its movement (another BFO!), but they also rely heavily on imagery, on putting the practice/process into a context, on drawing on aesthetic principles – all of which have language implications. John also throws in the odd phrase in Cantonese – but this tends to confuse rather than help things (mainly because it’s so different from Mandarin/ Putongua). He also makes various ‘throw-away’ lines/ comments that are probably not translatable – even were they understood! (So for instance: “… trying something altogether different – because it’s Saturday”.)

So, then, the question of what gets lost in translation – and more to the point perhaps, what is comprehended in the first place.

The problem of language is less overt (in respect of the creative process) in the other group where the choreographer – Liu Ning, who is assistant to designated choreographer Zhang Ming – and dancers both speak the same language. But of course, I have little access to what is going on there because I rely on translation – and some of the time there is no-one to translate as Annie is often translating for John while Emily is attending class. So what I glean about the process comes from my observations – so even more subjective than normal, and inevitably superficial. I confess that at times it can be difficult to stay fully engaged as a result – even though there are always things of interest to pick up on.

One of my great frustrations – and one I’m sure shared by other expatriates – is the lack of Chinese, and thus the limitation on getting into deep discussion about whatever with the majority of my Beijing colleagues – and the dancers. This inevitably means that I remain the ‘outsider’, with all that that entails (the intention to learn more Putongua being one!)

Another example
I was invited to present a session on my area of expertise last night – mainly to the staff and students of the Academic Studies Department. After discussion with the Xu Rui, I decided on Choreological Studies as the topic – what it is, the choreological framework, and the notion of dance as a performative event.The presentation – together with the slides that were shown – was translated by Emily. This meant the inevitable stretching out time-wise, and given the specificity of the some of the language, how much was /was not understood.

In some ways it reflected some of what was happening in the studio: my train of thought could not be as fluent as it would were the presentation not translated … I had to be conscious of simplifying my words – although I did not want to simplify them too much: so needed to strike the right balance. Essentially it was a process of negotiating my way through, rather than being able to freely present (simply an observation and not a criticism!).

There were then questions from the floor: for most part they were translated … and so were my answers … However I think this went reasonably well – the questions were not so particularly choreologically oriented, so were perhaps less ‘problematic’ in respect translation. But again it brought home to me some of the issues inherent in language and translation, and in words – their use and their meaning.

Phrases and such (John’s)

Try not to use the mirror
As if! It was fascinating to see in both groups just how tied to the mirror the dancers were. Nothing unusual however: BFO: dancers and mirrors are inseparable! Choreographer Liu Ning for instance was exploring ways and means through contact improvisation techniques: initially at least, the dancers were never able to take their eyes away from the mirror, and focus on working ‘internally’ with another dancer.

[… the task] becomes more complicated …. but more fun ….

A little bit like a conversation ….

…. but all this could change

In a way you shouldn’t listen to the beat …. I don’t like it when it becomes very on the beat ….
Given that moving to the beat is inherent in most forms of dance, then not moving to it is a challenge! So often while the dancers began moving independently of the beat, they all to soon went into 1-2-3-4 (or whatever) mode.

Looking really Chinese ….
Whatever that might mean: must remember to ask John.

OK la …beautiful ….
And so it was. The dancers in both groups are beautiful movers – each with his/her own special characteristics. As John says – you could simply watch them time on end. I find Chinese Dance especially fascinating to watch – and especially its contrast with ballet and contemporary dance (or is it its integration of some of the key principles of each of these western forms with its own??).

For the moment


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Xu Rui’s Words http://rescen.net/blog/2009/06/xu-ruis-words/239 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/06/xu-ruis-words/239#comments Wed, 10 Jun 2009 01:36:56 +0000 Qier JIANG http://rescen.net/blog/?p=239

Shobana and Zhang Yunfeng have completed rehearsals and have left the studio, Zhao Ming and John then enter the studio and start new rehearsals with the dancers. Paul, Janet, Mu Yu and Zhang Ping have completed the observing and thinking, and left the studio; Anita, Liu Chun, Jin Hao then enter the studio and [...]]]>

Shobana and Zhang Yunfeng have
completed rehearsals and have left
the studio, Zhao Ming and John then
enter the studio and start new
rehearsals with the dancers. Paul,
Janet, Mu Yu and Zhang Ping have
completed the observing and
thinking, and left the studio; Anita,
Liu Chun, Jin Hao then enter the
studio and begin to look into the
rehearsal process. It is like a
kind of interesting relay race.
The difference is that people are
handing on the passion of creation
and the sparkle of new thoughts instead of a
baton. There is no result called win or
lose, everyone will meet at the end
point and share the experience of
a journey.
After the first phase and half of
the second, the choreographers,
scholars and dancers are already
gathering some unique experiences.
During this period, I was coming in
and out  of studios accumulating a random sample
of feelings and impressions.
However, one consistent aspect was the deep feeling of the
meaning of “crossing boundaries” that initiated
DANSCROSS. There are at least three
main aspects: creative process
(practice) and academic studies
(theory); different professional/aesthetic
areas of choreography, research,
performance and design; different
cultural backgrounds and perspectives.
All this is being woven into and through these days
and weeks.
So, see you at the end point.

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Massage – part of the process… http://rescen.net/blog/2009/06/228/228 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/06/228/228#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2009 17:29:02 +0000 John Utans http://rescen.net/blog/?p=228

part of the process ....

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