A quivering process

I walk into the studio and Yen Fang is working with three men. Two men are mirroring each other’s movement, in close contact, facing each other but not touching, perceiving each other with all senses.  The third man is moving on the ground between them, like a Golam figure seeking attention, twisting and turning, arching and falling. Yen Fang observes closely, talking intimately with them, as they improvise.

The women are spread out across the outsides of the space, improvising individually. Yen Fang works with each woman one to one. Each dancer improvises with a particular set of instructions, to embody and embrace Yen Fang’s movement quality. These dancers are fabulous. One woman’s lower back is so expressive, arching and curving from minute to extreme degrees.  Her body is fragmented, wrists broken, shoulders tipped, hips distorted, feet turned inwards, dissolving into soft palpitating muscular ripples, moving in multiple spatial pathways, never fixing, always changing, multi fronted, a body fired with intelligent contradictions. She moves towards a certain direction in space but another movement, another direction, has taken over before the first is completed.  No action is fully performed before the balance is shifted, no limb is extended to complete a conventionally expected shape, change has already happened. The conventions of formal space are displaced, the dancer works in many dimensions, superbly articulating each micro detail. No mushiness here. The improvisation ends and an intimate dialogue begins between the dancer and Yen Fang, who intermittently, throughout the dialogue, demonstrates with her own body — and she is stunning to watch.  (I am aware here that I am talking about ‘dancers’, I do not have the names of the dancers in front of me to equalise the dialogue in written words).

Yen Fang is particular in her search for multiplicity. As she observes one dancer improvising, she notices how he moves his torso from side to side, two dimensionally. She works with him to increase the possibility of multi directional movement, twisting, turning, curving, dipping, and tilting. I am reminded here of how we hold our emotions in our bodies – and yes Donald, the body always lies – we all hold parts of our bodies against the fear of letting go to the unknown.

So – I watch movement language that fills me with the energy of uncertainty, of not knowing, a potency of possibility. There is no truth here, no final statement. This is not about authenticity. This has nothing to do with seeking truth, real or representation. This is a full-embodied practice of undoing all that. I sense in my body this is about embodying the intelligence of constant change, aliveness in the moment of moving here and now.

I am also drawn to the relational practice between Yen Fang and her dancers. She meets them as people, with personalities, with voices; she meets them equally in the space. They are in dialogue; there is an exchange of knowledge. She is not telling them what to do, and they are not waiting to be instructed. Yet both of these are happening. Something is created between them, here is a creative between-ness.

Yes I am writing after the event and I can make connections with forms, codes, styles and histories, Forsythe, Jonathan Burrows, European postmodern dance. I can also contemplate how these individual voices will come together as a group.  But not when I am in the studio. I am observing process, I am engaged, and I am in the moment. And I want this aliveness to continue.

I am wondering about how we might make process as performance – in this context of Artscross. I feel sad that this process must take the shape of product, that this inter-relational, dialogic moment of uncertain knowing must somehow fix itself into a choreographic shape that becomes there and then rather than here and now, where Yen Fang’s presence and dialogue with her dancers is abstracted – to be replaced with a relationship with a fronted, seated, audience. How can this uncertain knowing be maintained through to performance?  For here and now, in the studio, is the unique immediacy of performance process. And this is perhaps a place where the dialogue between observer, writer and choreographer might hover.

4 comments to A quivering process

  • Ted Warburton

    Yen-Fang has inspired us both! I’m wondering about your statement “This is not about authenticity,” which implies to me that “authenticity” is something post hoc, something witnessed or evaluated by someone outside the process rather than as experienced as a self-in-action, an originating truth, a sincerity of intention?

  • Martin Welton

    I find it hard to think about authenticity without thinking of tourism – that sense that tourists look for the authentic place, thing or experience, yet all the while are offered places, things, experiences shaped especially for them. Theatre and performance are routinely invoked in critical studies of tourism. Initially, following Erving Goffman, there was what now seems a very performance Studies sort of interest in the way in which these things, places, experiences were placed or shaped – performed even. With the development of a more postmodern consciousness and criticism, it became suggested that authenticity was nothing but a performance, and that we, as tourists are quite aware of that fact. Finding oneself to be ‘just a tourist’ is a worrying proposition. One’s engagement with the world is reduced to sight-seeing, and those sights seem to be nothing more than a veneer behind which a more ‘real’ world lies watching, waiting. Similar fears are often directed at the theatre – its only make-believe – and is often weirdly denounced for not being enough like real life as a result, even though, like tourists, we watch it from a somewhat different set of conditions.

    I’m not suggesting that we are, or should become like tourists in watching rehearsals here, just wondering whether watching, looking, observing – like sight-seeing – is part of the problem.

  • Lin Yatin

    Hi Martin,

    First of all, welcome to Taipei.

    i find how your thoughts on tourism in relation to the watching and observing in this project very poignant, after all, weekend sightseeing excursions were made available from the local “host(ess)(e)s”.

    The history of cultural anthropologists in relation to their fieldworks in “exotic” locales has been quite problematic and topic of much recent discussion, as you are most aware of. Not to mention the relation you draw here to authenticity and to “presence” (referring back to your previous comment to Kate’s posting.)

    Look forward to reading (or hearing) how your thoughts on this evolve as the week proceeds towards the “end” of this project with next weekend’s performances and conferences–at least in terms of its duration with all the choreographers, dancers, academics and writers gathered here physically at the TNUA campus, even if its discussions may extend on into cyberspace via this blog and other forms of communication.


  • Emilyn Claid

    I like very much the journey that a term can travel. ‘Authentic’ that has emerged this week in observing the movement in Yen Fang’s studio, becomes a journey through intersubjectivity, tourism, anthropology, exoticism and presence – so far. Where next?

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