Of all the choreographers in the Artscross project, the longest gap between sessions I’ve been able to witness, has been with Yu Yen-Fang’s work. It was with a real sense of anticipation that I went into the studio yesterday morning. The group were arranged in three rough lines, making jerking, shoving movements, their bodies twisting round as if trying to continue to exert a pressure against an object which was moving and twisting itself, even as it tried to shove them backwards. Yen-Fang was herself leaning against and pushing into one of the male dancers so that he had to work both to carry out his own movement, but also to resist hers. As the section was repeated, she leant against several more of the dancers, and as the repetitions progressed, it became possible to tell those that she had worked with like this already, and those with whom she had not. Those she had worked with made the play of oppositional force apparent in their own body, for example, pushing outwards with their hands, shoulders or torsos, whilst pushing their feet, knees or hips down or backwards in the opposite direction. The dancers who had not yet experienced the actuality of the shove, had a lighter quality of movement, indeed, were it not for the action of gravity, you might almost say that it had a sort of weightlessness. It was like a copy of the original, shorn of something of its dynamic. It reminded me somewhat of computer generated movement, which often captures the precise spatial and dynamic quality of ‘natural’ movement, but leaves out something of this physical force. This comment isn’t intended to be unfair to the dancers, who were working hard on a complex movement, which was waiting to be energized by Yen-Fang’s addition to the process.
The matter of how to energise a choreographic process – and indeed, what that energy might be – is one that has been coming back to me again and again across many of the works I’ve engaged with over the last week. Today, watching Zhang Xiaomei’s company prepare and the give a run through, she repeatedly exhorted them to find a sense of energetic engagement with the form. Xiaomei had already prepared the soundscape for the piece before leaving Beijing, and the odd shrieks and cries which rip through it have an affective charge which she tries to get the dancers to pick up. Although there’s no rhythm to count off, they have to mark their movements to these moments in the soundscape, as well as using some of their affective shape and dynamic to vitalise their own. Much of the movement circles in to the dancer’s body in order to explode out, and is cycled back in in return. The same can be said not only for the bodies of the individual performer’s but also for their collective corpus as well. In rehearsal today, Xiaomei described this as a gathering and usage of qi, both from the dancers’ bodies, but also from the natural world, a sense of being activated by movements which begin with, but also somehow outside of, that of your own body.
In Zhang Jianmen’s rehearsal on Friday I watched him working with one of the male dancers, demonstrating, not the force he wanted him to move with, but the force he wanted to move him. Standing next to him, he struck the air with both hands, next to the dancer’s chest. It reminds me of something similar I’ve seen in the context of martial arts practice, where master teachers demonstrate their ability to strike the body at a distance by discharging their kinetic force – perhaps qi in this context – into the air.
What joins these quite different examples of forces acting on the body – one actual and two subtle – is their co-concern for the manner by which dancers feel through the work beyond the movement of their body per se. None of the choreographers seems satisfied with seeing only the reproduction or refinement of gestures. What’s at stake is a sense of the movement of energies in the world, as well as within the body. The geographer Nigel Thrift has described this as ‘a sense of push in the world’. He is concerned with the means by which immaterial forces – affects – are gathered and distributed on and by bodies, human and non-human, collective and individual. Although affect is a term allied to emotion in English, and is often bound up with its discourse, in Thrift’s deployment of it, it refers to both an action and a feeling of force, albeit one that is immaterial. A useful corollary by which this might be understood, is the weather, which is all around us, and, in the case of Taipei’s current humidity, presses against us, and can be felt, even though it cannot be said to be a ‘thing’ in the strictest sense.
To me, it seems important to recognize that there is also a subjective component to this ‘sense of push in the world’. Not every person is as attuned to it as another at any given time, and some may be actively engaged in trying to seek it out. I’ll try to follow something of this thought, albeit in a slightly different direction in my next post.