What role does teaching and learning play in the dance creative process? Presumably, the dancers are learning something. Perhaps the choreographers are also teaching something. Observing Li Shanshan and Lai Tsui-shaung last week, I imagined that these somethings share a common point of reference, but the methods are substantially different.
Li Shanshan, Studio 4, 3:15–4:15, 08.11.2011
The group stops. Shanshan works in close proximity, thumping and clicking, solidifying a tightly constructed section with detailed timing and physical corrections. The quintet executes a rapid series of ever-shifting supports: a boy catches another boy around the legs in a vertical jump-snatch-lift as a girl rolls to the floor, released from an embrace with another boy, as a second girl hops from behind onto his straight back. A moment of breath, the lifted boy slowly opens his arms into a tableau of supplication. Then, BAM: boy down to ground, girl on floor leaps up, second girl hops off. One-two-three and they all shift, rotating like revolving doors into two lines, leaning into one another side-by-side. This section of the composition follows a clear pattern: image, hold, transition, image, hold, transition, image – stillness, sustained, sudden, stillness, sustained, sudden, stillness – a dynamic ten seconds that Shanshan polishes for approximately 10 minutes. Exhorting and demanding, Shanshan works with diligence and care to set cues and clarify order. She is choreographer-cum-captain-cum-cajoler. By design, the dancers take two steps forward and one step back, every movement measured and weighed. It is arduous, technical, slow-going work. The result evinces precision, a powerful display of group coordination and collaboration.
Lai Tsui-shuang, Studio 6, 4:30–5:30, 08.11.2011
I walk into Tsui-shuang’s rehearsal where a very different kind of slow-going work is under way. “It’s about the initiation and flow, not the position or step,” the translator tells me, “shifting center of weights [sic]”. Tsui-shuang stands akimbo in loose, pedestrian fashion, mimicking in reduced fashion the head and torso movements enacted by the dancers. The movement looks mad: a woman contracted over, arms sent flinging out from the center, seemingly thrown away, crazy and shaky, but not out of control. Tsui-shuang’s is meticulous, very sure of what she wants, focusing on the intention of the movement. Tsui-shuang speaks and the translator tells me, “send the energy out, more out, don’t hold it in, I want crazy. I want your upper body to go up and lower body to go down with more relationship with the ground.” The dancer listens intently. She does not seem to want to please Tsui-shuang, but instead wanting to dig at the movement herself. It is her solo after all and Tsui-shuang is making the movement idea clear, helping the dancer to realize what inner intention will manifest it better, realize it more completely.
Pedagogy of Rehearsal
Together these rehearsals reminded me of something that Renata Celichowska, director of the Harkness Dance Center at the 92nd Street Y in NYC and author of the book on the Erick Hawkins Modern Dance Technique, once remarked to me about the pedagogy of rehearsal. To my knowledge, this is a rich, largely untapped area of scholarly investigation in dance. It seems to be a practice that exists at the very heart of performance making as research. One tentative hypothesis suggests that these choreographers ultimately work toward similar goals of expression and communication (and self-discovery?) in movement, but approach it from very different personal processes, diverse methods, and multiple directions. In this example, one distinction might be made between coaching, working on the outer form to create the inner feeling, and facilitating, working on the inner feeling to create the outer form. Coach and facilitator may not be the best terms. I wonder if Paul’s distinction between mediation and intermediation might unpack something here? What other terms? Is ‘pedagogy of rehearsal’ a useful conception? At what point does it begin or end?