ArtsCross Taipei is coming to an end. The colloquium began this morning; the performances will premiere this evening. Tomorrow night we all start leaving. Of course, in important ways, this weekend is what it has all been about. A crystallizing moment. Almost everyone involved has been working towards these public presentations.
Almost everyone. As an academic with the luxury (if that’s what it is) of not needing closure, of seeing no culmination here, I think this can be a risky moment. It’s the point when whatever finally makes it into the public domain stakes a powerful claim over everything that preceded it. Retrospectively, we are invited to see everything that has happened over the last three weeks as leading inevitably to these outcomes. Of course, these are the outcomes of those processes. But if all the foregoing observation and investigation teaches us anything, it’s the high degree of contingency about so much that is now about to be chiselled into stone.
This is true for the audience, of course, who have little reason to believe otherwise. And in my experience, it is also true for practitioners, since setting the final material often involves channelling the full range of earlier possibilities into the single act or outcome. In so doing, all previous potentiality is dismissed, erased, or brought to heel. Sometimes, it’s simply not possible to perform well without doing that.
Here, though, in the dying hours of the work in all its mess and multiplicity, I’ll reflect a little on the project as a whole. And here may be an apt location, since this blog itself records more – by no means all – of the variety of ArtsCross than ordinarily remains in the public domain once a work stakes its singular right to exist.
The other day, I sat and read the blog through. It’s a lot to absorb, and there’s a remarkable diversity of voices, styles and perspectives, even within this limited sample of the wider ArtsCross workforce. One thing that comes across is how multi-faceted the project is. One has the sense that, while it could not have come about without the immense energy and commitment of certain key individuals, no-one really has a grasp on the whole thing. Even at the institutional level, there is such a range of investments and relationships that one suspects it would be very hard to draw a straight line between any one stated goal and its outcome. Not only do alternative and complementary institutional expectations and operating procedures constantly thicken or bifurcate such intentions, but they are all being realised by individuals who themselves have a huge range of attitudes and abilities, and whose own divergent interrelations further knit, knot or strain all the sayings, doings and knowings that need to happen in order to realise the project.
Moreover, those ‘sayings, doings and knowings’ are more-than-usually complicated by the breadth of the spectrum of activities that ArtsCross entails. Anyone who has made a dance or organised a conference knows it’s a complex process. To make ten dances and a colloquium internationally intensifies this complexity substantially. Consider any one participants’ experience of a day at ArtsCross: one may be interacting with researchers, artists, administrators, translators. One may move from an improvised or process-based rehearsal to an exacting repetition of clearly defined gestures and phrases; from a monolingual to a multi-lingual environment; from selecting what you want for dinner to debating the diverse meanings of ‘modern’ and ‘modernity’. At a strictly material level, it is this combination of variety and intensity (along with the encroaching exhaustion it entails) that defines ArtsCross.
On Tuesday, some of us ‘overseas’ academics spoke with the Beijing academics (through interpreters) about our research interests and methods. The next time we met, Theresa Beattie gave a talk about the UK independent dance sector, and instantly that same group was plunged into an entirely different conversation. It was fascinating to me that, so late in the project, the whole thing could still be turning on a pinhead, scrambling its components in order to take on a different form or face. I began to glimpse the dizzying potential of this intricate arrangement to keep shifting, changing, and to facilitate some genuinely novel relations between ‘sectors’ (to use Theresa’s term) that so often hold themselves at arms-length form each other.
This capacity of this project to change over time is also an important feature of its identity. Reading the earliest posts by Donald, who had already clocked off by the time I arrived, is to encounter a process I can see obliquely sustained into my own experiences. Donald writes, for instance, of one dancer standing out at the audition because, “with his compact body and floppy mop of platinum-blond hair [he] looked like a trend-setting Shetland pony.” As it happens, Ming is amongst the most prominent dancers in Avatara’s 14-strong piece. In interview yesterday, she said she found him amongst the most willing to push himself, to take risks, to engage most directly with the material and developing ideas. One wonders now whether it was only Ming’s hair that drew Donald’s attention all those many days-that-seem-like-months ago, or whether, already there was something more about Ming intruding upon his sensibilities, without his recognising it. Maybe Donald knew unawares what Ming was capable of, but put dancerly insistence down to platinum hair out of convenience, ‘reterritorializing’ the dancer’s deterritorializing potentiality upon his most distinguishing feature.
Or maybe not. It’s a bit of a hair and solo question: which came first? What is the relation between them? How might one produce or sustain the other – and where does Meng’s musculature, stature, campiness, personality come into this? The reason I have titled this posting ‘The ArtsCross Assemblage’, and not the ‘ArtsCross Network’ is because, whereas networks tend to draw our attention to inter-institutional or inter-personal interactions, assemblages exist at all scales, as well as across and between modes and media. Ming’s hair is an assemblage of chemicals and follicles. Ming is an assemblage. The dance he is in is an assemblage. The dancers, Avatara, me watching and Avatara’s mum sitting quietly in the corner is an assemblage. Avatara talking into a microphone giving instructions to the technicians about exactly how to fly in the legs (theatre curtains that normally create ‘wings’) while her dancers familiarise themselves with the space of the stage: this is an assemblage. Me blogging about it and you reading it…well, you get the picture.