Yesterday was my first day of watching rehearsals, and for most groups it was their second day into the work. I left in the evening with a variety of very touching impressions, of people from different places getting to know each other.
When I entered the room of Beijing choreographer Zeng Huangxing’s rehearsal, I was struck by the quietness he had created in the room. The six dancers were paired up, with one lying on their front on the floor and the other on top of them, back to back. They were immobile for what seemed an eternity, yet suddenly what Zeng called an ‘explosion’ occurred: the dancer on the bottom would start kind of shaking and very rapidly stand up, bringing the person on top to standing.
There was a distinct skill and quality at stake here, that Zeng was after. The person lying on top needed to be very relaxed, to be able to go with the ‘explosion’. As he said, if the person on top can’t really relax, the person below can’t really explode.
The group then proceeded to work on exercises that would allow them to locate and move from their centre. When lowering while bending their knees, Zeng asked them to be aware of a sense of the lower they sank, the more space there would be above their heads. Also, while to an onlooker the dancer/practitioner might look calm from the outside, inside much should be at work — a sense of expansion into all directions. Zeng then provided weights to be placed on the dancers’ heads, to further emphasise control and stillness, asking them eventually to move so quickly to the side that the weight would drop onto the ground next to them.
At least this part of the session that I witnessed was solely used by Zeng to prepare his dancers for the work to come, in terms of a unified way of relating to mind and body. His work seemed strongly influenced by Taoist principles, at least I recognised direct correspondences to my own practice of Wu style taijiquan.
Much time seems to have been spent in making the dancers move yesterday, to find out ‘who they are’ in movement terms. In Ho Hsiao Mei’s first rehearsal (she had arrived for this session straight from the airport!), the choreographer from Taipei paired her six dancers up into three couples and gave each a theme for improvisation. They loosely were contact and non-contact, control and hiding. She would work with each pair and highlight and emphasise aspects of movement that worked for her.
Ho Hsiao Mei
Similarly, Beijing-based Zhao Liang watched his dancers for a long, long time improvising individually with long rubber bands that were stretched across the studio:
Vera Tussing (German and London-based) made her six dancers work in two groups of three, working on a game with simple rules – call out a name – move but stay in relation to each other, either rotating or changing place – play with levels… and make decisions on time/timing. In a next step she asked the dancers to map a structure, in their own way, on paper:
Dam Van Huynh (originally from Southern Vietnam and London-based) worked on a phrase with his dancers. After they had learned it, he emphasised that the movement itself is not that important, but how it is translated by each dancer is what matters to him. The same movement will be done differently by each individual, and in a following exercise Dam asked them to explore different ‘textures’, that are highly specific. He stated clearly that he needs to know ‘who’ the dancers are, how the ‘gut feel’, how they experience their body. Each of them have their own identity, how can you put this in movement? For instance, the fact that you like Bruce Lee (as was his own example)… Dam’s instructions were to ‘mess that phrase up’, to dissect it, open it up. ‘I need to know who you are by the end of this exercise – surprise me!’
Dam Van Huynh
In all these very early stages of the works I have witnessed yesterday it struck me that much time was spend to set up the ‘how’ of the movement, or how to relate to movement. The different choreographers approached this in their distinct ways, and some focused more on working with the dancers as a group, while others worked on exercises that emphasised something ‘individual’.
Within these approaches there is the idea that you can put ‘something’ or ‘yourself’ into movement. We all know what we mean here, but how might we better articulate such processes?
I will continue watching now…