Language and beyond

Since one of my tasks at this particular Artscross event is to focus on ‘language’ as part of a group of academics, my attention has been drawn on the sorts of languages that are being used in the rehearsal spaces. In many instances I have witnessed a ‘searching’ for the ‘right’ words or expressions by choreographers and dancers, when working a movement out together. What is the word that will make the dancers understand what the movement is about, how it is motivated?

Yesterday in Dam Van Huynh’s rehearsals for instance I observed the group working on a particular group sequence. There was a moment where verbal instruction was clearly at its limit and Dam proceeded after actually being asked by his dancers to ‘show’ what he meant. However beyond this, to further refine what the dancers had picked up through his demonstration, he added more instructions through words. Such instructions can be of very different kinds, one of them was for instance to start a particular section that involves long reaches and jumps ‘from the core’, as he told his dancers. In other parts of the same sequence I heard a dancer make reference to imagining grasping a ball and hitting it with his head in a particular moment. Or I recall during auditions there being given an instruction of initiating a movement from the ear.

IMG_0521Dam Van Huynh

While these examples are very typical kinds of movement instructions, I am still interested in those moments in which practitioners transition from verbal instruction to instructions that involve physical demonstration or touch. What importance and role but also what limits does verbal language have in the practice of choreography-making? The examples of verbal instructions I relayed here seem crucial for establishing a specific intention and/or quality of the movement, to draw a line to Martin’s recent blogs – yet words of course never seem enough.

Due to the intercultural nature of the project, the issue of language as such is of course heightened. In some of the processes much Mandarin is being spoken, where choreographers are less comfortable with speaking English themselves, and certainly vice versa! Of course there are very efficient translators in every rehearsal, yet it is obvious that not everything can be translated, and any translation ‘misses’ something. One of the translators interestingly told me that she felt it works much better for a choreographer to give instructions in English, even if their English is not very good, rather than relying solely on the translator, as of course a speaker does not only communicate in words…

1 comment to Language and beyond

  • Martin Welton

    Thanks for this Steffi. I don’t remember if it was before or after you we’re in Dam’s rehearsal yesterday, but he said that he has made a conscious decision to ask the interpreter to sit out for the time being, as an experiment (his term) to see ‘what the body can translate’.

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