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Qualities (Part 1)

It’s now Day Three of rehearsals, and, impressively, in the studios I visited today, ideas are taking shape and companies are coming together. I spent some time today observing rehearsals of Su Weichia, Riccardo Buscarini, and Zeng Huangxing. The choreographies are already looking quite different (as one might expect), but I wanted to take a moment in this posting to reflect on some similarities amongst them and in doing, to pick up on some further connections based on observations in the Taipei and Beijing installments of ArtsCross. IMG_1950

Clearly, as one watches choreographers either put movement ‘on’ dancers, or shape material developed with them, there are particular ‘vocabularies’ or ‘phrases’ that emerge — both in the way that the nascent performance begins to ‘speak’ and (less metaphorically) in the kinds of spoken instructions, encouragement or comments that are given. Listening to a language you don’t speak, one notices less the meaning that arises out of lexical and grammatical interweavings, and more the rhythm, pitch and tone of the speaking voice, the way in which it either follows, interpellates or sits to one side of the movement, and the extent to which a listener either takes it in as part of their own process, or else stops to pay attention. One might describe some of these sonorous inflections (in an English idiom at least) as relating to the ‘quality’ of the movement.

IMG_1953

Of course, the spoken words themselves are also indicators of what the choreographers want these qualities to be, and it’s hard to really gauge what is really being requested in the absence of translation. Even so, there is some value in thinking through their sonority a little more. It’s hard to conceive of sonority without relating it some way to bodily affects, and so it allows an idea of language and expression which is already kinaesthetically directed — what the psychologist Daniel Stern as called their vitality contour. We follow not only the indexical meaning of the spoken word, but also its direction, flow, weight and so on. These contours are not contained in the words in the way that a four-legged object is in the phoneme ‘chair’, but are in the manner and direction by which I say them to you. Its not only enunciation in other words, but the timing (entrance, exit, duration and rhythm) of their relation to you, and to our shared activity. They are a quality which is beyond, but not separate from the each of us.

During the rehearsals that I’ve watched, it has been noticeable that each choreographer has their own way of offering or drawing out qualities of movement in their dancers’ work through the sonorities of their vocal instructions. Watching Riccardo’s rehearsal, the rise and fall of Riccardo’s voice for example, both moves with the rise and fall of bodies in a complex, weaving knot, but also brakes and accelerates them, and lends ascents or descents from the floor a smooth or jagged edge in line with its delivery. Su Weichia demonstrates a move, and ‘marks’ it — runs it through in its basic form, slightly faster than its meant to be — and his voice, relaxed and conversational reflects this. He then slows it down, and, putting his body behind the movement extends the form, stretches through to the edge of balance and moves off it, his voice also moving to the edge of its expression, rising, falling, pushing a breath as far as it will go.

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