ArtsCross Observations (1)
I finally got to see some rehearsals. At ArtsCross London, I caught up with the boss, Director Guo Lei, colleagues — the choreographer Zeng Huanxing, “old comrades” — Zhibo (Zhibo is the only dancer from Beijing to have participated in four sessions. I’m the only Beijing academic to have participated in four sessions), students — Wu Shuai (we ran into each other during the third Danscross/ArtsCross). I saw the tail end of the morning’s rehearsals. As far as the afternoon and evening sessions, I just snatched a glimpse.
Most of the pieces I saw today were modern works. Only the work by Guo Lei, which uses Nuo opera masks from Southern Jiangxi province as props, was a classic piece of Chinese dance (in China we would call this piece an ethnic work. This shows how the concepts of ethnicity and nationality can change in different environments, one sometimes substituting for the other). Of course, the changes in the cultural space brought with them new discoveries. One which stood out was when the only dancer from London put on the Nuo opera mask, and the Chinese forms and characteristics became manifest on the body of the Western dancer. The conflicting aspect of this cultural fusion didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. Rather, it allowed me to sense the spirit of Danscross and the theme Leaving home, being elsewhere. The imagery of Nuo opera may well contain rich regional, ethnic and religious shades, but it also contains an invocation for peace, something that every person yearns for in this period of crisis and danger.
In the different rehearsal rooms, there was a feeling of “breathing” and “nature”. Breathing constitutes a central element of dance. It is also a form of rhythm and emotion. The truth and irreproducibility of dance means that in an era of “mechanised reproduction” (Walter Benjamin) dance retains its “Aura”. Chinese traditional culture places particular emphasis on the idea of “Chi”. Western modern dance seeks to use natural breathing as a response to the rigidity and conservatism of ballet. If we adopt Benjamin’s definition of the Aura, then dance can be considered the most authentic of art forms, always faithfully recounting history. So, despite being away from home — from Beijing, from Taipei, from London, the choreographers were all seeking to recount the authentic thought processes involved with moving from one “home” – their city — to another “home” — the international sphere. Dance can therefore be considered as an authentic component of true history.