[Another collection of in-studio notes from the recent past, here distilled…]
In silence Dam Van Huynh’s dancers jerk, wiggle and vibrate with an assertive sense of exploration. What are a dancer’s habits and how can they be (positively) broken? Dam spends a bit of time wiggling on his own over by the windows in the Founders Studio – or is he riffing off of their wiggles? I note with amuse that Georges Hann has one trouser leg up, one down again. Perhaps, as it is later suggested, he keeps one down in whatever dance he is doing in the studio because it is the one he slides on and he does not want to abrade his skin. But he’s not sliding here for Dam! Maybe, it is also mooted, he is trying to expose the innate anatomical properties of the leg….
Four dancers work on a unison routine as if trying to test the transference of physical information from one to another. Dam refers to it as contact improvisation-like but not the usual roll around that implies. He gives them a task and then moves away to give them the space to discover it for themselves. I like his low-key style, gracious almost to the point of being polite.
They’re familiarising themselves with mutual weight-bearing in order to find, as he puts it, ‘a sense of who you are in a group.’ It is, he cautions, Contact Improv 101 in terms of how basic it is, but he wants to get to know and trust each other, and for each to really look at the others. ‘Go,’ he says. ‘Play.’’
And so they do. Huang, Yu-Teng arabesques his long frame across three supportive women. All five dancers are akin to a can of worms. There’s an urgency and focus here that doesn’t feel self-indulgent. ‘Use these chambers to move through space,’ Dam directs them. ‘Don’t forget your passing energy through your fingers, your hair…’ A little later he says, ‘Try again and liquefy the whole thing using the chambers.’ This idea of the chambers is, I think, a way of creating dimension in each dancer’s mind and of enlarging their inhabitation of the actual space in the room. I guess it’s a means of physical self-definition. Dam gets them to vocalise as they move, actively using their facial muscles to the point of mugging. ‘Keep going,’ he advises. ‘Push through it.’
Play seems to be on the agenda today. In Studio 10 the six dancers of Zhao, Liang are testing the limits of long white elastic strips attached at one end to ballet barres or door and window handles, and held at the other by human beings who will not actually be in the finished piece. They’re playing with the slackness and tautness of the material, which because of its length and relative thinness requires a particular gradation of attacks and self surrender. Azzurra Ardovini covers her eyes with the elastic while shaking her head, and spins with it wrapped round her waist. Meanwhile Ella Mesma is artfully entangling her limbs in her elastic. She’s frequently upside-down, using her toes to grasp and move the fabric and her skill in hip hop styles generally to produce a cat’s cradle effect. Or maybe she’s a lovely human spider idiosyncratically constructing a strand of web.
(Ella later sent me these words via email which I have edited only slightly: ‘I’m working with Zhao Liang from Beijing who has nearly floor-length hair! He’s very interesting, sharing how he sees life with us to make the piece. It’s nice to see how as a group that ultimately we all have the same questions, worries, hopes and dreams even though we are from different continents. The company is three UK dancers, two Taiwanese and one Chinese – all lovely dancers and we work well together. The best days are certainly dependent upon the best translators who are not shy to translate everything and have some fun with it. I’m enjoying picking up bits of Mandarin such as ‘square,’ ‘correct’ and ‘slowly’.’)
In Studio 9 I watch Vera Tussing set up a kind of layered playground game for which her six dancers must cross, interact and intervene with each other often as obstacles to be negotiated. The game has a constellation-like feel, as if constantly moving planetary bodies are shifting round the space always trying to find a new alignment. Sometimes the dancers seem a little tentative, or confused. ‘It’s called research, guys!’ as Vera reminds them. What’s happening here today at ArtsCross is a kind of simultaneous making of puzzles, with bodies and minds being used to cut out shapes of motion. How will they eventually be assembled? [I will find out tonight at the premiere!]