It’s my first day at ArtsCross. I’m picking up the baton from writer Donald Hutera, who is at the Edinburgh Festival for a week, and am conscious that a week of a work has already gone by without me witnessing its development. So what was my entry point? Well, having already spoken to choreographer Vera Tussing at the opening reception about some of her ideas, I thought I might get up to speed quickest by attending her rehearsal, then go and sit in on some others.
Get “up to speed”? The idea went out of the window straight away. Within half an hour of Tussing’s rehearsal, I realised that I would need to stay for most if not all the 3-hour rehearsal if I was going to get a handle on it. I decided that dipping in and out of rehearsal scenes would be too touristic; I would need to stay put longer in one place if I wanted to get a better feel for it.
Tussing is working with six dancers: one from Greece, two from Beijing and three from Taiwan. The first exercise they do, at the beginning of rehearsal, is lie on the floor in pairs with their ankles hooked together, seeing how they can hang off this pivot point between them. Then they practice a sideways lift, again in pairs, concentrating on the preparation in the knees. Then they try a little push-and-fall, in pairs, focusing on the impulse and the giving-in to gravity. I’m beginning to get a picture – weight and partnerwork are the dimensions being tested here – but half an hour has already passed, and the picture still feels like the sketchiest of outlines.
Gradually, the outlines become filled in. I begin to get a sense not just of the practice, but of the people – who is more extrovert, who more reflective, who is more reckless, who more considered. A sense of the different bonds of affinity that the dancers and the choreographer have, or are building. I’m reminded strongly of an interview I recently did with Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who is noted for working with diverse groups of dancers (Shaolin monks, Argentinian tangueros, Korean b-boys, African dancers, ballet dancers, modern dancers, non-dancers). “Choreography,” he said, “is a very social art. You have to work with people. People are its medium.”
It might seem like an obvious statement to make, but it strikes me as the key to the process I’m seeing here. This rehearsal is an attempt to make something with these people. The fundamental questions are what to do together, and how to work together.
In part 2 of this post, I’ll look at how I saw Vera and this group tackling those questions, what they came up with and some challenges they faced. For the moment, I’ll leave with the thought – that choreography is, in very material terms, the embodiment of a social process. Its medium is people.
Part 2 of this blog posting will follow shortly.