Photos from the tenth day of rehearsals:
I am on the train from Exeter to London, in the process of ‘leaving home’ and already ‘being elsewhere’ preparing to arrive and begin the exciting prospect of watching all that will develop over the coming weeks. As I posted on the forum last week, my own recent writing has been concerned with processes of transmission — in training and in developing material from historical material for performance. I am reminded of Michael Bristol’s words in Susan Bennett’s book on nostalgia in performing Shakespeare:
If I hand something over or hand something down to you, there will be a moment at which I must let go of it. It is in this moment that he possibility of a cultural abyss or rupture opens up. Since that possibility is always present within what we call tradition, we can never understand this cultural phenomenon as a process of undisputed succession. (Bristol in Bennett 1996: 13)
I am fascinated by this ‘rupture’ or possibility — and began to think about it in Beijing where the translation process (in words, through bodies and and across discipline based understanding and assumptions) was providing this for the choreographers and the dancers. As Homi Bhaba famously said:
… We should remember that it is the ‘inter’ — the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the in-between space — that carries the burden of the meaning of culture. (Bhaba 1994: 38–39)
I’m going to be looking at this ‘in-between space’ (or spaces) and hope to tussle with its possibilities through observation and conversation in the coming days.
Hi, this is LIN Yatin from Taipei’s TNUA (Taipei National University of the Arts) Taiwan. Very glad to be participating in the first day of ArtsCross London 2013 Academics meeting. This is my third ArtsCross experience.
Finally we arrived in London and being together with scholars, choreographers and dancers from different places for the 4th Artscross/Danscross project. The first day meeting for all the academics was warm and fresh, like old friends meeting in a new place. I have been waiting for this moment for a long time since I started the project with Chris in 2009 Beijing. He promised to host the project in London once and I believe he will do it. I know he have been working very hard with his colleges to make this happen. Thanks to them! Now we have created a great network with a wonderful partnership between Beijing, London and Taipei. Beijing–Taipei–London, a new journey, a new start.
The cross (as in ArtsCross) is part of our project title and is methodologically as well as thematically at its core. The cross X symbolises the separation and unification of two elements. It marks the distinction between systems, disciplines, cultures and contexts; and simultaneously entails their transcendence. ArtsCross is thus crucially, I suggest, about boundary crossings. A boundary may be seen as an “arbitrary line or marker of territory (which might be land, skin, cellular membrane, shoreline or academic discipline area” (East 2010). In dance, we are used to operating with boundaries – and to collapsing them: for instance the inside-outside boundaries so often thematised in modern dance (such as by Doris Humphrey) and also evident in Chinese mask dances (which, if I understand correctly, can seek to merge the identity of the God and the performer). Or consider the boundaries between genres: for example the fusion between traditional Chinese dance and contemporary dance in Guo Lei’s piece.
In contrast to thinking which is determined by intractable dichotomies and binaries, the system theorist Niklas Luhmann writes that “boundaries do not mark a break in connections… The concept of boundary means … that processes which cross boundaries … have different conditions for their continuance (e.g. different conditions of utilization, or of consensus) after they cross the boundaries” (2000). Luhmann distinguishes boundary encounters where people interact across boundaries (I imagine much like neighbours arguing across the garden fence) from boundary crossings which presuppose the openness of a system and permit unhindered flow of ideas and innovations across a pre-existing divide. Some innovative theatre and dance forms aim to establish a dialogic blurring between spect-actors (Boal) and performers across the curtain line; the work is thus constantly in flux, negotiating relationships between performance and audience. While this does not happen explicitly in any of the ArtsCross choreographies I have witnessed, Vera Tussing does seek to establish a connection with the audience, though currently in a tentative and as yet unfinalised form.
So, if we believe Luhmann, crossing boundaries will result in “different conditions for … continuance” and hence in change. It is evident from the rehearsals that some ArtsCross choreographers are reaching across boundaries to accommodate the corporeal (and other) specificities of their dancers; while equally some dancers are crossing boundaries to meet the expectations of their choreographers. Be this as it may, the ResCen artists and performers who emerge from the project, having engaged in so many artistic, linguistic and national boundary-crossings, will be different from those who embarked on it initially. When everyone returns home, the experience of ‘being elsewhere’ will mean continuing on from a different point or perspective, having adjusted their habitus in one way or another.
P.S. After drafting this blog, I watched Su Wei-Chia’s translated interview in which he used the metaphor of ‘crossing’ to pinpoint the commonalities amongst differently trained dancing bodies: “When working together I really hope to create something that is built upon a shared belief amongst us, based on what we individually believe in. To me that is an act of crossing, or moving beyond boundaries”.
Our group of ArtsCross academics met yesterday for our first extended period of greetings and discussions in London. We raised ideas about crossing cities and countries, notions of global citizenry and “cosmopolitan” engagement, the possibility of translation and transference. My education as an academic–much like my education as a dancer–has served to enculturate me to participate and enjoy this particular kind of dialogue. I anticipate the beginnings of generative debate and deliberate research.
In the back of my mind, I heard my son ask, what kind of group is this? He and I had recently been talking about what groups of animals are called in English: a parliament of owls, a romp of otters, an unkindness of ravens, a dazzle of zebras. He is in dance class, and wanted to know what a group of dancers are called. Are we called a flock of dancers like birds, or maybe a lamentation of dancers like swans, he asked? (Maybe if you’re a Graham dancer, I joked. Huh? he said).
And though my son asked a literal question, it resonated in me in important ways both literally and metaphorically as I sat in the lecture room at The Place. How we identify ourselves together (and apart) as academics must mean something. In many ways, it frames the terms of engagement. Are we a cosmopolitan of academics? A skeptic of academics? A translation of academics? An ambiguity, discontent, philosophy or satisfaction of …. the discussions continue.
Photos from the eleventh day of rehearsals:
Thoughts on ArtsCross (1)
2013 ArtsCross — Danscross Seminar 1
Starting with the group discussions which took place on 1 August and up until this morning’s thematic seminar, I developed the sense that academic research which spans across different art forms and disciplines can constitute a structural analysis and consideration of the diverse cultural elements to be found within reality.
1. The emergence of questions
Philosophy tells us that things are always interconnected. Culture itself is a complex system, and within culture, art naturally possesses a duality of disciplines, discipline imposed from within and discipline imposed from without. The internal self-discipline of art causes artistic creation to strive for an “independent” identity. Externally imposed discipline, on the other hand, makes the phenomenon of artistic creation difficult to summarise “in a nutshell”. At the point of creation, dance is indistinguishable from religion. Although the breaking apart of modernism has forced the arts to stand up for themselves — the birth of aesthetics for example — post modernist “dedifferentiation” — “Art Without Borders” — have constituted a contemporary redefinition of the relationship between art and life. The aestheticisation of everyday life and the normalization of aesthetics have broken down the borders between art and life, thereby also breaking down the divisions between art forms.
In homogeneous cultural systems, things remain unchanged. But within globalised, internationalised cross-cultural systems, crossovers between art forms and disciplines must inevitably create a more complex reality. Historical differences between languages and regions constitute the basis for the variety, ambiguity and diversity of contemporary dance creation. One of the experimental aspects of the ArtsCross project is that it creates a highly concentrated cross-cultural creative space — between East and West; between different cities: Beijing, Taipei, London…; between the different cultural backgrounds of choreographers, dancers and academics… this also constituted a focus for our observations. In this context, “difference” emphasised the diverse ways of understanding dance creation, performance and even education. “Fusion” was accelerated — as a result of the adaptations and compensations made by the interpreters, dancers, choreographers and academics, the barriers between spoken and body languages were quickly swept away during the process of creation and discussion.
2. Analysing and answering questions
The complexity of artistic creation means that it is not possible to use theoretical frameworks or ideas belonging to that art form to fully explain and interpret the phenomena and questions it produces. Thus, cross-disciplinary approaches constitute a choice and application of methodology, an observation of the creation and development of dance, its aesthetics and its social function, from a third party, or external perspective. The creation and development of dance, for example, is inseparable from the influence of socio-economic, political and cultural factors — the influence of modernism on the emergence of modern dance, for example. The emergence of Dance Theatre represented a breakthrough for the traditional methods of dance expression. As a result of the fact that dance combines elements of body and mind, disciplines which deal with people such as psychology and educational studies have given dance the tools to create a comprehensive understanding of itself. Therefore, the existence of ArtsCross and cross-disciplinary research constitute progress in the theory and practice of dance as an art form, while also being a way of attracting greater attention and appraisal for dance from society.
Ted talked on his post yesterday about the terms of engagement which we are using and are in the process of defining here in London. We began Friday morning with one such very rich discussion about the word ‘cosmopolitanism’. It derives from Greek cosmos (the universe) and polis (city) and it is said that when asked where he came from, Greek Philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope replied ‘I am a citizen of the world (kosmopolitês).
I had been thinking about this word in my work at University of Exeter, working with several PhD students from Asia who have been tracing the roots of their own national training practices or performance traditions and attempting to account for the myriad ways that a practice has been shaped and reshaped by interactions between East and West and/or shifting gepgraphical borders. I wondered if the word ‘cosmopolitan’ could help us account for some of this ‘movement’ and give us a useful way of thinking about the work we’re seeing here.
Of course, as the discussion usefully made clear, there are several issues. The first is assuming that everyone uses the term in the same way and the second is asking who uses it and why? Does its use immediately imply a western bias and does it imply that we all become the same? Is there a better word in Mandarin we could use?
I’ll be thinking about this more as we continue discussion, but what I found really exciting about the exchange of ideas was that it moved from very large scale ideas about nations, traditions, politics and ideologies to small scale examples: a phrase of movement in a particular way of training, the way the foot relates to the floor in the studio, where we carry our weight and how we use gravity.
One of the privileges of being involved in this project is the ability to move between these two scales — to observe dancers and choreographers working together ‘up close’ in minute detail and then to ‘stand back’ and think about the big questions.
I posted on the blog a few days ago that I’m interested in this space ‘in-between’. Just before 9.30pm last night Riccardo and one of his dancers were improvising a piece of a solo phrase. It was the end of the day, everyone was tired. Riccardo made some suggestions about the quality of the dancer’s relationship to the movement and to the the space around him that he wanted; ‘try an insect moving on roller skates’, ‘the floor is boiling’… He gave the dancer space to experiment, to feel for himself the potential of this quality — the choregraphy emerging in the place ‘between’… Philosopher Francois Jullien talks of ‘the between’ as ‘that by which the thing breathes, gains its freedom, is irrigated, and allows itself to be permeated’ (Jullien 2009: 95) which seems a fitting description of that interaction.
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.
When I walk into Zeng Huanxin’s Friday rehearsal around 12:30pm, Zeng is working with Kenny on a solo section. Kenny’s intent focused physique, strained visage, and sweat stained clothing attest to the fact that he and Zeng have been working steadily for quite some time before my arrival, probably beginning around 11am. Add that to the 90 minutes that I observe Zeng and Kenny shaping and molding a solo section, and I calculate something close to 3 hours of intense rehearsal between the two of them.
For a while, it is just me (an American academic) observing Zeng (a Chinese choreographer) working with Kenny (a Hong Kong via Taipei dancer) in Studio 10 (The Place, London). When Ola (a Swedish academic) enters the studio, it begins to feel a lot like a meeting of the United Nations of Performing Artists & Academics (otherwise known as ArtsCross).
At one point, Ola leans over to me and whispers about “the labor” involved in the rehearsal. His observation shifts my perspective — crossing the “t” on something I had perceived but not yet fully grasped the significance of — and helps to focus my attention on questions of fatigue and failure, labor and learning in dance cognition and creativity.
But first, the dance in progress … Kenny travels backward in circling patterns, transitioning into rising and sinking phrases that stretch side to side, forward and back. These more lyrical phrases alternative between more gestural phrases (walking, gazing, reaching) and more virtuosic movements that spiral in and out, turning suddenly into twisting leaps that fall to the knees only to rise immediately again to a high level balance and stillness. The rapidly cycling phrases coincide with sudden shifts in time signature not found in the music. (Ola identifies the music as a version of Ave Maria?) It’s a challenging bit of choreography.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Zeng is detail oriented. He seems to emphasize (a translator joins us a bit later to clarify) specific direct and indirect foci, and use of weight and weight-shifting, at each moment in the dance. At one point there appears to be some question about exactly “where” Kenny is centering his relationship to gravity as he shifts his weight. To my eye, comparing Zeng’s demonstrations to Kenny’s performance, Zeng appears to locate his center of gravity a few notches lower than Kenny: more “martial arts” center than “modern dance” center. (Martin and I have a helpful conversation afterwards about various “centers” in the body, which the Crossing ArtForms group had discussed at length.) As the rehearsal goes on and on and on, Kenny tires noticeably. It’s important to note that he tires physically, but does not complain or retreat from a determined and earnest effort to meet the choreographer’s demands. Zeng is calm and generous, but insistent. The work is going well. The labor is evident.
When Ola mentioned labor, I mentally referenced recent cultural and political studies, such as Franko’s (2002) The work of dance and Srinivasan’s (2011) Sweating saris. Here, in the presence of labor dancing, however, I am struck by the micro-developmental process and salubrious effect that fatigue seems to play in Kenny’s repeated failures. (Here I mean failure in most positive way, as in “risk, fail, risk again.”) To my eye, Kenny improves dramatically as his body labors: his breath deepens; his movement becomes more fluid; maybe, just maybe, his center of gravity evens lowers a notch or two. The performance becomes better, not the worse, for wear.
Numerous motor learning studies have examined the effects of exhaustion on skill performance and acquisition: basically, the idea is that, with increasing levels of exercise, performance should improve up to an optimal or maximal point and then decline again with a further increase in exercise intensity and/or duration. Kenny seemed to me to be reaching that maximal point and Zeng appeared to push ever so gently for a further increase just beyond capacity, but I did not see a decline in the final run through. Quite the opposite, which got me wondering: if conventional wisdom says that fatigue to exhaustion is the foe of expert performance, could it also be a friend? In his wearied state of bodymind, I expect that Kenny may not consciously recall every word of Zeng’s directions, but I wonder if fighting fatigue somehow sediments the desired qualities in motion. I wonder if Zeng or other choreographers think so. (Later, I observe a similar approach in Riccardo’s remarkable rehearsal process). I wonder what the dancers think? Perhaps all this is obvious to everyone but me, but I wonder about physical fatigue — not to the point of injury, of course! — as a potentially creative force in dance-making process.
In connection to talks in the working group ‘Crossing disciplines’ I have tried to see what is potentially unique about the ArtsCross concept from a disciplinary perspective. Discussing disciplinary approaches is of course inspiring in light of the versatile framework of the project, in which national, linguistic, cultural, pedagogic and aesthetic boundaries are crossed – just as the theme of this year’s edition of ArtsCross indicates. However, rather than navigating disciplines to speculate about the concepts of home or elsewhere, or simply decode what is being encoded I rehearsal processes, I have pursued crucial meeting points between the project management, choreographers, performers and academics. The mentioned roles and functions are often considered as integral parts of case studies in so-called performance-as-research projects in which the artistic processes epitomize the investigations but where the multimodal make-up of the projects such as management, documentation and critical reflection also hold significant functions. So is it possible to detect the unique qualities of ArtsCross from a performance-as-research perspective? Let me try to answer that question from a broad disciplinary horizon.
As I mentioned in my first posting within the ‘Crossing disciplines’ forum I look upon the performance processes as the core activities of the project. And as Martin pointed out yesterday these processes have proven to be experimental in several of the choreographic processes. To synthesize these comments, I view the experimental scope of the performance processes as the gist of the ArtsCross concept. Experimentality pertains to all research orientations within higher education institutions, although in different ways and for different purposes.
Experiments are central to natural sciences such as medicine. In order to produce a new vaccine in lab experiments different components are often introduced in order to observe new reactions to a pathogen. If successful, the test will need to be repeated over time in order to corroborate the predictability and sustainability of the result as well as go through an ethical clearance procedure.
In many ways social sciences are less experimental in so far as they mostly aim to investigate what actually goes on in society and social relations. If we stick with the medical experiment, laboratory experiments often turn to the social science of epidemiology in order to corroborate the success and stability of a new medicine. Again, this is done in light of how people actually live, how susceptible lifetyles are to a certain ailment and how effective a vaccine would be against the ailment. So an experimental test group (who tries the vaccine) is set up alongside a control group (who is given a placebo) under normal living circumstances. Again, it is the medical trials that are experimental, not the social aspect of the people who are ready to test it. To take another although related example in the social sciences, the ethnographic fieldwork of anthropology has built up a whole paradigm of philosophically and ethically motivated paradigm to demonstrate the merit of observing, rather than intervening or otherwise altering, the behaviour of people (even if this is changing in connection to self-reflective and participatory fieldwork methods).
When it comes to the arts and humanities within conventional higher education institutions, they are quite difficult to appreciate in terms of experimentality. On the one hand they are often focusing on experimental practices in the arts that disrupt and alternate linguistic, performative, corporeal and other phenomena, but do not usually intervene or alternate the events or objects they are studying. In a similar manner, the ArtsCross project is designed to keep performance processes and observing procedures apart in order to optimize the practical/professional and analytical/academic achievements in their own respective right. In the working group ‘Crossing disciplines’, however, we have discussed, on recommendation of Ted, possibilities to take on our assignment as ‘ArtsCross studies’, or perhaps an ‘ArtsCross discipline’. This would imply studying our meeting in a multidisciplinary and multimodal way, that is, in the portfolio format that performance-as-research projects are often assessed and evaluated.
Performance-as-research (or ‘artistic research’ as it is more commonly called in continental Europe) is a relatively young category in higher education which acknowledges practical studies such as dance as disciplines of knowledge in their own right. Due to its novelty its official academic qualities and assessment criteria are not fully developed. Hence artistic qualities must be legitimized in terms of assessment criteria that suit natural and social sciences better than artistic pursuits. However, a project like ArtsCross can provide opportunities to amend this predicament if appreciated in a multidisciplinary way and, especially, in terms of an ‘experiment’ in its own right. Experiments usually involve interventions into pre-existing phenomena and processes in order to explore new modes of understanding, practices or products. Just like a science experiment, ArtsCross mixes pre-existing components (institutional pedagogies and artistic agents) in a laboratory-like fashion (protected but open to observation), although with the critical difference that the performances tests the open-ended and unpredictable outcomes of intercultural, human collaborations. The ArtsCross concept can of course also adopt the observation-based methodologies and critical discourses of the social sciences, besides specialized arts and humanities-approaches like dance studies and performance studies.
What we get from this multidisciplinary framework is not only a dynamic project format with potentially unique qualities (which can contribute with essential bodily, site-specific and open-ended qualities, I believe, to an otherwise mainly linguistic discipline such as intercultural communication), but also a potential to develop a special type of assessment criterion in the name of ‘experimentation’, which ought to be ascribed as much significance as ‘predictability’ in natural sciences and ‘interpretation’ in social sciences. I would not encourage us to develop a complex and intricate concept like experimentation if it wasn’t for the fact that we have managed to produce quite excellent outcomes in previous ArtsCross editions. Hence, we seem to attain certain ends, or aims, which we might wish to justify in terms of innovative means, or research methods (cultural diplomacy, creative collaboration, analytical and critical reflections) as well as assessment criteria (such as experimentation). Just a thought.
去发现，是一个过程，是一个很有趣的过程。在2013 Arts Cross中，我们作为观察者会与编导、演员一同去发现创作过程中存在的一些有趣的、有意义的事情。在＂舞动无界＂的这次工作中，我转换了角色，与前两次舞者、编导的身份不同，观察者给了我更多去了解舞动、关注创作的角度和纬度，而这正是我在不断发现舞蹈魅力到过程。
这次Arts Cross的主题是＂离乡• 在别处＂，刚听到这个主题时我有些恍惚，因为那是我刚到英国伦敦的第一天，我想到这是我？还有与我同行来自北京的学者们？还有来自台湾和其他地方的学者们？这个主题很有趣，让我不断的想问问题。我忽然感受到一种久违的情怀，＂思乡、惆怅＂。这时候我又有些恍惚，我的思乡是应该具体到何地呢？我现在生活在北京，而我来自内蒙古…
＂离乡•在别处＂此时好像在说所有从不同城市来到伦敦参与Arts Cross的人，这是一个找到我们共性的方式，而我们在一起发现更多不同，关于舞蹈、编创、动作、想法、文化、习惯 等等。我很享受这个发现的过程，在这过程中我会记录关于一些＂相同与不同＂的部分，以观察者的角度发现舞蹈创作过程中每一位参与者的变化与不变，我期待这个过程，这个＂离乡•在别处＂的过程。
Leaving home: being elsewhere
Discovery is a process. A fascinating process. During the 2013 ArtsCross session, we had the opportunity, as observers, to discover, together with the choreographers and performers, some interesting, meaningful things which occurred during the creative process. During this session of “Danscross”, I took on a different role. Unlike the previous two sessions, where I participated as a dancer and a choreographer, participating this time as an observer, I had more latitude to seek to understand dance, and it was through this process that I came to appreciate even more the attraction of dance.
The theme of this year’s ArtsCross was “Leaving home: being elsewhere”. When I first heard this theme, I felt almost as if I was in a dream. It was my first day in London. Were they referring to me? Or to the scholars who came with me from Beijing? Or the academics, from Taiwan and from other places? This was a really interesting theme. It kept making me think of questions I wanted to ask. I suddenly felt overcome by a feeling of homesickness and melancholy which I had not felt for a long time. At this point, I began to feel fuzzy again… where exactly should I be homesick for? I currently live in Beijing, but I am originally from Inner Mongolia…
During one of the discussion sessions we talked about “cosmopolitanism”, and while we were constantly asking ourselves, “Who are we?” “Where do we come from?” we recognised that we all exist within the world as “global citizens”. In recent years, whether in the world of dance or in other fields, it is clear that things are becoming more and more globalised. While this makes many things more convenient, we also encounter many challenges. This also is a process of discovery. Through the 2013 ArtsCross platform, we came into contact with dancers and choreographers from many different places. Their cooperation allowed us to use the platform provided by this dance project to use the perspectives of dance to discover new questions. This was what was interesting: from the observer’s perspective, the “Leaving home: being elsewhere” theme encompassed more than just the dance aspect; it also touched upon a broader vision.
At this point, “Leaving home: being elsewhere” seemed to be saying that these people had come to London from different cities to participate in ArtsCross, and that this was a way of finding a commonality. We were discovering more things that were different — about dance, choreography, movement, ideas, culture, habits, and more… I really enjoyed this process of discovery. In this record I will touch upon some “similarities and differences”, and seek out the things which changed and the things which did not change in the participants during the dance creation process, from the perspective of an observer. I am very much looking forward to this process, a process of “Leaving home: being elsewhere.”
ArtsCross Observations (2)
In breathing, one experiences the time-specific characteristics of dance. Through stances and adjustments of posture, one experiences the space-related aspects of dance. This is a fundamental theory of dance which is understood by everyone. These two days of observing made me think of a term — crossing spaces: the space for demonstration/observation, the space for imagining and for thinking. The dancer, the choreographer and the academic exist within the same space at the same point in time, but each have their own thoughts within their own awareness space.
1. The transcendence of demonstration/observation
Crossing over from the seat of the spectator into the rehearsal studio, the researchers participated in the dancers’ rehearsal and demonstration space. Although this made it easier for the researchers to observe the process of artistic creation, the fact that we do not possess Harry Potter-style invisibility cloaks meant that we really did “occupy” the creative space belonging to the dancers and the choreographers. At one point, when the researcher standing next to me began taking photos, a dancer who came a bit too close to her automatically said “sorry” and moved to another part of the room. This made me reflect — does the presence of the observer have an effect on the process of rehearsal for the choreographer and dancer? While they welcomed our participation, would it be possible for us to truly avoid disturbing one another? Would we unknowingly come to be seen as “spectators”?
2. Imaginings/Transcending Space
Dance creation and performance constitute transformations of abstract thinking and imagery-based thinking. The choreographer designs dance movements within her imagination, and uses language to describe these movements to the dancer. The dancer constructs an image in his own mind, based on his interpretation of the spoken and body language (the choreographer’s gestures for example), and the way he uses his body to express this. The observing academic also uses the words spoken by the choreographer to conceptualise an image, then connects this to the image created by the dancer, before carrying out various judgements: whether the choreographer’s explanation was precise enough; whether the dancer’s representation of the image was correct. During the rehearsals with the Taipei choreographer Su Wei-Chia, all of the dancers interpreted differently the movement “twisted up with cramps.” The academics also had different ideas, and these were no doubt different from those sought by the choreographer.
3. Observing/The transcendent nature of research
Personally speaking, starting from the second time I participated in ArtsCross, I have developed the habit of preparing some thoughts around 2 or 3 keywords which represent my research interests. When actually engaging in observational research, you are often flooded with a mass of information. If you are not selective, the train of thought in your research can become muddled, and your conclusions can be affected. Nevertheless, even when you prepare in advance, on occasions you may encounter an unexpected idea while carrying out research, which can confuse your research efforts, making it difficult to select the areas you want to cover in your research for that year. I think the root cause of this must be a kind of crossover between objective research and casual observation.
Perhaps as the result of an awareness and analysis of this “crossover”, I seek to gain a stronger grasp of the ideas behind my research.
I have drafted this blog about Greenberg’s perspective on the arts under modernism in response to an issue which Ted raised at our group meeting, but am cross-posting it here as I feel it may be of broader interest:
Clement Greenberg was a visual art critic from the US whose writings on modernism in the arts proved highly influential. In what is sometimes termed a concept of medium specificity, he developed his view that the advance of modernism went hand in hand with a sharpened focus on the unique qualities of each artistic medium, i.e. on what makes one art form distinct from another. In Modernist Painting (originally published in 1960), he offered the following observations on painting:
“The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence. …
What had to be exhibited was not only that which was unique and irreducible in art in general, but also that which was unique and irreducible in each particular art. Each art had to determine, through its own operations and works, the effects exclusive to itself….
The task of self-criticism became to eliminate from the specific effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art. Thus would each art be rendered “pure,” and in its “purity” find the guarantee of its standards of quality as well as of its independence. …
It was the stressing of the ineluctable flatness of the surface that remained […] more fundamental than anything else to the processes by which pictorial art criticized and defined itself under Modernism. For flatness alone was unique and exclusive to pictorial art. The enclosing shape of the picture was a limiting condition, or norm, that was shared with the art of the theater; color was a norm and a means shared not only with the theater, but also with sculpture. Because flatness was the only condition painting shared with no other art, Modernist painting oriented itself to flatness as it did to nothing else.”
Greenberg’s notion of modernism was effectively defined by a separation of the arts, in contrast with their synthesis as posited in Wagner’s concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (‘total work of art’) whose impact on modernism was also considerable. In any case, Greenberg’s ideas on the uniqueness of each artistic medium have been applied to dance by the likes of Roger Copeland and David Michael Levin. I do not have Copeland’s whole essay to hand here, but he wrote in 1986 that “twenty years ago the reigning sensibility among serious experimental artists was the quest for ‘purity’ of the medium, the desire to determine what each art form can do uniquely well… Choreographers were expected to emphasise the barebones essence of their medium, the human body in motion, unembellished by theatrical trappings.” (178) He was obviously thinking of the Judson Dance Theater here.
Copeland has also suggested that Balanchine’s purist works, which strips ballet of everything extraneous such as a story, décor, etc. exemplify Greenberg’s notion of modernism; while the alliance of the arts in the works by the Ballets Russes typifies an approach more akin to Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk.
Now, we have moved away from modernism quite a while ago, but I can see how these issues are still relevant in our era, and might more specifically be applied to our project….
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.
After Martin’s seminar yesterday on Practice as Research, where he encouraged us to think about the ways we’re watching the work in the studios and how we communicate what we see, I recalled being in Riccardo’s rehearsal the previous evening. While cueing the sound for a run through of part of a sequence he noticed his phone and jokingly asked the dancers, ‘Who’s tweeting about me?’ Laughing, he asked again, ‘Come on, who’s tweeting about me?’ One of the dancers had taken some pictures a few minutes before and had just sent them out on Twitter.
It made me think about the speed at which we can communicate our ideas to each other — very different from even a few years ago. How, if at all, has this shifted the way we verbalise our ideas and has it, indeed, shaped the process of observing and reflecting itself?
When I enter a studio to ‘observe’ can I allow myself to ‘arrive’ in the space, to be ‘present’ to allow an experience to happen? Or do I ‘snatch’ or ‘grab’ at a moment — already shaping it to be communicated before I’ve really allowed it to happen?
Martin Buber wrote a dialogue between two men discussing whether experience can be transmitted through the written word (Buber 1957: 7–9). He suggests that the ‘potentiality of form’ is already present in every experience, but that what is written is entirely dependent on the full engagement of the person in that experience. Thus he describes the painter who ‘paints with all his senses’, whose ‘seeing is already painting’.
Certainly giving myself time to settle, to be present in the room, to ‘absorb’ what I’m experiencing seems essential…
After a glorious and sunlit Borisbike ride to Colombia Road along the Regents Canal this morning, the ArtsCross academic team reconvened back at The Place for the latest seminar in our series. The depth and breadth of discussion has been quite staggering over the last few days, and I salute not only my colleague’s intellectual willingness to engage with difficult or unfamiliar ideas and modes of thought, but also the patient way in which all involved have paused, waited and translated. We are supported in this not only by the linguistic gifts of those members of the team who speak both Mandarin and English, but also by the patient input of Chia Chi who has so ably made out thoughts apparent in one language or another.
In framing today’s session on Crossing Languages, Chen Ya-ping asked whether we might conceive of dance as a means of unravelling and/or re-entangling national identities as we face a world in which they appear paradoxically both less and more important than previously. This led to some very interesting discussion about efforts in the second half of the 20th Century in both the PRC and Taiwan to recover, rediscover or re-establish an ‘authentic’ style, training and choreography of Chinese dance. We’ve been over some of this before, but what was particularly revealing about this discussion was the extent to which it both revealed the very different ways in which source materials have been a) sourced and b) interpreted by some of the principle players in re-establishing classical Chinese dance within China and in Taiwan, and the significance of staging to the subsequent state and status of the artform/s. As Alex Kolb pointed out, folk and courtly dances often take place without the need for an audience — they face partners, other participants, or ritual focii such as idols or deities. Staging them relative to the perspective and sensibilities of an audience, alters their choreographic structure, duration and direction and the sense of whom the performance is for. Does this also open up the possibility that one’s self-identity also shifts to encompass an awareness of the aesthetic judgement of others?
Without a comprehensive (and frankly unlikely) survey, that’s a question that may best pass unanswered. However, I found Ya-ping‘s suggestion of identity as something that can unravel a really useful one. Where many accounts of identity might privilege the tightly wound, self-containing version, what if (continuing the metaphor) the spool of identity unravels? Identity doesn’t disappear under the terms of this metaphor, but becomes available to re-wind or re-wrap around other things, crossing and re-crossing not only itself, but other bodies, spaces, histories and feelings.
This put me in mind of Su Weichia’s rehearsal. All of the five women in his piece are technically excellent, skilled performers. Su’s choreography has not disappeared or removed that technique — surely an important aspect of each of their identities — but it has invited them to unravel themselves from it, and reach beyond it. And reach they do, bending and stretching oppositionally at their limits, in a slow, but almost constant eddying flow, that has the strength and depth of tidal water if not its mass and volume.
It must also have been an astonishingly difficult process of rehearsal. Somewhat mirroring the fashion in which they twist, stretch and recoil across the stage, over the last two weeks they have repeated this strange, slow extremity of movement over and over again. I don’t think it at all metaphorical to suggest that this has also been a drawn out process of unraveling their identities, inasmuch as that refers to the habits and dispositions we consciously and unconsciously deploy in communicating and interacting with others. Unraveled, drawn out into long, sinuous threads we now see them wrap around and over one another with the delicacy, accuracy and poise that only skilled technique can bring, but also being flung past its habits and dispositions to spool around others, elsewhere.
Ya-ping managed to spark a great discussion today by ushering us through the needle’s eye of language and onto wider fields of travel by bodily, traditional and interpretative movements. To appreciate this journey I can’t help but associate the notion of language with a couple of remarks by Ludwig Wittgenstein (at the risk of cross-referencing my own blog postings in Beijing).
Wittgenstein was a philosopher of language who basically thought, at least in his later career, that language is a very deceptive means of acquiring knowledge. Trying to understand the world through grammatical systems is to reduce the pursuit of knowledge to a game with a set of rules that one can establish and change on quite arbitrary conditions – especially if you happens to be a philosopher who writes about trivialities like the meaning of life (to quote Samuel Beckett) instead of important matters like dating or gossiping. This doesn’t mean that language is a superficial thing, it just means that we have gotten used to cheating when we play the game of meaning and understanding by imposing overriding linguistic and semantic rules to it. Instead we ought to view language as various forms of social practice within certain cultural realms, according to Wittgenstein.
The first remark from Wittgenstein I came to think of was his simple proposition that “to understand a word in a language is to understand a whole culture”. Of course we share many words and so to understand a shared word across national or cultural boundaries we need to translate it in one way or another and thus identify common grounds for such a translation. Those common grounds are not necessarily linguistic but might very well be musical, pop-cultural or physical. Think of the word surfing. In parts of California, for instance where Ted lives, surfing is a lifestyle, while it is merely a leisurely activity in Europe (in Sweden the Baltic sea hardly offers any waves at all, so we use the word surfing for a computer activity). So Europeans and Californians both use the word “surfing” and refers to similar water and surface related activities, but that doesn’t mean that they mean the same thing when they use the word. The reason for that is that the cultural conditions for using a word far out-weighs the meaning of a word as a linguistic unit in a grammatical system.
This leads me to the second Wittgensteinian remark, namely that the problem to understand people in a culture that we find really strange is not necessarily due to the problem of understanding their language, but it is more likely due to the fact that we cannot “find our feet with them”. The latter phrase is of course an idiom and does not mean that we understand a certain culture if we learn how to walk or dance like people in it – you can acquire the technique of imitating such an action, just like you can learn a language in an isolated place far from its cultural life. Understanding people’s “form of life”, as Wittgenstein calls it, is rather a matter of understanding why people engage in certain social practices by doing them in a way that makes sense to yourself. To take a literal example of this from my own life, it was not until I spent time in East Africa that I understood what a tropical rain shower meant. In Swahili ‘rain season’ is called ‘kipindi cha mvua’ and I could easily have learnt how to spell that back home, I have seen tropical rain showers on TV and I could even have calculated how much rain that actually hits you in a burst of rain by mathematical means. But it wasn’t until I was there that I understood that there is no sense in running through the rain to take shelter, which I was used to doing in Europe where it doesn’t rain quite as heavily. By hanging out with people in East Africa I stopped running in the rain but simply walked to the nearest house or mango tree to take shelter.
I’m also thinking about Kate finding her feet with the other performers (such as Teng Yue in the picture above) and the choreographer Guo in the mask dance. She did an amazing job yesterday when I visited the rehearsal (I would have posted my video of it had the blog permitted that volume of info) and it was quite interesting to see the verbal although mainly non-verbal communication she engaged in with Guo and her fellow performers. The question of meaning regarding the cultural practice of the dance hangs in the air for me, perhaps even for Kate and the other dancers, and perhaps even for Guo. So here I feel a need to stop writing since I have reached the end of what I’m capable of understanding. But it doesn’t feel like the end of a road, but rather as a significant crossroad in the ArtsCross experiment – thanks to Ya-ping’s invitation to travel with her from far away cultures all the way to the internal displacements of dance and discussion.
ArtsCross Observations (2)
Thoughts on Seminar 2
In my view, cross-linguistic research is essentially a form of cross-cultural research. Just like Ya-Ping‘s keyword for today, “travel”, the cultural journey is unrestrained from the outset. While people constitute the subjective participants in “travel”, while on the road, people are often unable to control their own destiny. As they say in the Chinese Kung Fu novels, “Out there in the real world, you don’t control your own destiny.”
1. The openness of culture — the objectivity of cross-culturalism
Modern developments in science and technology, along with greater global interconnectedness, have sped up the development of cross-culturalism and linguistic crossover. No longer can the cultures of individual groups and regions remain as closed-off systems (in reality, cultures have always been open systems. The high point of dance within China’s Tang Dynasty was intimately linked to crossovers with the Nanbei civilization during the Northern Wei and Jin dynasties. Duncan’s modern dance was strongly influenced by ancient Greek civilization). Against such an open, complex backdrop, identification of cultural boundaries becomes very difficult. The dynamic development of culture means that cultural identification and recognition is a constantly evolving process. Therefore, in defining and recognising identity, cultural symbols which contain both inherent meaning and external appearance become the primary means of differentiation thanks to the ease with which they can be recognised. Therefore, the fine arts, architecture, dance and other such form-based art forms are often adopted as symbols representing the cultures of races/ countries/regions.
As with Guo Lei’s piece, the symbolic nature of the masks and gestures allowed the piece to become a focal point for the curiosity and interest of the Taipei and London academics in Chinese traditional culture. Just like Xu Rui said, this work was created by Guo Lei within a cross-disciplinary and cross-linguistic context — it had some specifically representative aspects and some more generally representative aspects. Just like I wrote in my blog: “One of the experimental aspects of the ArtsCross project is that it creates a highly concentrated creative environment – between West and East; between cities: Beijing, Taipei, London; between people of different backgrounds: choreographers, dancers, academics, etc.” Cross-cultural and cross-linguistic elements are to be found everywhere. At times we do not realise it, yet sometimes we sense it clearly.
2. The diversity of culture — the complexity of ArtsCross
The existence and development of culture forms the backdrop for ArtsCross. It is the co-existence of different regional/ethnic/national cultures. The approach adopted by ArtsCross is to seek crossovers in approaches to thought and expression. The process of ArtsCross creation is from one side influenced by the conditions imposed by the creative environment (such as the imposition of themes, time constraints, choice of dancers, etc.). From another side, the creation is influenced by the ideas within the “idea base” of the choreographer and the dancer (for example the interpretation of the theme, the understanding of a specific cultural form, including the language of communication. Here we again encounter the issue of English and Chinese translation capabilities). So, the special nature of research within the ArtsCross project is a function of its variety and complexity. It is not simply research into artistic creation, or performance. Rather, it takes place within an extremely rich, yet highly complex research context and perspective. This is where the value of ArtsCross lies: through creating a special creative environment, and engaging in analysis and research of cultural crossovers, dance creation within a cross-disciplinary context, and the complexity of performance, we obtain ideas and approaches based on understanding, analysis and judgement. At the practical level, we gain an awareness of the meaning and value of communication within a diversified world, allowing us to better represent the inherent value of culture, thereby obtaining a sense of recognition of cultural identity.
In the rehearsal studio, the dancers and choreographers use dance to record and to express. Within the same space, we observe and reflect. Essentially, each participant, under the guidance of their culturally-informed thought patterns, is seeking to create an expression of emotion, starting from a foundation of rational thought, while we are seeking to engage in rational thinking based on emotional observation. Everyone breathed in the oxygen of cross-culturalism in the space provided by ArtsCross.
… they face one another. The approach is a greeting with elbow raised vertically, armpit exposed and vulnerable. The boy gestures a gentle wave toward the girl, wafting the most personal of odors in her face. An imagined cloud floats past her nose, eyes, ears, and beyond her head. She stares unblinking. One-two-three steps. Stop. She returns the favor and, as she waves one-two-three, he dips his nose down in closer proximity, seeming to revel in her underarm scent. (“Let it digest,” Dam whispers.) The boy inhales and shudders. The girl stares unblinking. A quick shifting of positions, and her foot slap-slap-slaps the back of his calf.
I don’t like to think of myself as squeamish, but I find it hard to watch this brief but brilliant moment. I have a strong sense of smell and the deceptively gentle gesture triggers a wordless memory, a recollection really, of stinking armpits. I involuntarily shudder. I resist the urge to lift my arm and sniff. (that damn bike ride this morning:) The slapping itself is specific, percussive and jarring: it strikes me as a ritualized conclusion to the greeting. I feel myself blinking, dismayed.
In an odd way, Dam’s brief duet helps me to digest our academic seminar on Crossing Languages earlier today. As Martin noted, the effort to recover an “authentic” Chinese dance involved a conscious choice to (re)create a personal and cultural identity. This kind of explicit, deliberate search can be contrasted with the implicit, accidental, unplanned, and perhaps unknowable shifts in personal and cultural identity that are happening here during ArtsCross. I’m not sure about the London dancer’s training, but I doubt the Taipei and Beijing dancers were taught to perform the gentle odorous wave. And still, they perform it convincingly.
All of which reminds me that, in fact, all these dancers were brought to this place intentionally, consciously, and deliberately. I believe the Beijing, London, and Taipei directors and teachers wanted the dancers and choreographers to cross felt experiences. Perhaps the potential shifts in dancers’ personal, artistic, and cultural identities were (and are) unknowable to their elders (and themselves), but our colleagues seem to own — to embrace really — the important decision to transport them to this unraveling and intrepid Place.
I admire them for it.
Following Martin’s blog post (Unravelling and Rewinding Identities) I was in Zhao Liang’s rehearsal yesterday afternoon. The group was looking at a picture on an iphone of one of the intricate positions they can had created using their giant elastic band. They were trying to solve a very concrete problem, together (see photo below).
In the sequence I observed, a giant elastic band was winding and unwinding as the dancers moved with and along its length, before the band was joined into a circle to be transformed by the combinations of dancers in pairs moving together.
In the pub last night, Ted reminded me of a game that we call in the UK and the US Cat’s Cradle. It’s played with a length of string tied in a circle, in pairs (you can see how to play at
(http://m.wikihow.com/Play-The-Cat’s-Cradle-Game). When Person A holds the string in a certain position, Person B takes it by picking it up with her fingers and (if it’s done right!) transforms it into another shape.
The game only works with more than one person, and it takes a great deal of communication and co-operation to get it right.
The ‘Cat’s Cradle’ puzzle of Zhao Liang’ piece seems to illustrate the winding and rewinding that Martin was talking about yesterday. The important thing here is that the task cannot be done alone — it takes figuring out in a very concrete and pragmatic way. There are multiple possibilities for transformation and multiple entry points.
The atmosphere in the studio was one of playful problem solving — the dancers very much taking group ownership and responsibility for the group task. It was a pleasure to watch…
From The Place to Columbia Road Flower Market and back…
Studio and stage….space and place
Watching Su Weichia’s rehearsal I am drawn to the clarity of the use of space and realise again how he is looking at the studio but seeing the stage. The studio is a metaphor for the stage but the stage space itself is a convention for a magical, malleable, open space that could be anywhere or nowhere with the help of our imaginations and the agreement of everyone present to suspend disbelief.
Later watching Vera Tussing work I was led to consider how the choreographers see the space, not just the studio that becomes the stage space, but what is the space that they imagine as the ground on which their dance takes place?
I imagine Su Weichia’s dancers have begun their journey far beyond the space that I see and they continue far beyond it. I am only seeing one small part of the whole, I am looking at an opening that is only part of a vast landscape, the dancers pass through that opening, through my field of vision but they began long before I glimpsed them and they continue long after they have passed beyond the limits of sight.
Vera Tussing is working on an exercise involving improvisation inviting two dancers into a competitive space that she suggests might be a basketball court and they respond immediately, the gaze locked and the feinting, jockeying, chasing and running — intense and playful all at the same time. I see a boxing ring and then I realised the barre at the back of the studio is has become the ropes – the space is contained and framed and within these constraints. I wonder if her stage for this section will acknowledge and reference the rectangular dance floor linoleum which is bounded by the back wall, the side lights and the front edge – becoming both the actual and the metaphorical arena.
Suddenly the door at the back of the studio opens and dancer almost enters, stopping still as she feels the intensity of the rehearsal – but she has broken the arena and seems to me, (and to her?), to be in the performance — most significant for me, the metaphorical space of a studio is also broken, we are in this particular place, this studio with that door, the ropes become the barre again and it is that particular barre, in this particular place.
I am reminded of Doreen Massey, the human geographer, who has contributed to notions of space and place as distinct ideas. I wonder how this figures in the realm of performance when disbelief is suspended and we are sensitised to possible reconfigurations or interplays between the two. And when our working space, the studio, is a simalcrum for a performing space which is itself open to transformation and might represent implicit or explicit places. Of course Massey notes that ‘place’ is not fixed, but is open to reconfiguration and reinterpretation, so perhaps what I am noticing is also a metaphor for the wider world, as another writer once noted.
Reflections on ArtsCross
The 2013 London session of ArtsCross brought together dancers from three cities (Beijing, London and Taipei), and allowed academics and choreographers from these cities to interact in the same place. The ArtsCross platform not only became a hotspot for interaction and exchange of ideas between China and the West, it also created a perfect meeting point for the interaction of theory and practice. After seeing nine choreographers, coming from three different places, at work, and appreciating the works which they created, I formed the view that the outputs of the project were not the most important. What was more interesting was the process.
During the academic interactions, the three topics provided us with specific areas of discussion. However, I noted that the exchange of ideas went far beyond these discussion topics. The questions which were explored were some of the most discussed questions in contemporary academia. They were also questions which all of humankind seeks to answer. Thanks to this interaction, an exploration which sought to promote mutual understanding, we participants, originating from different places across the globe, were no longer strangers.
No longer strangers in our day to day interactions, but more importantly, we were no longer unfamiliar with each others’ ways of thinking. Most importantly, this interaction did not just occur between the Chinese and Western participants, but also during direct interactions with the academics from the island of Taiwan. Thanks to this process of getting to know, communicating with and coming to understand people from the same culture, but different backgrounds, made our ideas increasingly meaningful and strengthened the value of our judgements. This is something that we have been lacking for many years.
Modernism, cosmopolitanism, culture and the sense of identity it brings, practical research… in a few short days, our discussions had touched on many areas, and many varying opinions were voiced and heard. Thanks to an attitude of mutual respect and learning, the ArtsCross platform was able to achieve a significance which exceeded expectations. This form of continuous, progressive and in-depth discussion certainly gives rise to a resolute willingness to seek answers to questions.
We in the second group were tasked with discussing the question of “Crossing languages”.
What was interesting was that during this year’s ArtsCross, we often found it impossible to find an accurate translation for one word or another. New concepts and technical terms flowed freely, and we often questioned how to transmit the meaning and the origin of a term through its translated version. Is this not exactly the starting point for considering “transcendence of language”? Of course, when considering the transcendence of spoken language and the transcendence of body language, the topic of “crossing languages” provided us with endless areas to consider. What is more, the actual process of observation enriched our thinking even more.
ArtsCross brought us together, allowed us to experience, and helped us to give wings to our ideas and take flight!
I have had many discussions with a specialist from Global History/Studies about Artscross and have gained some constructive insights from this perspective, since one of my brothers happens to be a professor in the field. Several issues that we have dealt with as part of our Artscross discussions have been much written about within Global Studies, such as the idea of there existing ‘multiple modernities’ in different places, and they are reflected in the different perspectives that Artscross brings together (1).
A further interesting research area deals with languages and translation, which is of course is heightened in the project here that brings different languages intentionally into the creative processes that unfold in the rehearsal spaces. Without a perspective that is sensitive to global developments and interactions much would go amiss, and it is important to bear in mind that languages itself are a product of translations between encounters with those from ‘elsewhere’. And hence languages contain many past misunderstandings in terms of their evolution.
As part of Artscross the differences in the languages we speak are being continually highlighted, such as today in Vida Midgelow’s session when we were guided through an exercise that led to the creation of ‘sound-words’. This clearly relied on a language being written in an alphabet and simply did not work for Mandarin.
Research around the idea of ‘translingual practice’ emphasises the danger of a searching for direct translations and an imposing of theories or concepts in a comparative way, where however different languages also entail different ways of thinking. Lydia Liu has written much about the incommensurability of words, which leads to the idea that the world can be understood in multiple ways (2). Referring to Jacques Derrida and Walter Benjamin, Liu writes that an original and its translation productively create meanings that are larger than ‘copies or reproductions’ (ibid. p.15).
What I am taking away from this research mostly for now is a going beyond thinking in terms of an East/West binary and ask questions around how these encounters we witness here not only in the rehearsal spaces but also in the many discussions that unfold between academics are productive and in the sense of being transformative to each individual engaged.
(1) Dominic Sachsenmaier and Jens Riedel, with Shmuel Eisenstadt (eds.), Reflections on Multiple Modernities: European, Chinese, and Other Approaches, Leiden: Brill, 2002
(2) Lydia Liu, Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity – China, 1900–1937, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995
舞蹈是时间的艺术，这一刻的瞬时发生与发展让舞蹈成为“活生生的艺术”（living art），是无法作假与再现的艺术。在台北编导苏威嘉的排练中，正如Chris在博客中所写的“Studio and stage…space and place”，在我看来，就是在again and again中，这一刻显得那么可爱——因为它的真实：时间在变，气息在变，运动在变，这或许就是舞蹈的魅力。所以，苏的创作是开放的，看得到这一刻，但是不知道下一刻——如同历史的下一刻无法预知一样，正式演出时究竟会怎样？
ArtsCross Observations (3)
1. This very moment
Dance is a time-based art form. The way in which dance occurs within a moment, before evolving and developing makes dance a “living art”. It is an art form which cannot be faked or reproduced. During the rehearsals with the Taiwanese choreographer Su Wei-Chia, it was exactly as Chris had written in his blog: “Studio and stage…space and place”. With the repetition, “again and again”, the moment became very precious — because of its authenticity. Time was changing; breath was changing; movements were changing. Perhaps these are the sources of dance’s charm. Su’s creative process was free and open. You could experience each moment, but the next moment was unknown. Just as the next moment in history cannot be known in advance. Is it possible to achieve this in a real performance?
2 This very place
Dance is a space-based art form. Physical existence and transformation within a fixed space makes dance a “visual art.” As well as changes in time, the shift in spaces from studio to stage can affect the sense of space during the performance. In that moment, what form will the dance movements take? During rehearsals, the Beijing choreographer Zhao Liang told his dancers, who were tied together with a band, that if they got stuck during the performance, they should just take the band off. This suggestion provided the dancers with a solution to a potential problem, and also “revealed” one of the differences which could exist between the stage and the studio. Each place is its own place.
So the dancers can only take advantage of the ‘here and now’ to experience their “aura”.
Jiang Dong’s London Reflections 02: The question of “modernism” in Chinese dance
The topic of “modernism” appeared to be one in which the 2013 ArtsCross academics were keenly interested. Since 2011, when it was listed as a topic of discussion at the Taipei “ArtsCross” until today, academics have remained interested in this topic. Given the continued interest of observers in the topic, it seems that this truly is a very attractive area.
In reality, mainland Chinese academics have been familiar with the question of “modernism” for a long time, and have already explored the question quite thoroughly. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that almost all of the ideas which have appeared in the realm of Chinese academia have been inspired by outward influences. Naturally, “modernism” is no exception. But while the “concept” originates from outside China, Chinese society contains many of its own conundrums, which are directly linked to this concept.
In the world of dance, there is no lack of discussion around “modernism”. The newspaper Chinese Dance has organised a number of discussions on this topic. What is more, the views of various young scholars of dance have attracted a lot of attention. Generally speaking, a number of the issues which we encounter are almost binary oppositions, for example: “Chinese and Western,” “traditional and modern,” “form and meaning”, etc.
When we talk about “modernism”, it is natural to think about the issue of “modernisation”. What is more, “modernisation” can provide a direct linkage to “modern dance.” But if we think that “modernism” is only about “modern dance”, then our understanding of the issue has shifted. Without doubt, “modern dance” is naturally connected to the concept of “modernism”. However, the areas which fall within the ambit of “modernism” need to be discussed at a more in-depth level.
In reality, Chinese contemporary dance culture is inherently “modernist” since, whether at the level of form or at the level of meaning, traditional Chinese dance forms have not been directly handed down from the past. Lu Yisheng considers that this constitutes a “rupture” between Chinese contemporary dance and traditional dance. The painter Chen Danqing has expressed the view that the New Culture Movement which came in the wake of the May 4th Movement is a manifestation of “cultural radicalism.” While it is not fair to lay blame for the rupture with ancient dance at the feet of the May 4th Movement, it does seem that this Movement was a kind of watershed, and the new forms of Chinese dance which developed following this movement were imbued with inspiration from Western culture from the industrial age. So Chinese contemporary dance, having been cut off from its “roots” and having experienced many ‘dislocations’ and ‘realignments’ with society, possesses a rich streak of “modernism.” Within this conceptual framework, and against the context of the systematic changes which have taken place in China including the cultural revolution and economic globalisation, Chinese dance, while always undertaking cultural course corrections, has faced many perplexing situations, all of which can be understood and considered through the language of “modernism”. Thus, it may be that the concept of “modernism” may provide us with a kind of key, since it provides us with a unique perspective on the many issues that we are faced with today.
Mainland Chinese dance culture has been developing for over 60 years now, and while it has encountered many of the challenges brought by “modernism”, it has not faded away, and continues onwards stubbornly. This demonstrates one of the characteristics of Chinese culture: it can always keep going. So, faced with such a highly developed “organism”, and an environment which allows this “organism” to continue to develop, is there anything we can do to provide more “nourishment” to thinking around “modernism”? Let’s wait and see.
I visited Zhou Liang’s rehearsal yesterday just in time to see the first run through of the whole main sequence with music. It ‘worked’ — all the dancers ‘got through’ the webs of permutations of the elastic to the end of the piece. The choreographer was pleased and encouraging: ‘Now we have to work on the details…’
They then worked through specific problem moments; figuring out why a dancer got stuck at a certain place, why when four dancers were holding the elastic above their heads in a square was it not being lowered down at exactly the same time.
At the end of the rehearsal after a final runthrough Zhou said that he was really pleased and that it was coming together well. He asked if the dancers found it difficult. One of them replied that they HAD to work together as a group and he agreed, saying that it was difficult to combine everyone’s different techniques, approaches and rhythms.
It seemed to me that the elastic band provides something very concrete — a puzzle to solve together, as I noted yesterday, but also it gives the dancers nowhere to hide. There are no solos — they can never work on their own. They have to be 100% aware of what everyone else is doing at each moment. They are confronted very clearly by differences in their training (as noted by everyone in their discussion) and have to resolve these together or the piece ‘fails’ (ie they all get stuck in the elastic). There’s no ‘faking’ anything…
Attached please find the PPT file of the seminar “Crossing Languages.” The connection Martin made between unraveling and/or re-entangling identities and Su Weichia’s dancers on the blog is beautiful. I’m still reading others’ inputs. Thanks to everyone’s thought-provoking participation in the discussion.
Hi all, please click Crossing Disciplines to link to a PowerPoint of the slides from the seminar this afternoon. Thank you for your kind attention and participation. I look forward to the conference!