Partial viewpoints…

During yesterday’s seminar session led by Ted Warburton, we were encouraged to think about the assumptions that we bring to this gathering and how these affect the ‘frames’ through which we view the work we’re watching.  In looking ‘Across Disciplines’ Ted used the example of sociology and how its paradigms have intersected with, and underpinned, ways of understanding and interpreting dance in the West.

The fascinating discussion that arose from the presentation dealt with the way that the ArtsCross project can lead us to ‘confront’ each others’ ways of knowing, and our own, as well as find ‘common ground’ in and between these ways of knowing. There was much to take away from the seminar that I’m mulling over but when I went to Dam’s rehearsal straight afterwards I was thinking about ‘partial’ viewpoints.

With only a few more days of rehearsal to go before the showings on Saturday, the choreographers are in the last stages of ‘finishing’ the work.  The dancers are ‘taking on’ the material in these different processes ready to perform.  The academics, of course, have had only partial views on these processes.  A few of us have observed from the beginning stages of rehearsal but none have stayed with only one process throughout.  

This ability to move between and across moments in different processes is, of course, one of the privileges and opportunities of this project.  But, as we discussed in the seminar, we need always to be aware of the assumptions that we bring to the work — how do these affect what we see and interpret?  And to remember that this is very much a partial view.  When I move between rehearsals I think it’s useful for me to think about this — am I employing a ‘pick and mix’ approach?  Why is my interest drawn to a particular process?  What do I need to ‘know’ about this process in order to ‘understand’ it enough? And what am I doing when I try to communicate it?

Going with the flow

On Monday evening I went to Riccardo Buscarini’s rehearsal. It was rather magical, actually. Riccardo has five male dancers, two from the UK, two from Taiwan, one from Beijing. The interpreter, Soraya, is not a dancer but clearly has some experience of dance, and she can’t stop herself from joining in the warm-up. I think that helps. The group (if you discount us observers) seems pretty cohesive.

The warm up is all about flow and breath and touch. Riccardo uses images of water and waves and seaweed. He builds up the exercises. First they’re standing jiggling on their own, then they unfold and swoosh about more freely. Then they try pressing hands against the floor, against their own bodies. Then they do it in pairs, then as a group. Riccardo demonstrates the tasks and the qualities – and it’s clear that he loves doing the movement himself – but he doesn’t have to do too much. The group are already familiar with these exercises, and look at ease within them.

They run through the choreography. There’s a simple framework: an opening solo, an ensemble section, a duet, a final solo. There is a unifying quality – restlessness, unfixity – across the different sections. And there is a recurring motif: hands held over eyes. This sense of searching combined with these images of blindness form a potent mix. The opening solo is all about looking, looking everywhere and anywhere. The group section starts with leaning, reaching out and changes to blocking, impeding. The duet – the blind leading the blind – surges with emotive undercurrents. The final solo turns the search/struggle dynamic inwards, within a single body. And it ends with a vision – of sight.

That makes it sound very dramatic; it’s not. It’s all pretty understated. I like it, a lot.

I think back to Vera Tussing’s rehearsal, and ponder the differences. Unlike Vera’s group, the dancers here are all men – but still, they all have different training and personalities. Why does Riccardo’s rehearsal seems to flow more? It’s partly the subject, sure: the idea of “flow” is fundamental to the choreography. But I think it’s more than that. Vera was building up a choreographic picture with material generated from the dancers. When I saw her rehearsal, I got the sense of a jigsaw puzzle: I could see the parts but I couldn’t yet see the picture. I think Riccardo’s process was easier, simpler. He had already storyboarded his choreographic ideas, and came with some quite simple, open-ended instructions – twist like seaweed, keep shifting the gaze around, reach out but keep in touch – that he adapted for the different sections. In other words, he put forward a picture first, and the dancers flowed into it. It’s almost the opposite from Vera: one process builds up a picture, the other fills it in.

Such, at least, was my impression.

[Riccardo, Vera: please comment and correct me if this is plain wrong or a grossly oversimplified formulation!]

evolution or…..?

Ted’s Seminar yesterday clarified the structure and aims of ArtsCross and reminded me of something. I would like to present an answer for his last question, “are there any risk to do these experimental art/discipline/habitus crossing for institution or individual?”.
I will use an ironic metaphor “Galapagosnization” to link recent Japanese industry (and especially electronic devices) to the “closed evolution” of the Galapagos islands. Japanese electronics companies have been very keen to achieve “evolution” of their products such as TV, DVD, PC, mobile phone and have made great successes worldwide. But in this decade their profits have declined because they couldn’t compete with their enemies such as Apple Mac or Samsung mobile phone. So now Japanese people ironically call our old fashioned mobile phones (however highly technologized and beautifully designed but only useful for inside Japan) “Gala-Kei”. “Kei tai=携帯電話” means mobile phone in Japanese. Now we understand that however greatly we may develop our creative technology within our own ideas of “aesthetics, evaluation and discipline” these might be too weak to “confront” others from outside of our small community in this globalized age. Maybe, unconsciously our orientation has been too much stick to our own view.
So, let’s avoid “Galapagosnization” of our creativeness through “ArtsCross-ing”, dance and our body.

Rethink translation in a process of “artcrossing”

As an interpreter, I feel myself as a medium or a bridge between choreographers and dancers, and between Chinese speakers and English speakers in this project. This experience has made me question what translation means for performing arts and how to translate in an artistic process that involves dancers and choreographers from diverse cultural backgrounds and linguistic or cognitive systems. Is there an alternative mode besides language emerging in this process? Are there many modes of translation occurring and shaping an in-between or unknown form in which these diverse modes cannot be identified or named?

I feel the working mode of translating for a choreographer is like an improvisational duet. We tried to find a rhythm to make rehearsals work well and run smoothly—in other words, to keep the energy of the process fluent. This might take two days. Some choreographers only spoke one language, either Chinese or English, when working with their dancers, and I translated their words into the other language. Some choreographers preferred to speak both languages, and I just supported them when they needed me.

Some non-linguistic moments in rehearsals showed dancers communicating across cultures. This kind of moment was often transient and subtle. For example, when continuously working with a choreographer on the third day, I found there were a few moments when the choreographer spoke Chinese and the London dancers in the session nodded their heads. They seemed to understand the choreographer’s words, somehow, in an unknown way beyond language. As an artist and a qigong learner besides my role as an interpreter in this project, I would like to see a process of arts communication in this sort of organic way, rather than intruded upon by linguistic translation. As a translator, I sensed the timing of linguistic translation by means of an awareness of “energy” such as Chinese qi flowing in a session, though such energy is an ambiguous felt experience in terms of qi. When the energy emerged and flowed by itself between the choreographer and the dancers, I was aware that my oral translation became an invasion of this emerging energy.

I observed that the London dancers in the sessions I worked desired to know the meaning of every word they heard. If they did not know, they looked panicked. Even though they had an interpreter, they might still feel unsafe and isolated in an unknown environment when hearing Chinese, which they did not understand at all. Asian dancers might also look confused when they did not understand English instructions, but they appeared to more easily accept uncertainty. I suppose this may come from diverse philosophies in different cultures. Chinese thought allows certain ambiguity to exist, which is distinct from traditional Western thought. The other reason may be that English as an international language is not totally unknown to Asian dancers. This is why two choreographers whom I worked with chose to speak English by themselves throughout the sessions when working with their dancers. Apparently, most choreographers still preferred to directly communicate with each dancer rather than through an interpreter if possible.

Although an unknown or in-between mode of translation is necessary for crossing cultures in an artistic process, language exchange is indeed an efficient means to enable dancers from three cities to communicate and cross cultural borders not only in rehearsals but also in daily life. For instance, a choreographer led dancers to teach each other how to say numbers in their own languages, including Chinese mandarin, Taiwanese mandarin, English and Greek. After this, the dancers from three cities no longer clearly separated into three groups before and after rehearsals. Instead, they started to have chats with one another about their everyday-life experiences of “leaving home and being elsewhere”, as the theme of this project, beyond a session time. The “home” and “elsewhere” here can refer both to a concrete resident place and to things familiar and unfamiliar, such as culture, for all dancers from three cities during rehearsals.

Through this experience of translation for choreographers and dancers, I have come to feel that these artists have to find their own ways to communicate by themselves at times, instead of through an interpreter—ways such as oral and body languages, and other forms of communication. If an interpreter always exists between them, they would not really cross boundaries. Maybe there needs to be an in-between or unknown space allowing cultures and arts to cross in any form organically, melting the border between diverse cultures.













Jiang Dong’s London Reflections 04: Transcending Language

The 2013 London ArtsCross session featured three topics of academic discussion: “Crossing art-forms“, “Crossing languages” and “Crossing disciplines”. I was placed in the second group, and so was tasked with reflecting on the topic of “Transcending Language.”

On first considering the topic, “Crossing Languages”, what came to mind was transcending the boundaries between languages. At first I hesitated. Is it in fact possible to cross the boundaries between languages? Can one really cross freely from one language system into another language system? My doubts were confirmed by the approach our group adopted.

There were five academics in our group: Myself, Pan Li from the Beijing Dance Academy, Liu Yan, Taiwanese academic Chen Ya-Ping and the German-British Stefanie. Since Pan Li’s English is not as strong as her Japanese, it was necessary to conduct our discussion in Chinese and English. Should this approach itself be considered a transcendence of language? However, this ‘crossing’ was by no means smooth, since it needed to pass through an intermediary, the interpreter.
Thus, linguistic transcendence was conditional. Both sides required the connection supplied by the interpreter.

Moreover, is it possible for an interpreter to convey meaning completely and accurately? This touches on a number of other questions: does the interpreter have a firm grasp of the terminology for the subject being discussed? Is their understanding clear? Do they express themselves smoothly? I myself have previously worked as an interpreter, and am very familiar with the challenges and limitations of interpreting. Thus, in reality, “Crossing Language” is a false proposition, since crossing is not achievable without the bridge provided by an interpreter.

However, if we further break language down into spoken language and body language, we discover that this transcendence is actually totally achievable. The possibility and the value of transcending body language is far greater than for spoken language.

During this session of ArtsCross, the communication between the nine choreographers and close to thirty dancers from Beijing, Taipei and London continually shifted between English and Chinese. During my observations of the project I noticed that when some director gave some instruction in a particular language, it often did not need to be translated, and was immediately understood by the dancers. Of course, there were other reasons for this as well. Everyone had been working together for a period of time, and a mutual understanding had already emerged between the participants. What is more, the dancers all possessed a very basic grasp of each others’ languages. Of course, setting these factors aside, we instinctively come to the conclusion that where body language is concerned, there is no need for translation.

It reminded me of a play in Swedish, put on by the Swedish embassy in Beijing for some special occasion. I noticed that the majority of the Chinese audience appeared completely lost, and had no idea what was going on in the play. I thought to myself at the time that if it had been a dance performance, this awkward situation would never have arisen. During the closing ceremony of the recent Beijing Dance Fortnight, there was a dance performance from Iceland. Although it was the first time the Chinese audiences had seen this dance, there were no obstacles to understanding whatsoever. Examples like this are a dime a dozen. Thus, the “transcendence of language” inherent within body language is one of the key strengths of dance.

This strength can also be appreciated at a purely aesthetic level. Because of the lack of impediments to understanding, people can focus more attention on the aesthetic message being transmitted and through appreciating the elements inherent to dance, such as cultural differences, physical movements, etc., can observe and appreciate more meaningfully. The Beijing Dance Academy choreographer, Guo Lei, who participated in this year’s ArtsCross, used Nuo opera masks from Nanfeng in Jiangxi province to create a masked folk dance arrangement. This attracted strong interest from all of the Chinese (including Taiwanese) and British academics. This reminded me of the opening ceremony of the recent Second Beijing Ballet and Choreography Competition, held at China’s National Centre for the Performing Arts, which featured a Taiwanese folk piece created by the Ethnic Dance Faculty at the Beijing Dance Academy. This work received enthusiastic praise from the international panel of judges. These examples paint a picture of the phenomenon of “crossing languages” and the meaning it can bring to dance.

This year’s session of ArtsCross provided us with an opportunity to observe the phenomenon of “crossing languages”, and we also noted the powerful ability of body language to cut across languages. This generated a sense of pride in the expressiveness and energy of dance as an art form.

Into the theatre…

Last night we watched the first run through of all the pieces together in the theatre.  There were no lights yet, but sound was used.  It was incredibly exciting to see the work filling the space of the theatre.  Over the past days we’ve become used to observing the work ‘up close’ from the edge of the studio — even seeing the reflections of the dancers in the mirrors on the wall in tandem with the ‘real’ action.

In rehearsal, we were at the edges of the process but still able to engage; saying hello as we entered the room, sometimes being addressed by the choreographers or dancers — being asked what we thought.

Sitting in the theatre, we were distanced from the work in space but still felt a strong connection — being fascinated to see how certain moments from rehearsal ‘translated’ to the stage, seeing how the dancers ‘performed’ as opposed to ‘rehearsed’.  There’s one more day of rehearsal today before tech runs tomorrow so the work is not yet ‘finished’ but I enjoyed the atmosphere in the theatre last night, the sense that the work is really going to happen.  The days in the studio seemed ‘elsewhere’ as the work arrived in its ‘home’ in the theatre…


昨晚,进剧场run through。从白天到晚上;从排练室到剧场;有舞台,有座席,时间、空间又一次“在别处”。




跨艺从2009年起至今已“四岁”了 ,从北京与伦敦,到北京-台北-伦敦,新舞者、编导、学者的来来往往,让跨艺越来越像一个大家庭。然而,地域文化、语言间的差异,让大家在同一个主题、时空中常常成为“最熟悉的陌生人”。什么是跨文化?它是对于与本民族文化有差异或冲突的文化现象、风俗、习惯等有充分正确的认识,并在此基础上以包容的态度予以接受与适应。所以,我越来越谨慎对跨艺的作品表达出好与不好的评判或喜欢与不喜欢的评价。基于一个普通观众,我有自己的喜恶——我喜欢古典的东西;基于一个研究者,我尽量带着客观性去理解。编导、舞者的身体语言这是阐释他们的“此时此地”,学者的文字语言是阐释我们的“此时此地”。如同昨天与编导座谈是,台北的董怡芬所说的“跨艺的影响是肯定会有的,但也许是五年后的某一天才忽然感觉到”。有时,艺术家的敏感是无意识的先行,评论家的敏感则是对这种无意识的有意识的理解与阐释。同在一个剧场,我们彼此是最熟悉的陌生人。



ArtsCross Observations (4)

Last night, we went to the theatre for a run through. From morning to night; from the studio to the theatre; the stage, the seats…time and space were once more “being elsewhere”.

1. The problems and pleasures of a small theatre
Being used to the space in the China National Centre for the Performing Arts, the Poly Theatre, and even the new theatre of the Beijing Dance Academy, I found this little theatre a little cramped — almost “a naked stage.” But it also brought with it the “nakedness” of the moment — proximity to authenticity, the arms and legs, the details of the face, the sensations of breathing — particularly in Zhao Liang’s work where the bands tied around the dancers’ mouths broke with a sharp “snap” there was a sense of truth and emotion. The value of small experimental theatres is the way they generate fun by making the borders between post-modern life and art disappear. So what is it that we can experience in Western post-modernist theatre? Imagery! The fundamental purpose of contemporary theatre is the imagery it brings to the senses: whether or not there is speech or a script, it doesn’t matter. No theme, no purpose, no story — the narrative structure is almost empty. Rather, the entire performance is a sustained process of transformation — like a huge collage evolving within the boundaries of the stage. Post-modernist theatre rejects the existence of the script, emphasizing the freedom and spontaneity of the performance. It also rejects all objectivity and constraint. Thus, in post-modernist theatre, the only important thing is that it makes you happy. Everything is allowed.

2. The most familiar stranger
During the four year journey of ArtsCross, starting in 2009 and continuing until today,  it has travelled from Beijing and London to Beijing, to Taipei and then to London once more. New dancers, choreographers, academics have come and gone, and ArtsCross has begun to look more and more like a big family. Through bringing cultural and linguistic differences together around a common theme, ArtsCross has often made participants seem like “familiar strangers”. What is cross-culturalism? It means developing a full, accurate understanding of cultural phenomena, customs or habits which are at odds with one’s own ethnic culture, and seeking to use this foundation to cultivate a tolerant, accepting attitude. As a result, I have become more and more careful about saying whether any of the ArtsCross pieces were good or bad, or saying that I liked them or didn’t like them. As a normal observer, I can have my own preferences and dislikes — I like classical things. As a researcher, I do my utmost to seek to understand objectively. Choreographers and dancers use their body language to portray their ideas in the “here and now”, while academics use words and language to accomplish the same thing. For example, during yesterday’s seminar with the choreographers, the Taiwanese choreographer Tung I-Fen said that, “ArtsCross will certainly have an impact, but it may be an impact which is only felt unexpectedly in five years’ time.” At times, the sensitivities of artists can serve as sentinels for their unconscious. The sensitivities of critics are a conscious interpretation and recounting of this unconscious aspect. Together in the same theatre, we felt like ‘familiar strangers.’

The idea of “defamiliarisation” can be used to understand performance. It can also be used to understand history and culture.

Happy Father’s Day (8/8… “BaBa”… PaPa)

88 day 2013


Illustrated by Keith Lin, dance costume designer and former dancer from TNUA.


Yesterday, in our conversation with the choreographers, TUNG Ifen mention how how even the same number 8 (pronounced “ba” in Chinese), is shown by different hand gestures in China and Taiwan, as her work for ArtsCross this time “Sound of Numbers” dealt with numbers–thinking it would be a “neutral” language, that could be understood across different cultural backgrounds.

Today is Aug. 8 (8th day of the 8th month), referred to as “ba-ba” (same pronunciation for pa-pa in Chinese).

Thus, we celebrate Father’s Day in Taiwan.

Happy Father’s Day!


“Home” is where the heart is…

Unknown   Dr. LIU Feng-shueh   Tang Dynasty reconstructions

After a week of intensive academics seminars, group discussion, and of course, observations in the studios with various choreographers and dancers involved in this 2013 ArtsCross London project, I am drawn to the concept of home/elsewhere—the rich theme for this year.

Yesterday, some choreographers shared their thoughts regarding to this topic.  Later our group furthered the conversation, with engaging talk about our own hometowns—referring to where we were born and brought up, as well as the “homes” in our heart/mind.  (Thanks to Zeng Huanxin’s comments, and Martin Welton’s introduction of a dinner party game of a similar nature.)

Often, due to nostalgia, and perhaps other reasons, our better memories of home pops up when we are away from home for a period of time.

After the run-through last evening, Kenny Leung–the final male soloist in Zeng’s piece dancing to Schubert’s “Ave Maria” music–also shared his own thoughts about missing home while interpreting the work.  After all, Kenny is from Hong Kong, and having spent a few years in Taiwan studying at TNUA for his MFA in Dance Performance, he expressed his homesickness through this dance.

This also led me to think about choreographer Liu Feng-shueh, artistic director of Neo-Classic Dance Company from Taiwan. We saw some images of her reconstruction work from Tang Dynasty in one of our seminars few days ago.  I recall Jiang Dong mentioning how her work was further reinforced through Dr. Liu’s visit to Szechuan after the opening up of travels to China since the 1990s for residents from Taiwan.

However, Liu had previously conducted research in Japan on Gagaku—since it is similar to the music tradition from Tang Dynasty and well preserved by the Japanese.  Later, during her Ph.D. studies in UK’s Laban Centre (with further research with her advisor from Cambridge University), she was able to locate further information about Tang music to reconstruct her dances. This sense of mission to reach back to one’s past, as she is originally from China’s northeastern province of Heilungjaing bordering Russia, plays an important role in her repertoire.

But on the other hand, having arrived in Taiwan after World War II, Liu’s interest in the indigenous dances from Taiwan’s aboriginal communities is another main feature of her contemporary creations.  In fact, to differentiate, she has two dance companies under her name: 1) Neo-Classic Dance Company, which presents her new choreographies based on modern dance aesthetics, often with a theme and concern inspired by indigenous cultures from Taiwan; and 2) the Tang Music and Dance Ensemble, which focuses on reconstructing Tang Dynasty dances. Such double concerns–as drawn from her home of origin in China, and her later adopted home in Taiwan – reflects an interesting topic of home/elsewhere which I may explore further in the coming days of this ArtsCross London 2013 Project.


The Flow of Dance

Coming two days late into the ArtsCross project this year, I found myself in late stage of the rehearsal process. Steps or movement sequences seemed more or less set in most pieces. Choreographers and dancers were focusing on details of spacing, texture of movement, subtleties in transition, as well as emotional tones that would evoke imageries and imaginations. In this particular circumstance, what strikes me as the most beautiful aspect in watching these rehearsals is the flow of dance.

When I visited Taiwanese choreographer He Hsiao-mei’s rehearsal the second time, I heard her saying to some of the dancers, who were practicing movements involving weight shifting: “Let your weight drop naturally, then it will come out right.” Or “Pay attention to the dynamics and don’t think too much about the shape.” In the repeated effort to capture that “authentic” expression, I witnessed a microscopic section of dancers’ journey from inhabiting the movements to enlivening them.

In one of Su Wei-chia’s rehearsals, he instructed his all-female dancers to conjure their individual emotional journeys along the path they had to cross from upstage left to downstage right, the physical length they would travel in ten minutes on stage. I saw the five young women improvise as a group, intensely focused as a whole yet beautifully expressive as individuals, constantly evolving and transforming.

After seeing the first run-through last night, I found this year’s program extremely diverse and texturally rich. In many pieces, the dancers’ individualities, manifested through movement quality and dynamic subtlety, really shone through and enriched the choreographies. The addition of UK dancers this year as well as the rule that every dance must comprise dancers from all three locales, London, Beijing and Taipei, must have contributed in significant ways to the richness of the program.

Recalling our conversations during the seminars and meetings in the past few days, I came to a fuller understanding of the possible fruitful results of confronting the others, as long as we are willing to suspend our take-for-granted assumptions and seek common ground in negotiating the differences between us and them. In our efforts to understand the others, whether mentally, intellectually or kinesthetically, we may know our own limit and strength better and thus bring out more of our potentiality.



去年參加跨藝時,發現臺灣與大陸舞者身體運用的方式不同,我想這個跟教育體制有極大的關係。因為,在臺灣的舞蹈科系中,所以的學生都必須接受芭蕾、現代舞(Contemporary dance)、民族舞蹈、太極以及武術等訓練。在大陸的體系中,尤其是北京舞蹈學院,這一所大家都想擠進的舞蹈學院,因為分科分系非常清楚,所以舞者的訓練專精在於某一種特定的舞蹈形態,每一位舞者的肢體線條修長,舞蹈技巧能力極高。

去年,在觀舞的過程中,讓我印象深刻的是臺灣編舞者布拉瑞揚的舞作《勇者.北京》。因為,在同文同種的中國與台灣,竟有如此之不同。在布拉瑞揚由身體重心運用的方式觀察起,以布拉瑞揚的舞蹈而言,我發現這樣的肢體動作表現,對於兩邊的舞者都很挑戰,但在重心轉換上,臺灣的舞者在透過指導後,似乎已經可以掌握箇中的巧妙。但是,我在觀察大陸舞者時,看到舞者們的下沈(plie) 的方式,發現到他們的重心位置較高。不同的訓練重點,影響到結果的呈現。這裡,並沒有任何評論兩方的價值,純粹是個人觀察。






How many preconceived ideas do we bring with us into the rehearsal studio?

During this year’s ArtsCross, I teamed up with some British dancers. This was a change from the last two sessions, where only mainland Chinese and Taiwanese dancers participated. Last year, while observing the rehearsals, I noticed that the way the dancers used their centres of gravity was different. So this time, with the arrival of the British dancers, approaches to using the centre of gravity once again constituted a focus for my observations.

While participating in last year’s ArtsCross, I noticed that the Taiwanese and mainland Chinese dancers used their bodies in different ways. I believe this is very much connected to the different teaching systems. In Taiwan’s dance schools, all students must take classes in subjects including ballet, contemporary dance, ethnic dance, Tai Chi and martial arts. Within the mainland Chinese system, and particularly within the Beijing Dance Academy, the school which all dancers want to attend, there is a very clear division between disciplines. Dancers are trained in one specialised form of dance, and every dancer possesses extremely good posture, figure and dance skills.

During my observations last year, I was most impressed by the piece by the Taiwanese choreographer Bulareyaung Pagarlava, Warriors/ Beijing. I was surprised that there could be so many differences between China and Taiwan, two places which share a common language and culture. While observing Bulareyaung’s approaches to using the centre of gravity, I discovered that the gestures performed by his dancers were very challenging for the other dancers. However, the Taiwanese dancers seemed to be able to grasp the technique of shifting their centre of gravity after receiving instructions. But when I observed the mainland Chinese dancers, I noticed that when they performed a “plié”, their centre of gravity was quite high. Different priorities within training produce different results. In saying this, I am not making any judgement on the value of the two approaches; I am simply noting my personal observations.

This year, London and seeing dancers from different cultural and training backgrounds together in the rehearsal studio made me realise that this is one of the most important aspects of ArtsCross — to use different approaches to rehearsing to allow dancers from different countries to transcend invisible boundaries, working together to establish a dance vocabulary fit for the 21st century. Based on previous experience, I used my understanding of the different cultures and training approaches, and observed to see what areas of training would be emphasized by the dancers from the three different places.

A few days before, I attended one of the rehearsals with Guo Lei, Vice President of the Beijing Dance Academy. As far as I could tell, the process of arranging the dance had already finished, and they had moved into the section where they were practising and polishing the moves. Dancers from the UK, mainland China and Taiwan were together in the studio participating in the rehearsal. Guo Lei’s dance piece used Jiangxi’s Nuo opera as a theme. The dancers wore a variety of differently-coloured masks, and the thematic movements included a lot of kneeling down and leaping around. When the dancers began rehearsing, donning their masks, what surprised me was that in the section of dance which I watched, the moves given to the dancers by the choreographer made the dancers appear extremely similar. Watching the movements during that day’s rehearsals, it was not possible to detect that the dancers came from different countries! (during the rehearsals, Guo Lei commended the British dancer Katie, saying she had danced the best). Later, I learned that this British dancer had formerly received training in other oriental dance forms. For this reason, she did not exhibit many differences in her movements. What is more, the dance contained a lot of leaping and kneeling down movements. For a good dancer to be able to manage these movements also requires a certain standard and degree of skill.

How much information is it really possible to glean from physical movements?? Where exactly does the divide lie between East and West? During the choreographer seminar yesterday, the Taiwanese choreographer Su Wei-Chia said, “As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as an ‘Eastern’ or a ‘Western’ dancer. There are only good dancers and less good dancers. There are only dancers who learn quickly, and dancers who learn more slowly!”

Thinking about this carefully, we should ask ourselves; do we bring too many preconceptions with us into the rehearsal studio?

On being out of place

A visit to two groups this evening – Su Weichia’s and Guo Lei’s –  and it’s the first time I’ve come away thinking about dancers being singled out. Both these groups feature one UK dancer within a group of Chinese dancers. Of course, that’s not the only way of looking at the groups – and I’m conscious of my Londonist perspective coming into play, however epistemically reflexive I try to be about it – but it seems to me that the singling out isn’t solely a matter of seeing one white caucasian performing in an otherwise Chinese group (though it is that too). There’s more going on.

Su Weichia is working on a group section. His five female dancers travel slowly along a diagonal, keeping close but not touching, their arms and hands curling and unfurling, heads swivelling up and down and round, feet slipping mollusc-like against the floor, limbs wafting and joints rotating as if frictionless, well-oiled. It’s like watching some kind of composite sea-creature inch its way over coral, limb-like fronds filtering the water around it.

But the UK dancer looks just a little out of place. She doesn’t quite belong. It’s not to do with skin colour, or hair colour, or build, or any of those brute factors of physical appearance. It’s a quality of action. All the other dancers – including Su Weichia, when he demonstrates – have a similar quality of flow, of articulation, that reminds me strongly of the Cloud Gate dancers, with their exceptional poise, controlled flow and sense of interiority. Like learning a language, or even changing your accent, these are not things you can acquire within a fortnight. So I feel a little bad for our singled-out dancer. We all know what it’s like to feel out of place, when everyone else seems to fit in and we don’t, quite, no matter how we may try, or try to understand.

Then there’s Guo Lei’s rehearsal. It’s far more stylised, with masks and counts, head wobbles, hand gestures that accent the beat. I can’t tell how far it follows tradition, or even which tradition it might follow – but it’s certainly much more overtly “traditional” and “Chinese”. And here, behind a green mask, is a single UK dancer. Am I imagining her being singled out? The Chinese dancers clearly have a variety of training and are by no means a uniform group. Perhaps I’m being clued in by the language: the rehearsal is conducted in Chinese, so any interpretation into English inevitably draws attention to one dancer. But I think it’s more than that. I think this dancer looks singled out, a little out of place, because she looks good. She has a strong stage presence, a certain physical gravitas as a performer. Standing out, after all, means you are distinctive. What performer has the ambition just to fit in? Being out of place is way of being exceptional.

I don’t know what Mr Guo thinks about her, but I imagine (and this is me imagining, of course, though I’m not sure in what other context I would feel the need to labour this point) a degree of ambivalence. Of course, the inflections of the style may be more foreign to her than to the others, so he may need to focus on her, to attend to her more just for that reason. But just look where he has placed her: at the front of the group, centre stage, in the middle of a line-up. Naturally, that draws our eyes to her. If this dancer looks a little out of place, she belongs there. It’s part of her strength.


Chris在学者与编导的见面会上谈到一个话题,就是ArtsCross Habitus问题,即“跨艺惯习”。“惯习”一词是台湾学者陈雅萍在翻译该词时所使用的词汇,我们大陆学界一般采用“习性”一词;不过我认为“惯习”一词翻得不错,不仅符合原义,同时可以让这一词汇在汉语领域中获得了专有化的身份,得以聚化我们思考该问题的认知范围。




在这个项目中,交流的作用是显而易见的;而且更关键的是,它不仅发生在中西之间,更有大陆与台湾之间的交流。实际上,同属一个文化体内的大陆和台湾,在多年的隔膜中,各自都发展出自己的方法和取向,而“跨艺”能够让一个舞蹈交流的项目跨越海峡的阻隔,让两岸同业人员就统一的对象和目的一同进入思考、相互沟通,这个意义甚至不亚于中西之间的交流。也的确,通过这个交流,我们了解到台湾舞蹈的发展,这种一手材料的掌握对我们判断事物的发展带来积极而全面的意义。在这段时间中,大家相坐一堂,互通有无,这样的交流对我们彼此的发展都是健康而有益的。当然,“跨艺”在中西之间的交流作用亦是相当显著的。通过这么一个项目,来自不同文化背景和眼界的各路人马,相互交流和展示,这种交流的意义远远超过这个项目本身。在交流中,难免会发生一些彼此不解甚至相抵触的观点碰撞,但这并不可怕。吕艺生先生介绍并倡导的中国太极思维和方法,实际上能够有效而合适地解决这类碰撞:交流的目的当然不是谁压倒谁,而是在融通中相互交融,彼此共处。这样的理念和智慧,值得我们在国际层面的交流中坚持。美国学者Ted在其主持的第三场seminar中特别提出了confrontatation和common grounds两个概念,也同时希望将大家彼此的异同性做一个提醒。概言之,我们所处于的这个时代是一个高度融合的全球化时代,处于一个地球村的人类如何相处、如何彼此尊重,是一个时代的话题。在这里,“跨艺”用自己的特质给出一个完美的答案。





Jiang Dong’s London Reflections 05: The “special character of ArtsCross”

During the meeting between the academics and the choreographers, Chris touched on the topic of “ArtsCross Habitus”. “Habitus” is a word which was translated by the Taiwanese academic Chen Ya-Ping. In the world of mainland Chinese academia, we often use the word “habit”. Nevertheless, we considered the translation “Habitus” to be a good one. It not only matches the original meaning, it also allows the creation of a specialised term in Chinese, providing a cognitive space in which we can focus our thoughts.

Within this context, Chris’s intention was to question the three groups of choreographers whether they intended to make special modifications to their choreographic approach and principles for the purpose of ArtsCross. I think what he was actually trying to express was, given that during the past four years, ArtsCross has started to develop its own characteristics as a special platform, what is the “special character of ArtsCross?”

This was a good question, and given the continual growth of ArtsCross over the past four years, it was a good time to consider this question. Personally, I think the “special character of ArtsCross” is manifested in at least three areas:

First, in communication and exchange of ideas.

Within this project, the importance of communication and exchange of ideas was clear for all to see. What is more key is that communication and exchange of ideas doesn’t just occur between the Chinese and Western participants, but also between the mainland and Taiwanese participants. Mainland China and Taiwan, while belonging to a common cultural bloc, have developed their own individual approaches and orientations after many years of partition. ArtsCross enabled a dance project to create a bridge across the Taiwan Straits, bringing together colleagues from both sides of the water together to consider the same questions and communicate with one another. The significance of this was no less than that of the interaction between the Chinese and Western participants. Through this exchange, we also learnt a lot about the development of dance in Taiwan. This first-hand grasp of the situation was highly beneficial for our ability to understand the development of dance. During this exchange, we all got together and learnt from one another. This kind of exchange of ideas was beneficial for both sides. Of course, the role of ArtsCross in promoting dialogue between China and the West is also substantial. Through this project, people from different cultural background and perspectives were able to communicate and perform. The significance of this exchange of ideas far exceeded the significance of the project itself. During the course of these exchanges, it was inevitable that there would be some mutual misunderstandings or even conflicts of opinion, but this was nothing to be afraid of. The concepts and approaches from Tai Chi, presented and advocated by Lu Yisheng, were effective and appropriate in resolving conflicts of these kinds. The objective of dialogue is not to see who can suppress whom. It is to seek common ground and coexistence through interaction. We can learn a lot from this wisdom at the level of interactions between countries.

In his third seminar, the American academic Ted Warburton paid particular attention to the concepts of confrontation and common ground. He also expressed his hope that people’s differences can serve as a reminder to us all. In other words, the era in which we find ourselves is a highly globalised era. The question of how humans, living together in a ‘global village’, can respect one another is an important question for our times. On this point, ArtsCross was able to present its own perfect answer.

Second, again, is communication and exchange of ideas.

Communication and exchange of ideas on “the special character of ArtsCross” was not limited to an exchange between geographical regions. The project brought together academics, choreographers and dancers. By bringing together these three constituencies within one platform, the project created an unbroken chain of dance creation. This approach clearly demonstrated the cultivation and vision of the project planners. At the crux of the discussion were the connections between theory and practice. For a long time, whether in China or the West, the separation between dance practice and theory has been frustrating. The practical arena lacks a rational perspective, and the theoretical world lacks emotion and participation. ArtsCross, on the other hand, brings the three groups together, bringing academics into the centre of the dance creation process — to discover, to question and to interact. Through classroom observation, the academics are able to conduct a detailed investigation into the questions which interest them. This new approach creates a new way of thinking and new pathways of investigation, building a bridge between the two sides, which in the past were divided. I would contest that this is another element of the “special character of ArtsCross.”

The special character of ArtsCross is rooted in communication and exchange of ideas. What is more, since this exchange of ideas takes place in a context unfamiliar to all participants, they are therefore forced to consider what adjustments they must make to operate within these “special circumstances.” In this sense, ArtsCross resembles a conduit, or a magnet, drawing together common and differing perspectives to create one harmonious whole.

Making new experiences happen – creating zones of contestation

What’s in a “dancer”? What’s in a dancer as part of Artscross?

Giorgio Agamben writes in ‘The Coming Community’ that “the antinomy of the individual and the universal has its origin in language” (2009, 9), making the point that the way language is used “transforms singularities into members of a class, whose meaning is defined by a common property” (ibid.). Agamben states that we are dealing with “linguistic being”, a “being-called”, which highlights that the distinct singularities that are grouped together in words has much to do with the way that language works.

If we think of the word “dancer” in this way and in the context of Artscross, I wonder what we are describing here beyond the linguistic category that the term is creating, in practice terms, in suggesting a “common property” to the practitioners involved here.

If, as Agamben suggests, “the comprehension of singular distinct objects m in a whole M is nothing but the name” (ibid.), I wonder if this thought is quite liberating in terms of the pluralities of training systems and backgrounds involved in this project. Are we dealing, as he further states, with “paradoxes of classes” in simply calling all the practitioners involved “dancers”?

In my engagement with Artscross over the past couple of years I feel we have encountered paradoxes on many levels. Each performance piece created sets up its own parameters in terms of a measurement for what it means to be ‘good’ at ‘dancing something’. Different training systems and traditions entail their own judgements as to what might be ‘right’. The many individual dancers involved in this project, from the three cities Beijing, London and Taipei, bring with themselves different skill sets and sensibilities.

Yet these very sensibilities seem to have perceivably widened in this project here in London. When talking to several dancers involved, there has been a general admiration on behalf of the London practitioners for the technical ability of their colleagues from Taipei and Beijing, and on the other hand an admiration for the London-based dancers’ abilities to express their individuality in their ways of moving very strongly.


Warm-up before first run-through on Wednesday evening

It is perhaps impossible to pinpoint what makes a “dancer” in terms of applying definite qualifiers, applicable across all works created here and all practitioners involved. But it seems to me that each practitioner involved here has been stretched to engage in new experiences, in the sense that they had to leave their comfort zones, even at the very least in the grappling with different languages that has been so much part of the creative process of each work, but in most cases in working in a way that allowed for encounters with elsewhere possible.

And what has arisen, in my view, are zones of contestation of what “dancing” or a “dancer” might be, for each and everybody involved, in each of the performances, which I find beautiful to watch.

Somewhere among us…

In many ways the meeting with the choreographers on the 7th of August captured the ArtsCross challenge quite adequately. And I don’t just mean finding moments when we can say ‘ This is so Artscross!’ but when we get into the breach of media that comes with any practice-as-research project. The choreographers are primarily dealing with their groups’ evolving work and when we met they apparently needed to switch to another communicative mode to face the challenge of ArtsCross.

Coincidentally, precisely such switches in modes of conducting practice-as-research were brought up in previous seminars by Martin and Vida Midgelow. I called it the missing link when we spoke with Vida and what I hinted at was the fact that we are still not quite sure how ‘translatable’ practical modes of exploring themes and material are with linguistic explication. During the research methodology seminars we have mentioned the slow progress in the UK and elsewhere as regards quality and assessment criteria in practice-as-research. I agree and often find myself wondering after reading typical practice-as-research outcomes in the form of books and DVDs if they are indeed differed from previous performance analyses about performance works. And this is of course a challenge for us who are involved in ArtsCross as well: are we doing anything new or are we essentially combining previous modes of research? Ironically, I believe that the answer to this question depends on how we pose the question and how we plan to respond to it.

Let me once again approach the matter from a multi-disciplinary vista. One way of discussing whether it is possible to translate practice into conceptual modes of reasoning is to ask whether they are ‘commensurate’ at all. The term ‘commensurate’ is taken from Thomas Kuhn’s investigation into paradigmatic revolutions in scientific research. When Copernicus decided to study our physical world with the sun, rather than our planet, in the middle of a system of physical entities he changed the rules for his research to such an extent that it was deemed incommensurate with the previously dominating astronomy of Aristotle and Ptolemy. However, it wasn’t the fact that Copernicus worked with a telescope, texts and graphs that made his research incommensurate with Aristotle’s research, but the theories and principles of what they studied. So the rules of the game changed for a long time in physics, but researchers were still looking at the sky, talking about what they saw, inventing new techniques for telescopes, writing and publishing texts, working on graphs, presenting findings in lectures, planning research projects, and so forth. And it is in all these research-related activities that Kuhn found the very rationale behind revolutions in scientific paradigms; research cultures as such steer different debates and experiments toward potential innovations and they have always been multi-modal in terms of approaches and media.

We can compare the conditions and shifts of research in the arts and in science respectively on Kuhn’s premises, for instance, if we consider the practice of dance as a mode of research in its own right, i.e., as a fundamentally different, perhaps even incommensurate, way of exploring dance from a textual approach as was the case for a long time in the arts and humanities. So let’s assume that we consider practicing dance as the best way to find out about dance and that we want to find out something in a dance piece: isn’t the logical move then to start dancing the piece? Here we  reach a rather naïve turning point in the practice-as-research discourse where we need to differentiate between various interests, approaches, methods, aims and objectives. Perhaps we are interested in something more than just understanding what it is like to dance, or to merely look at dance. Suppose we want to meet and mix different dance traditions in order to exchange skills in dance, concepts of dance, traditions in dance, rules of dance training, conditions behind contemporary changes in dance, and so forth. I seem to move in a circle; now I’m are back at the point where I started, in our ArtsCross meeting.

However, let’s pay a bit more attention to Kuhn’s considerations of a ‘scientific community’, i.e., the scientific, historical, institutional, material, and discursive contexts of a researcher like Copernicus. What would we consider to be the greater impetus in Copernicus’ scientific revolution: the man himself or his research tradition and environment? Well, even if Copernicus should not be deprived of any credibility (which he and especially Galileo Galilei indeed were in the 16th century), the contextual factors of the scientific community in which he functioned is almost certainly the greater reason for his achievement. Can we distance ourselves and assume our meeting in a similar from a similar perspective? Well, perhaps not in time but certainly in cultural distance. If Copernicus contemporaries stood with one foot in a medieval era and one in a renaissance era, we can say that we are finding our footing in East Asian cultures and Western cultures respectively.

So whichever kind of dance phenomenon that emerges in ArtsCross that can be considered to be new, or contributing to the cultural exchange between our countries, it will probably not take effect just by somebody pointing to a choreographed experiment and saying: “This is it.” Nor is it plausible to imagine a dance in itself as new or innovative. It takes a community to do so. The meeting with the choreographers, which was a kind of marking exercise between choreographic instructions and academic reflection, provided us with good indications that such a culture is underway within ArtsCross.

Just the fact that people discussed the ArtsCross trademark is a good sign. And that Guo Lei said that he felt he ‘can do anything’ by playing with the adaptability of the Nuo tradition of music and dance with his trilateral performers. In a similar manner, Vera made clear from the start that she intended to approach her work as research. And those are just two examples of many that indicate an open and curious attitude that yield experimentation in our meeting. The important thing to recognise here is the continuum between performers, choreographers and academics. Herein lies, I think, the promise and potential of original art and research, although not original in reference to a national or linguistic departure point, nor an aesthetic or art-specific destination, but in a diasporic community with multi-modal possibilities.

After-the-Fact: Group B

[Things have undoubtedly moved on since I scribbled down what I am now shaping into the following observations, but here they are for the record…]

Founders Studio: The dancers chosen by choreographer Ho, Hsiao-Mei include four Westerners. Two of them – Azzurra Ardovini (small, contained and often low to the floor) and Henry Curtis (tall, expansive, rangey) – are in the centre of the space acutely attuned to each other as they move. After they dance there is talking. I hear a mention of raincoats being stripped off to show the individual beneath, and a sense of emotional intention coupled with a certain uncertainty…

They take a break. I speak briefly with the translator who mentions enthusiastically Dam Van Huynh’s work. It is, she says, about electricity flowing in the body and giving off sparks (presumably this voltage is invisible), and chambers both in front and behind the body (presumably to help create a sense of space, or maybe an aura…)

After the break the session continues in a relaxed, self-motivating manner with the dancers in pairs. There are some extra presences, notably The Boy with Green Hair (Huang, Yu-Teng) who is off in a corner working on movement. I note that he is not actually in this piece and wonder what exactly he’s doing here…

There are ways of being close, of making or avoiding contact. Katie Cambridge is pressing on the back of Chen, Nan as he swings his arms. For her the physical problem-solving entails how to climb onto him without disrupting his rhythm. And so with the guidance of Ho, Hsiao-Mei they break it down.

I slip away to the back of the building where the dancers of Zeng Huanxing are tossing small, hand-sized beanbags into the air. Toss ‘em up and they drop, either onto the floor or their individual bodies – the back is an especially good catching place. It’s a gravity lab. Short-haired and bespectacled, the choreographer demonstrates. He’s very adept at it. He seems to want them to do this beanbag-tossing in a very emphatic way – no waffling. It is, he remarks to one of the dancers, a cultural symbol. I admire how physically clarifying things can be when a choreographer demonstrates a movement by him or her self. The bags are also being tossed hand-to-hand – always in flux, never settled. A metaphor, as well as a cultural symbol, is taking shape here…

If, as someone once stated, every dance asks a question then I guess I’m allowed to have questions about every dance. Usually that applies when I am watching a finished and public performance, but sometimes it arises in the rehearsal studio as well.

Some of my questions are merely practical. There’s an extra dancer here too, a young man who at one point does some hand-stands near the mirror. Or maybe he’s in the piece and just not needed for the beanbag-tossing at this particular time…

And then there’s this sartorial mystery: To a pre-recorded a cappella vocal the dancer Georges Hann moves down one side of the room, tossing and catching a beanbag with a contradictory mix of weightiness and effortlessness. Suddenly I notice he has one leg of his tracksuit bottoms raised while the other remains down. Dancers do this rather a lot, sometimes with long sleeves but mainly with their legs. Why is that? Does one leg get hotter than the other? Could it be a style thing, or do I only ask that because costumers occasionally pick up on this peculiar-to-me habit of one limb bare and the other covered? It’s an example, perhaps, of how even the smallest, most negligible things that occur in a studio find their way onto the stage – or vice-versa.

In the ArtsCross office we joke about this, and other matters, later. The jocularity is welcome, even necessary in the midst of so much creativity and administrative co-ordination. I guess it’s about having a sense of humour about the investigations going on here in ArtsCross; taking them seriously, but not so one’s self.

In the studio of Tung, I-Fen the nimble dancer Li, Yi-Chi (whose tearful, halting and utterly endearing speech at the after-show reception on the final night of last year’s ArtsCross performances in Beijing I remember very well) is low down and clinging to a colleague’s ankle as the latter swings round. Other, female duets in the room also seem to be concerned with figuring out ways to catch each other by waist, neck or ankle and then swing round a mutual fulcrum as tingly electronic music plays. ‘We have so much stuff now,’ the choreographer says. ‘Remember as much as you can.’ I leave them shortly after the dancers begin to play with numbers voiced in their respective languages. It is, so I gather, a code that has been quickly developed by each of them. The idea may be that the coded sequences will run parallel or intersect or, perhaps, become disrupted.











用这个词来描述伦敦可谓不谬。伦敦可谓是“世界主义”最名副其实的集中而十足的体现。这里汇聚着大量的“世界公民”,他们虽然各自有着自己的文化背景和成长经历,如今却都融在一个空间中生存。舞者的情况亦不例外,大量的各国舞者聚在伦敦,因为这里的开放观念和环境十分易于他们的个性表达。因而,这样的状态就形成了伦敦“世界主义”视角下的国际地位。想想这些舞者们,不是也与本届“跨艺”的Leaving Home, Being Elsewhere(离家,在别处)的主题相一致嘛。



Jiang Dong’s London Reflections 06: Do the British dance?

A friend of mine, an insider in the European scene once told me, there are two key forces in the development of contemporary dance in Europe. One is Vienna, in Austria. The other is London. This testimony, combined with the fact that information in English is easy to access, furthered our impression of London as a kind of headquarters for the development of contemporary dance. With the arrival of this year’s ArtsCross in London, I imagined that the powerful “London Factor” would provide unprecedented impetus to the project. But after a period of time, I discovered that this was not exactly the case.

Firstly, let’s look at the participants. The host of this year’s ArtsCross was London, and one would have expected the response from Britain to be enthusiastic. However, the number of British participants among the three participating groups (academics, choreographers and dancers) was in fact very small.

Let’s take a look at the choreographers. The three regions participating in this year’s ArtsCross, Beijing, Taipei and London, each invited three dancers to join their delegation. Beijing brought Guo Lei, Zeng Huanxing and Zhao Liang; Taipei had Ho Hsiao-Mei, I-fen and Su Wei-Chia; but among the London representatives, not one was from the UK. They were Vera from Germany, Riccardo from Italy and the Vietnamese-American Dam.

And what about the academics? From the London side, with the exception of UK natives Martin and Rebecca, Stefanie and Alex were German, Ola was Swedish, Naomi was Japanese and Ted was American. The organiser Chris was in fact Canadian. Even among the UK assistants, it was hard to find one who was British. And then there was Sanjoy, one of the dance writers, whose origin I am unsure of.

London was better represented by Brits in the dancing category. When previous sessions of the ArtsCross project have been held in Beijing and Taipei, the line-up of dancers has almost exclusively been composed of dancers from mainland China and Taiwan. During this year’s London session, we were finally expecting to have British dancers join in, but in fact the numbers were very limited. Although there were a few native British performers, the international make-up of the dancers was quite obvious.

Seeing this, one finds it hard not to ask, do the British dance?

As an art form which represents human emotions, one would expect that dance would have its fair share of enthusiasts in England. Notwithstanding the fact that British society can be considered as relatively conservative when compared with the European continent, the spark of artistic impression is something that cannot be suppressed anywhere in the world. Indeed, the UK has a story about a boy who studies dance called Billy Elliott, which has been made into a musical and been very well received. It seems evident that dance remains a focus of mainstream culture. When I was in the US, I met many British dancers who were dancing in the US.

But this goes beyond the question of whether the British dance or not. What I am interested in is the fact that there are so many foreigners who dance in the UK! This phenomenon demonstrates the idea of Cosmopolitanism which the British scholars raised during our lively academic discussions.

When the concept of Cosmopolitanism was first raised in the discussions, the interpreter used the Chinese term “Metropolis”. As a consequence, most of the Chinese scholars understood the question from a different perspective, and the train of discussion soon turned towards a discussion of urbanisation. It was clear that there was a discrepancy of meaning between these words, since the opposing term for “cosmopolitanism” is “nationalism” or “statism”, and the opposing term for “urbanisation” is “ruralisation”.

In this end, the term was finally translated into the Chinese equivalent of “Cosmopolitanism”, and our train of thought was reconnected to the original meaning. The focus point for “cosmopolitanism” is the “Global Citizen.”

This was a highly appropriate term for London. London can be considered as a highly focussed manifestation of “Cosmopolitanism.” It brings together huge numbers of “Global Citizens” who, while possessing their own cultural backgrounds, are coming together in this one space. This is also the case for dancers. Dancers from across the world come together in London, largely because of the sense of openness and the ease with which they can express their own identities. As a result, London has developed a global reputation for having a cosmopolitan perspective. When I thought about these dancers, it occurred to me that there were strong parallels with the theme of this year’s ArtsCross: Leaving home, being elsewhere.

While the number of British dancers participating in the project was small, this had not prevented London from becoming an important international centre for the development of dance, and this is directly connected to London’s status as a Cosmopolitan city. Of course, this is very common in Europe. It is just that in London, the situation is a little more pronounced. In a cosmopolitan environment such as this, the merging and fusion of different ideas becomes even more pronounced. People become more able to appreciate and respect other people’s cultures, and in communicating, people use language which everyone can understand. In this way, London has used its strong sense of cosmopolitanism to create a blueprint for peaceful human coexistence and development.

After-the-Fact: Group C

[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!]

Shifting perspective. Literally

In an earlier post (“On being out out of place“) I made a point about a dancer placed at the front and in the centre, linking up the strength of that position choreographically with her strength as a performer. Well, having just seen this piece in the theatre, I think the likely explanation is that she is shorter than the others — so of course she wouldn’t be placed at the back, without some other reason. In the studio, when the idea occurred to me, I was sitting at floor level, looking up, and the height difference wasn’t so noticeable. In the theatre, I was looking down from further away. And pah! There it was. So I’ve changed my point of view about that.


从观众席上爆发出来的一阵又一阵的热烈掌声,让坐在观众席上的我们颇为“跨艺”这个项目所取得的成果而由衷的感动:刚在The Place剧场结束的2013伦敦“跨艺”的演出,在众编导和舞者们的共同努力下,取得了圆满成功,这让虽然坐席不多但挤得满满的观众席不时地掌声雷动。在会后的演后谈中,有观众表示不敢相信这样的奇迹是一个为期仅三周的结果。






台湾编导苏威嘉的《Free Steps(自由舞步)》是由五位女演员表演的。这个作品用很缓慢的自由舞步从下场口一直斜线运动舞至上场口的前台,用了整整一支舞蹈的时间。五位女舞者自由舞动,但却分明有着统一的运动原则和方向,于是,她们在行进中制造出不尽的动态美感,像一朵变幻着的云,又像一颗摇曳的珊瑚……那种令人诧异的美,让人咀嚼不尽。







Jiang Dong’s London Reflections 07: Seeing results

The huge round of applause which erupted from the audience seats where we were sitting made us feel very moved about the outcomes from the ArtsCross project. The 2013 London ArtsCross performance, which had just come to an end at London’s The Place theatre, had achieved immense success, thanks to the joint efforts of the choreographers and dancers. Although the seats in this venue were relatively few, the sound of the audience, packed into the space, was like thunder. During the post-performance discussion, members of the audience said that they found it hard to believe that this amazing performance was the result of just three weeks of work.

This kind of achievement does not come easily! I was particularly touched when I witnessed the nine 10-minute dance works, each displaying their own distinct characteristics, with the different choreographers using their own special tricks to impress the audience. The nine choreographers from Beijing, Taipei and London pursued their dance dreams with integrity. Their persistence and their innovative approaches were manifested on the ArtsCross stage in a brilliant evening of performance.

Firing the first shot was Tung I-Fen‘s Sound of Numbers. She used numbers as a starting point, implanting number-related imagery into her dance movements and compositions. At the point when the performers began shouting out numbers in different languages, the extraordinary effect produced an aesthetic chemical reaction. Sounds and dance movements combined together, producing a unique imagery and sensation. Sets of incredible moves arrived one after another, immediately transforming the small dark stage into a sea of light and energy.

This was closely followed by Walk, from the mainland choreographer Zeng Huanxing. Seeking to express a sense of deep reflection on the concept of “leaving home”, Zeng made use of three sections of imagery to represent our never-ending search for a place where the soul can take rest. The symbolic use of a red sandbag, and the imagery of China which this produced, were of profound significance. As the third section of Schubert began playing, accompanying the Tai Chi infused dance movements of the Taiwanese male dancer Leung Kim-Fung (originally from Hong Kong), a warm sensation immediately crept into our bodies, and we felt a keen sense of nostalgia.

The work, No Lander, from the Italian choreographer Riccardo Buscarini, representing London, made use of five male dancers. The dance contained various symbolic images, realistically communicating the feeling of disorientation of those in helpless situations. It asked an urgent question: when one casts off and leaves one’s home port, where is one’s final destination? This forthright expression, which tied in closely with the theme of this year’s ArtsCross ensured that the unforgettable movements and lively dance arrangements created by Buscarini possessed an infectiousness that was at the same time extremely genuine and highly touching.

Mask, by mainland choreographer Guo Lei took an alternative approach. In a stroke of originality, he made use of Nuo opera masks from Nanfeng in Jiangxi Province, incorporating Nuo opera arrangements into his performance. This had a powerful effect, and attracted the attention of almost all the international academics and audience members. In incorporating such distinctive masks and such exaggerated movements into a dance work, and through engaging in a profound analysis of the relationship between man and mask, the values expressed by the “Chinese-style” dance won the recognition of the Western audiences.

Free Steps, from the Taiwanese choreographer Su Wei-Chia, featured five female performers. The dancers in this piece used slow free dance steps, progressing diagonally across the stage from the stage exit towards the stage entrance at the front of the stage. This movement lasted for the duration of the dance. The five female dancers danced freely, but nevertheless adhered to the same principles of movement. The resulting creation was extremely beautiful, like a slowly changing cloud, or a swaying coral reef… the resulting creation was astoundingly beautiful.

While the origin of the piece’s name was unclear, My Dear No. 8, from Taiwanese choreographer Ho Hsiao-Mei used six dancers to create a variety of scenes while donning and taking off trench coats. She manipulated the relationship between the empty and the real in a very interesting manner, with a kind of tension rich in dramatic sense. Through this simple approach, she was able to expose the perspective shifts between the “self” and the “non-self”, the “self” and the “other”. This highly watchable, highly enjoyable arrangement demonstrated the abilities and artistic creativity of the choreographer.

German choreographer, Vera Tussing, representing London, created a piece called Moving Relations: Research. During her piece, she used a research perspective to arrange the dancers and manage the relationships between them, particularly emphasizing the communion between the dancers and the audience. In managing the relationships between dancers, she used a lot of experimental approaches, creating an intriguing connection between the six dancers. By avoiding special clothing and not using music to accompany the dance, she emphasized the experimental nature of the work.

The Vietnamese-American choreographer, Dam Van Huynh, also representing London, also used a title for his creation, Gloves, which had little connection to its content. He also exhibited a spirit of experimentalism in his use of music. During rehearsals, he didn’t use any music, but when it came to the performance, he invited an electronic musician to DJ live. The fortuitous connections which arose between dance and music became a highlight of this work. He also made use of some dynamic movements, such as swapping items of clothing and smelling armpits, generating a lot of laughs.

The final work was mainland choreographer Zhao Liang’s Infinite connections. He used a rubber band to tightly link the six dancers together. Linked by this rubber band, the six dancers, who obviously came from different social backgrounds and possessed different sets of experiences, were able to create a variety of entangled forms and many indescribable connections. Just at the point when the dance was coming to an end, that rubber band, which had been connecting them together, broke. An indescribable sense of shock washed over the audience, surprising everybody.

It is no exaggeration to say that the nine pieces which the choreographers created for ArtsCross were works which came from the heart. On the cosmopolitan London stage, they played off one another and each demonstrated their brilliance, at the same time lighting up the 2013 London ArtsCross project. These works constituted the most outstanding pieces from this year’s ArtsCross project.

A brief post-reception

The facts and figures anchoring ArtsCross London impress: 30 dancers, 15 interpreters etc plus at the Asia House reception a small stage littered with partners. I admire Chris Bannerman’s style: both diplomatic and witty, he knows how to put across his words with a bounce that keep formulaic dullness at bay. There’s talk — from someone — of ‘the particularities of art process and practice’ which is exactly what ArtsCross is all about. The song in my head is ‘We are ArtsCross family, I’ve got all my partners/choreographers/dancers with me…’

After-the-Fact 2: Group B again

Tung, I-Fen brings in some exercises she herself has experienced in a workshop possibly earlier that same day. One dancer’s spine is like a table upon which another dancer rests their arms at the neck and base of the spine. There is much rocking and swaying as these human tables raise themselves up into a standing position, twist and slant and turn and eventually descend again. They’re allowed to be unstable. The person ‘atop’ the ‘table’ must stay in touch, applying some weight or pressure without stifling the potential of the person below. The point, as the choreographer explains, is ‘how to find new movement, new points of contact’ by focusing on a part of the body we don’t think that much about. (What parts do we think about? Inevitably we take our bodies – such marvellous vehicles of function and expression – for granted. We can’t help it. Sance is there to remind us how much a body can do…)

Next it’s just hands instead of whole arms, down to the elbow, that are being used atop each ‘table.’ This seems to allow for greater freedom on both sides. I like it when one ‘table’ feigns sleep, as does the dancer on top. They switch roles, the new ‘table’ taking time to ‘wake up.’ As the exercise progresses it’s plain that Tung, I-Fen wants each cast member at this stage of creation to de-rigidify his or her spine. Set to a track of music (ethereal voice and strings), this process of loosening up individually and getting-to-know each other is probably happening in one form or another in most of the studios during this first week of ArtsCross. A finding of feet, as it were, as well as other body parts…

Now it’s time for another exercise in which the person behind places his or her hands on another’s ribs in acts of direction or support. ‘It should be really comfortable if you isolate,’ says Tung, I-Fen. The dancers shoot off on many tangents, rotating or bouncing gently. ‘Let it go so you can really feel it,’ they are told. The work is subtle, tender and a little bit risky.  In a mutually dreamy exchange Li, Yi-Chi closes his eyes as does the young woman behind him.  ‘If you’re falling don’t worry how to make the energy spread out,’ says Tung, I-Fen. I notice Kate Cox and Evita Pitara exploring each other’s energies and capacities via a kind of rib-based tango. I also clock how pretty fully documented all of this creation is, as Andrew Lang is in the studio with me filming and/or photographing.

I end up in Studio 10 where Ho, Hsiao-Mei – our lady of the raincoats – seems to know what she wants and at the same time does not. The work is ceremonial, with raincoats shed like skins. The movement is loose, flung out and swirly, and primarily consisting or solos and duets which the other dancers watch or wait upon while facing another direction. The musical track sounds like a fusion of contemporary guitar and Chinese traditional instruments. The dancers take their cues off of each other, with Henry Curtis and Petros Treklis really going for it when they get the chance. Ho, Hsiao-Mei is focused on both detail and sometimes the bigger picture that’s in her head. She’s composing and/or constructing on her feet, as she goes along, relying a lot on the dancers for inspiration. It’s as if she’ll know what she wants only when she sees it, but also what she doesn’t want.

There’s an undercurrent of tension in the room as the dancers try to make this compute. Some are apparently meant to be manifestations of Azzurra Ardovini’s spirit, like guiding angels or some silent, vaguely Matrix-y variation on a Greek chorus. But they’re not entirely sure. ‘What are we representing?’ asks Katie Cambridge. There are many possibilities and choices about which Ho, Hsiao-Mei isn’t ready to be pinned down. ‘Walk…somewhere,’ she says to the angelic Katie, Henry and Petros, and they do, and eventually she makes decisions about each. This thinking on her feet is rather fascinating. I respect the dancer’s facility and adaptability as her tools, while also appreciating their possible frustrations. There are conflicted attitudes operating both within the dance and the studio containing its creation. But, much as Azzurra’s angels find a place where she can rest and be supported (important after the difficulties entailed in a lift and, on her part, a twist), I trust that this cast will receive the support they need from…somewhere.


After-the-Fact 3: Group A

Riccardo Buscarini’s ‘boys’ look kind of like they’re the partial splitting of an atom. Wu, Cheng-An is a cat-like escape artist who ducks away and out from under any configuration of bodies that try to entrap him. His slides and jumps, and the knotted cunning of the others, is highly engaging for both eye and mind. Buscarini is alert to them and their needs, creating between them a cohesive unit despite his contradictory directions to either connect or find ‘more space in between.’ At one point he says, ‘Yeah, guys, just put a cage around him.’ And then it’s ‘Strong arms, strong shapes’ or ‘Henry, less ass! Just lower your bum a bit.’ He’s relying upon their physical ingenuity and, of course, his own eye for composition. The moves are light and clean but definite rather than soft. ‘I can’t block him any more,’ Petros declares good-naturedly. ‘You’re free!’ At which Wu, Cheng-An flaps bird-like arms.

I leave the Founders Studio as three of the men are going through their paces, ‘marking’ (as dance parlance would have it) their moves and momentarily sans any connection with each other at all. I go in search of more studio work but without luck: Guo Lei’s group finished early and Su, Wei-Chia’s is nowhere to be found.

At the reception desk I meet Zhao, Zhibo. She tells me that working with Dam Van Huynh is hard ‘because he speaks so fast and gives you a lot to do.’  On the other hand being in the studio with Guo Lei, a former teacher of hers at Beijing Dance Academy, is pretty easy because she knows literally where he’s coming from. His piece for ArtsCross draws upon a Chinese folk dance tradition. ‘We already know the step [he wants] before he says it,’ avows Zhao, Zhibo. The exception is Katie Cambridge whom Zhibo accurately – and sympathetically – pegs as a fish out of water. ‘She doesn’t know our language or dance culture,’ Zhibo says and, as a result, ‘there’s too much stress for her.’ This brief encounter veers away from ArtsCross as I’m asked for advice about whether Zhibo ought to opt for heading Brighton or Windsor tomorrow on the dancers’ one day off. (I recommend the former as, of the pair of destinations, it’s the one I can actually have an opinion about. I’ll have to ask which she chose when I see her tonight – if I remember to do so – at the premiere.)

Resting between rehearsals on the landing above reception is Azzurra Ardovini. She is, not surprisingly based on my observations, finding working with Ho, Hsiao-Mei a challenge mainly because the choreographer is ‘sometimes not clear about what she wants.’ It is, says Ardovini, difficult to know what to give her especially when asked to come up with movement before a motivation for it is in place. As for Zhao, Liang’s elastic band world, she says, ‘Sometimes it’s got a life of its own, so it’s quite complicated to get it right and smooth.’ Ardovini calls him ‘the guru,’ and reveals that there are plans afoot for one big piece of elastic that his entire cast will use. All of the choreographers, she says, want to have emotions in their work, but ‘their way to get to that can sometimes be different from what I would do or think.’ As for the translators she says, ‘Without them we could’ve never done it.’

Finally I meet on the stairs Katie Cambridge, who confirms that the first few days of working with Guo Lei were indeed hard for her. ‘He’s very quiet and didn’t speak a lot,’ she says, ‘and because I’m the only English person in his group whoever’s translating holds a lot of power.’ Like Ella Mesma and, I’m sure, many of the other Western dancers, Cambridge has picked up not just words but has begun to discern the meanings behind them: ‘It’s interesting how much I can now understand by the quality of how he speaks.’

Physically, too, she’s ‘moving into different places’ in ArtsCross. The mask work Guo Lei requires his cast to use allows for no peripheral vision, while the masks themselves have no strings; instead they’re kept in place internally by biting down on a piece jutting out from inside the mask itself. Cambridge is highly conscientious about her duties and has no intention of sticking out in performance for all the wrong reasons. ‘I don’t want to look European,’ she says, adding, ‘It shouldn’t look like it’s being danced by a mixed company.’

Needing to improvise at times within a form that‘s completely new to Cambridge has been interesting, too. ‘It’s quite invigorating not to understand anything and just be moving,’ she says. Gradually she’s been acquiring some ownership of the dance as a whole and her part in it. ‘You want to be involved, but as an English dancer you just have to let it go and switch off sometimes. Otherwise it’s too exhausting.’ As a member of the London-based company Tavaziva Dance she’ no stranger to working hard and with full-throttle dynamics. ArtCross, however, is a different animal altogether. As she sums it up, ‘It can feel like you’re doing a full day of rehearsal in just three hours.’  Shoving any tiredness aside, though, and it seems a safe bet that what’s happening here for her and everyone who’s a part of ArtsCross London is an invaluable multi-cultural learning curve.










Jiang Dong’s London Reflections 08: Brain exercise

In contrast to the packed audiences for yesterday’s performance, spectators at today’s ArtsCross forum were few and far between, but this did not dampen the enthusiastic participation of the academics in the ArtsCross forum. Of course, this situation reminds us that in Britain, there is a big gap between the numbers of people interested in performance and those interested in theory. Frustratingly, this in fact the case everywhere we look in the world. So when we organise an international forum of this kind, in reality it has the feeling of being a case of “insiders””playing around.” This reminds us of the famous phrase from the writer Qian Zhong, “Learning is the affair of a small number of people of dedicated heart.” Speaking at the forum, the Chinese organiser of the project, Xu Rui emphasised that the focus for the ArtsCross project is still on research, making clear the fundamental nature of the ArtsCross project. Lu Yisheng also noted that from his observations, there are very few similar dance initiatives internationally which bring together academics, choreographers and dancers. I am in full agreement on this point. I would therefore like to pay tribute to the planners and organisers of ArtsCross. Their vision and approaches in the area of dance research will without doubt produce something of inestimable value.

The forum section of this year’s ArtsCross was held at Queen Mary University of London on 11th August, and featured a full day of topical presentations. Don’t forget that this activity was arranged for a Sunday. For the sleepy residents of London, this must have seemed like an insane plan. As we took the early morning bus through a still-sleeping London, heading towards Queen Mary University, we felt somewhat out of the ordinary.

After listening to a lecture from a Bristol University professor on Anglo-Chinese cultural exchanges following the Opium War, arranged for us by the organisers, we participants, still feeling out of the ordinary, divided up into three pre-arranged groups, and started to engage in discussions around three topics. A hard session of brain exercise and intellectual jousting had begun.

The three discussion topics for the three groups were as follows: “Crossing art-forms“, “Crossing languages” and “Crossing disciplines.” Under any circumstances, the amount of ground to cover around these three topics would not be small. After spending so long observing and communicating, everyone had plenty they wanted to say. Everyone had also been very thorough in their preparations. Thanks to these preparations, the academics from Beijing, Taipei and London were able to engage in targeted discussion and gradual reflection on these issues. There was no shortage of original opinions, and we all saw how fascinating the ideas and questions around transcending borders were. There was a lot of information to digest, and at some points, it felt like we were buried in a mound of theory, being bombarded with new information, and this was quite tiring. Of course, the value which we derived from the exercise was also huge.

The team of female academics from the Chinese-speaking corner gave an excellent demonstration of the style and ability of Chinese scholars. The Taiwan academics were Taipei National University of the Arts’ Lin Ya-Tin, Chen Ya-Ping, Wang Yunyu and Tseng Ra-Yuan, who participated in the three group discussions. Their accurate and in-depth grasp of the theoretical issues, together with their excellent ability to express themselves set an excellent example for us. But the younger generation academics from the mainland were not to be outdone. Wang Xin, Liu Yan, Pan Li and Tong Yan each took their turns. Their excellent performances and obvious experience demonstrated the intelligence and academic ability of this new generation of Chinese dance scholars. Of the group, I was most impressed with Liu Yan. Her performance during this year’s ArtsCross was truly excellent. After being injured at the 2008 Olympic Games, Liu Yan joined the ArtsCross project in 2009 for the first time. The first time she participated as a dancer, the second as a choreographer. This time, she participated as an academic. Of all the participants, she is the only one who crosses so many “borders”. Her transformation and progress shows a sense of tenacity and exceptional application, which makes you want to stick your thumb up and say, “Nicely done, Liu Yan!” Meanwhile, the participating London academics performed excellently. They displayed a broad and firmly-rooted academic base, combined with a rich sense of cultivation, which continually pushed the discussion into new territories. While listening to them speak, we were able to immerse ourselves deeply in the pleasure of reflection.

I must say, in the ArtsCross project, thinking was a true pleasure. The expansion of thinking in all directions drives positive progress in the world of dance. Within the context of ArtsCross, the borders between theory and practice have become blurred, giving birth to a happy and harmonious international family of dance.














Jiang Dong’s London Reflections 09: ArtsCross Blending Mainland and Taiwanese Dance on the Stage

In summing up the ArtsCross forum, the British Scholar Martin noted that he would like to hear some discussion on the meeting of mainland and Taiwanese dance. If we failed to engage in such discussion, we would not be doing justice to the way in which the participants from both sides of the Taiwan Straits made use of ArtsCross to engage in a healthy and rich exchange around dance.

The ArtsCross project began in the Beijing Dance Academy in 2009. Participants from China and the UK took part in the project, and it was called Danscross. In 2010, the Taipei National University of the Arts became the third participant in the project, organising that year’s ArtsCross activity. The ArtsCross stage not only witnessed cultural exchanges between China and the West, but also saw interactions between Mainland China and Taiwan. This represented a fantastic leap forward.

Mainland China and Taiwan have been cut off for a long time, and each has developed its own dance culture, which complement one another in many ways. In seeking to promote positive interactions between mainland and Taiwanese dance culture, and allowing wisdom derived from dance to contribute to the rise of Chinese culture, ArtsCross established a new model for dance cultural exchange between the mainland and Taiwan. Through the medium of ArtsCross, the mainland and Taiwanese dancers, choreographers and scholars engaged in uninhibited dialogue. Dance culture transcended all barriers, and thanks to cultural and linguistic similarities, the exchanges between the mainland and Taiwanese participants generated unprecedented results.

This was, without doubt, one of the major achievements of the ArtsCross project! Through ArtsCross, we not only got to know Taiwanese dancers up close, we also got to appreciate the development of Taiwanese dance, thanks to our very close interactions. This was truly one of the unexpected added benefits of ArtsCross.

Su Wei-Chia, a young Taiwanese choreographer participating in the London ArtsCross said that, in his opinion, there were no real cultural differences between the dancers; it was just that some were stronger in some areas than others. Personally, I will reserve judgement on this question. I was after all not the only one who felt that there were in fact cultural differences between the dancers. In fact, the majority of the choreographers held the same opinion.

When dancers from the mainland and Taiwan are put together on a stage, it is certainly easy to see clear differences between them: the physical condition and level of training of the mainland dancers is highly pronounced, while the adaptability and open-mindedness of the Taiwanese dancers is something we can really learn from.

During the rehearsals, the energy of the Taiwanese dancers was clear for all to see. Through the whole process, I felt like they had a kind of communal quality, but try as I might, I could not find the language to describe what I felt. It was not until was back in Beijing, discussing this point with Zhao Tiechun, the Director of the Beijing Dance Academy Research Student Department, and he used a description which I immediately realised was a very accurate description, expressing exactly what I wanted to say: “Proactive Initiative.”

Whether in the rehearsal hall or on the stage, it is certainly the case that the Taiwanese dancers exhibit a kind of proactive initiative which is hard to describe. A kind of proactive and open state of mind. This proactive initiative is obvious while at the same time betraying a sense of modesty and courtesy. It is extremely pleasant. Of course, the devotion and expressive force exhibited on stage by the Taiwanese dancers left me with a strong impression. This high level of performance demonstrated the overall level of quality which has developed in Taiwanese dance.

Based on what I heard from the Taiwanese academic Chen Yaping, modern dance creation is now mainstream within the Taiwan dance scene. Because of this, the three Taiwanese choreographers, Ho Hsiao-Mei, Tung I-Fen and Su Wei-Chia, who were participating in this session of ArtsCross, were able to use their keen sense and artistic feeling to add a lot of colour to the ArtsCross stage. Their creations allowed us to experience Taiwanese dance culture.

In our daily exchanges and interactions with the Taiwanese dancers, we really felt that we got on extremely well. The Taiwanese academics nearly all had Western academic backgrounds and, as a result, were all able to connect with the international participants from an academic, conceptual and methodological perspective. This also left a deep impression. Their modest and virtuous characters gave us a strong sense of the best sides of Chinese culture.

While dance has evolved differently in the Chinese mainland and in Taiwan, at different scales and through different frameworks, both forms have developed strengths and special characters, which strongly complement one another. ArtsCross allowed us to come together; ArtsCross allowed us to communicate with one another. As long as both sides come armed with sincerity and open-mindedness, we will continue to move towards a future where we can create history together.

江东伦敦跨艺旅思10:终篇—告别伦敦 继续“跨艺”

本届“跨艺”在完成各项预定日程后,于2013年8月11日晚在伦敦THE PLACE剧场前厅举办了告别晚宴,虽然对于我们好吃的中国人来说,那顿由特定家庭制作、颇让组织者骄傲的意大利家庭餐难吃得几乎难以下咽,但各路人马还是兴致勃勃,群情昂扬。当然,离别前夕再道一声珍重时的那份依依惜别之情,让大家彼此难分难舍。 与英方策划人、组织者CHRIS道别,得知他将于9月访华,我当即邀请他能来舞研所做一个讲座,请他介绍一下英国当代舞的发展概貌。对此,CHRIS虽一口应允,但同时表示,这个题目对他来说有挑战性。不会吧?我闻之有些诧异,难道对一位长期在目睹伦敦当代舞局势演变的圈内人来说,连这个都无法说清吗?无独有偶。前一天看演出时,我遇到了在伦敦舞蹈界十分知名、特从爱丁堡艺术节返回伦敦来看“跨艺”晚会的旅英美籍舞蹈记者DONALD先生。这位老友告诉我,爱丁堡艺术节委托他向前去采访的各国记者做一个关于英国当代舞发展的报告。初听这个动议,他也怔住了:谁能做这样一个报告呢?他不禁暗自扪心自问。这两位对同样一个问题的同样反应,有些出乎我的意料。难道,要认清英国的当代舞面貌真有那么难吗?








Jiang Dong’s London ArtsCross Reflections 10: The Final Chapter — Bidding Farewell to London. Continued “ArtsCross”

On the evening of 11th August 2013, after all the items on the ArtsCross agenda had been completed, a farewell dinner was held in the front hall of London’s The Place theatre. Although for us Chinese food-lovers, the home-cooked family style Italian meal, of which the organisers were rather proud, was almost too unpleasant to swallow, everyone was in the best of spirits, and there was a nice group vibe. Of course, the sense of impending separation which we felt on the eve of our departure made everyone feel quite sad to be leaving. While bidding farewell to Chris Bannerman, the organiser from the UK side, I learnt that he would be visiting China in September. I immediately asked him whether he would be able to come to the Dance Research Institute to give a talk, and present an overview of the development of British contemporary dance. Although Chris agreed, he also said he thought the topic would be a bit of a challenge for him. Surely not? When I heard this I felt somewhat surprised. Surely an insider like Chris, who had observed the evolution of the London contemporary dance scene over a long period, would be able to say something on this topic? But this wasn’t a one-off. On the previous day, while watching a performance, I bumped into Donald Hutera, an American dance reporter visiting the UK, well-known in the London dance world, who had come down especially to London from the Edinburgh Festival to see. This old friend told me that the Edinburgh Festival organisers had asked him to give a report on the development of British contemporary dance to visiting international reporters. On first hearing this suggestion, he was also shocked, and couldn’t help asking himself inwardly who would be able to present such a report? The fact that both people had had the same reaction to this question was unexpected for me. Was it really so difficult to develop a comprehensive understanding of the state of British contemporary dance?

Of course, my time was limited on this trip to London, and I had clearly-defined objectives. As a result, I didn’t have the time to carry out my own observations and analysis on this question, and am therefore unable to answer the question with any authority. Nevertheless, seeing the full seats at the ArtsCross evening performance, I couldn’t help but feel optimistic about the attitude of London audiences towards contemporary dance. Chris had previously explained to me that tickets to the evening performance were made available to the public, and they all sold out very quickly.

But this feeling, and the blind optimism which it contained, soon suffered a sharp blow: a retired dancer from the UK’s Royal Ballet, also present at the ArtsCross evening performance told me that the Bolshoi Ballet’s performances, on at the same time at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, would continue for three solid weeks, with all tickets sold out for every performance. On top of this, the performances were of the traditional ballets, “Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty”! What’s more, the ticket prices were very high, the most expensive performance tickets in London, at an average of over £100 a ticket… I was really quite surprised about this. So it seems that, counter to my earlier optimistic assessment, contemporary dance in London falls well behind classical ballet in terms of popularity.

Of course, the audiences who watch contemporary dance are totally different from those who go to see ballet. The popularity of ballet in London is clear for all to see, but this has not hindered the pace of development of British contemporary dance. Different people have different tastes, and it is natural that the fans of each should even come into conflict. This brought to mind the case of the Scottish-Australian choreographer Janix who once got into a fight with her ballet-loving father-in-law, and ended up scratching his face in an effort to defend contemporary dance. The degree of factionalism between enthusiasts of the two art forms, pronounced to the degree that they are unable to interact with each other, is somewhat hard to fathom. Of course, this situation did not pose any threat to the Sino-British collaboration ArtsCross. In a free and open environment like London, your own preferences are completely your own business. So the fact that ArtsCross was able to attract a group of spectators so passionate about contemporary dance is not difficult to understand. London is not a utopia for contemporary dance, but it does attract large numbers of international contemporary dancers who work and seek to progress here, and the contemporary dance scene which they have created in London through their hard work is impressive.

Looking upwards, I could see the bright, clear London sky, filled with white clouds. In this environment, where contemporary dance is flourishing, another ArtsCross session had come to an end. After the music had died down and the crowds had dispersed, we celebrated our success. At the same time, we were all looking forward to the next ArtsCross. After all, the vitality and sense of meaning which ArtsCross had brought to every participant was indescribable. We also heard enthusiastic noises from the British dancers, participating for the first time in this year’s ArtsCross. They were also eager to get back on the ArtsCross stage sooner rather than later.

Yes, I firmly believe that the ArtsCross door of cooperation will open once more, thanks to the hard work of everyone involved, because we all need this kind of cross-cultural exchange, which makes the world more interesting and more colourful.

Thank you, London! You allowed us to experience a fresh cross-cultural journey. See you again soon, London! Let’s look forward to the next time we’ll meet.

ArtsCross 2013 performance: a review

A stand-alone piece that’s just been published on

ArtsCross London 2013 – Leaving home: being elsewhere. It’s a composite title for a composite evening that began with a much-needed bunch of backstory. For this was no standard performance programme, but rather the visible face of a more many-headed project: part choreographic lab, part academic research forum, part cross-national venture. As project directors Christopher Bannerman (Middlesex University) and Martin Welton (Queen Mary, University of London) explained in their preamble, ArtsCross 2013 is the third year of a three-way collaboration between London, Beijing and Taipei with a double focus: on the one hand, nine choreographers from the three cities have been selected to work over three weeks with mixed groups of dancers, also from the three cities, to create a 10-minute work on the theme “leaving home: being elsewhere”. On the other, a cluster of academics, most but not all also from London, Beijing and Taipei, have gathered to watch, to reflect upon and to exchange ideas about the process in action. Throughout, a coterie of Chinese-English interpreters criss-cross the entire ArtsCross process.

The evening performance at The Place was, then, the almost arbitrary endpoint for the choreographers and performers of the London leg of ArtsCross (the academics had their own endpoint, a conference, on the following day). The multifarious nature of the project, its mixed agendas and its clear emphasis on process rather than product (tickets to the performance were free), all beg the question: how should you watch the performance? There are many ways, but I’m going to adopt a basic reviewer’s stance: what was the evening like, from where I was sat?

Well, it was a long evening of short pieces. Each 10-minute work was introduced by a subtitled video interview with the choreographer speaking about the process and the piece. Most were upbeat and explanatory, but two also raised problems they’d had: Ho Hsiao-Mei, about the difficulties of working with such dancers of such diverse backgrounds; Dam Van Huynh about the awkwardness of having academics sitting in on rehearsals. So it was no surprise to see that their two presentations were among the most embryonic of the evening.

In Ho’s My Dear No. 8, six dancers appear in (rather stylish) overcoats, which they variously doff and don in a mix of solos, duets and ensembles that suggest both external appearances (coat on) and more individuated inner lives (coat off). Particularly arresting are a couple of centaur-ish pairings, one dancer, facing backwards and bent over double, forming the hind legs for another dancer perched on his behind, so that the couples look like skewy pantomime horses. As elsewhere in the piece, the imagery is sharp but the choreography itself is nascent.

Dan Van Huynh’s Gloves also begins with a clothing idea, the five dancers swapping each other’s tops, vests, shorts and leggings so that straight after you see them, you see them change. There follows a rangier section to thrumming electronic music, three dancers roaming restlessly while two others form a kind of human turntable, the man rotating as the woman whirls through the air around him, arms clasped round the axle of his neck. A weird and actually slightly gross duet of armpit sniffery brings the piece to an abrupt end.

As with Gloves, you dip in and out of Vera Tussing’s Moving Relations: Research more than you stay with it. Here, though, you sense strands knitting together beneath the surface, a piece beginning to form even if you can’t see it. Curiously, there’s another clothing idea here, the dancers riffing on a little game based on the colour of people’s tops in the audience. In fact, there’s a lot of riffing and games in this piece – mirroring, following, doing-your-own-thing – and these structures give the disparate results a sense of purpose, if not yet a sense of shape.

The other six pieces in the programme all aimed for a more finished look, with beginnings and endings and arcs in between – the odd one being Su Wei-Chia’sFree Steps, which has a finished look but eschews any arc. It starts as it continues as it ends: five women clustered in a pool of light, frond-like arms wafting through the air, heads and torsos and legs slowly, deliberately turning, folding and twining, feet inching the group on a diagonal while the swell and ebb of ambient sound bathes the stage. It’s a meditative, mind-emptying experience, a welcome chill-out zone in the middle of the many mixed messages that form the rest of the programme.

Of the rest, Tung I-Fen’s Sound of Numbers is perhaps the clearest, if not the most ambitious. As Tung explains in her video intro, she used the idea of numbers as a way of cutting across language barriers. At one point, the dancers all talk at once; from this incomprehensible babble, they begin to recite numbers – and the piece then develops fairly mathematically: movement added to movement to equal phrases; accumulations of dancers to build up groups; divisions and subtractions. A little cold, maybe, but effective.

Two works drew explicitly on Chinese traditions, without actually following them.Guo Lei’s Mask, set to haunting modern music by Chinese-American composerTan Dun, uses a regional folk form called Nuo to construct a dynamic dance-drama of slapping steps, stylised gestures and quivering heads. But its most powerful element are the bright, grotesque masks that invoke a rite of transformation or possession, the human face of the dancers subsumed by the demonic visage of their masks.

Zeng Huanxing’s Walk draws, more gently, on Tai Chi, to create a work in three sections, each a different “walk” of life. In the first, a lone man – accompanied by an extraordinary folk song, a soul-flaying solo voice of astonishing rasp and range –travels along a strict diagonal path, artfully tossing and catching a red ball. It’s as if his path is set, but his spirit is unbound. Four women, cloaked in monastic brown, walk bunched up and hunched over, each bearing a red ball as if it were a burden. Finally another man wanders rootlessly (no ball for him), walking backwards, shuffling against the floor, turning every which way. The final musical jump from Chinese folk music to Schubert’s Ave Maria is certainly incongruous, but the strangeness works as part of the poetics of the piece.

A similar every-which-way male solo opens Riccardo Buscarini’s No Lander, which sets images of searching against images of blindness. The solitary opening seeker is taken up by a group of four men, and together they lean and pitch like the prow of a vessel pushing forwards. Then they go into reverse, blocking and impeding each other’s movements until the group breaks up, leaving its dancers stranded. Two men cover each other’s eyes as they push and tug at each other, like the blind leading the blind. And finally another twists awkwardly around his arm, planted into the floor as if caught in a trap, until he too presses his eyes into his palm, cutting off his own sight before lifting his hand to peer towards some imaginary horizon. It’s a simply constructed work that swells with poetic significance.

Zhao Liang’s Infinite Connections ended the evening. The opening is a little disjointed, with each of the six dancers running forward for a little cameo (a shout, a whimper, a catwalk strut), but the dancers gradually start joining up. Quite literally: they pull out a long elastic strip, which, like a game of cat’s cradle, takes on the exact form of the spaces in between them – first linear and geometric as they move in lines and squares, then into tangling angles as they twist and upend, duck and dive, until at last they form one large circle, letting go of the tie that binds them. Infinite Connections reminded several ArtsCross observers of a many-bodied Laban kinesphere, but it reminded me of something else too. Disparate dancers getting snared up with each other while a bunch of people watch them? That is pretty much a distillation, in dance form, of ArtsCross itself.

This article will also be posted online at my own website,

Project introduction on Japanese web

I posted an introduction about this project to Japanese “The Dance Times” which I and some dance critics are running on the web.

Although very few people in this project read Japanese, I would like to introduce it to Japanese dance people. I hope many people might be  interested in this project.

Here’s a translation of the post:

ArtsCross London 2013 – Leaving home: being elsewhere

From 1–11 August, I took part in “ArtsCross London 2013” which was held in London. For this project, where, as its title indicates, ‘arts cross’, academics from the UK, China and Taiwan observe the creative process where choreographers of contemporary dance from those three countries create dances for dancers from those same countries and complete a work. The purpose is to introduce the choreographies as performances on stage and for academics to deliver papers and to take part in discussion at a symposium.

The project’s predecessor was “Danscross Beijing 2009 – Dancing in a Shaking World”, co-hosted by the Beijing Dance Academy (BDA) in China and the UK’s ResCen Research Centre, Middlesex University. Four Western, mainly UK-based choreographers and four BDA choreographers created an approx. 10 minute work for a youth company consisting of BDA students and graduates, which was performed at a Beijing theatre. At the same time a symposium was held at the BDA where academics from mainly China and the UK presented papers. I had the privilege to be part of this project, as the sole Japanese participant, and, after observing the rehearsals in summer, made my way to Beijing again in the autumn for the performance and the symposium. You can find a detailed report of the project on the ResCen website, here:

A paper I wrote at a later date was also published, in English and in Chinese, in the Journal of Beijing Dance Academy, 2011 Special Edition.

The project developed, and in 2011 an event under the title “ArtsCross Taipei 2011 – Uncertain… waiting…” was held in Taipei in collaboration between the two institutions mentioned above as well as Taipei National University of the Arts in Taiwan and Queen Mary, University of London in the UK. Unfortunately I did not take part that year, but as before, details can be found on the ResCen website:

Last year, “ArtsCross Beijing 2012 – Light and Water” was held in November at the BDA, and I also took part in this edition. Details on this event can also be found on the ResCen website, at the address given below. Under the Visual Documentation tab progress can be followed, from the rehearsal process to the day of the performance. The blog moreover contains numerous posts on observations the participating academics made through the creative process.

This year “ArtsCross London 2013 – Leaving home: being elsewhere” was held with the location now moving to London. The three weeks of rehearsals from mid-July, and the performance on 10 August all took place in The Place, the Mecca of contemporary dance in London, whereas the symposium on 11 August was held at Queen Mary University of London. I took part as well, and while observing the creative process with academics from the UK, China and Taiwan who are now old friends, we conducted frequent discussions and presented papers at the symposium.

The blog reports in detail, with pictures, on the individual choreographers and dancers, about the rehearsals and the works, and contains a review of the performance day by a dance critic. Although the text is in English and Chinese only, even just looking at the pictures will allow one to learn about the process where dance artists with a variety of cultural backgrounds and who are away from home, collaborated with people of different languages and cultures. Each work has to include at least one dancer from each of the three countries, should not be any longer than 10 minutes, and be based on the theme of “Leaving home: being elsewhere”, but has no constraints on its contents. The allocated time was a mere three weeks from the selection of the dancers until the performance, and the nine choreographers were only given three hours a day to rehearse. Ten dancers from the participating countries (the UK, China and Taiwan) each took part to perform one or two works. Participating dancers from the Beijing Dance Academy consisted of master’s students and youth company members, and of undergraduates and master’s students from the Dance Course at Taipei National University of the Arts. The British dancers ranged from new talent, freshly graduated from university or ballet school, to young dancers already embarked on a professional dancing career.

What is interesting is that even though called British choreographers and dancers, only a tiny minority was born and raised in the UK. In the melting pot that is London the world of dance has become even more cosmopolitan, and as it is impossible to use simple classifications based on nationality or ethnicity, the only usable description is ‘London-based’. Three of the choreographers for instance are an Italian, a German and an American of Vietnamese descent, all working in London. In fact, the Chinese choreographers, dancers and academics were also extremely diverse, and can’t be captured under the singular characterisation of ‘China’ or ‘Beijing’. They also were born and raised in widely different cultures, for instance Tibet (in the west) and Qingdao (in the east). Taiwan’s national history is heavily influenced by China, the US and Japan. There were only two participants from other countries than the UK/China/Taiwan, namely an American academic and myself. As all involved had already participated in the project several times and knew each other, we were able to step away from national stereotypes, and engage in close discussions with an awareness of the individual, their culture and history. Whereas in this kind of international exchange at first one’s communication of information and understanding is generalised by people’s nationalities, the relationship of trust deepens with repetition and various aspects of culture and history that can’t be simplified come to the fore, and it becomes possible to have discussions based on mutual understanding. With English and Chinese being the working languages, the language barrier is of course high, but the creation of dance as well as research really are areas where the ‘arts cross’, and we found ourselves at one point starting to use the verb ‘artscrossing’ to express our experience.

I expect that a collection of papers will be published in any case, but in this post I have given a simple report on the overall project.

Naomi INATA, 1 August 2013

The Place and Queen Mary University of London, London.

Xu Rui’s interview on BBC World Sevice ‘Forum’

Xu Rui discusses ArtsCross London as part of BBC World Service’s The Forum – Letting Go: Can letting go of places, people, ideas and traditions bring big rewards?

You can listen to the full programme, or just part of it, with the following links: (full 44 minutes) (short 13 minutes)


ArtsCross experience

Here’s an article written by Rebecca Miles, one of the ArtsCross London dancers.

by Rebecca Miles — ArtsCross experience

Leaving home and being elsewhere is not so much the idea of moving places but the transition of a state of mind. I believe that ‘Home’ and ‘elsewhere’ are subjects of a continually changing context, in which we are the creators and definers. Both myself, the Chinese and the Taiwanese dancers were in a place of elsewhere, London, by varying degree was the home town for none of us. In saying this, over the three weeks of rehearsals the sense of ‘elsewhere’ was slowly dismantled whilst the sense of ‘home’ and familiarity, at least within our group identity, slowly crept up upon us. As true to the saying ‘you don’t know what you have got until it’s gone’ I felt a strange sense of absence from the moment I left the Robin Howard theatre after the final show. I have noticed that there is something truly magical, remarkable and universal that happens when dancers and choreographers work together on a piece. As dancers we take for granted that we get in other peoples’ personal space; touch and physical contact are a given rather than something that is shied away from. In fact, when working in a group as was required for Su Wei Chia’s choreography, there were times when the concept of ‘personal space’ became a shared entity even in times when this was not choreographically intended. The age old notion of trust also played a part in our group dynamic and the forming of a family like status; many rehearsals were spent working in partners, improvising and moving around each other to find points of support to shape our own journeys through the contact of another’s body. Added with this were many points of being lost in translation — I found communication to include gestures, exaggerated mime and the interchanging tone of  Su Wei Chia’s voice in multiple languages — the confusion sometimes formed from this was often followed by laughter, accident and complete collapse on the floor — all of which can do wonders to develop friendships. By no means do any of these suggest a lack of professional environment; in fact it only reiterates the sense of accident, chance and play that is so fundamental in the development of performance art and so often lost in other areas of society.

My overall experience of the project could honestly relate to a rollercoaster ride — no matter how cliché the analogy. Having literally walked at my graduation ceremony the previous day, Kerry Nichols’ audition class was a short sharp shock — although a very fun, highly energetic, challenging and creative one — into the graduating world. I have now realised that as creatures of habit, perhaps in some cases less habit more creatures constrained by time and means, we often do what we know and then we perpetuate this stance of knowing and shy away from stepping out into the unknown as there is the potential that we may not know what to do if presented with this situation. I digress with these thoughts however, for me this was what opened me up to really thinking about the way in which it is possible to see the world. The experience of Arts Cross introduced me, politely and delicately but definitely not without passion to the dancing world so close outside my own imposed ‘University Blinder’ and gave me the opportunity to experience another culture in a way which I would not otherwise have encountered so intimately even if I were to travel the world.

To dance is to breathe and live and for three weeks I had the chance to breathe and live outside of my comfort zone for which I am incredibly grateful. Experience is a gift which can be received without realising its true worth and hindsight is definitely a wonderfully frustrating thing, however I have no regrets from this experience, only treasured memories and at least one pen pal on the other side of the world! It took me almost a week to learn how to say ‘backpack’, (ho-bay-bow — for those who need constant syllabic reassurance in learning new words as I did) ‘I don’t know’, ‘Upper’ and ‘lower leg’ (I really couldn’t tell you what obscurity these conversations derived from) and most of the time I needed a prompt for the first syllable of each word and with that I also think my pronunciations provided everyone with a laugh from time to time. It is these memories which will stick with me, but also the opportunity to work within a different choreographic framework than perhaps before, however I find myself toying with the idea that for dancers and choreographers alike the studio or rehearsal space will always pick up the notion of ‘home’. With this and the way in which it shapes the space as a shared workplace there is a common thread and organisation of thought that runs through this practice no matter where in the world you come from. Perhaps it is the nature of the people that choose or are drawn toward choreographic work, but I found a sense of ease and familiarity within the tasks and approach to the practice which grew throughout the process of the project. The unknown, in a way became known or malleable within my understanding and I came to enjoy and indulge in a different approach to movement both in terms of technique and expression. Su Wei Chia mentioned at one point whilst talking about the intention of the choreography, that the audience would see what they wanted to see and would find their own interpretations. His emphasis was on wanting us to show some emotion, to show the shade and shape of this emotion which changes gradually though our progression through the piece. In hindsight I can understand his patience as there were days when this emotion was not honestly felt and he could always tell, and always dissuaded us from the faking of this emotion. As a piece based entirely on improvisation, the need to be present in every moment was at first overwhelming — of course no dancer should ever go into auto pilot — however the relationship between though and movement became an interesting one to observe — even within my own body. The temptation to think or do, or think and then do, or think too much whilst trying to do, especially when processing verbal instruction sometimes got the better of me within the improvisations, and at such a time, this observation was pointed out and many a time the task would be stripped back to its bare basics of feeling and moving, for that was where the gold dust lay.

The whole process of the project left me thinking for quite some time, I believe that ArtsCross only further fuelled my belief in the beauty and the power that dance has to offer in all its differences as a way to come together and exchange our creative journeys through life.

Embodied translation: Artscross 5th Anniversary Performance, Beijing Dance Academy October 2014

I’ve been in Beijing for just under a week, observing the final rehearsals and performance of nine pieces selected from the past five years of ArtsCross. The programme for the show on 23rd October consisted of works by chorographers from Beijing, Taipei and London. The pieces were reworked in various ways and included some of the original dancers and some new performers.

As a spectator and academic participant in ArtsCross since 2011, it was very moving to watch not only the culminations of these particular nine creative processes but to feel the weight of other collaborations behind them (other choreographers, dancers and academics involved in the project during the past five years).

While watching the dress rehearsals last Wednesday, I was struck particularly by the ghosts of the dancers from the earlier versions of the pieces – they seemed extremely present in their absence. I’ve been musing on the way that the original works have been translated to these new bodies and then translated again into ‘new’ works for the audience.

The new combinations of performers and choreographers created exciting differences and in some cases completely new material. Zhao Liang’s Infinite Connections, where an ensemble of dancers show a journey through life through winding and unwinding themselves along and between a giant piece of elastic, had to go beyond a simple recreation of the original work because the dancers (a combination of the original cast and new performers) needed to solve the concrete problem of how to negotiate the elastic as a group.

Taipei based choreographer Su Wei-Chia used his Free Steps, first performed in London in 2012, as a choreographic structure that provided a framework for improvisation for the dancers. Since 2012, he has used the structure for a number of different performances in Taiwan and beyond.

Guo Lei has also developed his Mask piece, since its premiere in London in 2012. The version performed at Beijing Dance Academy last week is part of a larger project to re-work it for a cast of up to 100 dancers.

Both London based choreographers Jonathan Lunn and Rachel Lopez de la Nieta created new material with their new groups of performers for Beijing Man and Beijing Bucket Blues, developing their devised approaches and giving dancers specific improvisational tasks which were then worked and fixed to become the final performance scores.

So, despite a shorter rehearsal period than for the original performances, each of the choreographers has taken into account the passing of time and the change of the make-up of their groups of dancers. While thinking about the way this ‘embodied translation’ of ideas, structures and practices has taken place I’ve also been delving into Martha Cheung’s remarkable work An Anthology of Chinese Discourse on Translation: Volume One (2004, Manchester: St Jerome Publishing). The book explores Chinese theories of translation from the earliest times to the twentieth century and provides a rich source of information for a novice like myself. The following excerpt is taken from a biography of Yi Jung, a monk from the Song Dynasty: ‘To translate means to exchange; that is to say, to exchange what one has for what one does not have. Because there is a change in the soil, a tangerine becomes an orange’ (p. 174). Cheung reflects on this, going on to say:

…’Change’ is an integral part of the process of ‘exchange’… One does not simply take one object and use it in exchange for another object. A more complicated process is involved. One takes what one has… and uses it in such a way as to enable something … to germinate, grow, bear fruit and ‘become’ something else, something that is different yet still bears important and essential similarities to its source. (p. 175)

The processes of ‘change’ that have taken place during the five years of ArtsCross have occurred in multifarious ways that participants are still reflecting upon, and will continue to do so as thoughts turn to how the project might be developed in the future. This was re-iterated to me as I conducted mini interviews with some dancers and choreographers in Beijing this past week.

Beijing dancer, Zhao Zhibo has been involved in Arts Cross since 2009 and feels that it has fundamentally changed the ways she has understood her practice. She relished the opportunity to improvise with London and Taipei based choreographers and has begun to develop her own teaching at the Beijing Dance Academy integrating improvisational techniques. Likewise, dancer Azurra Ardovini from London has also re-considered her own work during her past 2 years involvement in the project. She reflected that some of the qualities of the Beijing dancers’ approaches have influenced the ways she moves and thinks about her movement.

The project has facilitated many processes of ‘change’ on a range of scales and as has been re-iterated these past few days in Beijing, what is crucial is giving these processes time. ArtsCross has carefully facilitated transnational relationships that have deepened over the five years since the beginning of the project but in some ways feel like they are just beginning. As we reflect and consider how this work can continue, I am reminded, as Martha Cheung emphasized above, how by holding up our own ‘knowledge’ to something ‘new’, as this project has done again and again, we are able to look at what we do differently. Or in the words of T.S Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.