Last day in Beijing and I sense a need to make the past week’s throughline as clear as the day outside the hotel window.

For two reasons my focus has gravitated towards classic Chinese poetry as an entry point to a contact zone of translation: first, for the obvious linguistic reasons that reflect differences between our uses of language; second, though, for the reason that the latter uses indicate seemingly insurmountable differences in use only of we abide by language as a means of translation, while the poetry actually invites us to “read” its signs with all our senses and in complex situations. In a previous blog posting I suggested that dance might very well be a more pertinent way of translating classic Chinese poetry than word conversions since our linguistic differences are so vast. This also seems to be the stance of translatorWai-limYip, even if he opts to comment on the matter by way of linguistic exercises.

Wang Wei, for instance, composes his poetry as miming gestures of a perceiving act of invisible phenomena. Arne Zaslove proposes that Wei’s kaleidoscopic poetry can be read in a similar manner as a mime artist lifts a fictitious object by counter-weighingitsloadby her leaning body:

白雲迴望合           White clouds – looking back – close up
青靄入看無           Green mists – entering to see – nothing

As “viewer-readers” we need to be mobile, suggestsWai-limYip, by revolving around the multifaceted signs in order to appreciate their visual curves, phases, and points of view:

大漠孤煙直            Vast desert: lone smoke, straight  (Wang Wei)
滄海月明珠有淚     Dark sea. Bright moon. Pearls with tears.  (Li Shang-yin)

So the viewer-readermovesintoa “total environment to experience the visual events from different spatial angles” (Wai-limYip) not unlike the observers of rehearsals at Beijing Dance Academy in the past week.

As potential analogies to the poetry we saw a few choreographic processes that used very precise means, methods or techniques in order to reach an open-endedconceptin time, space and imagery.

I found one example in Rachel’s way of using water in buckets and dancing bodies that played with these objects as a condition of the dance. It’s a very literal approach to the theme of the ArtsCross meeting (light and water), although in the form of an open performance concept and relational aesthetics for the viewer-readerto translate.

I found an odd twin to Rachel’s work in Wan Su’s classic Chinese performance with fans. Wan Su exemplified a master-apprenticepedagogyas she rehearsed the sweeping moves of the fans and long scarfs with meticulous measure and pace. In a conversation with Wan Su I got to ask her if the precise technique and open imagery of her piece can be viewed as one of those loaded signs in classic Chinese poetry and she retorted in English: “Exactly!”

So even though there are vast aesthetic and pedagogic/processual differences between Rachel’s and Wan Su’s performances, they share a sharp focus towards the instantiation of precise material and image-basedmeansfor an open-endedperformancethatallowsviewer-readersto approach the event from various angles in his or her oscillating translation process.

There is another way of linking Wan Su’s and Rachel’s performances and that is by a genealogical pirouette. During the ArtsCross meeting we have used a genre-basedand developmental terminology in order to come to grips with the different geographic meanings of classic dance, modern dance, contemporary dance, contemporary classic dance, and so forth. This has made me think of an alternative route of common understanding.

Classic Chinese poetry provided a way for American modernist poets, such as Ezra Pound, Williasm Carlos Williams and Gertrude Stein, to sidestep the singing Whitmanesque tradition and instead use a more “objectivist” mode of approaching poetic motifs. This had an influence, in turn, on Charles Olson who used this open and relational mode of poetry for collaborative purposes. In the mid 20th century Olson created Untitled Events at Black Mountain College together with musician David Tudor, painter Robert Rauschenberg, multi-artistJohnCageand choreographer-dancerMerceCunningham. The collaborative work marks the inception of what became known as performance art and postmodern art and it is not at allfar-fetchedto see classic Chinese poetry as an influence of this multifaceted, de-centered, relational, kaleidoscopic, although very precise, spacious and elegant performance practice.

It is fair to say that it is hard to imagine a work like Rachel’s Beijing bucket blues without the mentioned collaboration (incidentally, one of the musical phrases of Untitled Events consisted of the pouring of water into a bucket.) And if classic Chinese poetry helped make postmodern performance possible, then I guess Wan Su’s work made Rachel’s work possible? That might be a rather steep inference to make. But it might be useful to think in these patterns, i.e., as an alternative to developmentalgenre-designations, when we consider the possibility of translating ideas and practices.

If classic Chinese poetry could have a sway on Ezra Pound’s writing, surely there must be room for influences of East Asian dance on contemporary Occidental dance – rather than just the other way round? I think the very room for this exchange needs to be reconsidered before we meet again in London next year. Perhaps the room could take the following configuration as a departure point:

曠          [wilderness/far-reaching/empty]

Final Throughline

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