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.