The cross (as in ArtsCross) is part of our project title and is methodologically as well as thematically at its core. The cross X symbolises the separation and unification of two elements. It marks the distinction between systems, disciplines, cultures and contexts; and simultaneously entails their transcendence. ArtsCross is thus crucially, I suggest, about boundary crossings. A boundary may be seen as an “arbitrary line or marker of territory (which might be land, skin, cellular membrane, shoreline or academic discipline area” (East 2010). In dance, we are used to operating with boundaries – and to collapsing them: for instance the inside-outside boundaries so often thematised in modern dance (such as by Doris Humphrey) and also evident in Chinese mask dances (which, if I understand correctly, can seek to merge the identity of the God and the performer). Or consider the boundaries between genres: for example the fusion between traditional Chinese dance and contemporary dance in Guo Lei’s piece.
In contrast to thinking which is determined by intractable dichotomies and binaries, the system theorist Niklas Luhmann writes that “boundaries do not mark a break in connections… The concept of boundary means … that processes which cross boundaries … have different conditions for their continuance (e.g. different conditions of utilization, or of consensus) after they cross the boundaries” (2000). Luhmann distinguishes boundary encounters where people interact across boundaries (I imagine much like neighbours arguing across the garden fence) from boundary crossings which presuppose the openness of a system and permit unhindered flow of ideas and innovations across a pre-existing divide. Some innovative theatre and dance forms aim to establish a dialogic blurring between spect-actors (Boal) and performers across the curtain line; the work is thus constantly in flux, negotiating relationships between performance and audience. While this does not happen explicitly in any of the ArtsCross choreographies I have witnessed, Vera Tussing does seek to establish a connection with the audience, though currently in a tentative and as yet unfinalised form.
So, if we believe Luhmann, crossing boundaries will result in “different conditions for … continuance” and hence in change. It is evident from the rehearsals that some ArtsCross choreographers are reaching across boundaries to accommodate the corporeal (and other) specificities of their dancers; while equally some dancers are crossing boundaries to meet the expectations of their choreographers. Be this as it may, the ResCen artists and performers who emerge from the project, having engaged in so many artistic, linguistic and national boundary-crossings, will be different from those who embarked on it initially. When everyone returns home, the experience of ‘being elsewhere’ will mean continuing on from a different point or perspective, having adjusted their habitus in one way or another.
P.S. After drafting this blog, I watched Su Wei-Chia’s translated interview in which he used the metaphor of ‘crossing’ to pinpoint the commonalities amongst differently trained dancing bodies: “When working together I really hope to create something that is built upon a shared belief amongst us, based on what we individually believe in. To me that is an act of crossing, or moving beyond boundaries”.