… they face one another. The approach is a greeting with elbow raised vertically, armpit exposed and vulnerable. The boy gestures a gentle wave toward the girl, wafting the most personal of odors in her face. An imagined cloud floats past her nose, eyes, ears, and beyond her head. She stares unblinking. One-two-three steps. Stop. She returns the favor and, as she waves one-two-three, he dips his nose down in closer proximity, seeming to revel in her underarm scent. (“Let it digest,” Dam whispers.) The boy inhales and shudders. The girl stares unblinking. A quick shifting of positions, and her foot slap-slap-slaps the back of his calf.

Dam's duet

I don’t like to think of myself as squeamish, but I find it hard to watch this brief but brilliant moment. I have a strong sense of smell and the deceptively gentle gesture triggers a wordless memory, a recollection really, of stinking armpits. I involuntarily shudder. I resist the urge to lift my arm and sniff. (that damn bike ride this morning:) The slapping itself is specific, percussive and jarring: it strikes me as a ritualized conclusion to the greeting. I feel myself blinking, dismayed.

In an odd way, Dam’s brief duet helps me to digest our academic seminar on Crossing Languages earlier today. As Martin noted, the effort to recover an “authentic” Chinese dance involved a conscious choice to (re)create a personal and cultural identity. This kind of explicit, deliberate search can be contrasted with the implicit, accidental, unplanned, and perhaps unknowable shifts in personal and cultural identity that are happening here during ArtsCross. I’m not sure about the London dancer’s training, but I doubt the Taipei and Beijing dancers were taught to perform the gentle odorous wave. And still, they perform it convincingly.

All of which reminds me that, in fact, all these dancers were brought to this place intentionally, consciously, and deliberately. I believe the Beijing, London, and Taipei directors and teachers wanted the dancers and choreographers to cross felt experiences. Perhaps the potential shifts in dancers’ personal, artistic, and cultural identities were (and are) unknowable to their elders (and themselves), but our colleagues seem to own — to embrace really — the important decision to transport them to this unraveling and intrepid Place.

I admire them for it.

Dam’s smelly slapping duet, or Digesting dancing bodies

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