Day 3 Strictly floor work

In Wang mei’s studio the dancers are on the floor again, this time lying on their stomachs. I have not yet seen these dancers standing up! Wang mei is also on her stomach with her toes turned under so the balls of her feet are on the floor. She is explaining to the dancers how she wants the feet to move, tiny stutters that move sideways, curving her body.

One body rolls slowly over, while another stutters her feet. Chen maoyuan sits and judders with his toes, they all judder forward on their stomachs, moving on the balls of their feet, hands supporting them, elbows tucked in. Small movements, precise, the focus is on timing and choreographic structure rather than the complexity of dance language.

Now comes a long search for the exact moment in the music for this particular sequence.  Wang mei needs a technician to run the sound for her.

Working for so long on one small detail, I wonder where in the piece this 30 second section might be. I feel as if I am peering into a tiny brush stroke on a painting – the stroke expands to become a whole work – before pulling out to see how miniscule this moment is within the bigger frame.

I notice I am becoming absent, this is not because of the material or the process. Rather because I do not know what is being said – and so much is being spoken.

But even without the language there is something here about how the process is exchanged. Liu mengchen is turning from her front onto her back perfecting the detail of how that is done.  Again and again she tries, each time slightly different, the placing of arms, legs, sharpness of the turn, facial expression.  Eventually Wang mei calls her over to closely watch as she demonstrates the move. As she demonstrates, Wang mei lets out a cry as she turns onto her back, a cry between pain and ecstasy, with her neck slightly arched, yet her arms and legs relaxed and suspended in the air. The dancer watches the sudden anguish of the demonstration and copies. We move on. Every move is given this amount of attention.

Ah – a translator comes to sit with me, Rae.

She is asking the dancers to move more like in daily life, to try not to be like a dancer.

I ask if this is familiar work for these dancers. No, he says, the work is different for them, for Wang mei has very strict requirements. Yes, clearly!

Because of the simplicity of the material, nothing is hidden in this work, all is transparent, and all is revealed. Hence the attention to detail.

Another single moment becomes a search for movement quality. Chen maoyuan is rolling onto his back fast, his legs in the air. We take time here.  What is happening?

He is trying to find the quality of the movement that Wang mei requires. She wants him to throw his body over fast, move his legs up sharply, yet not fix his legs, so his legs continue to move with the weight, yet suspend, yet control, yet without letting people know that. And in time with the music. Controlled freedom, using weight, finding the place between tension and release. Abdominals needed here!

I am aware of the luxury of time here at the Academy. In the independent dance scene in the UK, how many choreographers can afford the time to spend a day working on the minute qualities of one or two movements?

I quote from Jay O’Shea’s blog. The differences between the choreographers’ ways of working is perhaps ‘a matter of culture, but not of national ones… there is no reason to assume that a choreographer will be representative of her or his (national) culture. But there is reason to think that choreographers’ work engages their experience and intersects with the institutional structures, working conditions, and funding opportunities that the work develops out of’ (O’Shea blog May 25th).

I need to find out more.

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