DANSCROSS 2009 » Paul Rae http://rescen.net/blog Dancing in a shaking world Tue, 22 Oct 2013 16:31:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.6.1 Over to you, Jay http://rescen.net/blog/2009/05/over-to-you-jay/149 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/05/over-to-you-jay/149#comments Fri, 22 May 2009 02:50:53 +0000 Paul Rae http://rescen.net/blog/?p=149 Both of you!

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Both of you!

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Cigaretc http://rescen.net/blog/2009/05/cigaretc/135 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/05/cigaretc/135#comments Thu, 21 May 2009 03:04:49 +0000 Paul Rae http://rescen.net/blog/?p=135

In a short presentation to the group yesterday, I described the choreographer Zhang Junfeng as having a velevety Chinese smoker’s voice. He talks a lot to his dancers as he works with them. The tone is soft, almost hypnotic; the voice deep, though not so much rough or gravelly as richly burred. It’s a [...]]]> img_1646

In a short presentation to the group yesterday, I described the choreographer Zhang Junfeng as having a velevety Chinese smoker’s voice. He talks a lot to his dancers as he works with them. The tone is soft, almost hypnotic; the voice deep, though not so much rough or gravelly as richly burred. It’s a reminder, as if we needed one, that there is a materiality to speech, and that the choreographic process entails the transmission of corporeality as much as the embodiment of ideas.

For Junfeng’s dancers, then, it’s a kind of passive smoking: that somehow they incorporate the material effects of his habit into their muscles, movements, sensibilities. Minus the carcinogens, of course. More generally, passive smoking is a feature of social life in China that is striking to the non-smoking visitor from places where the default setting for public space is, as the sign in the Golden Peacock restaurant round the corner says, a ‘No Smoke Region’. And anyway, as far as I can tell, in places like the UK, smoking is in decline – except among dancers. The other day, I overheard a woman talking about her daughter: “She turned down a job offer from British American Tobacco. She said to me: ‘If the Chinese want to smoke themselves to death with their own cigarettes, that’s their choice – but I’m not going to persuade them to do the same with BAT’s'”.

The weather is changeable. Brilliant blue skies give way overnight to a hazy fug. A crisp, cooling breeze transforms into harmattan-like flurries of dust and sand that topples bicycles and launches litter briefly skywards. It’s played out in miniature when a smoker’s exhalations catch the light. Similarly, for the first few days I tramped the thoroughfares, wondering where the life had gone, and reflecting that Beijing was anything but human-scale. What, I wondered, is the place and value of dance in such a spaced-out city, where even crossing the road is a journey in itself. No wonder so many of the otherwise featureless modern office buildings fill their street-level retail spaces with foot massage parlours!

Of course, the human is here. Just behind the BDA, there’s a buzzing street scene, and as the heat of the day lifts from the pavements at about 6, the smells and scents of the place rise with it and separate out: flowers, fruit, piss. At night, the grilled meat stalls fire up: to order, you must enter a cloud of charcoal smoke, scented with fat and seasoned with szechuan pepper. At 1.30am the other night, I looked up from my low plastic stoll to see it shafted through with streetlight, like a nightsun. Yesterday, Shobana’s dancers were working on an unusually melliflous sequence. (I know ‘mellifluous’ refers to sound, and was going to invent ‘mellifluent’ to describe it, but given the point I began with, it seems apt enough). I said to Janet O’Shea, who arrived yesterday, that they looked like heavenly maidens, wafting through the clouds. Later, the interpretor told me that she translated one of Shobana’s instructions using the Chinese term ‘move like the clouds’.

Soon, I too will be moving through the clouds – substantially faster, but nowhere near as elegantly. I’ll breathe the rarified air of the plane, and perhaps commit to it some residues of the atmospheres I’ve been enveloped by over the course of my stay.

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Studio 405 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/05/studio/122 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/05/studio/122#comments Tue, 19 May 2009 06:11:22 +0000 Paul Rae http://rescen.net/blog/?p=122

Because this trip was arranged quite late, it took a while for final ethics approval to come through from my university for things like formal interviews and video documentation. Up until then, this was the only picture I took. No human subjects!

There are many studios like this at the BDA – seven per [...]]]> img_1621

Because this trip was arranged quite late, it took a while for final ethics approval to come through from my university for things like formal interviews and video documentation. Up until then, this was the only picture I took. No human subjects!

There are many studios like this at the BDA – seven per floor (I think), on 7 floors: some are larger. It’s hot right now, and as you approach the building, you catch the sound of  49 pianos (give or take a Korean drumming class and a Danscross project or two) wafting out of the windows, and glimpse the slender backs and necks of resting dancers, catching the breeze.

Having got into the habit of not documenting the dancers directly, I’m minded to carry on in the same vein – by indirections find directions out, and all that. This is the view from studio 405.

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As they warm up at the barre, the dancers’ spines align with the tower (it’s closer than it looks in the picture), and their legs with the arm of the crane. Occasionally, while they are dancing, the crane swings in, right over the roof of the BDA – a graceful counterpoint, not unlike the relationship between this picture and the one below, in the posting ‘Another moment’.

So, as per ‘Notes on observing’, the process has its blindspots. But I guess this city/body relationship is the kind of thing an observer is predisposed to notice, born as it is of a wandering gaze, the sharpening and blurring of focus as one’s attention is by turns compelled and released. Marginalia? No more or less, I think, than the researchers themselves.

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Notes on not not observing: 18 May – 11.33am http://rescen.net/blog/2009/05/notes-on-not-not-observing-18-may-1133am/96 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/05/notes-on-not-not-observing-18-may-1133am/96#comments Mon, 18 May 2009 04:49:19 +0000 Paul Rae http://rescen.net/blog/?p=96

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Notes on not observing: 18 May – 11.30am http://rescen.net/blog/2009/05/notes-on-not-observing-18-may-1130am/90 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/05/notes-on-not-observing-18-may-1130am/90#comments Mon, 18 May 2009 04:45:59 +0000 Paul Rae http://rescen.net/blog/?p=90

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Notes on observing http://rescen.net/blog/2009/05/notes-on-observing-1/85 http://rescen.net/blog/2009/05/notes-on-observing-1/85#comments Fri, 15 May 2009 05:50:38 +0000 Paul Rae http://rescen.net/blog/?p=85 I’ve been in Beijing for three days now, spending time in the studio both with Shobana Jeyasingh and Zhang Yunfeng and their respective dancers. In Shobana’s case in particular, the choreographic process is a process of working out what the choreography is. This gives me food for thought – but it also begs a question [...]]]> I’ve been in Beijing for three days now, spending time in the studio both with Shobana Jeyasingh and Zhang Yunfeng and their respective dancers. In Shobana’s case in particular, the choreographic process is a process of working out what the choreography is. This gives me food for thought – but it also begs a question regarding my own role, since I feel the same could be said of that: the research process is a process of working out what the research is. I have a sense of what it is, but it’s not something I want to discuss on the blog.

Instead, I will make a few observations about how this is playing out.

1) Where should I put myself, and what should I do? I try to make myself scarce, half-hidden behind the piano. I try not to move too much, which of course puts me into an ironic relationship with my ‘objects of study’; I have joked that my immobility is in direct proportion to the dancers’ activity. What a slob!

2) The dance studio is a dynamic visual space – these dancers are people who have grown up looking at themselves in the mirror, subject to an exacting degree of corporeal discipline and surveillance by their teachers, and trained to be looked at by a paying public. Everyone in the room is watching and learning in one way or another.

3) But should I do anything other than watch? When I see a performance I may be studying, or even listen to a conference paper, I never take notes. It’s a distraction. I am reminded, too, of a comment in an article on rehearsal ethnography by Gay McAuley, where actors told her that they couldn’t work out the rationale behind when and why the researchers took notes, and that this unsettled them. I took a few notes with my back to the group on the first day, but it didn’t seem right. Yesterday afternoon, though, there were so many little details and fragments that were of interest, it felt appropriate to write. So there’s a right time for writing.

4) Interviews? I’m discinclined. I’d rather chat.

I laughed when I saw this photo of me on the Chinese blog. It reminds me that as much as I look towards the dance, not only do I look away from myself, but am oblivious to the fact: and being ‘reflective’ is only half the answer. There’s an ethnographic parable in that. 121eba807bag215

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