Day 2 for Merce

Video clip: day 2 Wang lei & Wang yabin

Day 2

A day for Merce.

So – the dancers are sore in the ‘right’ places, inner thighs, abdominals, lower back and their necks. This is to be expected, and indicates to Kerry that they are working intelligently with the language, as the tension is not held externally, in their thighs or upper backs.

The style is more familiar to the dancers in class this morning; they execute the size of the material with more confidence. They retain the corrections from yesterday, only needing a gently reminder, so Kerry is able to build from there.

Kerry begins rehearsal with a task:

She teaches a phrase primarily for the legs, followed by a phrase primarily for arm gestures and torso. The task for each dancer is to put the arms and legs phrases together in his/her own way.

The leg phrase travels through space, sharp scissor like cuts and shifts of weight, low lunges contrasting high releve turns. Set to phrases of ‘8’.

Kerry’s persists with speed, driving the dancers onwards, keeping a fast rhythmic attack in the learning that keeps the dancers engaged. She demonstrates and talks – particularly calling out the counts as she demonstrates the movements:

Hip 5, knee 6, push7, heel 8… lunge 1.

Hidden in the leg phrase is a sideways triplet.

Did you see that Emilyn – that is for Merce!

Lets try it up to speed, with music…

The dancers do the phrase. Kerry corrects them:

This is all fine, then here — we need this to be very sharp and precise. This is good here and good here… but here I need you to go lower, stay longer here, and this should feel like a fall. Here, you have just got to move… this leg needs more energy, I didn’t see the energy of that heel, so push that first… these are really sharp, this has resistance, then it drops, it is a different feeling… this is all about this leg, not this leg… I am not interested in jumping, I am interested in long… (She darts across the space). Here I use my stomach and my knee – oh, it is hard work. This is lower, higher, a definite drop, one turn only, break, let me see the heel, then it opens, now you go up, break.

Mandi, Can you ask them if they are ok with the counts?

After the correction dancers do the material again, attempting to incorporate changes although the material. This is a challenge as the speed does not let up.

If by next Tuesday, it is still too fast, I will change it.

Kerry begins the arm phrase.

Arm stretches out to side, comes round to front, other arm comes up and through, quick shoot up above head, open arms out, explosive, throw it away, bring arm closer across body, fingers tickling, twist body with arm, shoulder lifts, two fingers pointing, plant them over head to other side, use focus as well to plant them, shoulder height…

I am going under my armpit, left hand 3,4. Picking up the arm, 5,6.  Right arm comes through sharp, break in elbows 7, 8. This is like taking off a jacket. This is like a tortoise.  This is like boxing – I love that.

The metaphors translated, bring instant recognition and laughter with the dancers.

Now the dancers take over, creating material that brings arms and legs together. They work as a duet and a trio (Sun rui is away today).  Kerry stressed that she doesn’t want to see legs and then arms, but legs and arms working together throughout.

Kerry created these two separate phrases outside the studio. She did not make one phrase and then separate arms from legs. This way there is more chance of the material not making sense, encouraging a discontinuity as the dancers make their own dis/connections.

There is a paradox here – Kerry wants the dancers to work their whole bodies at once, yet not making sense — a non-sensical wholeness.

Dancers are happier with being more weird today!

Afternoon.

Studio is alive, music playing, dancers chatting and warming up, changing T-shirts, Kerry working out a new phrase on her own, observers keenly watching. There is alive-ness and creative openness.

The afternoon begins with some exercises from class as a warm up. This is the 2nd day and the dancers have assimilated the exercises into their mind bodies, memory and body becoming one.

Kerry revises the phrases from yesterday -

She shouts above the music as dancers move — whoop, whey, sharp, reach, travel, yes, stop, and go, go… good, lovely, I like it!

New task: the dancers are asked to use inversion to create new solos with the leg/arm phrases. Turn your bodies inside out and upside down: Legs become arms, pelvis becomes head, head become the back and arms become legs. Solve the task in your own way; you can work on the floor. You work on your own. There is no right or wrong answer.

Material is composed and shown in two duets and a solo.  An astoundingly beautiful depth of focused material emerges, fully embodied and assimilated. With the switch from arms to legs, the dancers are often upside down, standing on their arms, working from the floor into the air with distortion, wrangling articulation, twisting torso from legs, arms from shoulders, punching striking, stripping the space.  Different qualities are emerging.

Kerry begins to choreograph two duets, giving material, hard and sharp and without pause…

At this point I go next door to observe Wang mei’s process.

I come back into Kerry’s work in studio 702 at the end of the day.

I missed a task, which was:

Lie on the floor and visualize the duets we have just made. Visualize both parts, imagine both parts. (3 minutes). Now stand up and show me your version of the duet – stay inside your visualization. Fix that visualization.

We are going to recap everything for 20 minutes, and then you can go home. The dancers are exhausted, but they are with Kerry. She holds them with her positive high energy, determination and no nonsense approach to the work.

We have 13 pieces. Recap.

  1. Elbow phrase 1
  2. Arm hip phrase 2
  3. Point and line solos
  4. Sun rui and Zhao zhibo conversation duet.
  5. Wu weifeng and Wang lei conversation duet.
  6. My leg phrase in isolation
  7. My gesture phrase in isolation.
  8. Coordination phrase put together, trio and duet.
  9. Ladies Inversion duet.
  10. Men’s inversion duet.
  11. Wang lei inversion solo.
  12. Unison duets.
  13. Visualization solos

Kerry sees each piece twice, working on a few details – they are knackered!

Debrief at the end of the day.

Thank you lets talk.

Your concentration in the task exercises was brilliant today. Yesterday was good but I can see the difference today. Did you feel the difference?

More productive today!

Do you feel you have worked your brain and your body?

More in the body.

For me there was more honesty today in attempting to do the task.

Any differences from yesterday in what you feel?

The way you approach your work feels more familiar.

How does your body feel? Other than tired.

I give speed because I think you can do it. I don’t give it because I want you to sink; I give it because I want you to do fly. I trust you; I will keep pushing because I believe in you.

Don’t push too much!

Are there any new differences?

The use of weight, the power, the attack to start. Our training before, in Chinese classical dance, is about lines of movement, following the patterns, following the lines. While your work interrupts the line with points.

What are you saying about the point and line?

The discussion that follows unpacks the difference between the linearity of classical forms and fragmentation of linearity in contemporary dance forms today. In classical Chinese dance there are no attack points, only smooth phrasing. Kerry’s work goes directly from point to point without climactic phrasing. Suspension itself is another point. Rather than a pull back breath of longing in order to go forward, there is simply the necessity for suspension for making the point. (I can get academic about this when I have time!) For now, it is exciting that the dancers are experiencing in their bodies these differences between convention and displacement. The theory is in the practice.

As I observe the material, I think again of Cunningham and see movements derived from his vocabulary embedded in Kerry’s work. I am thinking how a movement travels, like an epidemic, catches hold, is adopted, fostered, manipulated, transferred, handled, engineered, sold, borrowed, stolen, discovered by a thousand different choreographers and still manages to slip away to find a new inauguration elsewhere. And there is a Goat Island quote to insert here via Bergson & Deleuze –  but I don’t have time to find it, I must get going on day 3.

Day 2 studio 703

Studio 703.

Wang mei works at the Academy as a teacher and choreographer. Her background is ballet and Chinese folk dance. She is working with Liu mengchen, Ma linzhi, Chen maoyuan, and Shao junting. These dancers have been working together with Wang mei for a while and the material that they are working on was made previously.

As I walk in to the studio I see four dancers sitting on the floor, tapping the backs of their knees rhythmically on the floor, and then bouncing along the floor on their bums using their arms. Fast taps, then a drawn out lift of the bum, shifting in space, then drop.

Wang mei is looking at detail, spending time with timing. It seems important exactly how many bum bounces it takes before the hands move, the placing of the hands on the floor needs to be precise, who looks at who when and how, needs to be specific. Dancers watch each other and learn from each other.

Music begins. Bach (treated in some way, I will find out details tomorrow). Wang mei stops, starts, stops, starts, seeking the precision in timing that she requires.

Movements are repetitive and require unison of time and space – a challenge when movements are simple.

The interpreter tells me they are playing a game, like children, ‘natural and relaxed’. Yes.

Wang mei is now asking the dancers to keep their feet still, legs straight, and only the bums move in space, so that they move into a circle on the floor, their feet acting as a axle centre.

Now the dancers are squatting on their heels, bouncing in rhythm in rhythm, moving along the floor by twisting the feet and then shifting weight, with hands on the floor. Wang mei demonstrates the detail of how the foot twists. She does this without words. Liu mengchen copies, but is not exact. The dancers take time to observe the detail and assimilate it. Where to place the hands, how many bounces before the hands move forward, which foot moves first – these details are carefully resolved. The dancers try many different variations of a bouncing squat walk, playing with different rhythms of feet, moving forwards, backwards and circling – like a tongue twister, the hands and feet quickly become tangled. They experiment with folk dance steps while squatting! Wang mei works seriously with occasional long bouts of laughter.

Within a short while of watching I become aware of the differences between styles of working. (First impressions obviously).

Wang mei is working with simple repetitive movement and focusing on structures, choreographing shapes in time and space.

Kerry is constructing a complex movement language on the dancers bodies, where the focus on structure has not yet begun.

Wang mei is working closely with the music and the timing and placing of the movement.

Kerry plays music throughout the day to add energy, background atmosphere and attack to the movement tasks. Movement is not fitted to sound.

Wang mei stops the sound immediately she sees something that does not fit. She does not go on until is it correct.

Kerry is not working on perfecting movement to sound, as she does not yet know who will be performing the movement.

Wang mei is working on the complexity of timing with simple movements.

Kerry is working on the complexity of movement with simple timing.

Watching Wang mei work I observe a contained stillness and clarity, an attention to minimal gestural simplicity, no frills, no fuss, no explosive exaggeration or distortion. She is quiet while she thinks about the next movement, goes inwards to focus on herself. The dancers are left on their own to play with the squatting gestures, like a gathering of young playful frogs, trying out their tricks.

Kerry never leaves the dancers alone, even when they are working on tasks; she is in there with them. She arrives prepared with loads of material, holds the energy high all day, talks energetically to her dancers, rarely letting them rest, she is always facing outwards towards the dancers, never inwards to herself, the high speed rhythm of the day rarely breaks, she drives on persistently.

Today Wang mei’s dancers are always sitting down.

Kerry’s dancers are not allowed to sit down!

Wang mei is working slowly, exploding a moment of time into an hour, where less is more.

Kerry works fast, where three hours can become one minute of material and more is less.

These are my day 2 observations, without judgment or criticism. Both studios feel focused, alive, creative and concentrated, with strong relational contact between dancers and choreographers.

I leave Wang mei and the dancers in studio 703 as they continue to resolve details of timing, when to accentuate a movement on which beat in which phrase of music.

Between day 2 & 3

Getting lost at night, walking for hours, trying to find the subway. I come to a square with hundreds of people milling around. No, they are not milling, they are engaged in different physical pursuits. They are dancing. Over here are the roller skaters, wheeling round and round a central point, which consists of a bicycle, some boxes and a loud speaker with pop music blaring. Over here are disco line dancers. About ten lines deep, 30 people to each line, moving in unison timing, each in his/her own way, young and old. I can’t see a leader, but everybody seems to know what to do when the music changes. I move further around the square, here are lines of women dancing Chinese folk dance, led by two women who perform, smiling, engrossed in their dance. The women follow behind in lines, knowing what to do, old, young, fat, thin, energetic, minimal, many versions of the same material. The music blares out – but strangely drowning the disco happening 10 yards away. I walk on. Next there are the tango couples, with their own space, their own sound system, ignoring the sounds from around. Then lines of men two-stepping, separately but facing the women, a courtly dance, not touching, stiff and upright. Moving on I observe the fan dancers, in lines waving their colorful fans in unison rhythm. A big crowd is clustered round.

between day 2 & 3

between day 2 & 3

I am caught up in the sounds, the closeness of the bodies, each group of dancers’ oblivion of the existence of other formations, yet knowing they are all there together.  Out to socialize, to dance together on a hot summer’s evening – every evening. The mundane ordinariness of the repetitive actions becomes special when performed by large numbers of people, everybody dancing alone, but together.  How are the spaces divided? I wonder, does this depend on how many turn up, or are the territories fixed?  The observers form a wall around each dancing group, acting as a boundary. I wander along the periphery catching glimpses, atmospheres, moods, dancing styles. Skirting the square are walkways and trees, couples resting, kissing, old men lying on their backs on benches working their abdominals, young children roller skating round trees, little children, heads shaved, naked, pissing on the ground.

I slip amongst the crowds, stared at by those closest, otherwise invisible, and drinking in what is an every day activity here.

Day 3 Exhaustion!


day 3 working it out!

Exhaustion!

Summary. After a very creative and energized day yesterday, everybody is tired — the dancers are exhausted. So the day does not produce so much material. Even so, what does emerge is ample for a day working at this level of complexity.  The day focuses on the relationships between the dancers and Kerry, a playing out of power dynamics, who has control of time and how.  There is good rapport; laughter and generosity circulate between them.

I walk into Kerry’s rehearsal near the end of the morning. A Zoë Keating track is playing. Dancers are working on duets.

The task:

Make obstruction duets. Using ‘elbow phrase 1’ from day 1, dancer A attempts to complete the phrase. Dancer B interrupts, intervenes, attempts to stop dancer A from performing the phrase. Roles can change. Compose this material. The terms stop, obstruct, prevent, encourage the quality required – fragmented, broken, jagged, complex yet playful and relational.

The music Kerry is using as texture during her process include: John Adams, Max Richter, Zoë Keating, Deru, together with Wayne’s Random sound tracks.

Kerry does not look happy. We chat. She is very tired from lack of sleep. The dancers also. They arrived this morning unable to move, exhausted. It took over an hour to get them with her.  So she is rethinking her plans for today, in order to allow dancers to rest.  The duet task this morning allows the dancers to talk with each other and this is giving them energy.

Early break for lunch.

Noticing one’s own process as a choreographer and how that affects the dancers — this is part of the relational process for creative contact.  There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’, we are all in this together and how we meet each other requires respect, awareness, enquiry and presence.

Afternoon

Kerry discusses starting points for this afternoon. She shows me a folder with 22 transparencies, 22 diagram drawings of a city. You are the City, Observations, Organisation and Transformation of Urban Settings, (Petra Kampf 2004). Each transparency represents another interpretation. The 22 diagrams are divided into four categories: ‘Cosmological Ground, Legislative agencies; current, Flows and Forces; Nodes, Loops and Connections’ (p.11).

‘Cities are an everyday invention. They are informed and imagined by many people at a time…. Cities are an open stage for complimentary and conflicting encounters, and allow for multiple identities to emerge and evaporate. They are backdrops for dreams and desires, a platform for departures and arrivals. … Cities are impermanent – they are in a constant state of transformation, in which unpredictable changes keep their structural organisation shifting from one state to another’… Cities need to be viewed as transitional entities in which their local is to be found in the idea of moving points, animated by different forces that interact with the urban construct’ (Kampf 2004 p.2).

For Kerry, this notion of the city is the quality she is looking for in the work. For me, the notion of complementary and conflicting parallels the discussion we are having with the dancers on linearity and fragmentation.

She is also playing with a title: ‘Cleave’, suggesting a contradiction between piercing/ cutting and adhering/being faithful.

Kerry explains the transparences to the dancers.

We are looking at one transparency today. Lets take this one.

Working as 6 people, choose one journey; follow any of the lines of movement in the transparencyBut work together.

Without much debate the dancers agree on the line they wish to take.

How are you going to represent those jagged lines?

Where is your audience?

The task:

Work as if you are one person.

There must always be two people in the air being lifted.

When one person comes down another person comes up.

Lifts can be quick, but as soon as one comes down another goes up.

All 6 of you have to working, so join together.

If you are not lifting you are working to change places.

You will find yourselves laughing; I want you to take it seriously, not to miss the possibilities.

Every person needs to be in the air twice.

It should have a watery kind of feeling and it needs momentum.

You can work with flow, impulse — show me Chinese flow.

You are one animal, you move together.

Working as a sextet the dancers begin to work the task – and yes, much laughing begins the process.  Kerry is close by, engaged, anticipating. They begin to get more serious, talking, constructing, and resolving clumsy potential.  I wonder if they have had any contact improvisation?  Possibly not! They construct the lifts looking in the mirror. They play, create, and fall, thump. I am interested to notice how they relate, who is in, who is out, who has the power, who makes decisions. Without understanding what they are saying, they appear equally involved, working things out together.

I wonder about improvisation rather than construction. Yet, in a sense, constructing in this way is new for them. Usually they work with harmony and flow they are very skilled at that. So this awkward sticky playful design is creative conflict – the flow can be added later.

I leave Kerry to go next door to Wang mei.

I come back as Wang lei is performing his solo.  He is dynamic, strong, dark, dramatic, makes bullet points. He is fluid yet weighted, into the ground, sultry.

Kerry works with Wu shuai on his solo material. Kerry crafts, shifting directions, dynamics, changing arms, placing of feet, elaborating the material, directions in space and deciding on eye focus. In contrast to Wang lei, Wu shuai is a light dancer, particular, petite with delicate finesse.

Today Kerry has added two more nuggets to the repertory of material.

14. Obstruction duets.

15. Water sextet (based on the architectural transparency).

Kerry talks through plan for tomorrow.

She is thinking — no new material, but dancers teach each other material, a giving of gifts, teaching and learning, which will bring greater ownership of material.

Giving the movement away brings closer ownership.

Kerry is on the edge of beginning to structure and craft the material. The music is giving her suggestions as to the order of material.

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.

Day 4 Endurance


day 4 sun rui

(I am aware that I am not asking questions of the work as I said I would do on day 1.  I am not asking questions of relational aesthetics, ecological practice, devising processes, cultural difference, language translation, and choreographic practice. Nor am I asking questions of the dancers’ relationship with Kerry, how knowledge is transferred, the mirror techniques, the affects and attunements of the process. Nor am I making parallels with theories and philosophies that emerge from the work.  The immediate is too present! I am simply writing what happens in the studio – for now).


Weifou is not here, he is in hospital, with an old back injury.  5 dancers again. Plans are scuppered for this morning.

Kerry begins with Zhao zhibou and Wu shuei, working with the obstruction duet; cleaning, finding stops, extending lines, sorting phrasing, making, breaking. Kerry pulls out moments, signposting points that consequently have a shared consciousness.  With her interventions, she enters into the duet, creates fissures, and cracks in the material. These moments become points of shared awareness, beginnings and ends of phrases, places from which to start, pick up and continue.  Shared ownership.

What began as an obstruction, an interruption to the material, has become a movement. The cut becomes a space, the space becomes a movement.

Kerry works on a new solo for Sun rui, testing their relational contact through the sharing of the material. His long thin legs go up and up.

Men — back to the leg/arm phrase. — with a new front, facing the windows.  Ladies  — facing the back of the space.  Men once through without arms, then ladies join, all do the leg phrase with arms.

Kerry is beginning to layer the material in the space, bodies in space and time.

Afternoon session.

2pm start. But no one is ready. Two dancers are asleep and no one else is here.  2.20 the dancers have arrived but no one has warmed up.  Kerry decides to talk with them, even thought there is no interpreter.

I am getting a little unhappy, this may be a cultural thing, but in UK if class begins at 9.40am then dancers are in the space warmed up and ready to go. Here, you are asleep. If I say rehearsal begins at 2pm, I mean 2pm… I need you with me.

Kerry gets the message across positively and respectfully, yet clearly. She needs the dancers to be with her for the length of the rehearsal.  The dancers tell us that this two weeks is summer holiday time, and they are coming in especially to do the project. Perhaps this contextual information helps to explain their attitude.

I can feel Kerry’s frustration in my body. I know that feeling of expecting to work with dancers and finding them low, tired, with sleepy energy – how difficult it is to lift their energy – I feel myself dropping and with that goes confidence. The relational contact breaks down. I see it happening here with Kerry. Her talk with them helps to catch that feeling early.  She is so ready, so ‘up’, speeding, moving three paces ahead, punching the air, driving the beat, hauling the dancers along with her. If they drag behind it is five times more exhausting for her to keep going at this pace. (Many questions here of ways of devising/directing).

Kerry is crafting, structuring material. The dancers are spaced in a flat horizontal line, coming forward, men in unison, and women in unison. Adding new material as she goes. The line travels down front, with sharp cutting movements, one gesture for each beat, each gesture thrusts in a new direction.   Nothing is smooth; all is fractured; yet the shards create a whole. The solo material coming forward in the line breaks into duet material.

The dancers copy the material beautifully, immediately after Kerry demonstrates. Yet retaining this image in their bodies appears to be more of a challenge. The tendency is to lose not only the shape of the gesture, which inevitably includes a multiplicity of specific directions in space, but also the ability to shift between movements with clarity. Wang lei and Wang yabin have this ability. On the other dancers the material can look mushy, lacking articulation and precision, details are compromised.  If the dancers work a little slower they find the clarity. Working at Kerry’s speed is a new experience for them.  (Again questions here of devising methodologies).

I go next door.

Wang mei is on her stomach demonstrating how the legs scissor and slide. Yes, they are still on the floor, working slowly. Wang mei has a blister on her elbow. I am not surprised!  She is waiting for a plaster.

I leave and go back next door.

Contrast – POW! Kerry is asking the dancers to do the next run full out, so she can see if her answers work. Kerry is going even faster, pumping out her counts. The dancers are straining, staggering, but they are with her.

So, what is the intention here, working fast with movement in a complexity of directions?

This seems to be becoming a challenge of power and endurance — can the performers keep up?  Will Kerry give a break in the marathon?

This is a challenge of technical skill, will power and stamina for the dancers.  Is that the core of the work?

We are inside the engine of a technical dance language, (we are inside the racer that is Wayne McGregor!). And what history do these dancers have of Wayne’s work. Do they know the context in which they are working?   There is a myth that if dancers are not working full out when Wayne enters the studio, he might decide to get on with something else. (A myth, but there is something here about  the need for dancers and choreographer to meet and match creative energy). Kerry carries  this legacy. She has to – she has a piece to make. Yet she does not want to set up a hierarchy of power and fear.  Testing testing. Driving on (edited august 3rd).

Would it be useful for the dancers to learn more of the context, to watch some DVDs of Wayne’s work for instance?

Scaffolding is being erected on the windows outside. Men are walking on single planks and poles, constructing the platforms, 8 floors up, without harnesses attached. Another test of endurance?

Men, do you remember this phrase? Kerry goes through one of the phrases she taught them.

Task: Work a version of that phrase on the floor.

Task for the women:

Take the letters: C L E A V E

Take 6 body parts: left side of the ribcage, sternum, hip, shoulder blade, foot and ear.

Take each letter and each body part and find a movement to describe it on the floor.

Write on the floor as if writing in the sand.

The 6 movements should flow.

How Kerry relates to the dancers influences the material that is made. Her fighting energy brings the attack and drive into the work. Translation of language is not just about the content, or the ‘what’, but the ‘how’, the quality of the translation, the style of contact and transference.

The men play as children, making a compelling piercing phrase.  How can this child like creative enthusiasm be contained? Will the articulation be retained tomorrow? Explosive energy comes in waves, it is unsteady, unpredictable, dazzling. When it is not there we have fuzzy, mushy, unarticulated scratchy, fiddly, sloppy dancing. I am not sure these young dancers know how to sustain and contain energy.

Kerry works with Wang lei for another 15 minutes, extending his solo.

This is perfect, this quality is perfect, this is just what I want.

I agree.

I go next door to Wang mei.

Although continuing to work on the floor the dancers have changed position in space. They are sitting up, facing the window, in a vertical line upstage. They continue to work with the movements of babies, and the contradictions between pedestrian released gestures, precise timing and exact unison, which gives the work a quality of taut simplicity.

They work on the moment of change between the horizontal line and the vertical line, who goes where, and who moves first, to achieve the shift in two beats, 7,8. There is much laughter and discussion, as they try to accomplish this task. It is achieved by using less effort, going there directly without wasting energy.

I am caught up again by the difference.

For Wang mei less is more, movements are stripped to a bare minimalism, requiring concentration on details of placement and timing with a centered stillness and core strength.

For Kerry, energy is pounding outwards, attack is outward, stamina and technical brilliance are always required, in a survival of the fittest.

Wang mei has until November to make the piece.

Kerry has two weeks.

Day 5 Working the gaps


day 5 wang lei solo


day 5 duets


day 5 Wu Shuai


day 5 wang lei 2

Working the Gaps

Kerry looks like she might be riding a slight panic (with positive energy of course). There are 4 dancers in the space. Wu Weifong is injured and will not be back till Monday. Zhao zhibou is off this morning, and Sun rui will be off this afternoon but zhibou will be back.  Kerry asks the dancers if they will all be there next week. Reassured, she accepts that today and tomorrow will be without full cast. She needs all 6 dancers to work the sextet, the trios and the legs/arms line. As yet, she has had only one day with all 6 dancers present.

She shows me her rehearsal notes, she has structured most of the material now on paper, with the sound score. Now her structure needs to be worked in the space, which is tricky when dancers are not present.  There is no time for re-thinking, the dice is thrown, and there can be no wondering or wandering into the gaps that have appeared. Kerry needs the dancers here, present and full in the space.

She begins rehearsal working with the men’s floor phrase, begun yesterday. Wu shuei, Wang lei, Sun rui.  Cleaning the details, counts, spacing.

I watch the solo for Sun rui.

…Slide through, deliciously pointed foot, shove hip, look, turn, arabesque, perfect, deep on supporting leg, spin, arms over the head, drop hands, stagger, stagger, hands on bum, travel, drop head, leg up, clap hands around knee, slide hand down sternum, hands to ribs, hands to bum, extending those legs, those violently beautiful extensions, slicing in the air. Exquisite, a tall sinewy swan, sharp swift and linear.

I watch the solo for Wu shuei.

…Reach arm back, step forward, parallel rise, stop, drop, jump, thrust hips, circle, smooth, catch, throw arms down, straight legs jump, snake through, pull out, sharp arms down, smooth ripple of back.  Small, tough, cheeky, direct hits and fluid as a butterfly!

Kerry begins to structure material. Wu Shuei’s solo links into the men’s feet phrase. Kerry sorts the spacing, fronts, diagonals, facings, corners. Concentration on the legs.

A gap appears — 4 counts need filling before the repeat of the leg phrase. Kerry pauses, her body hesitates, opening up the gap for a new something that has not yet been figured. She searches for a movement that travels, she knows where she needs to be, how many counts. What will be the movement that emerges? Hold that moment unfixed, just for a moment — then she is off, the movement appears and fills the space — two runs and a skidder — and the gap is filled.

We are in positive space, punctuating points in space, on the beat, movement happens on 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 7 & 8 – even the stops are sharply accentuated. Gestures cut rather than absorbing the space.

And then there is dancers’ remarkable ability to remember material!  We tend to take this for granted, for it is assimilated into daily training from an early age. Memory of movement is a fine skill.

Have some lunch gentlemen.

Afternoon.

Studio 703 Wang mei

I have gathered information. The piece is based on a poem. I am given 4 translations. Here is the first (translated by Lin Yutang):

In my young days,

I had tasted only gladness.

But loved to mount the top floor,

But loved to mount the top floor,

To write a song pretending sadness.

And now I’ve tasted sorrow’s flavors, bitter and sour,

And can’t find a word,

And can’t find a word,

But merely say, “What a golden autumn hour!”

The composer is Bach with an overlaying score treated by a Chinese composer names Fan ZongWei.

As expected, the company is sitting on the floor, discussing the fine details of moving forward on their bums. Who moves first, how they move, on what count, the quality of the move, the extent of each lean forward — are discussed through collective wrangling. The timing of the movements reminds me of musical counterpoint.

Wang mei often steps into the piece and one of the dancers takes over the direction.  Her energy matches the dancers, no more, no less. Yet she clearly has the final say. The work looks inwards to its internal functioning, its group rhythms, rhythms composed of 4 parts, 4 layers. Each dancer’s part brings a different counterpoint to the whole, a 4 part score. The question is – how are they reaching decisions – as it seems to take a very long time!  Wang mei seems passionately absorbed in the problematic details of space and time.

I return to studio 702.

Kerry is working with Wang yabin. Here are some of Kerry’s words, caught as she directs.

… Yea, so from here, quite like to see the hands, hands go, hands drop, can this be bigger, exactly, carry on, judder, hit emilyn, travel, carry on, small, small, small, big.  Exactly and carry on. Ah, so could I have this with this shoulder, big, big, exactly, just make sure, stop it, then go, then shoulder, yea, and then yabin, you can do this one on 4, nice, two arms legs in, good yabin, where does your solo finish? Urr, so literally from here I want you to go…  do you need a minute to think?

Yabin does the solo again, this time I try to catch what I see – writing as I watch.

…Still, eyes, mouth smiles, step, leg round, arm air swift, sway, shunt out sideways, criss cross, hand on floor, curve, split legs, turn, swan lake wrists, elbows in, hug self, circle arms, throw above head, head snake, foot up, cramp, elbow, heel, lunge, hips turn, spin, twist arms around, fingers judder, ripple back, whoa, fall to floor, circle hips, tiger walk, skidder on feet, shoulder circle small, small baby, fetus, lengthen out, hips smash, hands flipped, draw along the floor, skidder round on one hand, lie back, shoulder twist, turn, kneel, skim along floor,  stomach tense, head lifted, snake whisper with hair…

We go downstairs to the BDA office, to look at Random videos, to give context to Kerry’s work.

Kerry discusses the rehearsal process and checks out how the dancers are remembering the material and assimilating it into their bodies. She is used to seeing dancers working all the time. These dancers rest while not working and then get up and do the material pretty well remembered. So how do you remember?

Dancers: In middle school this is most important in the training.

Tomorrow is Saturday, we will start at 11am. I want you there with energy, focus, for three hours. I want you there with bright eyes and energy. Good plan?

Dancers happy to begin later tomorrow!

Day 6 Pulling together

Video clips:

Day-6-Sun-rui

day-6-Wang-yabin

day-6-Wu-shuai

day-6-zhibou-1

Day 6 Sun rui day 6 Wang yabin day 6 Wu shuai day 6 zhibou 1

Day 6 Pulling together

Wayne’s blog comment reminds me to write what I respect and learn from Kerry as she works. Her tireless driving energy and rhythmic pace is an inspiration, as is her thorough preparation of material, her ability to demonstrate and translate the language onto the dancers bodies, her patience and her ability to cut the crap and get on with it.  Yet there is something else very special that I learn to do with how Kerry relates in the studio. She has the ability to surrender to the creative process. I don’t mean a ‘giving up’, but a generosity, a giving of self to the dance that emerges, a giving of self to the relational dialogue. What I mean by this is that the work is not about her, rather the translation of material between them. She leaves her ego elsewhere to be inside the process with the dancers. Her body acts as a conduit, through which the material passes, from its history with Random, through Kerry to the dancers. There is humility here and a lack of self-consciousness. At the same time she directs with authority and drive, there is no room for doubt in the studio. I learn a lot from this quality of delivery: her play between drive and surrender.

(Yes, doubt can be a creative tool as it open up the gaps, but not here, not in a two-week process with a piece to make).

Saturday. We begin at 11am with a warm up class. Five dancers all on time!

Small group, talk the plan for the day:

This is every thing we have done so far. (Kerry shows the dancers her hand written list of numbered items, each one crossed off). There are some things we will be able to forget but I want to see them today and then I can tell you if we can throw them away. We have 25 things, 2 or 3 we can’t do because Wu weifeng is injured. Without him we have 21 and I want to see them with clarity and precision.

Kerry leads a short 2-hour rehearsal, going through all the material so far. After each fragment she cleans up some details before moving on. She demonstrates the material when necessary, indicating where she wants the stops, changes in quality, space directions, unison moments, breaks in the material and emphasizing specific gestures that have got lost. Here are the fragments:

Phrase 1

Phrase 2

I am thinking about plie here, eyes are to the audience, drop out. Sharp elbow.

Phrase 3

Knee clasp with double pirouette. What did we say yesterday about this, travel, moving, I am moving, remember crab, crab?  I am thinking about my ear… Lets try again everybody.

Wang lei solo

Walking in from upstage, shake, and stop. Ooze, pin, scythe, flick.

Men feet phrase.

Knee, up, screw heel, fouette, thigh lift, knee, limp sideways, slide, cut through, skidder. Wu shuai ends the phrase by falling into ‘splits’. Don’t do that Wu shuai or I will put it in! Laughter follows.

Men & women, feet and arms. (Track 2.29)

Can I see the arms on their own please?

Its not small, its about reaching away from you, something is happening here as well, this is sharp, then remember the tortoise, heavy.

Kerry attends to the details of the hands and wrists.

Wu shuai and Wu weifeng duet — can’t do today.

Kerry’s unison duet

Begins with fingers pointing to shoulders and roll down through spine. Includes the partner work, tortoise head movement, head to partner’s stomach, split leg drags, women lifted parallel to floor.

Sun rui solo

Points and lines duets

Do you remember your points and lines solos? Well you don’t need to, you can forget forever. We have the duets with that material.

Duet with Wang lei and Wu weifeng. Cannot do today.

Sun rui and Zhao zhibou duet

Zhibou solo

She is working well, the lines are more defined and clear, she is gathering strength, she seems more weighted.

Yabin solo

Men floor material

Exquisite, sharp, sorting out timing – with laughter.  Playful teasing relationships between Kerry and the men.

Sextet (water) – can’t do without Wu weifeng.

Stopping duets

Kerry wants them close together in space, four bodies of complex material. She sorts out timing, so lifts come together, unison shapes, and canon after the stop.

Sun rui & Wu weifeng. Duet (not today)

The line coming forward.

Wu shuai solo:

I love you Wu shuai! (‘I love you too’ he responds – they tease).

Very clean, very nice.

Visualisation solos

Kerry runs all the material in a constructed order, which is split into two sections.

She then runs the material again, running sections 1 and 2 together.

The piece is beginning to take shape. The weaving and linking from solos to duets and trios and quartets is well paced and Kerry’s meticulous attention to timing has paid off as one fragment slips and overlaps into another.

A good week’s work. How do you feel? Tired. I am very happy at the end of week one.

Tomorrow you sleep, eat chocolate, sleep. Any body want to say anything to me?

Thank you guys.

Day 7 30 minute marathon


sun rui & weifeng day 7

marathon trio: working it out day 7

Kerry's teachings methods day 7

Kerry has listed the methods she uses when teaching and transferring knowledge of her movement language to students and dancers.  This also represents the qualities that are important to her. I attach an image here.

Task (new material):

Insertion into the quartet.

All four dancers working together.

Choose moments of stop in the quartet. Insert a ‘fall’, ‘rotation’, ‘flight’ and ‘catch’.

Then continue with the material.

Three stops, three insertions.

Kerry describes the difference between ‘flight’ and ‘lift’.  In a lift, you stay in contact, in flight you come out of contact, travel through space and then you are caught.

They begin to work, they have 10 minutes, while Kerry shapes Weifeng’s solo and his duet with Sun rui. Yes Weifeng is back so the full cast is present. Kerry choreographs Weifeng to walk in from upstage, Sun rui to catch him in a lift before he stops.

Kerry uses the term exquisite to describe Sun rui’s movement quality. Attempting to explain the term to the translator takes me to the dictionary definition

ex·qui·site adj

1.            very beautiful and delicate or intricate

2.            perfect and delightful

3.            sensitive and capable of detecting subtle differences

4.            felt with a sharp intensity

Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999

The atmosphere in the studio is vibrant, active, full of creative input, from Kerry, photographers, observers, dancers and translator.

Kerry returns to the quartet, to see the material.

The task has been misunderstood; they have been working in pairs rather than as a group of four.

Kerry explains again. I should see just one fall, one rotation, on flight, one catch. There is one action and it does not matter who does it, but you work as a group.

That is a lift, not a flight.

Even if I am over there, I am always watching!

Kerry is happy with the atmosphere in the studio, everybody working. I sense it too. This is not just about a discipline and a shared creative focus. When dancers are scattered, working in different pockets of the space like this, highly energized, they simulate the desired structure of the choreography, as different layers of material and focus happening simultaneously.  So the dancers begin to live the style and the process becomes the choreography.

Afternoon.

We are going for a marathon. 30 minutes of new material. And Kerry is going to work fast! She begins by talking with the translator, explaining certain terms that she is going to use with the dancers, so the translator is ready to translate fast.

You will say the word after me quickly, and then they respond quickly. So I will say, catch, drag, and fall. I will say: one person is the pencil, and another person is going to draw with them, draw in space. I will say ‘find the sky’, limbs — connect and rotate. I will say the floor, the ceiling, and behind, (which is not about turning their backs, but about being aware of something behind them). I will say up and down, backwards and forwards, ‘move your heart sideways’,  ‘filling ribcage with air’, sternum, elbow, change facing, lift, a lift that changes position in space. I will say point as in point at something with a body part.

I want the dancers to make decisions without talking, I want their bodies to answer, to go immediately, to get quicker at making decisions, I am going to direct them with an instruction, I would like you to instruct back loudly, so it goes: English, Chinese, body, English, Chinese body, English Chinese body’ so they don’t have time for thinking.  We are working with ‘back changing’. I will keep going back to the beginning. Make a phrase, remember it, go back to the beginning, repeat, add on, remember, go back to beginning, repeat, add on, remember and back to the beginning. I would like you to be urgent and focused for 30 minutes.  We need to be really clear so we can direct them. We are going to label each dancer as A, B, C and I shall refer to the dancers by these letters.

The translator asks – what is ‘connect’?

Kerry demonstrates two limbs connecting.

Try to be instinctive, not planned. I will lead, but you be there.

Kerry is riding high, well in control and directing with style.

All of this is then explained to the dancers.

We are not talking; we are solving the task without talking. For 30 minutes, we don’t have water, we don’t look at our phones, we don’t go home, 30 minutes of an urgent energy…

Kerry divides group into two trios, Wang lei, Sun rui, Wang yabin and Weifeng, Wu shuai, Zhao zhibo.  Each trio is given a piece of paper with 6 written numbers.

Label yourself A, B or C in your group.

Have water before we start.

The 30-minute marathon begins.

I find myself carried into the marathon as a writer, attempting to catch what happens, staying in the moment, forgetting to breathe, no pause to think, just writing. And it went something like this (I have included some commentary although this could be extracted to get a better sense of the rhythm of the work):

No more talking.

A have a look at your piece of paper.  Use B as a pencil, quick.  C punctuate a point behind you and change direction.  Go. Draw, not like a rag doll, be clear.  C find a point behind and change direction.

Dancers are somewhat dazed; the process is slowed down because of translation.  Like Kerry has bundled them all into a train and the doors have closed. They are off but they don’t know where they are going.

From the beginning.  Once more. Draw, point behind, change direction.

Now C is going to lift B, to change space.

From beginning, and draw, and lift and change space.

No walking, think of a way to get there.

From the beginning, draw, you lift, change space.

From the beginning. Draw, approach, change space.

All look at 2nd letter.  Draw your 2nd letter with your elbows.

From the beginning.

You draw, approach, lift and take space and elbows.

Once more from the beginning. Quick.

Draw, lift, go, elbow.

B & C lift A and change facing.  Don’t talk, do.  This should be a lift.

From beginning, and elbow and lift, change direction.

Kerry demands faster connections between figures.

From the beginning.

And draw, lift, change space, elbow, approach, lift.

C draws with A.

I feel an excitement rising, as I did yesterday at the Great Wall, crowded up against the stone wall, trying to get through a small gap, with thousands of people behind me pushing, like time is ending, like 9am rush hour at Victoria station, like those dreams where you are running very fast and not getting anywhere!!

And draw, and elbow, and lift, change space, and draw and sternum.

Once more.

C get into the lift quicker.

C fall on A and B, A and B catch C.  Go!

A and B drag C.

The scaffolders are back outside, balancing on the bars, no harnesses, hanging nets.

The dancers are safe with their falling, no risk taken. Do they know how to fall?  No time to teach them, no experience of contact impro. They stay safe, falling back with arms outstretched; to be caught almost before the fall begins.

From the beginning.

Draw, lift, change space, draw elbow, lift two people, change space, draw, fall drag.

From the beginning.

B draw the 4th number, using C.  A move your heart sideways and fill ribcage with air.

Kerry demonstrates nothing, all is verbally transferred.

From the beginning. Weifeng –get out quickly.

Lets go.

Dancers are shocked out of patterns, out of careful placing of arms and legs, jump started into movement as task.

Draw, lift, travel the lift, go go go, draw with the elbow, lift, readdress space, and draw, and fall, drag, rotate, draw.

I need to see you fall first then catch, not just catch.

From the beginning, here we go. Keep with it guys.

Kerry is shouting, dancers are looking dazed! But they are with her.

From here A, B & C, show me something up and down, backwards and forwards. Go.

Nothing happens, dancers seem stilted. Kerry demonstrates, translator joins in.

Let me see it.

Its up, you go down, you go backwards, you go forwards and it’s gone. Fast.

From the beginning.

Draw, lift change space, elbow, into lift and change space and draw and fall, drag and go, draw, up, down, backwards and forwards.

Have a moment to think about it, you can talk for one minute.

From the beginning.

Look at the 5th number. A is going to draw number on floor, B on ceiling, C behind you.

So it goes, up down, back forward, 5th number.

Lets go from the falling.  Fall, drag and draw and up, down, back forward and it draws.

A and C connect limbs and rotate. It can be small, connect, rotate. B find the sky.

Lets go from up, and down, are you ready?

And up, down, back, forwards, draw a number, connect, rotate, find the sky.

Then, as a trio, change places.

From the beginning.

Keep going; keep working on it, no water. Only two more events to go.

A solo — 6th number.

2nd time through, C stops you.

B rests.

B uses C as pencil.

I have a solo, I have a stop, and I have a drawing.

When C uses B, A steps away.

From the beginning.

Draw, lift, travel, travel, big elbow, lift, rotate, draw nice and clean, fall, drag and you draw and you go up, down, you draw.  Connect and rotate, find the sky, change places, solo, duet, and step away.

Lets go from the 6th number.

Last thing – A falls, B & C catch, drag.

From the beginning.

From the beginning.

We have the material!

I see two trios, completely different, yet created from similar instructions — verbal unison, visual difference.

I go next door to Wang mei and calm down!

I come back to a run through of sections 1 & 2.

The order today:

Wan lei entrance and solo.

Wang lei and Weifeng’s duet.

Two duets – quartet adding new material today (drop, rotate, flight, catch)

Men traveling feet phrase.

Women and men feet and arms phrase.

Yabin solo

Weifeng walking into duet with Sun rui + Yabin solo

Wu shuai solo + yabin solo

Sun rui solo

Zhibo and Sun rui’s duet – music slows.

2nd section

Walk down, line.

Kerry’s duets, unison

Sun rui solo

Into marathon trios from today, new material.

Break into weifeng’s solo.

Back to marathon, new material.

Wu shuai & weifeng’s duet.

Pause – gap in material, to be filled.

Men’s floor material with women unison duet.

The material and structure are nearly complete. 5 days to go.

Day 7 studio 703 real/empty

Wang mei with her dancers day 7wang mei day 7


wang mei rocking day 7

Wang mei has decided  to perform in the work, so now there are 5 performers.

I watch a run of a small section, to music. Dancers are sitting on the floor facing front, swaying slightly, forward and back.  I am caught by the concentration, the stillness within the movement, a contained attention to detail, the ability to be empty and full simultaneously.  The minute changes in gesture, for instance one dancer’s change of direction, or an extended rocking that takes a dancer onto his back, becomes magnified, almost a shock.  I am pulled in.

The run through lasts maybe 1 minute.  Then they gather round the video recording, to watch this short section several times, discussing details, shifts in the material.  The attention to detail is astonishing. I am looking at the micro made macro.  I am reminded of that movie about the life of ants, when a blade of grass becomes a tree, and we are looking into a tiny world enlarged.

I sense a collective working together, although Wang mei has the final decisions, different dancers step out to direct material and all the creative discussions and changes are discussed as a group.

I gather that they discussing real and empty.

I am fascinated watching the group work out the subtle differences in a single gesture.  Lifting themselves on their hands, legs straight out in front, they rock sideways in rhythm. The difference between a sharp rocking movement and a swinging rocking movement is discussed at length. The swinging rocking movement is required. They watch each other to perfect this.

Later – after the marathon next door, I come in and slow down.

Five bodies are sitting, facing the mirror, knee tapping and sliding backwards on the floor.

Qier explains to me a little of Wang mei’s working process. For Wang mei, when one dancer is communicating with another, this is reality. If you are working alone you are empty. I interpret this as a play between bein in the world relationally and focusing inwards when alone. Wang mei seeks a co-operation between everybody. Every movement must be comfortable for each person; if one person is uncomfortable then the movement will be changed. Each dancer has a different movement, yet they work together in unison, so each person can see the other do his/her movement. They are working with an inside awareness as well as the outside image, to come into together differently in unison.

I need a deeper understanding of her methods. I arrange to interview Wang mei tomorrow at 5pm.

Day 8 preparing the ending

day 8 beginning

I spent the morning writing up yesterday’s process.

Afternoon

Kerry is talking to the dancers -

 — You know the sextet, the lifting phrase altogether?  Well good news, it is scrapped.

Kerry sets new line material, as a possible ending and echoing the earlier line material. Three A dancers and three B dancers. A’s are in unison, B’s are in unison. Kerry teaches two phrases of 8. This is gestural with arms, elbows and hands featuring. She then works another phrase of 8, new duet material, still in the line. She works fast, without hesitation, phrases constructed before the rehearsal began.  There is no break in the rhythm of her delivery of material.  She continues for the 4th phrase of 8, with a reworking of each dancer’s solo, which they perform together in the line, before walking upstage for 4 counts to end.

It is all in the preparation! To reach the ending within the time available, the preparations need to be thoroughly considered, which I imagine Kerry does before entering the studio. To prepare, Kerry will need to unweave from the final image, back to the first figure, in order to choreograph forward to the final image. E.g. Everybody turns and walks 4 steps upstage with her/his right leg first, which means each preceding solo needs to end with the right leg free, which affects how each solo begins, and how each solo begins depends on each dancer’s placing in the new line material, so this spacing needs to be considered before the line material is choreographed in order that the follow on material can unfold from there. And of course before any of this can happen, Kerry has decided on how many beats and phrases of 8 she requires, so that the final image will meet the end of the music.

At the end of the day I see a run of the last section of the piece.   Bother – the music ends before the material. Somewhere there is an overspill.  Kerry unravels, tightening up a few moments to see if the material will fit.  It does, tight. No gaps, no letting go, no moments of rupture or empty time. No time to breathe out.

I notice as the dancers get tired, their movements tighten, become small and tense, losing grounded-ness, breath and risk. Their gestures hit the space with short punches, rather than extend and thrust into an expanse of space.  When they are tired they work on the surface of their bodies. What they need to do is work deeper as they get tired, finding an economic use of energy that expands from inside out rather than outwards in.

Charlie Balfour has arrived (lighting designer). Just in time to see the first full run today, with 80% energy.

Then another run, 100% energy. No talking on the sides, stay focused for the dancers working in the space.  When it gets fast you need to look at each other, take time to approach each other.  You are a company of 6, not 6 soloists.

The piece is nearly there. A few gaps, a few spacing questions and then the cleaning begins!

Day 8 Wang mei

Wang-Mei's-Rehearsal
Wang mei rehearsal video

I enter as a discussion is in process about how far to drop their heads as they sit on the floor.

…Time passes, I am watching them all lying on their backs. They are now discussing exactly how Wang mei wants them to initiate arching their necks so that their eyes can look back behind. A very slight movement, imperceptible at first, grows out of nothing. They expand the very start of the gesture as their hair slides on the floor. Does it begin with the movement of the eyes, or the shift in the neck? Nothing becomes something.  Something small becomes magnified.

Today I interviewed Wang Mei. Hopefully it can be loaded onto the blog site.  It was informative. However by the time my questions/comments were translated, and Wang mei had responded, and then her words translated back to me, I was left feeling that the response seemed to have moved away from the question to a new place, which took the dialogue in another direction and opened up other questions.  Dare I say it – we seemed to be playing Chinese whispers!

I will see about transcribing the interview or uploading it in iTunes format.

A crucial point I remember – Wang mei is not interested in technical codified dancing, she is interested in working with dancers as people, to explore human-ness, human gesture, rather than dance technique.

Day 9 Qualities

Walking — what happens when dancing stops and walking begins. Can the dancers break out of dance code to walk from A to B, or will the walk become a codified statement? Does walking constitute a gap in the dancing, a pragmatic move from A to B, or is it a full statement. Is a gap a statement? Kerry is asking for urgency, a presence, in the walk, yet not codified, I wonder how this is being interpreted – as grandly present, or internally focused, in time to the music or just an embodied moment of walking.

Looking — how do the dancers see each other? At present they work in duets with no eye contact, body-to-body, soldier-to-soldier, waiting for the beat to begin, and then bang into the fast partner work — the meetings between them are coldly robotic. What is Random’s aesthetic on looking? Kerry begins to address this, looking for the links into partner work so there is continuity between meeting and dancing. For me, the dancers are mirror bound, they see themselves and each other in the mirror, and I don’t sense they are in contact with each other relationally, as different live bodies.

Endings — allow yourself to breath, settle, allowing you to register the end of the duet, before walking off. How much of this is translated?  Or is the image of pausing before walking off stage copied from Kerry’s demonstration? How does this become assimilated internally? Does it matter? How do you perform pause?

Throughout this creative process, learning has been externally directed, and then internally assimilated.   Mirror learning.  Remembered by image. So the code is transferred. Question — what is the relationship here between semiotic and symbolic language, how does one inform the other on the dancer’s body?

Run through of 1st section.

Links have been made, for Yabin’s solo; this is stronger with Zhibo added.

Links made into Sun rui and Zhibo’s duet at end of section.

Much smoother links into men’s feet and arms phrase.

Kerry has changed Wang lei’s ending. While the others walk upstage, he walks down stage and goes into his initial move at the beginning of the piece.  Bookends, nice. Of course this adds an accessible narrative!

End of the day and Kerry is aware of a ‘larking about’ atmosphere in the studio, like school kids anxious to get out to play.

The quicker we can do these two runs the quicker we can go home.

I like a relaxed atmosphere, but I get a sense when it gets to much fun it gets uncontrollable. Especially when you are tired, if one person laughs, then two people laugh, then it goes crazy. Then you are having a party and I don’t know what is going on.  I need you to focus otherwise I don’t know if my decisions are correct.  So focus for me for another 20 minutes. Also, try not to laugh at each other, be supportive. I know this material is strange.  No we don’t feel strange, it is normal now.  I think you look beautiful I am proud of what you have done…

The dancers tell Kerry that it does not feel strange any longer; the movement language is assimilated into their bodies.  So this brings another question — if the material feels comfortable then is that an achievement — or is it the discomfort, the strangeness, that actually defines the quality of the material?  So — are the dancers’ aiming for comfort in their dancing? Or can Kerry encourage them to continually question and play with the movement to ensure that it retains its strange awkward-ness.  For the awkward fractured quality of Random’s work is its strength.

Run through 200% then home!

Day 9 Issues emerging

Issues emerging – welcome discussion and expansion.

  • The different uses of time and space by the two choreographers.
  • The aesthetics of the different movement languages,  classical, fragmented, hybrid, pedestrian.
  • Generic histories of  movement languages.
  • Embodying language, outside in and/or inside out.
  • Questions of performing presence — when the dancing stops.
  • Translation and how meaning shifts between languages.
  • Communication of ideas verbally and bodily.
  • Devising processes:  hierarchical, directorial, collaborative, collective.
  • Writing processes – writing in the present, past and future.
  • Appropriations, expectations, myths, generalizations and ignorances that inform our current knowledge of Chinese/European dance cultures.

Unfortunately I have to leave Beijing before the final day’s showings.  

Although I missed the final day, I saw a full run of both pieces at the end of the previous day. I have these on film, and hope to find a way to upload them.

I was most surprised by Wang mei’s piece. Most rehearsals I had watched over the previous days were spent discussing small details,  and I saw only fragments of the whole. Now I see the piece complete I am  amazed by its tight fit to the music. The movement follows the phrasing and qualities of the Bach music exactly. Choreographically this is clever,  I am drawn to the exactness and the detail and layering of movement, by the fact that the dancers never stand up, that small pedestrian gestures become stylised. However for me, the movement language, which is unconventional and beautifully minimal, loses some of its power when fitted so tightly to the sound score. The piece becomes more like a musical study and loses some of the emotional power I had seen on previous days.  This tight relationship to the music brings it closer to Kerry’s choreography, where all movement is fitted to the music,  and there is only occasional pause for breath. The challenge for the dancers in Kerry’s piece is to find the human-ness in performing the material, particularly how performers look at each other and support each other.  Also, the fast rhythm tends to influence the size of the movement, which gets smaller, therefore the material no longer looks fast.  The challenge is to expand into space rather than tightening, in order to increase the impression of risk taking speed. 

On Day 9 & 10 Naomi and I decided to interview all the dancers. I also interview Wang mei about her choreography.  These will be added as soon as we have transcribed the material. In between inerviewing I watch Kerry rehearsing the dances. Cleaning the material, fine tuning the phrasing, and counts, looking for the stillness, the held moments, tableaus between dancers. Running the piece again and again, building stamina and confidence. Her assured energy in the directorial role continues to inspire the dancers, to keep them going. Kerry understands the need to find a rhythm in the day’s energy, not to flag, not to lose the momentum, otherwise dancers become exhausted. Dropping energy and then having to find it again is so much harder than staying energized throughout the session.  Liminality of time might offer potential as a creative space for choreographers, but for dancers’ bodies in action it is slow road to collapse.  Teachers know this, choreographers tend to forget. Kerry is also a good teacher!

Phase three ends

I am picking up the narrative of these postings as the clock robbed Emilyn of the chance to maintain the daily contributions in the final days of this phase of Danscross. I am happy to say that she will fill in the gaps in coming weeks and complete this remarkably rich commentary on the phase three process.

The last three days of this period (days 10 — 12) were filled with intense activity as choreographers and dancers honed their works and made final alterations and adjustments. Simultaneously more people were drawn into the studios: Emilyn Claid and Qing Qing were joined by academics Naomi Inata from Japan and Luo Bin from the China National Academy of Arts Research; and lighting designer Charles Balfour arrived from London to work with Chinese designers Ren Dongshen and Shui Wendong. The introduction of these new spectators brought the performance moment palpably closer.

Another interesting element to be added come from material gathered by Emilyn and Naomi who interviewed both dancers and choreographers, so enabling more voices to join this record of the creative processes. These subsequent additions will alter a blog which has focused on the immediate and spontaneous, and perhaps this part of the process will exhibit a change in register — a kind of reflective blogging.

Days 10 and 11

In the midst of the bustle and the preparations for the production the concentration in both studios deepened noticeably. The energy of the dancers became more consistently focused and the longer passages of material both demanded and allowed longer periods of attention to be sustained and enhanced. Academics and designers have commented on the fact that the works and the working methods are virtually polar opposites as the sweeping phrases of Kerry Nicholls’ work are in stark contrast to the minimal sparseness of Wang Mei; and the panoramic scope of Kerry’s attention and energy is contrasted by the pinpoint focus of Wang Mei.

But nonetheless I am struck by the remarkable similarities in the works and processes: both choreographers demand an unusually high level of concentration from the performers and a commitment to being completely present in rehearsal; both have very clear structural concerns and work carefully to hone the structural elements; both are concerned with finding movement languages which challenge the performers albeit presenting very different challenges; both works are present a kind of balance — Kerry finding unity and collective identity within a world of individuality, and Wang Mei finding moments of individuality to balance the strong collective presence. While it might be said that such aspects of the choreographic process are always present, they are more explicitly present, more clearly identified by these choreographers than is the norm.

These points were noted in the discussion which took place on Day 12 as part of the sharing, of the two works. The comments from academics, choreographers and dancers acknowledged the challenges that the works presented, and also repeated a point made in other creative periods of Danscross: that the presence of academics and dance studios is new at the Beijing Dance Academy and the experience is proving fruitful and thought-provoking. It is seen by many of the Chinese academics as fieldwork, which raises interesting issues/tensions about the nature of the ’field’ and its relation to the normal ‘habitus’ of the academics.

‘Believing is seeing’ or the context makes the meaning — or not

I had my own thought-provoking moment from one comment from Luo Bin, the Director of the Dance Department at the Chinese National Academy of Art Research. He commented that the dancers had difficulty in achieving the clarity of detail in Kerry’s work. This was at odds with my perceptions of the work, which puzzled me and that led me to speculate how this disparity might arise and on what he might be seeing.

My first thought was that Kerry’s movement vocabulary may not be familiar to him and as he was only in attendance for the last three days, his eye had not become attuned to the movement. This is not meant in a superficial way — rather it is an acknowledgement that our visual experiences lead to specific interpretations of the world and form a key part of our habitus, that familiar context or world that we reconstruct each day, but which may form a veil which impedes our vision of the new or disrupting.

This reminded me of times in the past when I have experienced a shift in perception that allowed me to enter into a new visual language, complete with vocabulary, syntax and structural form (it is always difficult to avoid the literary metaphor!). On one occasion in India when observing Kathak classes and performances over a period of weeks, I felt almost a physical sensation during one performance, as if the dancer, and dance form, virtually literally came into focus for me and suddenly I could comprehend what I was seeing.

It seems obvious that a process of visual acculturation needs to take place, but what is fascinating about this is that the eye seems unable to physically, mechanically capture the data and a level of confusion arises that cannot be dispelled. This is probably not the case, rather it may be the brain’s inability to process the information — to locate it within a context and make sense of it. The shock of the new means that there is no context in which to view the work — that the act of comprehension (literally taking together) eludes us and so no sense can be made.

This is supported by some findings in science disciplines (eg the University College London scientist Professor Zhaoping) that believing is seeing — that the context forms our perception of visual events. The implication of this is that when the context is unfamiliar, we are inhibited from forming a coherent perception.

In this case and in my Kathak experience, it was not that the context determined what I believed I saw, but simply that I could not make sense of (believe) what I was seeing. While this may be discomforting when viewing an established dance form, in my experience it also plays a more enticing part in watching new dance works, as they often present a number of possible avenues of development, and even display an aesthetic of ambiguity. In these cases the initial visual ‘confusion’ can  be savored as part of the appreciation of a dance coming into being and crystalising before us.

Point of view — translating from the studio to the stage

In this case, I also wondered about the problem of Luo Bin’s field of vision as he was in a dance studio viewing at close proximity material which is designed to be seen in a theatre from a much greater distance. The issue of ’point of view’ influencing the opinion (or, point of view!) of the viewer reminded me that the choreographer is utilising a professional expertise that allows them to transpose the dance material onto an imaginary stage, even while viewing it in a studio, making decisions about the material and structure that only make sense when seen in the proper performance context.

The challenge for viewers in making this translation was made greater by the use of de-centralised space and the complexities of the timing, with events occurring simultaneously in a torrent of movement, sometimes at opposite sides of the studio, interspersed with wonderfully constructed, but seemingly spontaneous moments of synchronicity. It seemed to me that it would be physically impossible for the viewer to take in the full range of this visual information, as so much lay outside an individual field of vision in the studio. In this setting the viewer must accumulate repeated viewings in order to construct not only a familiarity with the movement, but also a ’map’ of the dance so that the totality can be assembled.

Identifying the disparity in Luo Bin’s visual perception and mine is an integral part of this initiative of course, and I welcome the opportunities for further dialogue that phase four and the performances and conference will bring. I may find that my speculations are misconceived, but already the experience of this debate has stimulated thought and reflection, and led me to analyse my own past experiences of the unfamiliar and how it becomes familiar. And the ’believing is seeing’ point is also entirely relevant to me — my familiarity might be a barrier to my ability to perceive what is before me.

Binocular vision

My intention is to apply a kind of ’binocular vision’ to this task. One eye uses my knowledge and experience of the disciplines of dance and dance making to observe, noting any points of interest without making judgements; simultaneously, the other eye is given the task of simply observing, using my human perceptual apparatus to be present and open to whatever might occur. In this way I hope to avoid seeing only what I wish to see, or simply reinforcing my previously held understandings and beliefs. Is this possible? I can’t be sure, but the attempt seems important. How to watch, see and observe will no doubt feature again during Danscross, and may the debate flow freely.

Zhaoping L, Jingling L (2008) Filling-In and Suppression of Visual Perception from Context: A Bayesian Account of Perceptual Biases by Contextual Influences. PLoS Comput Biol 4(2): e14. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0040014

I am writing this from Tokyo where ResCen is undertaking research into community arts practice (this term is not always used in Japan). Yesterday at Setagaya Public Theatre, arguably a unique institution in Japan, with an impressive range of work and a very string reputation, we observed a visual arts/theatre workshop for children aged 6 to 10 and my thoughts turned again to the impact that community arts practices have had more widely. The use of devising processes particularly and the focus on process, although in this case, there is a product to be shared, both at the end of each day and at the end of the series of workshops.

But the focus on the experience of the participants and the process of addressing a particular set of external factors seems intrinsic to both this community work with school children, and the professional context at the BDA. This is dangerous territory of course, as it is all too easy to ascribe the creative act to the realm of childish play and to diminish the expert practitioner status of all those involved, but especially the performers — although there is no denying the expert practitioner status of those leading the Setagaya workshops, they are very skilled indeed.

These are topics for another day, but the proximity of the experiences of the BDA and now the Setagaya Public Theatre has thrown up more food for thought, and more thinking, digesting and processing is required.

Prof Chris Bannerman
Head of ResCen, Centre for Research into Creation in the Performing Arts

Wang Mei interview

Interview with Wang Mei August 7th

Translator: Xu Rui.

Interviewer: Emilyn (transcribed September 2nd)

Xu Rui’s presence as the translator was integral to the interview process. However, I have edited the text to reflect a direct dialogue between Wang Mei and myself.

Emilyn: I am fascinated in your process and I would like to know more about your work. I would like to ask about your concerns in this piece. Perhaps we could start with the wider context of your work?

Wang Mei: What I am concerned with most is my current personal feeling, about life, the reality of living — people.

Rather than the codified dance?

Yes.

Does that thread through all your work?

Yes. I would like to say I do not like dancing at all. (We laugh).

Yes I can appreciate that. We have choreographers in the UK who are concerned to find the real pedestrian body in the performance rather than the codified body…

So, what about this piece? What are your particular concerns for this piece?

Concerning this piece, there should be two layers, one is about myself, my own feelings about life and reality. Another layer is about the theme of The Shaking World, the theme of this project. About this theme –we have quite a lot of international communication and exchange. Many Chinese artists, when they have the chance to exchange with foreign culture, they have a kind of feeling they are not as good as the foreign artists. This is to do with cultural difference, and Chinese artists are not very confident. I think this is not good, that before you begin to do something you feel you are not as good as foreign artists.

I imagine this has gone on for a long time, this sense of hierarchy. Have you felt it here during this two weeks?

It is not a question about right or wrong, it is nothing personal, it is the history. We have this feeling, passed down. For example, During the Qing Dynasty, China was very strong and everybody would learn Chinese.  Now we have a strong influence from the Western world and we speak English. It is like a standard and we pay attention to the Western ways.

Yes, I see it on the subway here, there are little TV screens, portraying Western faces, and the worst of American advertising, and I want to say, no, no, don’t go there, don’t go there! In a project like this, I would like see how we can begin to unravel this unevenness — I am not sure if that is happening?

I was in France several years ago for the international competition and the foreign artists I met were very kind. Facing them I never felt uneven or unequal. That is why I think it is not the foreign people’s problem but a problem of ourselves, how we look at our tradition. As a consequence, sometimes Chinese artists will focus on our own tradition a lot,  so people can see it is Chinese, what is really Chinese. I do not think that is right thing to do. That is why I decided not to do Chinese dance in this project, but to focus on my own ideas.

As I observe the work next door and the work in here, I notice a big difference. If I was to compare the pieces I would say that Kerry’s movement cuts the space while your movement absorbs the space. It is not that one is better or worse, just different. So I am curious about the idea of emptiness rather than fullness in your work. I am wondering if that is part of your process?

I think the issue of space is the biggest issue for a choreographer. You mentioned fullness and emptiness, this is very important. If you have the right quality you will have the big space, but if you do not have the quality you have just a small space.

I am reminded here how every small movement is magnified because it is given time and space… Is there anything more you would like to say about the piece?

The original idea comes from a little event in my teaching last year. I was teaching the graduate class majoring in modern dance. And we were going to make a full length ballet together, all the students of this class. Then the students had a discussion to decide whether they wanted to do this or not. But only a few students wanted to do this, so the four dancers you see in this piece are the students who said yes. They have graduated now. I really wanted to put my personal feelings into this piece, the relationships between people. There is something not serious but playful about it. The starting point was an ancient Chinese poem that is hard to translate. A feeling that in the middle of your life, after a lot of experiences of life, you have a kind of understanding. You want to say something but you cant say it in words. I chose this subtle feeling about life as a starting point.

I am picking up on you telling me that only 4 dancers wanted to do this piece — so where is your place in Beijing as an artist?  Is your work supported? Or do all the dancers want to do technical spectacle? Is there support in Beijing for your work?

It is nothing about the piece itself. It is a personal understanding about life or art. My life or my world is different from yours, but I cant require you to follow me.

But the performance by Yabin last night was very different. So I am wondering how your work is placed in Beijing? The language is different.

Oh yea.  There is a big problem about the attitude. China is changing very fast, Beijing city is changing every day. You go to some area, say the eastern area, and you go there the next day and it is changed. In this very fast rhythm of life, people are rushing, they don’t want to stop, they don’t want to concentrate on something.

So in your work you are slowing down. How do you want the performers to perform, what is you concern with performing presence?

Of course there are a lot of details and requirements about the technique and the movement. Yet there is a basic concept about the performing and presentation. I ask each dancer to be ‘human’ not a ‘dancer’. Because there are dance performers who create a big distance between the audience and the performers and I want to close that gap, to be human. 

Thankyou.

Phase four soon to begin

Creative Process Phase 4 will begin on 19 October in Beijing

Watch the process as it unfolds here with:

Choreographers – Jonathan Lunn, Carolyn Choa, and Zhao Tiechun
Documentors – Katherine Mezur, Pan Li and Liu Xiaozhen
and dancers of the BDA Company

Cold birds and pets October 19

Blog October 19, 2009 k Mezur
Cold birds and pets October 19
Beijing Dance Academy BIG BIRTHDAY party last night at the Military Theatre. Security at the door took your temperature on entering with a gun like instrument held near your neck, and you pass through a metal detector. But everyone else thinks this is nothing new. To enter the Theatre you must take off your purses and backpacks and put them through a security check. Then VIPs enter 20 min after followed by speeches, speeches, speeches. Three hundred students are about to present the anniversary dances from every type of dance from every region, in ascending order with the original choreographer listed. They bring out the older dancers and choreographers from these past times: about 25? Not sure. They are astonishing, men and women, some look not so old, but a few totter in on canes and with help. A pink flurry of young boys and girls flock it to bestow flower bouquets on these legendary dancer/choreographers/teachers. The audience is thrilled. Then the performance begins with a kind of classical Chinese acrobatic wonder as students fly and fling and bend and splay legs in amazing gymnastic stunts. Tricks to me. Sorry. The ”system” of showing me technique is ok but. In the next hour and half there is a medley of dances from the repertoire. The Cultural Revolution is the vacuum. Here we have bodies in front of us with all that history. Red flag billowing giantly from the stage: world here is RED. Heart =

Monday
Here we go: Letting you know I am going to use language like a dance sometimes, and not worry about sentence structures etc thanks.

Aware of organization: how will they meet and start. How gracious will they be? We (Westerners) seem really focused. Lots of media about. This makes Jonathan a bit uneasy. We work out how to use the interpreters. I suddenly feel like I have a body guard. Emily is like a shadow with Jonathan and Carolyn. He hands out the poem that is one of the texts of the work, Wet or winter Snow is the name, chills huh. Very beautiful choice as I see movement begin to fidget out the 6MALE VERY DIFFERENT BODIES. They move so differently from the Guadong Dance Company, recently in San Francisco. I miss having female bodies. Does this make the dance easier to make? Evens out the territory, there is a ”broad” gender difference here. See notes on the Chinese choreographer.

Working on ”words” or characters of the poem, not for ”meaning” I think; what does meaning do? How does it act or dance. Why do many choose to query “meaning”? What is meaning in Chinese. Tiny Shifts all day over Chinese words and English words. Like that.
Men moving so smoothly, silken, but use weight. Front and side and back facings. Diagonals used for locomotion not in place movement. Hmmm. I will add names tomorrow. Beautiful hands. Jonathan pushes for more commitment to feeling or involvement with each choice they make. They show each phrase 3 times with words 2x and then without saying words. I enjoy the words slipping out between movements, on top of a gesture, behind an impulse, creates a tension for them, something to challenge beyond the leg being so high. One tries to slip out of problem. Jonathan pushes him back.

Bird image, cold, wetness, a fisherman, 10,000 is next to alone, solitary, single, this poem is weighty but has birds to fly on. Don’t do images, break away from obvious. But this Tang poet was brush stroked these words into being, are we beating them back into the inked landscape?

I watch Jonathan watching for bodies, which speak. Repeating changes things. Tasks are gesture packages.
Transitions: energy drops happen. Lines are so strong with arms stretched, legs strike high like lightning bolts. Still technique-like. Shake out the dance and boogie.

Bodies: some make the same rhythms, hard to break your own patterns and comfortzones. Gumby arms, sensibility of everyday movement doesn’t stay still on their bodies, fist becomes turning and crumpling. My kinaesthetics may be jet lagged. I see lines and lovely bodies, but, hmm.

More phrase and sounds of ”words” hands over eyes. Slashes into the ground. Rolls over somersaults.
Transitions? Not yet, they blend easily, gesture to locomotion, birdlike stuff. When the guys prompt each other with words it is very dynamic too, layers of voices.

CaoYu is the playwright for tiny section of dialogue between two men from play Beijing Man, maybe written in the 20s or 30s. Famous playwright one of first to take on Chinese spoken drama “huaju”. Chinese and Japanese studied western forms simultaneously.

Chinese on Chinese
Four dancers two men and two women. Different energy. Different presence. Younger? Chinese choreographer is very direct, stands moves close to them. We sit together on the floor. He explains that he is from the North East China and is the Ethnic Dance specialist here at the school. He has a shaved head, bends slightly forward at the waist when he talks and moves over to a dancer in rehearsal. Direct: Something like this paraphrasing: “This is not the way I work. I work with a plan and make dances from vocabulary of a specific region. He knows the students? They are Classical and Ethnic dancers I think, must find out.

Ah, got his name: Zhao Tie Chun, starts talking about “Chinese-ness” what is Chinese? Way cool. Talks about how dances he teaches and makes are drawn from specific regional folk/traditions, very specific and set. Theme of shaking and other ideas of environment, chaos in world, very important, how can the folk/ethnic set forms change to work with these contemporary themes? Is it possible? He wants the traditional gestures to go to another level, the ethnic must do more than meet the modern, shows how a gesture in dance means “happy” in one ethnic dance, arms over head jutting upward expansive. So Xgesture EQUALS Xfeeling. He wants to question that. He has chosen the music already: (have to ask him about this choice) Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor and it may be a requiem because he talks about how the music like the traditional dance is “set: to, it is about mourning, after death and the gesture or practice that would go with that from traditional dance might be throwing paper coins. Wants to break that direct connection, press “folk” stylization into everyday.

Important to break from habits. He feels challenged. Talks about “expression”
Meeting dancers in hallway. They say they made an improvisation about typical family members with gestures of only everyday life. He gives them roles.

Later on stage rehearsal makes it harder for direct communication. Tie Chun has to walk up to stage and jump onto stage and jump off stage and down again. Active. Now dancers are in a configuration of father, mother, and two small “pet-like” children. Woman/mother does small figure 8 steps from opera or? Another kind of folk dance. Now Tie Chun stops and goes, picking out exact. Pulls bodies, presses, repeats repeats slaps for timing. Exacting. Says for them to make their butts ugly, wants more make it larger or way too small, miniature. Be freer.

Make a tableau: one figure center, male, is the center figure of woman on side, with two “children” like puppies beside her rolling and jumping and scuffing. No smiling, really strange, surreal quality of figures and gestures. Claps timing, controls and repeats. Wants angles of bodies and focus just right. NOT improv here. Setting it. Falls and rises timed over and over again. Two women make the dance different. NO ONE comments on the work. k

touch and duets October 20

October 20, 2009
Blog-a-way at BDA
My context: Found out more about the Cultural Revolution. Depends so much on generation, more on that later. Took a Mongolian Dance Class at the nearby University of Ethnic Studies. Amazing revelations, incredible teacher. Could understand better where some of the gestures come from in the improvisations in Jonathan’s group and the dance training for all the dancers and one of the choreographers draws on this kind of vocabulary. All the gestures involve the focus of the eyes, the center is mobile and charged, gestures lift high and forward and out: onto the great grasslands of Mongolia.

Today I get this sense of frontal focus and the North South and East West planes of the dances dominate in both groups. There is very little use of repetition yet.

Zhai Tiechun’s group
Going over the section from yesterday, which keeps emerging differently every time they do it as Tie Chun probes and pushes and keeps pressing new relationships to emerge. I can notice the ”stray” gestures that arise from some of the folk dance training of the dancers, mixed with ballet. Tie Chun I very intense. On his feet in the middle of the studio, he moves with a dancer to get the foot action right, he does it to find it and then refine it with the dancer. When the dancer’s get stuck, he moves in tries it.

Two important concepts from Tie Chun today: (Remember this is in translation, and I should get the Chinese to look it up later)
1) After one run through of the current sequence, where they are moving in and out of family portrait-like tableaus, he asks them to use more mental rhythm, to get into synch with each other, to make the jump to fall to jump to fall to push to shove to slip to slide to pause to stop. He asks them to be stable inside, not to rush.

2) Nostalgia, he says inspires his him. I ask him about the way he starts with the dancers doing “natural” movements, like falling backwards from a crouched position, and then he keeps stylizing or refining the movement (to me) into a set phrase of movement that is no longer a gesture from everyday pedestrian movement. He disagrees to a certain extent and goes on from there. He is doing a new process here to move out of his way of doing things. He does not feel it is stylized, but stays very close to the original gesture from daily life. Instead, he says the dancers start making it something else and he pulls them back to the base of the gesture in timing, breath, and to me what looks like design.
He mentions old photographs of his family and that some of the images he has in his memory of his own family. He says the movement in this work so far must be life-like. It may become “generalized” from authenticity (his word/translator) of the daily. He says he works with a kind of ”internal logic” that seems from his gestures to take off as he works with the dancers, so he does not come in with a plan. His work here is to make the work with the dancers. He usually does not work this way.

The walk: “where the man makes the path and the woman walks” from traditional way, says the rehearsal director also a choreographer. He and Tiechun wear the same outfits, jeans, sweat shirt, shaved head with a baseball cap on occasion.
Tie Chun works over and over again with Guo Jiao who is the ”wife,” and Yuan Jia who is the ”father” figure (these are very loose “roles” not characters). This walk downstage by Guo Jiao is a very stylized walk from her classical Chinese dance and folk dance training. The foot is turned in and then turns out when wt. is placed on the foot, the upper torso twists away from the lifted foot and moves in opposition to the hips, which really stabilized everything. The head can remain center or move opposition to the torso, so you get a twisted and spiraling effect through the spine. This spiraling energy is in most Beijing Opera movements. Yuan Jia starts beside Guo Jiao just lifting one of her feet over his leg where he sits after a fall backwards. This becomes a dance of the father lifting the feet of the mother so she progresses downstage only by means of his lifting and placing of her feet. In reality, she is walking and his becomes more and more gestural behind her, shifting side to side.

Then Tie Chun works with the two “children” on an arm swinging and body swaying sequence. They are cute. He has them stand side by side like cutout dolls, legs in second, staring slight upwards, chest pressing up and back (changed this later). Arms swing, then this swing moves into a sway side-to-side, again doll-like with flexed feet off the ground.

When he plays the Mozart Mass for run-throughs of sequences, it gets this surreal sensibility. Like one of those greeting cards with a pop-up character or landscape, his dance pops out of the background, makes the Mass a strange landscape.

Afternoon
Jonathan and Carolyn
I notice how no one choose stillness, not just a pause, but deep stillness for a word or character. They do not use repetition very much. Not exactly, but some use a theme and variation process for a sequence.

The mini-works based on poems (as base only for engaging physically) and a scene fragment, continue. They review the exhilarating mass of gesture and words generated yesterday and make a new sequence with a new poem, a language-body-encounter. The dancers are amazing how they remember each gesture and facing and sequence. They use the words to remember. Prompting with words is an interesting body memory triggering.

Jonathan puts pairs together. A ”water” pair sequence is done in close proximity, with each having their own rhythms to maintain. One starts later, end together. Jonathan has them do it over and over again, while he is listening to music on his ipod with earphones. Interesting tech trick. Says he is playing Madonna. Interesting. Like a Virgin. Late this is done again with a kind of postmodern jazz-like electronic work, cool. Movements have a wave-like shiver, shaking, small hand gestures over face, hair, one stays in place while the other runs a loop, a diagonal back into same spot. There is an ending where they both have a hand and finger sequence, which they pop and punctuate to match the music.

When I see these sequences, I small dances like brushstrokes. But it is very hard to ”write” them here.

Instructions to 3 dancers doing one dancer’s sequence:
1 teach your partner your dance so you get it into your body too
2 learn it and teach it EXACTLY so you become his body
3 learn it so well that you can perform it very very quickly over and over again.
Cool variation: do it together but in your own time: produces a cool tension dynamic that pushes each dancer into more exact and focused sequences.

2 dancers doing both sequences
1 learn each other’s phrases
2 put them in an order and make transitions between
In this duet the two sequences become more dynamic and use more space.

They re-remember yesterday’s scene work with “dialogue.” I think this has produced really interesting sequences that have light and dark sides, some emotional spaces/relationships. Does what Jonathan has pressed for: breaking away from meaning, finding corporeal encounter with words or associations with sound/word spaces.

In general so this is not for ALL of these miniworks but there are small hand gesture sequences that are like tiny quotes or partial references left in mid air: these draw the eye, but have less kinaesthetic impact than the gestures of hands which move into and out of larger postures or locomotion or when they touch themselves. There are designed movements with great lines and patterns through space, but I am first drawn through my eye, not my kinaesthetic fibers….which means I am seeing deliciously but not “moved” and I do not mean emotionally or melodramatically, I mean the impact of some dance that rocks you out of your seat, from the skin and guts. More on this later. These are studies, just becoming dances.
Hand across a face moves the face, traces face and gesture into space.
Pointing becomes something like a million arrows going everywhere on a map.
Focus is internal because they are remembering; I am curious what will happen with that.
Would they rather be leaping?

yunlu and couples

October 21, 2009
yunlu and couples

What ever I hear or ask is filtered through different people. Even when they say that “primary source material” (like face to face encounter) is what a researcher wants to get, that this is the raw material of research, but really “in translation” means a kind of change has happened to the source material: it is already transformed. Thus research is creative and dynamic, not the ”truth.” Alive.

I keep wondering when Tiechun will name his “work.” The walk with the male dancer lifting the feet of the female as she glides forward, down stage in the hip swing, body twisting away from the center/ Emily, a walk from a Chinese minority

I would like to talk to each dancer about their ideas about this project from the beginning until now in its 4th phase. What does the theme of the world “shaking” mean to them now? How has this changed?
I would like to have an open discussion about the theme with the dancers, researchers. And guest choreographers. I will also ask the choreographers about any preparation they did and how they may be adapting their normal methods to this particular task. I need to see earlier works by the choreographers to see what their work has been like at least in the last few years.

Today I will make lists. Some very famous authors (Sei Shônagon) made themselves famous for their lists.

Tiechun’s room and ”making strange”
Perhaps surreal is not the word but absurd, like Beckett’s characters, we seem to be a strange family caught in its own tiny world. Is this ” shaking” like those little globe worlds used for souvenirs where you shake and ”snowflakes” flurry about this miniature fake world?
Two dancers work two wait
Tiechun wants the yunlu: the patterns in the movement, the rhythmic patterns, the deep structures, the rhythmic structures.
In this walk by Guo Jiao from the folk dance, what began as a distinctive walk almost parade-like appearance has become a walk with Yuan Jia lifting her feet one by one in her rhythm? He must be crouched on the ground to do this. Now she is literally walking on air in the hands of all the dancers, she walks upright across the stage with the hands of the dancers holding her up, until she falls backwards into Wu Shai’s arms.

Tiechun works on the two “children” Wu Shuai and Huang Dong Mei in their rocking and now whirling dervish dance. They must: stare forward with out blinking. They must get faster and faster, they practice many many times. They spin out they fall they laugh they spin they work with their heads to one side arms over head, spinning: bend straight bend straight bend straight, Tiechun calls and claps and makes them spin over and over and over again. But it works. The voice of the soloist in the Mozart Mass in C Minor begins her most sweet sad song with Guo Jiao’s raised walk downstage, and the doll-like rocking figures in the background. Figures in a landscape. Many phrases of the mother and father figure repeat but with slight variations, her fall and jump into his arms, crouching on his knee, again and fall, again and fall forward, again. This is a precarious world.

Jonathan and Carolyn’s room
Have they talked over the theme with the dancers? With themselves? Can we talk or maybe not. I am not sure silence works. I am not sure dancers only want to dance and not talk about their work. I do not think that brilliance disappears if you share ideas about your work.

I sit on the bench across the front mirrors so the 6 men are always looking directly at us to adjust their movements, posture, look etc. I feel invisible and like I am an obstruction.
Has the world disappeared outside of Beijing?
Jonathan puts the 6 into 3 couples to play the male and female roles in a play from the early 20th century by another Chinese playwright. It is a fractured love scene, with only tension and small talk between the characters. I love the small movements that come from an emotion that is lost but leaves traces. I will get an English copy of the play and scene. It seems to be about two people who no longer hear or know each other. Instructions from Jonathan: in contrast to other exercises and tasks think of the physical language as an emotional or ”charged” language. In his critiques: when you do not use the words while moving (to one couple who does not) it is a cop out, using the words gives the movements a different power, without the words, it becomes just a dance. They are asked to lean into the words, push response, and sometimes to wait, hold back, let the movement moment arrive. Wonderful moments where their bodies seem to have different meanings: from I am tired, leave me alone, hands to face, pushing legs between legs, rolling over and off each other. No one is violent with their actions, but something is masked. One dancer clasps his partner around the neck, and Jonathan asks for that moment to be more front, more twisted. The dancers laugh. Is it laughter away from the strangle hold?
One dancer traces the entire body outline of his partner: is this map of the person? Is this the boundaries that he must stay within? Is this the shape of a dead body on the pavement anywhere in a shaking world.

I am reminded of Pina Bausch’s different shoulder stands and parades making humans strange and strange humans.

October 22 dreams and twists

October 22, 2009
Both choreographers are shaping the movement material that the dancers have created, learned, absorbed, and discovered. Tiechun, Jonathan, and Carolyn compose and/or build these dances surrounded by cameras, observers, student helpers, interpreters, friends, faculty from the school, and designers.
Outside in the bicycle lane: Beijing, I know, is not “China” but I see these radical signs of transformation: three wheeled vehicles fill the side “bicycle” lanes, where “anything that goes” is ok. Most are barely moving on tiny engines, or still pumped like a bicycle. These transport furniture, or garbage, or fruit and vegetable, or all forms of old junk like mini-moving vans. There are those that have enclosed “cabs” like mini-taxis, with room for one or two people inside. This fleet of patched and battered “expanded bicycles” move the old Beijing along side the giant glassy malls, the millions with shopping bags, and the dark brown population that still squats on the sidewalks and spits.

In a conversation with Tiechun: He thinks this experiment is really worthwhile. He has a chance to create a dance in a way that he has never done before: he usually has his own theme and vision but now he keeps the ”shaking” theme and does not know what will happen as he choreographs. He talks about the ”twists” in the bodies that he keeps putting in the movements. The torso twists are exaggerated from a folk or traditional body carriage movement. Perhaps this indicates the way that the world is coming apart. He is subtly moving the tectonic plates of the sedimented traditions. He explains this image of tossing paper coins at traditional funerals and how this enters the larger theme: the passage from life to death, we hover and/or shake at that precipice. More on that later.

Jonathan and Carolyn review and rearrange the poem, dialogue, and dream sequences into lines, formations, and astonishing unison works. I kept seeing these very idiosyncratic gestures (almost like hieroglyphs) that the dancers developed on their own, become dance phrases: is this a bit sad? Is there something lost in this transition? Sure, the tiny nuances that breathed with that individual dancer’s body and feelings are only traces in the danced version. Somehow in that passage, the movement becomes rhythmic, spectacular, and graceful, no longer the strange awkward and personal engraved gesture.
Still beautiful.

There is a dream sequence I missed the creation of: Jonathan asked them to think of a dream they had, put it into four phrases of movement that described the dream, These had to have an experiential quality that made the audience experience their dream’s feeling and we should also see the content of the dream. They had to create these spontaneously, without preparation. These phrases are filled with quick and large changes in body shapes and movement with facial expressions. These also are done in unison in different formations.

More on Jonathan’s structures tomorrow, but he said the work is really about dialogue. One instruction today to get movement more deeply in the body: “don’t fully do it, think about doing it.”

Each dancer reveals his own rhythmic dynamics, his own way of sensing the world, taking it in, struggling and pressing it out through gesture.

They still stay in place to dance most of the phrases. When Jonathan has them move in a line in unison upstage, it is like a gasp, a breathless space: we need that.

elegant distortion and markets

October 23, 2009
Elegant distortions and markets
Only a short time in Tiechun’s room today. The problem is in this job of observing and blogging, one’s heart and attention is always divided because I have to move from one dance-making session to the next and they are happening simultaneously. Further complications: Jonathan has an interpreter assigned him no matter what, so the interpretation there is guaranteed and I am not totally lost in my own intuitive translation. But with Tiechun, who is always commenting directly to the dancers before, during, after, the dancing, even when the Mozart’s Mass in C minor is blasting decibels beyond our hearing capacity. I cannot understand his comments and need an interpreter, but it seems their times and hours are loosely defined. Luckily my student/friend, Min Zhu from the University of Washington is able to help too. I am very interested in what a choreographer critiques and how they say it and amend it as they watch their dancers deal with the text/meaning and stream it into their bodies and movement. When you teach dance technique, you never know if your exact correction or encouragement will really hit home and work for a student’s physical performance and focus, and their creativity.

Jonathan and Carolyn
Today is a short day with only the morning in the studio, but with new material, and new instructions. This is just fragment from Cao Yu’s play Beijing Ren (Beijing Man), but now reduced to one sentence and a longer response by one character. The instructions are 1) to have their own physical encounter with the text and avoid “meaning making” 2) (they drew names so they have one person in their group as their secret person) to have this encounter as the other person. So you have to become as much like that person, thinking of how you really know them inside out. You know their movement choices and how they move. Jonathan includes that this should not be to make fun of them in any way.
The dancers move to the floor and start working. A note on the text: It is one character’s short explanation of Tea culture, “Yes, talking about tea, …whenever he drinks tea, he has to first rinse his mouth, light incense, and meditate. …tea is only a way to satisfy our thirst, but to him, it is a philosophy, to do with taste and discernment.”
He just starts coupling these and we go to lunch to get “costumes” from the market and the mall. This is another whole adventure, strange, just looking for pants and t-shirts can be an encounter with material consumption.
Tiechun’s Twisting Bodies continue
After a long interview with him yesterday, I ended yesterday seeing their bent over from the waist crisscross walk from folk tradition (now upside down). Then he was have them put their hands or fists on the ground and literally stomp with their hands like the hoofs of a horse, or something like that but it was twisted and percussive. They practiced it over and over and over and over again finding rhythm in the percussive jabbing thuds of their feet and feet.
Today I return and they are doing the figure 8 turned in a near slow motion, still bent over from the waist but now the arms float up like the curving oppositional arms of the walk. Are they elegant ostriches? They remind me of egrets too or blue herons whose long long legs make them totally elegant in their picking and dipping for bugs and small sea creatures off the surface of the water or land.
Elegant yet he is asking them to bend their legs more, keep the knees in, float the arms up, and twist to one side until you can no longer go that direction, then start the spiral back the other way. Twist all the way, go further and it is becomes distorted and elegant. Tiechun finds these lovely contradictions. He amplified the cracks and pops in the old but beautiful phonograph record. Perhaps folk patterns are so deeply imbedded in our muscles and minds, we can only twist them, contort them, but not loose or destroy them?
Min notices how the dancers in both rooms use the front facing so much. Is this the use of the mirror now or is it from proscenium-based presentational dances that demand this frontal facing?

Introductions

I’ve been on earth for more than half a century, and writing about dance and performance for more than half that time, and yet this is my first time to China. Kung Fu Panda was, I think, a good choice for an airplane movie. (Best line: ‘We do not wash our pits in the Pool of Sacred Tears.’) I shrugged off and then slept away jet lag. It helped that, instead of crashing as soon as I’d unpacked, I went on an excursion to the nearest shopping/eating vicinity in this district of northwest Beijing. Street life! The real thing, too. Virtually no other Westerners visible apart from me and my guide, Danscross Big Daddy Chris Bannerman. Highlights include sharing a sweet potato as we strolled; the many mannequins in the dance shops whose collective dress sense Chris aptly dubbed ‘Ninja boogie’; the fish that jumped up out of the tank in the market as if to say ‘Eat me!’ (or ’Save me!’?); and, on the negative side, the woman who barked viciously at a tot who was bawling as he waited for an old man to repair his battery-operated toy gun with cellotape. In the main, however, the people I either saw or met seemed to peaceable and not unfriendly.

Enough local colour. My purpose in being here is to play fly on the walls of the Beijing Dance Academy as i watch some creative juices flow. I’m impressed, too. Jonathan Lunn may have had a baaaaaaad last night (food poisoning?) but he sure didn’t let on today in BDA’s theatre space. And to have created so much detailed material in just a week. He is quick, he says, but so are the six young men in his work-in-progress. They know each other so well, he adds, that he can can just set some moves on one of them and it’ll spread to the others like a virus.

Like the dancers themselves Lunn’s piece looks muscular and wiry, and it’s peppered with a gestural filigree that offsets their bold, grabbing energy. Working with the soft-spoken Carolyn Choa as a second, collaborative brain and pair of eyes, the long-haired Lunn juxtaposed a couple of duets and clarified their spatial relationship. These twosomes feature headstands and splits, and boys tunneling between each other’s legs. The fleet, often spiraling complexity of connections made here can be dazzling. A third duo was just as nimble; I recall in particular a compact lad vaulting one-handed over his tall, skinny counterpart’s arched body, using the latter’s pelvis as a springboard. Lunn appears to have tapped into the cast’s youthful spirit. The extended fragments he worked on today suggest a kind of dreamy hijinks that suits their collective talent and temperament. Already this dance, although unfinished, seems to belong to them.

The same can’t yet be said of the quartet — two of each sex — that spent time with Tiechun today, but that’s okay. Fellow blogger Katherine Mezur tells me that in Danscross this Chinese choreographer is challenging not just his dancers but himself as well. I slip into the studio — one of 49 in BDA’s main building — as he’s drilling them in a unison passage. They must advance downstage while mainly doubled over, using hands and feet to negotiate a fast, twisty rotation. It’s a fiendish little pattern, and particularly daunting for one quick-to-clown-around boy in a blue shirt. (He sticks out, too, because the others are all wearing rehearsal clothes in combinations of red and black.) Tiechun has this boy do the sequence again, alone; he gives it a go but slips inside his socks, giggling good-naturedly. Other tricky bits follow, as when the dancers hold hands and pretzel round each other like a knot trying to undo itself only to become further entangled. After that everyone’s in a line flat on the floor, holding onto the ankles of the person ‘above’ them; slowly this braided chain of bodies rolls across the space. None of this is meant to illustrate the music (Mozart’s Kyrie) that Tiechun is using, and yet his movement has its high-flown moments. As if to counter this he turns two of his dancers, a man and a woman, into dog-like creatures who scamper about on all fours. Meanwhile another couple executes a precisely timed duet on several levels; at one point they roll on the floor, feet hooking together, only for the female to be hoisted up into a sitting position atop the male’s raised thigh.

Tucked inside a denim jacket, and quite notably bald, Tiechun makes a quiet, even brooding taskmaster. He’s prone to take a brief ‘time out’ to work out next steps, or to solve any problems that may have arisen from those that already exist. Like Lunn, he’s putting together the pieces of a puzzle that he also has to manufacture on the spot. Based on my first-day observations, it’s working. Earlier in the afternoon the transitions between sections in Tiechun’s dance might have seemed awkward or arduous. But by the end of the day his doggedness, coupled with the dancers’ discipline, had smoothed over some of the bumps. He was even able to share in the dancers’ jokes about how easily they could slip into t’ai chi instead of Tiechun. Not taking yourself too seriously is perhaps a good sign at the start of a new week.

Recent photos

Oct 26 Music sound gesture

Oct. 26 2009 Music sound gesture

Dancing to and beside music.
At some point, I have to deal with the music going on here.
Jonathan listened to his ipod while watching the work as we moved through last week. He was sorting and feeling out what was going to work best. I think it was Friday or Saturday when he played three music selections to the same movement sequence and asked the dancers how they felt and to hear the sound next to the image/kinaesthetic materiality. Two pieces did entirely different things: one a Bach fugue and the other electronic by a new music group out of San Francisco, (will get the name, sorry). Well two things happened, both worked but differently, and one of the Danscross works already has a Bach work on it. BUT, the fugue was spectacular with the movement because it charged the emotional side that the dancers have not really played with directly. See below

I THINK WE NEED TO STOP FACING THE MIRROR. In order to get out of the frontal gaze, the dancers need to be placed elsewhere to get the dance out of dance-hood or the proscenium stare.

Ok, so the Bach fugue channeled the emotional links from tender to silly but I think Jonathan also felt it could mask what else was going on and thus: the electronic work is now in place. As Jonathan also suggested, sometimes the music can run outside the dance and I was thinking how it streams and sometimes pushes the movement in interesting ways, but not forcefully. That is a problem though; the music does not create any kind of sound/body tension that can make a work really rich and provocative. The music seems to stand directly beside the dance.

Aside: the electronic choice can also make the dancers work very hard on an expressive encounter with each other and wherever
My last VOTE: This work grew out of these small moments of physical encounters with words/letters/sounds from poems and a play. It does not matter to me if those texts have been chewed and bitten and danced alive, but there were ecstatic moments that just no longer happen because the dancer does not speak the words… It was really wonderful when a sound/syllable/tone would hit the air and echo with the gesture. I would love even a whispered section or even one dancer doing that word/phase dance. It opened up the dancers’ vulnerability too because it is not something they do all the time. They are such brilliant dancers that sometimes they can sit back, away from their dancing and not tune in the way they did when the words made them be present.

Enough. I know the poly-stage is large but I have seen Pina Bausch send a dancer onto an opera sized stage and whisper making the entire theatre lean forward and reach for those syllables.
The encounter in language and gesture here is charged and nuanced because I remember the poems, the play texts, the choices made…

Tiechun
I walk in and the dancers have costumes on: I was concerned because this work needs costumes but I do not think they should look like Chinese Folk Dance costumes. They have big linen pants dyed so that the brown starts very dark and fades into the off-white.

I keep thinking of the things that are HUGE in Beijing: the Forbidden City, Tiananmen square, the new buildings like the National Performing Arts center (it’s a HUGE like a drop of water on the surface of the earth. Perhaps China wants to be BIG now, what does that mean?

Twists, like the Chung Guo Jie that is the woven/braided knot that is used in Chinese knotted hangings. Tiechun used every twist today: In one group encounter they hold hands and knit and unknot their bodies. Tiechun directed a powerful suggestion: lift through the weaving when you start, the chest should press forward up and over and then the limbs take over the ”twisted” distortion as he called it today. Keep the legs together, the knees in, tighter, concentrate, flow within that pretzel.

Back to those costumes and music
Tiechun is creating a world, the pants, the tops of with their layers of tucked and pleated off-white cloth, on the front of the shirts that are cut on diagonal necklines for the women. This makes them “Han” if they have that kind diagonal flap to close the shirt. Each dancer’s patterned folds are different. While the cloth and tops give me a sense of ”folk,” I am told that they do not feel that way to the dancers. They do add to the strangeness of this work.

A long ribbon of twisting bodies, a hurdle of twists, like a human “Bird Nest, ” the flinging flying stomping twists, followed by. …Those WONDERFUL FLOATING WHITE COINS made out of paper. These are the reappearance of the funeral practice like the early parade: These are the coins that are tossed somehow. Tiechun adds these small triangles of red silk that float like brilliant flames with the white coins over the dancers’ dancing.

Like the Mozart Mass in C Minor, the clothe and the changes in the shapes of gestures with sleeves and billowing pants wrench the work out of its simpler space into a public one.
There is that word again: Public. Dance making made public, an incredible way to challenge all of us.
Like Tiechun asking his dancers to let their breath and movement “coincide”.