Working on Dialogue, Xiao Ke and I continue to explore the different information in our bodies, acknowledging the different training systems that have contributed to our understanding of movement and also the wider cultural ideologies that shape our approach.
Teaching the dancers of LDTX, I’ve been confronted by the differences again. I saw the company dance last week and was impressed by their sinuous fluidity and their spectacular gymnastic ability but they don’t shift through space in the way I expect a contemporary dancer to do, they don’t connect strongly to the floor (though they can melt into to it like a ribbon) and they definitely don’t stand on one leg for any length of time. Most of the dancers, I learned, trained in Chinese traditional dance and have little formal training in modern techniques. That’s not a problem at all, except in so far as some of the choreography indicates a kind of modern/contemporary aesthetic which these clever performers can simulate but don’t really inhabit.
Teaching them Cunningham class was a challenge for me since they are so accomplished in one respect and yet don’t have the basics of the approach, on the other.
The theme of what’s different emerged again when I visited Beijing Dance Academy to see a project called Dancecross that Middlesex University’s ResCen has undertaken there. Contemporary choreographers from different countries including Shobana Jeyasingh from the UK had been invited to work with groups of recent graduates of the BDA to create short new works. (photos from the Chinese blog of the project here)The creative process is the focus of research. What I got to see was a piece halfway through Shobana Jeyasingh’s 12 day stint in Beijing. It was dynamic and detailed but Jeyasingh explained that the notion of weight and consequently momentum was very different for these dancers trained in traditional dance. Her knowledge of the ideology of Indian classical dance gives Jeyasingh some understanding of the approach of the dancers. She explained to me that for the classical or traditional dancer the idea of harmony is very important. The dancer is in harmony with the space and doesn’t consider its use in the dynamic and perhaps adversarial way that a contemporary choreographer and dancer might. She said that it had been necessary to explain this to the young dancers in her piece who didn’t understand the jagged lines of energy which she inserted through their movement into the space.
Thinking about this has been interesting for me, given my concern with the body in space. The nature of that relationship is never taken for granted. The performer has a terrain to negotiate, a place to be known and adapted. That makes the space an important protagonist/antagonist in my work.
And it tells me that there isn’t really an environment with which I feel sufficiently in harmony to be able to forget about it. That harmony is the infant’s world who hasn’t yet learned to differentiate its perceiving self from the objects of its perceptions. The dancer in the space is an individuated subject then, a thoroughly Western phenomenon that may not make sense in Chinese dance culture at this point.