Report on ELEMENT#4 Improvisation Technologies
By Goh Shou Yi and Jereh Leung
The week long intensive with Nik Haffner was divided into two parts; a morning session opened to the public and an afternoon session with a focus group consisting of Dance Nucleus’s associates, Dapheny Chen, Jereh Leung, Kornkarn Rungsawang (Bangkok), Lee Ren Xin (Kuala Lumpur), Goh Shou Yi and Wayson Poon (Hong Kong).
Being one of the earlier members of Ballet Frankfurt under the directorship of William Forsythe and also developing the digital publication “Improvisation Technologies”, it was natural that Nik chose to teach the method. What struck us most about the way Nik taught Improvisation Technologies was how he emphasized that anyone can make use of this technology regardless of their training. There is essentially no fixed stylistic requirements to make use of the technology unless one is doing repertoire work. As the technology is widely available in both DVD format as well as on the internet, we shall not describe all that he taught but instead highlight some observations that we thought were illuminating.
An articulated feet is important. We were given the imagery of East Asian Calligraphy; lifting our feet and toes as if they were the brush tips, painting textures in space. Another movement quality that Nik imparted to us was the usage of the bounce to shift weight from one leg to the other so that the overall effect was one of lightness and effortlessness.
One of the exercises that we felt was extremely meditative and evocative was the anatomical exploration. We were told to imagine that our body was on the floor and to move around it. It was a surreal experience to “face our corpses” as if we were spirits hovering and dancing around them. Later it got more mind blowing when the body/body parts were allowed to be imaginatively expanded or contracted. The concentration in the room then was unimaginably focused and intense.
In addition to Improvisation Technologies, he also introduced other tools to help us look into relationality between bodies through very simple exercises. One of them was an exercise that was developed by Olga de Soto, a Spanish choreographer, dancer, and dance researcher based in Brussels whose work deals with the role of memory in live art and questioning its value and lasting quality.
In this exercise, the participants were separated into 2 groups, A and B. Group A was instructed to move while Group B was told to observe. Then the roles were switched and Group B now had to perform what they remembered from what they saw. This went on for a few rounds until finally, only a fraction of what was proposed by Group A remained. It was fascinating to watch and discuss the factors that make a movement memorable. It made us think from the audience’s perspective, and also of the importance of textures, temporality, repetition, and contextual relevance.
Related to this exercise is one where we were divided into smaller groups of four to five, taking on the roles of a performer, two movement transcribers, and an observer. The two movement transcribers were to help each other remember the performer’s movements and then make autonomous choices as they perform with the other person. They can only do it through performing without prior discussion. After they performed, the observer will then share his notes on what he has seen; the differences, similarities, insights … etc. We thought this was a very effective tool to create instant composition based on a given structure. It allows the performers to adapt movement material into their bodies without excessive stress and burden.
Nik also shared with us an exercise that demonstrated that simplicity in structure is already enough to reveal dramaturgy. 3 people were given 3 choices to do at their own discretion. They are:
- Walking in a circle clockwise
- Walking backwards clockwise
Through this exercise, we observed the many permutations and different readings that can be made because of the play in Time and Space.
The group started off with a sharing of one another’s beginnings as opposed to a generic introduction of each other’s work. The idea of the dramaturgy of beginnings is also part of Nik’s research and practice. We were told to each describe the following beginnings:
- As a maker/contributor
- As a performer
- A performance that inspired you
Through the act of speaking and sharing our own beginnings (experiences), we touched on the idea of demonstrating: between intuition and listening, sensing and connecting. In the midst of sharing, Nik brought up the idea of “maybe we have already started”, a concept that was shared with him by Jeanine Dunning. How can we be looking at “endings” as opposed to “beginnings”. We also touched on the topic of how there was always an emphasis on beginnings in everything that we do. Usually a beginning is always obvious but not when they disappear. A question that was thrown out later was “How can an artist disappear”?
One question to ponder: The “Role” and “Functionality” of “Artist” – What is our role as an artist within the 21st Century Context?
The discussion soon led to the idea of “Double Life”, which has been a common thread for all of us. We went on to unpack what is it that we as artists were doing? Is that a process? Does it take a great deal of time? How & what are the many different ways of using Improvisation as a form of practice?
For the next couple of afternoons, each associate artist shared their practice, facilitated by Nik, as a way of developing a system of support. It was revelational how this can be achieved through a supportive manner as Nik exemplified. He guided the sessions informed by DasArts feedback method. In these four days, the group worked together to unravel one another’s work systematically, suggesting links and resources as well as exercises that may benefit.
The following is a brief description on each associate artist’s current project:
Dapheny – Architecture and Ping Pong
Jereh – Subversion of stereotyping of gender performativity
Kornkarn – Untabooing the vagina
Ren Xin – Strategies for Dance in the public space as an intervention and also as bridging social stratas
Shou Yi – Working the Japanese concept of “Ma” onto the performance stage
Wayson – Democratic rights
在亞洲的這個相同文化大家庭中，ELEMENT#4 & Mentoring 是一個非常難得的平台讓藝術家們走在一起並互相支持大家的創作。我能身在其中，的確是我的榮幸。
什麼是Political Movement in Dance?
在Phonate的work in progress 里面，有什麼隱藏的創作提示？
Nik Naffner 不斷鼓勵藝術家們表達自己的需要，同時以一些國際藝術家的創作及思考來打開我們內斂的一面，如：Efva Lilja、María La Ribot等。在這些例子中，不時提醒了我的將生活與創作割裂的狀態、思考創作的過份嚴肅、心思與概念不夠精準等等的盲點。
Dance Nucleus 駐村藝術家們的互動
中國詩人蘇東坡有一封詩《題西林壁》寫到：「不識廬山真面目，只緣身在盧山中。」我常認為在原居地做創作久了，人會慢慢因環境因素而變得不夠敏感，同時當將問題困在原地，不懂向前推進。而今次的新加坡的駐村計劃從#Scope 和 #Element 的細心策劃中，使我可由檢視我過去的創作，由即興科技工作坊來整理現在我身體所有的知識，同時在mentoring session 中打開我思考上的另一邊天空。對於即將進行下一個季度的巡演的藝術家，能有這平台去審視自己將要演出及創作的工作，猶豫將我的視野從微觀至宏觀，再拉回微觀的狀態去專注在日後的舞蹈旅程。
In our Asian context, ELEMENT#4 and the mentoring process is a very rare platform for artists to support one another’s work. It was a great privilege for me to be a part of it.
I came to Singapore with these questions:
What is Political Movement in Dance?
What are some hidden potentials that have yet to be uncovered in Phonate as a work-in-progress?
How do I leave my comfort zone?
Nik constantly encouraged us to communicate our thoughts and needs, while sharing examples of international artists’ works and approaches to broaden our thinking, such as Efva Lilja and Maria La Ribot. These examples often highlighted blindspots in my thinking and creative process such as my tendency to separate life and work, becoming too serious when thinking about my work, and lacking precision in my motivations and concepts behind my work.
The sense of trust and openness among the group was highly palpable, which allowed us to mutually help one another to think through our works and challenges. We also participated physically in one another’s artistic practice, and through sharing our experiences, we were contributing to one another’s research. Gradually and subtly, the knowledge gleaned was not only self-enriching, but opened my eyes to the contrasts within Asian contemporary dance.
There is a phrase in Su Tung-Po’s poem “題西林壁” (Written on the wall of Xilin Temple) that reads “不識廬山真面目，只緣身在盧山中” (It is hard to tell the true face of Mount Lushan / Because I am inside this very mountain). I have always thought that if one stays in one place for a long time, one’s sensitivity and perceptiveness is gradually dulled, and when problems arise, one does not know how to move on. Coming to Singapore to be a part of SCOPE and ELEMENT, reviewing my past works, organising and taking stock of the knowledge in my body through improvisation workshops, participating in mentoring sessions, has expanded my thinking and imaginative horizons. As a touring artist, this was an opportunity to reflect on the works I am going to perform and create, to expand my perspectives, and yet keep in mind my own personal journey in dance.
About Goh Shou Yi
Goh Shou Yi (Singapore) is interested in the sovereignty of body largely derives from his constant questioning of physical states in relation to the different social settings he is in. His current research seeks to uncover the sociocultural influences the environment has on our body, and how we then subjugate our body to these influences around us whether consciously or unconsciously. A recipient of the NAC Arts Scholarshio, Goh Shou Yi holds a BFA in Dance and Diploma in Dance. He was selected by Lianhe Zaobao as a “rising star to watch” in 2015. An associate artist with T.H.E Second Company and Dance Nucleus, Shou Yi has been actively collaborating with both local and international artists to create and present dance choreographies and performances. Beyond dance, Shou Yi further took on the role of a collaborator in The Orange Playground (2016) led by Haresh Sharma with The Necessary Stage, as well as in the 1 Table 2 Chairs Experimental Series (2017) presented by The Theatre Practice, Singapore. He was also collaborator/movement choreographer for PRISM (2017) by Toy Factory.
About Jereh Leung
Jereh Leung (Singapore) creates temporal space that is suspended in time, enabling details to appear. ASMR, iconic scenography and filmic characters, repurposed and introduced in new configurations are part of the dispositifs that he employs for such seemingly surreal cinematic landscapes; the potentiality of tapping into the subsconcious, igniting affectations in the encounter. In the current space that he is working on, he weaves in retrospection of the gender ideal through deconstructing heteronormative gender duality by queering iconic hetero scenes in films referencing Chinese Opera’s modus operandi tradition of cross dressing and performativity of gender. Trained in SEAD (Salzburg) and NAFA (Singapore). Jereh has worked with Singaporean artists Bani Haykal, Choy Ka Fai, Daniel Kok, Eng Kai Er, Loo Zihan, Looi Wan Ping, Tang Ling Nah, Ah Hock and Peng Yu, Drama Box, Frontier Danceland, TheatreWorks and The Necessary Stage; internationally with Xavier Le Roy, Alexandra Pirici, Oleg Soulimenko, Matej Kejzar, Noa Zuk, Ole Khamchanla, Diego Gil and Wallie Wolfgruber.