Rehearsals are finally underway in Taiwan and working with the Taiwanese artists is really quite interesting. They are a different sort altogether. The first day was very quiet, the artists were not really willing to try things or show off. Finally, we ended up just doing a little exercise with a circle of people, trying to get a hip-hop energy going. We did some improvisations with their kung-fu that allowed me to start to change things around, like forcing them to look each other in the eyes, to interact with each other, etc.
After this lukewarm (by my thinking) first rehearsal, I was surprised to find that no one wanted to leave. The Rocker explained to me that this meant that they were very excited about the project. My translator later told me that they were looking forward to trying something new.
The Rocker was happy, though. He said that in one day, we’d accomplished more than he was able to in one month with the Beijing modern dance troupe and a Quebecois choreographer. The cultural differences killed that project.
Rehearsal the next night went a lot better. I worked on partner work in creation, having them come up with duos that they can both do and then changing constraints, like that they need to be always in contact or need to be in a small space. We watched videos. We started to laugh and talk a little more. Things were looking good, I was happy. We have “stock.”
This morning, I had rehearsal with one of the kung fu artists, Eric, one-on-one with no translator. We watched a video. I gave him ten minutes of warm-up time. He looked out the window. I said “show me your hardest routine,” thinking it would fuck him up. He showed me an incredible kung-fu routine. The ceiling was too low for his jumps; he would hit his head. I couldn’t have touched it if I jumped with my arm extended straight up over my head. I played with the number, making him take breaks and lose the technique; becoming the person behind the kung fu. No problem. Then, I introduced mirror work, of course he reverted right back to kung fu. Now I said that he had to be Michael Jackson. Now I said he had to be himself. It was fucking great. We went all over the place, picking up chairs, manipulating them… there was no judgement and it was fun. Then I went to an evasion exercise that is meant to make movement more abstract. That too was a lot of fun. In the end, it is impossible for me to anticipate what sorts of things will make it through the cultural divide and which will not.
Our choreographer, a Taiwanese who lives in France, came from the same arts school as most of our artists which makes him their ‘older brother’ and they treat him with tons of respect. If it wasn’t for his lead, we would have probably never gotten the artists to open up the way they have in these last few days. This is useful, but he also has an axe to grind with Taiwanese artists. He has a lot of experience working in Europe and now that he has a project back in his hometown, he is clearly not happy with Taiwanese artists and their unwillingness to try new things. His view is that it is different from Japanese conservatism – that their reluctance to try new things is born of an insecurity, not pride in their way of doing things.
I am continually surprised by the caliber and generosity of our artists. Their sheer technical skill, their curiosity… and then amazed to see how bashful they are. How they are nervous to make physical contact or express emotion on stage. Bewildering. I found out one of them can juggle 6 balls and 9 rings – relatively high level. Did he ever consider showing that at the audition? Of course not. So who else have we missed, then? Who else hid their best? I’m working with him, to create a modern dance/hip-hop juggling number. I think it will be great. He has a circus attitude. We have Chinese opera people, kung-fu people, acrobatics people, and soon, hip-hop dancers. It is a great mix.
To get a head start I am starting to send the Montreal artists some homework made up of creative challenges. For example, for The Contortionist, we have the idea of making the contortion number tie in to a kung fu artist’s classical sword form. we don’t really know the level of interaction yet, but the idea is that she would be dodging out of the way of her sword by doing contortion moves. She could also start thinking about a duo with the contact juggler in the show. The circus artists from Montreal arrive in a month and a half. They will have a lot to work up to.