Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Oxwarehouse: Echo a friend

The growing sense that dance and, by extension, my work isn’t entirely welcome in this Live Art context has made it harder for me to be open in performing. I’ve been aware for a while that some of the artists were uncomfortable with having dance in the programme. However, no one has really asked me why I am here and what I think my work is trying to do here. There is no question but that what I do comes from and relies on a dance tradition – it is the discipline I follow. But that discipline is a means to an end or, more precisely, a means to a process of discovery that takes place in relation to the environment and the new context in to which I bring the work. I don’t hide a message in the work for an audience to decode. Instead, I see the work as an opportunity to learn something and I try to create an environment where others can participate in that discovery. I’ve seen a number of works that have inspired me in this touring festival, some from artists with a dance background, some with visual arts or theatre training. It’s the work and its impact that matters to me and not the tradition from which it derives or the manifesto to which it adheres.

In the beautiful Oxwarehouse space in Macau, I carried the shadow of this sense of being unwelcome until a Chinese woman, Echo, stepped into the space as I was warming up and began to copy my movements. Before we spoke, she established a connection between us that made me feel welcome and through her, I found a positive focus for my last articulation of the Cosán Dearg solo. Thanks to Elena’s filming, Echo sits in the middle of the frame, making this a duet that prepares for Bernadette’s arrival. The glitz of Macau’s casinos is an odd contrast to the pastoral environment of the Oxwarehouse space.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Shenzhen Free Arts Zone

Shenzhen is a city which didn’t exist, except as a small fishing village, 20 years ago. It’s now a young city full of young people from all over China. It’s a city full of new high rises, some already abandoned and derelict. New seems to be easier than repair and recycling.
I’m staying in a luxury business hotel and feeling both refreshed by the comfort and a little guilty about the comparative expense. I reassure myself that this luxury, and the Chinese business men who enjoy it, are as much part of the Chinese experience as the artists with whom I’m working.

In Shenzhen, our hosts are the Shenzhen Free Arts Zone ( They run the top floor of the factory building in the picture above and have converted it into very basic artist live-work spaces. A central corridor and shared office/common room provide a gallery space where the artists’ work is on view and in which we performed. It has been a pleasure to have an opportunity to talk with these artists who are keen to engage and learn a little of our work.

The solo found a new expression in this long corridor where I set up a line of fire-extinguishers to remind myself of my long red journey. I danced near a set of naked statues whose presence in the space reminded me that I was somehow preceded in my path.

Elena Giannotti who dances Michael Klein's Einem on this tour, is pictured above and she artfully filmed my performance.

The video contains nudity (again)

Philippina urban occupation

I was mesmerised by how Hong Kong’s Philippina maids appropriate the city’s public space for their day off. On roads and squares they set up encampments for the day where they sleep, eat, socialise, play cards, dance, access union counselling etc. It reminds me of a festival but I suppose there is a sense where this temporary occupation of public space, this ingenious use of resources, is born of necessity rather than choice.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Second performance day in Hong Kong

The second day of the Hong Kong/Dadao festival brought performances to the Queen’s Pier area of the city. The afternoon of performance were engaging and stimulating, unfolding in a kind of carnival atmosphere which some individual performances managed to focus and quieten. One such performance was by San Mu (there’s some background on him at who opened a space in the paving and made a work that remembered an ancient city, Fengjie, that was flooded to make the Three Gorges Dam. San Mu invited onlookers to listen to the water in a three hundred year old bowl he had placed on the pavement:

Other performers included

Zhou Bin from China

Mandy Romero from Liverpool
( )

Yeh Yi Li from Taiwan

Marilyn Ansem from the US
( )

Hong Kong performances

I performed in Hong Kong last night, on a terrace of the Osage Gallery ( Hong Kong has been challenging but that may have had to do with the long and bureaucratically tedious journey from Beijing via Shenzhen: a 5 am start in Beijing to catch a comfortable flight to Shenzhen which passed quickly thanks to the entertaining celebration of 300 days to the Olympic opening by the improbably beautiful China Air cabin crew. A Starbucks in Shenzhen airport lulled me in a sense of being in familiar territory but then we had to take a bus to Hong Kong, which meant taking a bus to the Chinese border, unloading our luggage, queuing for the border checks, boarding another bus, travelling the few hundred metres to the Hong Kong border check, taking our luggage and going through border formalities again and finally boarding a bus to take us to Hong Kong. China’s different system’s couldn’t have been more clearly demonstrated and frustratingly experienced.

The Osage gallery seems to support a lot of dance, with a Phillipina choreographer supported to make work in response to the gallery’s various exhibitions. It’s an imaginative basis for a residency if the choreographer enjoys that stimulus. The terrace space itself is great, surrounded by tall buildings with glimpses of the harbour in the distance. These are pictures of the state I was expecting to perform.

Because it rained however, we had to improvise other options. I was quite happy to dance in the rain but the lighting had to be protected. Eventually I performed with no lights in the glow of borrowed illumination from nearby buildings.

I’d intended to use the DVD of Cosán Dearg Cúl Aodha as a way to introduce the duet with Bernadette as a context for the solo and also to bring that lush countryside into the built up city. Consultations with lawyers confirmed that there couldn’t be any nudity so that had to go. No matter, I brought my own connections which may have been communicated implicitly if not as explicitly as I’d have liked.

Dancing on the rough concrete meant that I had some cuts and scratches, more little marks on my body from the history of this piece. They are not trauma such as Ron Athey or Marina Abramovich perform on their body nor are they displayed like Boris Nieslony’s bleeding forehead in this Hong Kong event, cut when he smashed plates of glass on his head while Siu Lan read a (partial) list of countries where human rights are curtailed. But they are a concrete element of my physical memory, that I will keep consciously as I wait for the cuts to heal and that I expect to linger beside my consciousness in the new skin that forms.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Beijing Olympic Site

Since I visited the Olympic area, I knew I should dance there. The impressive Bird's Nest Stadium and Water Cube are still surrounded by a desolate building site which was once a place where many people lived before the imperatives of landmark construction moved them on. More than performing on Wanfujing or in Tiananmen, dancing in this location, soon to be the focus of the world's attention and the place from which China projects its carefully constructed image, is resonant and telling.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Wanfujing interrupted

After the opening performance, I was really tired or allowed myself to be so. Dancing on concrete takes its physical toll too. It’s something I can manage occasionally and am happy to do if it allows my work to find new places and people. But I also need periods where the conditions are kinder. Today wasn’t one of the kind days: I warmed up in Jingshan park, a beautiful park overlooking the Forbidden city. It’s not too weird to do back stretches and yoga fire breathing there as parks are a common location for people to do their callisthenics and tai chi. It’s weird only when I lie on the ground.

I was warming up there because we had performances on Wanfujing, the main shopping street.
I wasn’t sure I could marshall the energy to focus myself enough to perform but when the time came, I knelt in front of a big video screen advertising the Olympics and hamburgers and started again, trying to find some stillness in myself as the busy city circled round.

A plain clothes policeman interrupted my performance and told me to go. I said ‘I’m dancing, wo tiaowu’, but he was having none of it….

Opening Performance: Dadao Live Art Festival: Contains nudity

I’m glad I kept it simple. By the time I showed my solo, some three hours and a variety of live art explosions, weltings, wrappings, climbings, creamings and drenchings after the beginning, only something simple and direct could be visible. I was very happy to have been able to be an occasion of silence and concentration in that busy environment.

My only prop was the red colour on my hands and feet – a vestige of the Cosán Dearg Chinese food dye which I’d expected to find here but which isn’t widely available at all. Instead I used acrylic paint from the fancy art shop in this increasingly commercial 798 Art district.

This performance contains nudity

Friday, 5 October 2007

Rehearsal 798 Art Space

“One World, One Dream”, Exhibition 798 Art Space

This is what Shu Yang’s curatorial note says about the “One World, One Dream” exhibition that I found in the 798 Art Space:

‘“One World, One Dream” is the title that the “Vision Testers” is using for its 2007 Photo Show, exactly the same as that of the official slogan of the 2008 Olympic Games….
“One World, One Dream” depicts the otherwise indoor wedding shoots in the outdoors setting – newly weds posing for their best shots in the midst of real-life scenes. What makes these works different from just wedding photos is that accidental bystanders and thrill-seeking onlookers as well; as the real world that surrounds the set become part of the show….

Dragons and phoenixes are imaginary critters, non-existent in real life, They have been however, our nation’s totems. Drawn side by side, they stand for harmonious matrimony. In other cultures, though, they are nothing more than demons that appear only in nightmares. Now, think about this: Wouldn’t it be horrible if the slogan “One World, One Dream” materializes across the globe? Whether we are talking about wedding gowns or Olympic Games, the idea is to interface with Western culture. Our modernization drive, which dates back to a hundred years ago, boils down to our efforts to align ourselves with the West. To date, we have alignments in some areas and misalignments in others, thus this freak that bears resemblance to nobody. Of course, this is not unique to China only. Many non-Western cultures on the globalization bandwagon face the same problem, which is the most difficult issue troubling globalization itself. The realities in present-day China are awkward, because we have not used our brains well to think, to explore and to address issues. Instead, we have only managed to chaotically react. At the offset of China’s modernization drive, Mr. Lu Xun advocated the “Copycat Approach”. Over the decades we have copied from all over, albeit piecemeal, but have somehow misplaced everything we have copied. Perhaps we put too much emphasis on superficial things in he modernization drive and have not nurtured new wisdom, ending up with this hotchpotch with a bit of everything that do not go together. Against this background, the works in “One World, One Dream”, created by the “vision Testers”, seemingly poke fun at our lives but nevertheless serve as a wake up call.’

What the exhibition housed was in fact a series of sets, a pink boudoir, a chateau ballroom, a communist square, a Japanese cherry blossom – all accessorised with costumes and props for member of the public to dress up and be photographed in. It reminded me of a tourist trap in the Yu Gardens in Beijing which encourages visitors to have their photos taken in what look like Gilbert and Sullivan ‘traditional Chinese’ costumes. And it reminded me of end-of-pier fairground cut-outs. These sets all referred to the wedding photo sets that had been created in public spaces and shown on the photographs on the gallery wall.

But I didn’t see so many people look at the photos. They were having much too much fun, dressing up and being photographed. Some people didn’t need the props or the sets to work their angles a la America’s Next Top Model. And I did wonder whether the artists’ intention to create a dissonance between the aspirational artiness of the wedding photos and the less aesthetically polished ‘real world’, as Shu Yang called it, might have been irrelevant to many of the viewing/interacting public. In their real world (young 798 district national holiday crowd), aspiration and the glamourising photographs are all of a piece. The success of this exhibition is to have drawn a public in and in doing so drawn this out of them.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

798 Art Space: Just arrived for the Dadao Live Art Festival 2007

Arriving in Beijing for the Dadao Live Art festival, I’m aware that this third trip to China is on the surface at least, a bit easier. That may have something to do with being collected from the airport or perhaps it’s the extra special effort Beijing is making for the Olympics or maybe it’s just that I recognise something this time around.

But I’m suspicious that this familiarity is superficial at best. When I made my way to 798 Art Space to meet Shu Yang, the curator of the Dadao festival, I introduced myself and was greeted by a helpful man who said he was Shu Yang. I wasn’t convinced, as I had remembered Shu Yang from a previous visit and this man didn’t look like my memory of him. Still I’d just flown overnight half way around the world and it seemed impolite to be sceptical. I said I was there to look at the space where I might be performing and he said go ahead (I make these sound like straight forward exchanges when in fact they were delicate negotiations in my poor Mandarin and his passable English). I looked around and enjoyed the exhibition which Shu Yang has curated but decided I needed to know if the exhibition would be there when the performances took place. So I thought I’d ask ‘Shu Yang’. It was at this stage that my helpful friend made clear that he had no idea who I was and what the Dadao Live Art Festival might be. If this was Shu Yang then I was in trouble.

Fortunately he did now know who the real Shu Yang was, or maybe I managed to pronounce it in a way that made his name recognisable. He called Shu Yang who came immediately to collect me. Take nothing for granted and keep calm.

Though it’s clear from meeting the friendly and dedicated festival organisers that this is a big challenge for them on limited financial and administrative resources, I think that the work I’m bringing is sufficiently sure of its core identity to be able to adapt to whatever circumstances it might have to face: it seems like there’s an opportunity for me to perform in either a gallery, a street or a studio theatre. I want to perform in all three locations and let the reiteration of Cosán Dearg gather new experiences and memories to its already evocative score.