When it comes to choreography, performance, dance and many other art forms, there is always room for improvement, change and refining. We have completed the piece and so, as we breathe a sigh of relief, we know the hard work is about to begin.
Our time at Rimbun Dahan was about developing a work from ten minutes, to a full-length (40-60min) performance, based on our experiences of Malaysian culture and our collaboration with a local Malaysian artist. We had the seed material, so we started by breaking down the movement, looking at what the story said and what we wanted it to say. We began to learn more about the political, cultural and religious climate that makes Malaysia, Malaysia, investigating how our story could be received here, would relate here, and how our story could speak to this community. We looked at history, current issues, education, symbolism, music, visual art, social convention and etiquette, went to iconic Malaysian festivals, visited the hubs for the Chinese, Indian and Malay communities, and compared and contrasted our own experiences and culture with our new found Malaysian family and friends. What we discovered was a whole knew world (insert the rest of ‘Aladdin’ lyrics, if so desired) that we could only really understand from a distance but there were certain elements that we immediately felt drawn to or in contrast, retracted from, and here we found inspiration.
Some of our rehearsals ended with long discussions surrounding race and racism, ownership, communication and morality, even a little Pangaea and David Attenborough slipped in. We have found in reflection, that the work has taught us a thing or two, questioned us, challenged us, and not only in terms of what ‘it’ needs but also physically and performatively.
The next step, the collaboration, was the adventure for us. We have never worked with another artist in this kind of process so we were not sure what to expect. However, Alubahkan has made the process incredibly easy and really rewarding. Although we have only had a few sessions together we have learnt what it means to inspire a musician through movement, and to be inspired in return. It is quite incredible to hear a piece of music being played for the first time and know that it has been created based on your own work. Aluba’s natural ability to ‘play what he sees’ has enabled us to guide his work and develop intricacies in timing and energetic shifts.
Choosing when to let the dance lead the music or vice versa.
That wonderful moment when you realise the duo is now a trio.
Getting court out enjoying the music during the dance or realising your movement has completely shifted based on the rhythm it now sits within.
So now we have Uncommon Ground, sitting around 40minutes, telling a story that comes from two different lands and two different art forms, and marking Gabriel and Caitlin’s first self-devised and performed, full length work.
What comes next is always a challenge, especially when you are the performer and the choreographer. Deciphering the internal journey of the performer: a journey that works for you, for your partner and for the audience, one that communicates clearly but doesn’t over power the movement or over dramatise the work, one that lets you authentically present, not represent but that is repeatable. A journey that spans beginning, middle and end but still allows you to ‘look up on count eight’ and ‘keep hips back, take head forward’. This is the parallel world of performance that calls for presence and demands the best of you for the entirety of the work.
In our experience it is the journey that the performer goes on that makes all the difference to whether or not the audience connects, believes, trusts. However, we are aware of how ‘inside’ the work we are. We made it; it makes sense to us. We know what we want it to say and we think we know what it does say. We are also aware that what feels right for the dancer doesn’t always work choreographically. So here our work becomes slow and monotonous. Filming everything we do, in small chunks and then the whole piece to find out what is needed from the outside. As Abby Johnson from MakeShift Dance Collective will tell you (The Ephemerality of Dance, 2011), and as JS Wong reiterated in a recent meeting, the problem with footage is that there is a live element that is lost in 2D. So we will also ask for help from other artists, getting feedback on what they see, feel and what they take away from it all. Fresh eyes help with the dramaturgy of the work. This kind of feedback is invaluable in our process, sometimes when you are so intensively focused on building a work the overall picture can get cloudy. So we will use our performance at MAP Festival and some informal showings at Rimbun Dahan to gather some more information about our own work. Delve a little deeper and see what else we can pull out.