Space To Dance With Freedom
《哲學係咁跳》（2022）/ 攝 : Yvonne Chan (照片由 城市當代舞蹈團 提供)
特別是除了中國內地及香港之外，全球疫情政策逐漸放緩，不少觀眾已習慣在家收看媒體表演，如何重建觀眾進入正規劇院看演出的儀式感及現場感，成為了劇場策劃者的重大課題。不論倫敦沙德勒之井劇院（Sadler's Wells Theatre），還是新加坡da:ns藝術節等，都不約而同強調現場的熱情與活力。我一直關注及欣賞，擅於以高能量舞動節奏演繹平凡生活題材的舞團Emanuel Gat Dance，在本年十二月於美國舞蹈節的演出，看似老套地只說以動作與音樂交流為主題，卻暗示觀眾應將焦點放在享受現在，以「慶祝身體」為由來看表演。或者，今時今日舞蹈之於舞台已不再是理所當然，更甚不一定是自然。世界上不同劇院及舞團在回復製作演出的同時，也都在反思為何要再次進入劇院這個哲學命題，而我認為「慶祝身體」，或應說慶祝可以再次接觸（觀看）別人身體，及凝視身體流動的這種渴望，可能就是在後疫情下，對舞者及觀眾而言最為基本的進場理由。
《停格中的塑像》/ 攝 : Worldwide Dancer Project (照片由 城市當代舞蹈團 提供)
《哲學係咁跳》/ 攝 : Yvonne Chan (照片由 城市當代舞蹈團 提供)
那麼，回到舞蹈在非劇院空間，我們就會明白，策劃一場表演所要關注的地方要非常全面，而且立體。例如對表演者來說，最緊要的可能是活動空間的大小、與觀眾的距離和關係，及地面硬度。但對觀眾而言，整個空間的氣氛、其地域屬性、抵達場地的路線、指示牌及帶位員的態度等，也有機會影響觀感。演出從來不是指舞台或燈區上的一隅，而是建構期待，及傳遞力量。如去年Tino Sehgal曾於荷蘭阿姆斯特丹國家博物館及香港大館賽馬會藝方演出《如此變奏》（This Variation），縱然內容同樣在漆黑的展覽空間進行，觀眾會因場域不一樣的屬性而產生不同感覺，即在國家博物館沒有太多指示下發現黑暗入口，與在大館跟隨大量清楚的指示而到達會場，可以是完全不同的觀演感受。又例如Sasha Milavic Davies找來上百位素人女性表演的《萬物起舞》（everything that rises must dance），同樣曾在倫敦北格林威治地鐵站外空地及香港大館的廣場上表演過，也給觀眾完全迥異的想像。前者乃人來人往的公共空間，週末更多了一份悠閒，正好配合舞蹈展現女性身體及身分自由的概念，又具有與社會融合的理想，是個具藝術溫度的社區活動；後者同樣是公共空間，但始終在重建的藝文地域內，即便觀眾知道表演理念、由素人演出，仍因著場地的屬性，而留有強烈的藝術表演感覺，舞蹈依然在藝術的場地內被凝視，令它原有的關注社區的能量大減。
Space to Dance with Freedom
Translator: Audrey Ng
When I was asked to write on the topic of dance and (non-theatrical) space, I started thinking -- if breakdancing is being added as an event in the 2024 Paris Olympics, then what needs to be discussed in the 21st century will no longer necessarily be whether and how dance should take place beyond the theatrical stage, but vice versa – whether it is inevitable for dance to return to formal performance venues. It is undeniable that, in this day and age, dance is already established and thriving in a variety of real and virtual spaces. Indeed, one of the core motivations behind the birth of street dance was to challenge the power of conventional performance venues and spread the energy of dance in settings of all sorts, especially unconventional ones, so as to bring out the unique charisma and beauty of extraordinary body language through contrasting it with ordinary spaces.
Today even terms like site-specific dance seem a bit old-fashioned. New developments in recent years, from the prevalence of geographically-boundless online dance catalysed by the global pandemic to the numerous streaming media offering combinations of dance and stereoscopic displays, have prompted me to question creators, critics, audiences and performers every time I enter the theatre to direct or watch dance performances. Whether and how should creators and audiences affirm the value of dance on a theatrical stage? To be more specific, when dance can be performed in any space, will audiences stop taking theatrical settings for granted and will creators think about ways to break through the audience’s established imagination visually and perceptually?
《Dancing Philosophy》/ credit: Carmen SO (provided by City Contemporary Dance Company)
With pandemic restrictions in most parts of the world being gradually eased, how tobring back audiencesto live shows at theatres after they have got used to watching performances at home through online media has become a crucial concern for theatre directors. Be it London’s Sadler's Wells Theatre, or Singapore’s da:ns festival, the emphasis has been on the excitement and energy of watching live shows. I have been paying close attention to and appreciating Emanuel Gat Dance, a dance group talented at interpreting everyday life topics through dynamic and exhilarating dance rhythms. Their coming performance at the American Dance Festival this December has a seemingly clichéd theme on interactions between movement and music, but what it implies is that the audience should focus on enjoying the present moment and watch the show ”to celebrate the body”.
Perhaps nowadays dance should not necessarily be performed on stage and this way of performing may not even seem natural. As theatres and dance groups around the world resume performance production, they are reflecting on a philosophical question: why go back to the theatre? I believe that ‘celebrating the body’ or again being able to watch other people’s bodies and the urge to watch the flow of the body, may be the fundamental reasons for dancers and audiences to return to the theatre after the pandemic.
《everything that rises must dance》(2019) / credit: Cheung Wai Lok (provided by Hong Kong Arts Festival)
Nevertheless, if dance is not necessarily to be performed on stage, should we rethink and reconstruct the symbolisms and rules that have long been used and followed in the theatre? For example, in street dance there are no so-called entrances, exits or scene transitions. The dancers stand by on the sidelines, their costumes and identities are already part of what the audience sees, all that remains is starting the show by entering the performance area and ending it by leaving. It can thus be said that the dancers are bringing atmosphere and energy to the space the whole time, from every position.
Based on this, will the audience still understand that the fade-in and fade-out of lighting on stage symbolises exits and entrances? When there are blackouts and the silhouettes of the backstage staff can be seen hurrying to change the set, will that affect the audience and disrupt their rhythm of watching the dance? When we are used to the fast pace of life stimulated by watching vast amounts of media, how can we accept the conventional scene transitions and waiting times in the theatre? If contemporary dance can take place in any space and setting, then the theatrical stage is just one of those settings. Dancing Philosophy, a collaboration between City Contemporary Dance Company and Corrupt the Youth staged in August this year, showed a way of contrasting the huge, uniform space of the stage with the bodies of non-professional dancers, to highlight the unique situation of Corrupt the Youth’s members walking out of the internet onto a live stage.
《Pa Ethos》/ credit : Worldwide Dancer Project (provided by City Contemporary Dance Company)
With regard to dance in non-theatrical settings, we now understand that planning a performance must be done in a very comprehensive and three dimensional way. To the performers, the size of the performing space, their distance from and relationship to the audience and how hard the floor is may be the most important things. However, to the audience, the atmosphere of the space, the geographical features of the venue and the route they have taken to get there, the signage, the attitude of the ushers and more may affect their impression of the performance.
This kind of performance does not focus on one part of the space or the lighting area, but on building expectations and conveying power. For instance, Tino Sehgal performed This Variation last year at both the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the JC Contemporary at Tai Kwun in Hong Kong. Even though both performances took place in dark exhibition spaces, the different characteristics of the venues gave the audience a different feeling: finding the dark entrance at the Dutch national museum with hardly any directions as opposed to arriving at Tai Kwun following numerous explicit directions resulted in two completely different experiences of watching the show.
Another example is everything that rises must dance by Sasha Milavic Davies, which features one hundred non-professional female dancers. Two stagings, one in an open space outside the North Greenwich underground station in London and the other on the Parade Ground at Tai Kwun gave the two audiences totally different impressions in a similar way to This Variation. The setting in North Greenwich is a public space where people come and go to relax and the performance took place on a weekend, which was a perfect match to the concept of dancing to show the freedom and identity of female bodies and the ideal of social integration – it thus became a communal activity with an artistic touch. Tai Kwun is also a public space, but a revitalised space dedicated to arts and culture. This meant that, even though the audience could understand the rationale of the performance and that it was performed by non-professional dancers, due to the nature of the venue the show still came over strongly as an art performance. So when watched in an art venue, the dance lost much of its intrinsic power of communal engagement.
This world is too big and changes too fast. Sometimes even hip-hop dancers dislike the term “street dance” -- an umbrella term for many different dance styles. If we still believe contemporary dance necessarily means a certain dance form and excludes others, then real freedom of dance will remain out of reach. The same applies to the discussion about the spaces where dance takes place: if we assume that theatrical space should form the basis of discussion before proceeding to evaluate the possibilities of non-theatrical space, I don’t think we can hold a meaningful conversation about the relationship between space and the body.
In recent years pandemic restrictions have put an end to a lot of performances. Without performances, a stage is just an empty space which serves no purpose for the community. On the other hand, whatever corner of this city may be theoretically used as a “performing space” requires government approval for performances to take place, while any activities on the street must take care not to violate the ban on gatherings. If performances in non-theatrical spaces risk getting performers into trouble, how can we talk about freedom or discuss the relationship between body and space? In the end, I still believe that, as long as someone is willing to dance, dance will exist. Let us look forward to the power of dance in the future, to a time when dance can break into any space and change the texture of the city.
Art critic, theatre director and illustrator. Website: http://www.felixism.com/