[ENG] A Long Vacation in the journey of dance
Original Text: Felix Chan
This article sets out to look at how different dance artists and studios have been exploring ways to keep their work and venues running in light of the spread of the novel coronavirus. A grim reality soon emerged after interviewing a number of dance artists, tutors working with children, choreographers, dance instructors, and other practitioners working in areas like street dance and fitness. Independent and medium-to-small-sized studios have it hard as maintaining their programmes translates into additional costs. Their situation cannot be compared to large dance companies which possess greater resources in terms of finance, space and staffing or government subsidies and have the capacity to explore various online solutions that require special technological and market support. Unlike other fields of study which can easily be transferred to an online environment, the grace, alignments and techniques of dance cannot be conveyed in the same way through a screen as in the studio, dance teacher Julianna Ho explains. In the 21st century where everything is streamed online, e-learning has become the preference for many even though it isn’t always the most effective method. Despite the introduction of virtual or augmented reality technology, the spontaneity of human touch and the exchange of emotions expressed in an artistic performance that brings the performers and audience together in the same space, still cannot be fully replicated in the virtual world.
In the famous Japanese TV series, Long Vacation, after experiencing the loss of his marriage, job and family, the protagonist reflects that while he cannot change reality, he can see this chapter of his life as a long vacation, one that offers him a chance to better manage and work on his creativity and to enjoy life. The same kind of feeling is shared among some dancers who are facing the fallout brought by Covid-19, and left at home without work. Ho has been taking advantage of this enforced long vacation to devise choreography with a few other dancers. They are also videoing their work and sending it to presenters abroad to seek overseas performance opportunities. For a long time, they have wanted to reorganize their work, and even learn how to edit film themselves so they can produce their own footage but their busy schedules meant it was all but impossible to find time to do so -- until now. Another dancer, Yau Ka Hei and two fellow dancers have started creating together and interviewing each other, gathering information and studying their bodies in order to better prepare themselves for moving forward when the time comes. Ho and Yau have heeded the old saying that when life gives you lemons, you should turn them into lemonade by giving themselves a well-deserved rest and readying themselves for a more successful future. While both have finished their recent work with CCDC Dance Centre, they both say that they would not have been able to complete their pieces had it not been for the venue and resources provided by the Dance Centre. Both express concerns about the impact the Centre’s relocation will have on the industry in the future.
Dancer and instructor Kelvin Mak reveals that many medium-to-small-sized ballet and contemporary dance studios are facing financial trouble and worries whether they will be able to ride out the storm. However, he also notes that studios providing lessons on hip hop and other kinds of “street dance,” as well as fitness dance, are seeing more participants coming through their doors. There are two possible explanations for this phenomenon:
First, unlike ballet and contemporary dance classes that are made up of students of different ages from children to adults, the stamina required and the culture of street or fitness dance are more aligned with the younger generation who are from a healthier segment of the population and less vulnerable to the virus. Conceptually, street and fitness dance are also seen as a form of exercise which in turn makes them easier for people to accept as a healthy choice in this time of health turbulence.
Second, the emphasis that these styles of dance put into combining training and performance makes it possible to burn a great deal of energy and help dancers to commit to them with passion. Matching steps to rhythms heightens the dancers’ attention and collectivism, drawing them in even more.
Regardless of the kind of dance one practices, the goal is to connect and communicate with others. Setting body aesthetics aside, one must be able to have that human contact to ignite the spark. American philosopher Martha Nussbaum once said that performance can inspire empathy and iron out hatred and apathy. Against the backdrop of an epidemic, without knowing when we will find ourselves at the end of the tunnel, and with people fighting for toilet rolls and experiencing solitude and discrimination, what choreographers and dance performers can do is to prepare themselves and sow the seeds for a future expression of beauty and freedom.
Julianna Ho, Lai Tak-wai, Kelvin Mak, Yau Ka-hei and Blank Space Studio
(English Translation by Billy Leung)
is an art critic, theatre creator and illustrator. Personal website: www.felixism.com.