Friday, 4 November 2011

The best premiere

First tech run, Thakhek. Photo by Caroline Cochet.

I declare now that I fell in love with Laos last month. There will be some sentimental raving.

I am indebted to four squirming tots in a disused motel restaurant in Thakek. Who watched my first dress run of the Always Sea in Fang Mae Khong (FMK). They sat transfixed through all 20 minutes of languid soundscape and strange sitting and falling and object collection. Also the horde of tweens at the actual first show who were so weirded out that they actually ran away from me as I exited through the audience.

What a pleasure to have fresh eyes. An audience that you can amaze and touch.

These were people who have never seen any dance in their lives save for a bit of breakdancing. Part of me wishes I could see as they do, and see for the first time the ambitious mixed bag put together by Ole Khamchanla and his FMK team. The Vientiane-based Laobangfai b-boy crew (virtual teen celebs here) were the draw and local street dance crews opened the show. I wouldn't have bet that this audience would sit through it all - Lao dancers reinventing tradition and hip hop through contemporary dance, meditative contemporary Indian dance, Cambodian classical-meets club groove, clowning on Jacques Brel, Myanmar classicial dance battles b-boy, contemp hip-hop, stripped down experimental contemp, and my own weird installation performance thing. (See here for more info about the festival). And watch they did, in three towns. 

I can still feel the press of the last audience we played to, in the cool night below the bemused gaze of President Souphanouvong and the hills of Luang Prabang.  Maybe three hundred people, squeezed into standing room and peeking from benches or the tops of cars just to be able to see... They were completely along with us for the ride.  We were all amazed together.


I have had the fortune to travel and perform a fair bit in the past year. The immigration forms gave me the realisation that I had a great luxury of self-definition.

Seems hard to believe that just five months ago I was still immersed in three years of formal dance training. That orgy of intensely self-directed sweat, angst, humblement, reshaping oneself through guidance. At the end of which I stopped writing “Student” and put down “Dancer” every time I crossed a border.

Then the last five months – The Hungry Stones. The Screw of Thought at Theatreworks. The Singapore School Project with ITI. Contact Improvisation festival KL. My capoeira batisado.The Always Sea. Randai. Play! at the ArtScience Museum. Fang Mae Khong in Laos. 2High in Brisbane.

It is odd to say this. These days, I don't think I am dancing. I am moving, a great deal, but not in the same sense that I understood this in my past few years at NAFA. I have my own work, and it is often movement but it is not necessarily dance as in the technical sense. In the rehearsed and prepared sense. In the rules of choreography sense.

I am seeking. I am drowning. I am reading and mis-reading other human beings and human bodies. Sniffing around for ambient energy and human history. I am asking questions and writing emo drivel like this and proposing that something could happen. And also I am spending a lot of time writing proposals and grant applications.

In the last month I started to write “artist” instead of “dancer”. Then I end up explaining that I don't actually paint or sculpt. It could just as well be “researcher” or “interpreter”. I still hesitate over the boxes Holiday and Business for “purpose of trip”. I am tempted to draw in another box for Art, or Life.