Budding choreographer Chai Vivan recounts her exciting adventures in Angers, France, where she created and presented her work, “LUST”, in the Choreolab at the World Dance Alliance Summit 2014.
Vivan originally wrote this essay as a report to MyDance Alliance for being a recipient of its Small Grants program.
It was thanks to Jeff Hsieh that I found out about the Choreolab at the World Dance Alliance Summit 2014 that was held in Angers, France. My participation would not have been possible if he had not encouraged me to apply for it. I also want to acknowledge MyDance Alliance, My Performing Arts Agency and Yayasan Sime Darby for having supported my trip to Angers.
When I found out that I had been chosen to be one of the choreographers for the Choreolab, I was thrilled. I thought that since I would be traveling alone for the first time in Europe, it would be such a great adventure!
However, something very dramatic happened a few days before the day of my departure to France. It was about my passport and it is a very long story, so I shall skip this part. But I want to give credit to my brother because he was my super hero for having saved my passport; I am a lucky girl.
On the night of the 5th of July, I departed from KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) to the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and arrived safely. I had heard all about pickpockets, scam artists and other scary stories that have happened in France so I was super-duper cautious at every second. Fortunately, nothing bad happened to me until I arrived in Angers, where I was lost for an hour trying to find my hotel, which was hidden behind some residential houses. I was really exhausted and hungry. The moment I arrived at the hotel, the receptionist was seen talking on a phone. I started getting suspicious. Turned out, it was my boyfriend on the other side of the phone, asking about me!
After having had a bath and having gotten ready, we had an opening ceremony at Le Quai Theatre, where we each collected important documents and went to watch a performance by the students of CNDC (Centre National de Danse Contemporaine) that was choreographed by Robert Swinston. Throughout the show, I was observing the dancers because I knew that quite a number of them would be our dancers for Choreolab.
By the end of the day, I was surprised because I had thought I would be so lonely here but I ended up talking to so many people and we have become good friends. It was an improvement for me because usually, I would feel too shy to socialize.
The first day of Choreolab. We all gathered at Le Quai Theatre—four choreographers (interestingly enough, all female) and 38 dancers from all over the world and our two mentors, Robert Swinston and Germaine Acogny. Robert and Germaine briefed us on the details of the lab and gave us a name list that split the dancers into groups, one for each choreographer. I was so excited to meet my 10 dancers.
This was proceeded by a ritual lead by Germaine, and thereafter, we split up into our respective studios.
Me and Swedish choreographer Linnea were to use an older studio that was located in the more happening part of town. That’s a great thing, of course.
The rehearsal space in Bodinier Studios, Angers, 7 July 2014. Photo © Chai Vivan
After a very energetic African-inspired dance class leaded by Germaine, we began our first rehearsal.
The choreographic tool I had wanted to use for my piece was “TACTICS”*, introduced to me by Janis Claxton when I had participated in the Southeast Asian Choreolab (SEA Choreolab) in Rimbun Dahan, organised by MyDance Alliance, earlier in the year. I had wanted to use this opportunity to explore the possibilities of this tool in my own choreographic process. At the same time, the task allowed me to get to know my dancers’ bodies and abilities. I gave them a few exercises to give them an idea of what I had in mind. Then I let them choose their own partners and let them start creating their own duets based on TACTICS. While I had explored this tool with my own body in the SEA Choreolab, I knew it would help me to create something within a very short time frame, which was perfect for me because each choreographer had only less than five days to create a work-in-progress piece.
Before my session ended, I tried to create a rough structure by using the material I had gotten from the dancers, which were all duets, just to let me have an overview.
After a nice dinner with a few of my dancers, we went back to the Le Quai Theatre to watch a performance titled Tragedie, choreographed by Olivier Dubois. It was a quite shocking performance because there were 18 fully naked female and male performers on stage. I am not sure whether they were all dancers but they were all definitely powerful and strong performers. The choreography was well developed from start to end, and featured erotic movements that one would never see in Malaysia! Overall, it was great experience for me.
The second day of Choreolab began with Germaine’s class.
I had a few sections that I had wanted to do and the aim for today was to complete them.
- I started by asking the dancers to rehearse material from yesterday, which was “Contact Shift” from TACTICS. After that, I arranged them in a flowing structure to see whether the patterns would work.
- Then I taught them a set of sequences and allowed them to practice by themselves with the music I had provided.
- We then explored “Global Contact Shift”, which had the dancers travel from one end of the studio to the other, and repeating the journey with different partners.
- “ORCHESTRA”—I put them in chunks of groups close to each other, then started playing with only “Contact”. But all the movements had to follow the beat of the music.
- I taught the three male dancers hand movements from the classical Indian dance, Pushpanjali, which I thought would be very interesting. Then I asked the dancers to add in body and leg movements according to the hand movements I had taught.
- I also explored the ideas of resistance and imagination.
Notes from the first two days of rehearsal, Bodinier Studios, Angers, 8 July, 2014. Photo © Chai Vivan
I then collected and recorded what we had worked on for the day and tried to decide which ones were usable.
After I released the dancers, I asked one of the female dancers, Seve, to stay back. I worked out a solo section for her and decided to insert it into the second section of my piece.
When I got back to the hotel after dinner, I immediately started working on my piece and watched the video I had recorded. I then did some planning for Wednesday’s rehearsal.
My plan was to finish the choreography, at least the whole structure, so that the next day I would just need to polish the dance.
With the sections I had collected from Monday and Tuesday, I linked them up and asked the dancers to try them with the music pieces I had chosen. We took a long time to practice on the first piece of music, which was to be in the first part of my choreography. After lunch break, I started to structure the second part with all the ideas I had in mind.
At the end of rehearsals, we kind of completed the whole choreography and I was quite happy about it.
My dancers and I then went to have some Nutella Crisps. They were so tasty!
Our group joined Robert’s class today, which was a completely Cunningham Technique-based class. I was nervous because I had not been practicing Cunningham Technique for quite a long time and it was not a complete version as well.
We started rehearsals after class. After just 15 minutes, my mentors (Robert and Germaine), plus Jin-Wen Yu (dance professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Nanette Hassall AM (head of the dance department at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) came in to watch our preview. I felt like I was a student undergoing a degree’s PeTA (Penilian Tahun Akhir / “end of year assessment”), which made me super nervous! After having gotten feedback from Robert and Germaine, I immediately made some changes.
I was lucky because I was the only one to have shown their piece twice to Robert and Germaine. They came back to watch my piece after lunch break and they were really happy about it because the changes worked. I felt relieved.
The four of us choreographers met up with the lighting designer to see what lights he was able to provide us. I was the first choreographer to work on lighting cues because my piece would be the last. In other words, they reversed the order to work on cues.
Anyway, the four of us were in the theatre by 8.30 pm. I had thought it would be small audience, but clearly I was wrong. Anyhow, the show started.
The first piece was choreographed by Andrea Beckham from the United States. Watching her piece gave me a sense of peace. She used some gold-coloured strings to create something like roadways, and then she used the space between the strings. The dancers’ movements were very soft and refined. I found the flow of the dance quite good but I did not like the ending very much. Maybe it had a specific meaning but I didn’t quite get it.
The next piece was choreographed by Foo Yun Ying from Singapore. She started the piece in a serious mode and she played a lot with formation and it looked interesting. I liked the part where the dancers played with some funny facial expressions amidst daily life movements. It created a nice contrast to the first section.
Then the third piece was choreographed by Linnea Lindh from Sweden. Her piece was about a protest rally. Prior to this, she had shown me some photographs and pictures of the rally. With this contextual information, I could understand her piece more clearly, and I also saw some of the images in the dancers. The way she choreographed the piece was really good. It was smooth, surprising and interesting to watch. There was a phrase that kept staying in my mind, where the dancers were climbing on one another and sitting on shoulders. This created a very strong image for me. The ending of the piece was as equally marvelous—the dancers were repeatedly clapping their hands against their own bodies while stomping the floor. All of a sudden, without the sound of a cue, they stopped. That was one magical moment!
Then came the last piece. I cannot comment on my piece. I just felt that there was a lot of space for improvement. I believe the other choreographers must have felt the same. In any case, I was happy with my music choices because they gave a totally contrasting mood to the other three pieces and yet I found some similarity between the music in all four pieces.
While watching my own piece, I did feel happy. Not because of the result, but rather because of the process that I had undergone with my 10 amazing dancers. I was amazed by their commitment, responsibility and discipline during rehearsals. This memory will always be with me.
Finally the show ended. The CNDC dancers had prepared a party in the studio where we had been rehearsing all this time. Unbelievable! Their teachers actually allow them to have a party inside the studio! The dancers had also decorated the studio with candles and had prepared food and beverages (with alcoholic ones, most definitely). We danced, we laughed, and we drank merrily! What a wonderful way to end my trip in Angers…
Chai Vivan and her dancers backstage at Le Quai Main Theatre, 11 July 2014—[top row, from left to right] Capucine Waiss, Karine Dahouindji, Lucy-Margaux Marinkovich, Charity Ng Jen Yi, Stephanie Maughan, Seve Bernard, [middle row, from left to right] Flora Kim, Fuxi Li, Chai Vivan, Nicolas Fernando Mayorga Ramirez, [bottom] Wei-An Hwa.
Chai Vivan is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Choreographing Live Art at the University of Lincoln, United Kingdom. More
* TACTICS is a partner-improvisation form that can be used as a tool for coming up with dance movements in partner or group works. It was conceived by New Zealand choreographer Michael Parmenter.