I planned this series of questions based on Ruimin’s background as a Singaporean Chinese who received professional Chinese dance training in Hong Kong, thus I am acutely aware that although Zheng Long and her share many beliefs and values, her cultural background and how she identifies herself will not be the same as how Zheng Long (who grew up in the PRC and was trained in a professional dance institution in the PRC) identifies himself. Thus the questions I posed were slightly different and more specific to some of her experiences as a peripheral Chinese practicing a dance form that seeks to communicate specific traditional ideas of what an ideal Chinese person should be like.
Qn 1: What are some of the difficulties you face as a practitioner within the larger Chinese dance sphere?
- height plus other natural factors
- the form of Chinese dance does not allow for people with less-than-ideal body types or for those who take longer to remember steps
- Chinese dance does not allow for multiple learning methods
- the sheer number of people in China means that they can have their free pick of talented dancers with the right body types
- the older generations believe in a more traditional mindset (keep to traditional methods)
- the younger generation have a wider variety of knowledge and have seen many more different possibilities
- she does not think she is ‘good enough’ to teach Chinese dance technique class in a professional dance school like HKAPA
- one reason being that she cannot find the line between a 课堂组合 and a 剧目, especially when many technique exams now are like a performance in themselves
- another reason being that she cannot find the line between Chinese classical dance and Chinese contemporary dance
Qn 2: What are some of the issues specific to Singapore’s Chinese dance artistic development?
- Art world audiences (i.e. people who ‘know dance’)
- not exposed/updated enough, they are used to a style that is unique to Singapore and reject styles that vary from that
- but on the other hand, this means that they have a deep-rooted identity and are clear about what kind of concepts/form the Chinese dance practice should take
- Not enough space to explore as a Chinese dance artist, especially within a company
- because companies usually follow the style of the artistic director or choreographer
- thus she finds it difficult to develop her own style within the space of the company
- after awhile the continuous style of the company fails to provide new experiences or insight for her to develop as a dancer or artist
- she has many questions, but answers are readily provided, rather than having discussions about them
Qn 3: Can we reflect changes in culture in Chinese classical dance?
Her answer: Yes, definitely. It is already happening. e.g. feminist themes: females are performing technical tricks which were traditionally only performed by men, and we can see females using positions like 弓步 which were traditionally ‘masculine’ poses.
Task #1: Depict a contemporary Chinese person without Chinese dance movements
- feels like he is more passive/introverted/in his own world
- he can stay still for very long
- he’s used to lying down/sleeping with his legs bent
- so she bent her legs
- she always sleeps on his left, so his left arm is stretched out
- transition to the next ‘lying down looking at handphone’ position
- he recovers from his side because he usually doesn’t use his upper torso to get up
- then she does a big second position with collapsed shoulders and protruded chin (a usual motif for Zheng Long)
- in real life he never stands on both legs, so her next movement is moving to a position where her weight is on one leg
- walking in a circle is to emphasise his tendency to walk using the outside of his foot
- small “big!” action is what Zheng Long usually does when he is marking big actions
- another palm out gesture is his habitual gesture
– She gave special attention to the way she performed each action, because she wants to capture the details that are unique to him
– She used more daily habits and gestures
Task #2: Depict a classical Chinese character without using Chinese classical dance movements
- tried to retain qualities like 细腻 and 含蓄 through the quality of the movement, but reduced the projection of the movements
- gave herself a rule: to keep her legs as close together as possible (as seen from the audience’s point of view)
- legs rooted because she is stuck on the spot, but has a desire to escape
- thus the churning in the upper body, which builds up to a step out of the beginning spot
- open lunge (but still closed when seen from the front) continues the ‘desire to escape’
- cautious movement to depict cautiousness
- the first time she attempts to escape, she is blocked, thus the rebound
- travelling out of her room, thus the journey towards downstage
- then a drop in projection depicts her disappointment, then a recovery as she prepares to try a second time
- she finds it hard to use movement to depict the struggle of both ‘fear’ and ‘desire to escape’ at the same time
Task #3: Portray Zheng Long using Chinese classical dance movements
- starts lying down because Chinese dance always has a long introductory 前奏
- use of circular movements
- 揣脚起身，磨手，懒散的左右摇摆，head roll while looking at ‘book’
- then she stands up, going into Zheng Long’s big second position motif
- then follows with a build up (铺垫) for something she wants to emphasise: Zheng Long’s walking with the outside of his foot
- then she performs his single leg standing pose, but now with dynamic emphasis
- tried not to point her feet for the whole phrase because he doesn’t like to point his feet
- consciously added things like 预左先右, circular transitions
- she doesn’t like to put the usual 舞姿 in choreography because she feels like its too ‘classwork-ish’
Qn 4: Why do you rarely choose to start choreographing from character portrayal?
- Because she has had very little experience portraying characters in Chinese dance
- e.g. for 杜丽娘
- she had to learn the steps from video (i.e. the character was not choreographed onto her body)
- she learned the details from the way the choreographer explained them
- variation in intention/projection, body language, use of breath
- choreographer used stories and analogies to help her create variation in the performed body language
- e.g. 杜丽娘 tries to escape from her room thrice: first time shyly, second time with disappointment, third time with anger
- choreographer says things like “you’re looking at birds, not butterflies!”
- describes what ‘feminine anger’ (含蓄 anger) looks like by correcting ‘angle of the head’ and other tiny details
- the choreographer decides what is the ‘right’ feeling and body language to portray that particular character
- however, after the performance, the audience feedback was opposite of her experience during rehearsal
- there were comments that she was emotionless and not expressive enough
- despite her consciously adding a lot of detail in the way she performed, more so than ever before
- when she watched the performance video, she felt like she could have amplified the projection a bit more, but it was definitely not emotionless
- one possibility could be that Chinese dance audiences are used to in-your-face performances which are more entertaining and contain a lot more variety, and lack the patience and knowledge for art forms that take time and patience to appreciate
- even during her time in HKAPA, most pieces were either more directly entertaining, or so deconstructed that the meaning behind the movements became insignificant
- her experience of performing a dance drama taught her that almost every movement has an intention and every movement has an emotion
Intention in Chinese dance:
- how is body language performed for specific characters?
- is it a personal interpretation, subject to each choreographer?
- is there a generalised standard?
- is it accepted by certain audiences?
- is this generalised standard always changing?
- is this generalised standard political?
- i.e. you are perceived as knowing the standard better because you are more politically and culturally authentic to the form of Chinese classical dance
- so choreographers from Beijing Dance Academy can have a larger range of personal interpretation, because they are perceived as having better training in the generalised standard
- but they rarely take charge of that agency, choosing rather to follow in the stylistic footsteps of earlier choreographers
There is no clear, analytical language to explain the ‘right’ body language in Chinese dance. You just have to watch more and mimic. But one’s political background and cultural identity might always affect one’s perceived authenticity.
Qn 6: Does Chinese classical dance aim to portray an ideal Chineseness?
Her answer: Sometimes. Yes, because sometimes qualities are represented, rather than people. No because sometimes the character is presented, with flaws and all.
Every portrayal is already a contemporary interpretation
- historical materials are referenced, but not sure if the materials are ‘accurate’
- characters must have some sort of historical context
Dances like 扇舞丹青 portray the idea of a Chinese quality, rather than a specific character per se.
孔乙己，逼上梁山，贵妃醉酒 are characters because they have specific historical background.
Task #4: Character portrayal of a 古代人物 and a 近代人物
貂蝉 with Chinese classical dance movements
许春伶 from 沙湾往事 with Chinese classical dance movements
Qn: What kind of differences did you feel when choreographing these two solos (besides the differences in storyline and personality)?