Reflections on 武术剑 classes by Fen

Initial thoughts
Prior to the wushu workshop, I have had some wushu elements incorporated into dance pieces. I had done a series called wushudance during my uni days for the hostel where I stayed. I even incorporated some hiphop elements in the dance. So going into this workshop I was looking for any elements that I can bring into dance choreography. So looking at this workshop from a general choreographic perspective.
 
Lessons
The 1st lesson was mostly an introduction of the different forms of wushu. There are two schools one is the more traditional form and the other the more modern form of today which is mainly geared towards competition. Subsequent lessons were focused on learning the routines with the swords.
 
Weapons
We were introduced to different weapons used in wushu training. Different shapes of swords serve different functions and have different styles of movements to cater to them.
Long straight sword is used further away from the body whereas the curved knife is used closer and around the body. The long sword is double edged whereas the curved knife is only one sided. The decorative cloths or tassels also had a practical functionality for the people in the past. Like the cloth is used to wrap around the hand and wrist to make holding easier and longer even when they are tired. The colors of the cloths signified which clan they are from.
 
Wushu styles
We learned the traditional form of wushu using the sword which was slower and had more pauses. Whereas the newer form of wushu was more flowy, faster movement and elements into the routine.
 
Routines
The teacher taught us different sets of routines using the long sword. I liked how the movements were not too slow and had a flow from one to another. The routines we learned had various different poses and movements all with their own specific forms however they all started to feel a bit similar to me after we kept on adding more movements. That’s why in the video I look confused by the end.
 
Wushu and dance
What was interesting for me was that the teacher said that as years went by the competition pieces became more elaborate and even veered nearer to dance style. Even the costumes worn during competitions in recent years have departed away from the very traditional costumes to designs with dragons, flowers and other patterns.
 
Competitions
Judging of competitions in Singapore is a few years behind China. Singapore was still using the old system compared to China which has already moved on to a new format. So some questions come to mind. Do we use China as the benchmark for competitions? If so why not change the system as soon as China changed it? The older generations preferred to use the old system and are resistant to change. Is that why everything is slower in Singapore?
 
Ending thoughts
During the series of workshops, I have come to appreciate that although wushu and dance are very different art forms, there is a sense that it is more accepted nowadays for wushu to have some dance elements in performance pieces as well as for competitions. So if such a traditional art form can start to accept changes and modernize its style, we can also have that in Chinese dance!

Choreographic Exploration with Ruimin

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?

Her answer:

  • 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?

Her answer:

  • 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

郑龙:

  • 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

Ruimin:

Intention is very drama-like, i feel like im just acting throughout and perhaps my natural dancer body made the gestures or actions look like movements, but i did not pay any special attention to make them look like movements, just attention to the details of the action to capture details that are unique to him.


Task #2: Depict a classical Chinese character without using Chinese classical dance movements

  • 少女形象
  • 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?

Her answer:

  • 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

Qn 5:

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)?

The biggest difference would be the social and cultural situation during the different time periods. I think this defines what I can put in the choreography and the level of “openness” I could explore with.

 

Because of the notion of: 艺术来自于生活,但却高于生活

The period from 古代 to 近代:社会主动,艺术被动

Whereas from 近代 to 现代:艺术主动,社会被动

艺术扩大了生活的某一些点

 

People used to use dance to express the time-specific societal issues and to praise the society or to 发扬社会. Now in 现代,people uses dance as a form of expression to voice out their thoughts to the society, to make a point that they may not have been able to say verbally in public. Dance has become a means for them to be able to make a point regarding the society in a less straightforward way.

 

 

There has always been a 系统训练(training system) throughout. Although there is no definite meaning of a movement’s perfection, but this 系统(system) is an identity that provides a 范围(framework)。The 系统has been changing with times and each change went through a period of acceptance in the dance 社会 in order to become accepted within the 系统 now.

 

传统-传承的系统,  而不是统传

 

中国古典舞的审美围绕着一些理念,比如圆,欲左先右,拧倾圆曲,之类的。他会改变是因为人收到了更多外来的信息,吸收之后产生了更多不同的审美观,可是系统再怎么变都保留着古典舞的理念。

 

以前形体大于意识,可是现在是个意识带动形态

 

E.g.

-In the past a 朝天蹬 is 180 degrees, but in present times, the expectation for it is slightly more than 180.

-紫金冠used to be kick the 后脑勺, but in present times, the line of energy needs to be long and extended way above the head.

Maybe use the movements in your choreographic exploration solo as examples as well?

 

If you were to dance a piece that was created in the 1950s, you could dance it in the way the chinese dance looked like at that time or you can dance it according to the chinese dance aesthetic now and it will still be Chinese dance.

武术剑 - Justin Neo教练

Instructor: Justin Neo 

Two types of wushu training:

  1. 竞技武术 (competitive)
    • focuses more on technical skills and tends to be more flowery
  2. 传统武术 (traditional)
    • more 实用

Founder of modern wushu: 霍元甲

Founded sometime after 清朝 Qing dynasty

Two styles of wushu:

  1. 内家拳
    • e.g. 太极拳
    • 比较‘深奥’, 意识带动动作
  2. 外家拳
    • 动作带动,比较直接

基本功训练:

  • 步行
    • 弓步,马步
  • 踢腿
    • 正踢腿,外摆腿
  • 跳跃
    • 腾空飞腿,旋风腿,腾空外摆,旋子(from戏曲),侧空翻(from体操)

扑步 is also called 燕子点水 and is not a static position.

武术里的器件:

  1. 枪,棍
    • 枪缨
      • during battles, to recognise allies
      • now is solely for decorative purposes
    • 枪头的高度,要在手臂往天花板延伸的时候,到中指最顶的高度
    • 白蜡杆
      • 一条棍是一颗白蜡树
      • as time passes, it will become lighter coloured
      • there are synthetic ones now, which are mixed with carbon
        • more environmentally friendly
        • more expensive
    • 刀刃 (sharp blade) on one side only
    • 南刀(单手握/双手握)
      • straight shape
      • 护手盘:2 条,可以扣另外一个南刀
    • 北刀(京剧经常看到的那种)
      • curved shape
      • 护手盘:all around
      • 刀彩:
        • for recognising your allies
        • decorative purposes
        • 缠手,to prevent it from leaving your hand (以前布很长)
    • 扑刀
    • 大刀
  2.  剑
    • 双刃
    • Action:调
    • 护手是扁的
    • the part of the blade close to the 护手 is not sharp (around 3 inches)
    • 古时没有剑穗,本来是缠手绳,之后美化变了短穗
    • 有双手剑(double hand sword)和双剑(two half swords)
    • 匕首(dagger)

软器:

  • 九节鞭
  • 三节棍
  • 流星锤
  • 绳镖

传统套路:提袍剑

 

对刺剑:

  • 有一些舞蹈动作
  • 有二人,有三人
  • for both competition and training

 

竞技组合:

  • 1号,2号,3号
  • 第二套国际竞赛套路:

 

太极拳 Workshop Musings

General notes from class:

  • The kind of Tai Chi we learnt from Jaleen was 郑子太极拳, a simplified version of 杨氏太极拳
  • Important terms:
    • 扎根 – rooting
    • 马步,弓步
    • 松胯
    • 四正法
      • 掤 (peng2)、履 (lv2)、挤 (ji3)、按 (an4)
      • ward, roll off, squeeze, press
    • 上虚下实
    • 沉肩坠肘
    • 用胯(转胯)移重心,不要用膝盖
    • 涌泉穴:扎根的时候,把重量传到涌泉穴
    • 劳宫穴

Ruimin:

  • The more experience she has with Tai Chi, the more she realises how different Chinese dance and Tai Chi is
  • Tai Chi focuses more on the breath than the shape (more ‘natural’ than Chinese classical dance: e.g. in Tai Chi, when you lift your hand, your elbow stays dropped, but in dance, your elbow usually lifts to create a bigger shape)
  • More derived from fighting, so not so much emphasis on ‘aesthetically-pleasing shapes’
    • more functional than aesthetic
    • Chinese classical dance movements are more elongated, focuses more on lines and is aestheticised in a specific way
  • In Tai Chi, when they say “气通到手指”, its really just the 气, but in dance it is both 气 and muscles (i.e. it has to be super visible)
    • Chinese classical dance uses the breath to complement the projection beyond the kinesphere
  • 松胯to turn: in Tai Chi the focus in on the motion of the hip joint when turning to the side, but in Chinese classical dance we use the idea of twisting to initiate the movement
    • so when standing in parallel, shoulders-width apart, and twisting to the right, the left knee does not have much weight on it and thus will not get injured (which was what the Tai Chi teacher said that it might do)
  • The whole body is engaged in every movement (i.e. the body moves as a whole) but more restrictions for Tai Chi
    • dance seeks to exaggerate, so projection is usually bigger
    • in dance, the ways of using the breath are more layered, in that the way of complementing the movements with the breath is different
  • Personally, she does not like the way they 蹲 in Tai Chi, because it makes her feel disconnected to the floor, because her stabilising muscles (e.g. glutes) are not engaged
  • The idea of 松弛 in dance and Tai Chi are different
    • both believe in the notion of 气是通的 but the resulting shapes and dynamics are different

 

Elizabeth:

  • This was the only class in the ELEMENT project that was one hour long, so at first I was a bit worried that we would not have enough time, but Jaleen was meticulous in her teaching and in the end we understood a lot more even if we did not learn many ‘movements’
  • I found it hard to use my ‘natural’ breath in Tai Chi
    • in different movement styles there are different kinds of ‘correct breathing’ and then there is the ‘natural’ way that one breathes in daily life
    • by telling us to use our ‘自然呼吸’ immediately makes me think of not exaggerating my breath (i.e. breathing without having to ‘show people you are breathing’)
      • then I realise that certain dynamics do affect the breath, and with the kind of dynamic that Tai Chi uses, the breath is bound to be slower, which also means that it is deeper
      • Jaleen told us to let our 气 originate from our 丹田, which I did physically, by sucking in my abdominal muscles when I breathed out, and extending the belly when I breathed in
      • I was trying to feel some warmth in my abs and the flow of energy from my core to my extremities but to be honest I couldn’t really feel that
  • I felt that the extra attention on the relaxing of the hip joint during the transitions from one movement to another was very helpful
    • it made me feel more rooted to the ground and the movement took less muscular effort
  • I could not keep my knees over my toes in certain positions and when that happened, Jaleen told me to open up my hips more instead of moving my knee, which I found useful but couldn’t really do because my hips are quite tight
  • Some of the principles (e.g. 上虚下实,沉肩坠肘 etc.) are similar to some of the Chinese classical dance principles, and I think its helpful if dancers kept in mind some of these principles as well

太极拳十要

一、虚领顶劲 顶劲者,头容正直,神贯于顶也。不可用力,用力则项强,气血不能通流,须有虚灵自然之意。非有虚灵顶劲,则精神不能提起也。

二、含胸拔背 含胸者,胸略内涵,使气沈于丹田也。胸忌挺出,挺出则气拥胸际,上重下轻,脚跟易于浮起。拔背者,气贴于背也,能含胸则自能拔背,能拔背则能力由脊发,所向无敌也。

三、松腰 腰为一身之主宰,能松腰然后两足有力,下盘稳固。虚实变化皆由腰转动,故曰:“命意源头在腰际”,有不得力,必于腰腿求之也。

四、分虚实 太极拳术以分虚实为第一义,如全身皆坐在右腿,则右腿为实,左腿为虚,全身皆坐在左腿,则左腿为实,右腿为虚。虚实能分,而后转动轻灵,毫不费力,如不能分,则迈步重滞,自立不稳,而易为人所牵动。

五、沈肩坠肘 沈肩者,肩松开下垂也,若不能松垂,两肩端起,则气亦随之而上,全身皆不得力矣。坠肘者,肘往下松坠之意,肘若悬起,则肩不能沈,放人不远,近于外家之断劲矣。

六、用意不用力 太极论云:“此全是用意不用力”,练太极拳全身松开,不使有分毫之拙劲,以留滞于筋骨血脉之间,以自缚束,然后能轻灵变化,圆转自如。或疑不用力,何以能长力,盖人身之有经络,如地之有沟洫,沟洫不塞而水行,经络不闭而气通。如浑身僵劲,充满经络,气血停滞,转动不灵,牵一发而全身动矣。若不用力而用意,意之所至,气即至焉,如是气血流注,日日贯输,周流全身,无时停滞,久久练习,则得真正内劲,即太极论中所云:“极柔软,然后能极坚刚”也。太极功夫纯熟之人,臂膊如绵裹铁,分量极沈,练外家拳者,用力则显有力,不用力时,则甚轻浮,可见其力乃外劲浮面之劲也,外家之力,最易引动,不足尚也。

七、上下相随 上下相随者,即太极论中所云:“其根在脚,发于腿,主宰于腰,形于手指,由脚而腿而腰,总须完整一气也”。手动腰动足动,眼神亦随之动,如是方可谓之上下相随,有一不动,即散乱也。

八、内外相合 太极拳所练在神,故云:“神为主帅,身为驱使”,精神能提得起,自然举动轻灵。架子不外虚实开合,所谓开者,不但手足开,心意亦与之俱开,所谓合者,不但手足合,心意亦与之俱合,能内外合为一气,则浑然无间矣。

九、相连不断 外家拳术,其劲乃后天之拙劲,故有起有止,有续有断,旧力巳尽,新力未生,此时最易为人所乘。太极用意不用力,自始至终,绵绵不断,周而复始,循环无穷,原论所谓:“如长江大河,滔滔不绝”,又曰:“运劲如抽丝”,皆言其贯串一气也。

十、动中求静 外家拳术,以跳踯为能,用尽气力,故练习之后,无不喘气者。太极以静御动,虽动犹静,故练架子愈慢愈好,慢则呼吸深长,气沈丹田,自无血脉偾张之弊。学者细心体会,庶可得其意焉。

 

Choreographic explorations with Zheng Long

Q1: One of the first questions we asked was: “How can we clarify what 民族性 means?”

According to the official historiography, Chinese Classical Dance aims to portray:

  • 民族的风格特点
  • 继续民族传统
    • 但传统不是一成不变的
    • 舞蹈必须从武术/戏曲的‘形’中‘解放’出来
  • 必须反映时代变化
    • 经过编创/创新

民族性是:

  • 民族心理, 精神,生活
  • cultural beliefs (conceptual) and forms (actions)
  • not all positive
    • i.e. 封建时期的裹脚
  • has something that is at once both enduring and flexible (changes with the times)
  • 中国民族传统审美
    • 圆,曲
    • 精,气,神
    • 虚实
    • 写意,写实
    • 形,神,劲,律

 

Q2: The next question, is then, what if these ideas of ‘Chineseness’ have changed so much that:

  • people insist that their version of a Chinese culture is very different from that of the ‘traditional 民族性’
    • e.g. Hong Kong
  • or that because of political and ideological disagreements, people refuse to be grouped under the same category
    • e.g. Taiwan
  • or if their physical and historical distance from the ‘centre of Chineseness’ (i.e. the PRC) is too distant, so that they are seen as ‘lesser Chinese’, regardless of the actual cultural beliefs and forms that are practiced
    • e.g. Singapore

 

Q3: So is it true that only those Chinese dancers who trained in the PRC and grew up there, within that (more authentic?) culture, are seen as legitimate ‘professional Chinese dancers’?

Ans: Unofficially, no, because Beijing Dance Academy takes in foreigners into their full-time dance degree programmes and there is a category in the Tao Li Bei Competition for ‘outsiders’. But officially, there has yet to be a non-PRC in any of the large professional Chinese dance companies, and even in the professional Chinese dance companies of Hong Kong and Singapore, a large majority of the dancers are from (i.e. born, raised, and trained in) the PRC.

Therefore, Chinese Classical Dance is not just a traditional performance form, it is also a cultural, political and contemporary phenomenon. (This conclusion is gained through both previous readings and discussions with all the collaborators.)


Task #1: Depict a contemporary Chinese person through dance

Zheng Long chose his childhood friend, Zhang Zheng.

Note: music was played at random

About the character:

  • childhood friend (younger than him, male)
  • Zheng Long feels like an older brother to him
  • Zhang Zheng’s body is not suited for Chinese Classical Dance but he was led into it by his parents
    • he suffered quite a bit during school due to many teachers reinforcing the notion that he was not suitable for this dance genre
    • after graduation he went into the hip hop scene as a B-boy instead

About the movement phrase:

  • less projected movements because the character is more introverted, so even though Chinese Classical dance tends to be more projected, Zheng Long chose not to project that much
  • more gestures (rather than dancey movements) because of time limit of task (he was given 20 minutes) and because he wanted to convey  Zhang Zheng’s body language more directly to the audience
  • included a gesture that his friend always does: both hands pulling the sides of the face downwards
  • 小云手and 叩见 greeting depicts a beginning/the opening of school
    • him seeing Zhang Zheng start school
  • after the beginning there was a change in attitude in mindset and to portray this he swayed from foot to foot
    • to show that his friend was clueless and passive
  • then there was a rupture, when his teachers kept telling him that he wasn’t suitable for Chinese classical dance
    • a literal 90 degree leg hold shows how his friend could not perform Chinese classical dance movements like 搬腿
    • his intention and desire is clear but his body cannot do it
  • gesture of one hand at the side and the other hand at a high level, together with the smile on his face, depicts Zhang Zheng’s optimism despite all the negativity
  • gesture of pulling: depicts tearing apart, brokenness
    • he did this while thinking of a particular juncture in Zhang Zheng’s life when his family was faced with difficulties
  • lowering of level (with plie) after that depicts darkening of mood and losing grip on his optimism
  • 叩见 done with quicker dynamics
    • to show determination
    • he picked himself up and decided to overcome these unhappy times
  • turning of direction indicates the leaving of one dance genre (Chinese classical dance) for another (hip hop, B boy)

After the phrase was created:

When asked why he used much more gestures instead of Chinese classical dance movement, he answered that it would feel uncomfortable to use Chinese classical dance movement to depict this character because Zhang Zheng does not only have the language of Chinese classical dance.

Perhaps it was also because of Zhang Zheng’s personal history with the dance form?


Q4: What do you think are some examples of 民族风格特点?

Zheng Long:

  • 温柔,不太直白,谦虚,想的比做的多
    • 但现在不是那么多人是这样的
  • 老师解释民族风格特点的时候,语气好像肯定是100%的中国人都是这样的,但其实未必
  • but for 古典舞: 儒雅,欲左先右

 

Q5: Analysis of 孔乙己 and 逼上梁山

At first, Zheng Long felt like these two pieces looked very similar, especially because the dancer and the choreographer were exactly the same. The success of 孔乙己 would also explicitly and implicitly affect the way the choreographer choreographed in the future and the way the audiences viewed his future works.

When analysing in greater detail:

  • Zheng Long felt that the similarities were:
    • the use of travelling in diagonal lines – from an upstage corner to the opposite downstage diagonal corner – to perform technical jumps
    • a certain stylistic use of dynamic is repeated (e.g. one and TWO, where on counts ‘one’ and ‘and’, the dynamic is quick, sudden, direct, and on ‘TWO’ it is explosive and the projection of the head and eyes is usually towards a high level)
    • during the slow section:
      • the dancer stays in a low level, i.e. sitting, kneeling, rolling
      • always has this hand reaching into the distance
      • both dances end with an outreached arm with an intention to go towards that point
    • many ‘out of control’ kind of falling to the floor
    • many off-centre and off-balance movements, i.e. teeter-tottering

We both felt that the major difference was that in 孔乙己, there was more time spent on setting up the character, whereas in 逼上梁山, the character immediately begins the dance by reacting to an event (but we know this because of the story it is portraying).

The building up of 孔乙己 as a character took up one-third to half of the solo, and was more impactful also because the choreographer used humorous movement, and this is rarely seen in Chinese classical dance.

 

Q6: How do current actors ‘know’ the body language of ancient characters?

 

Q7: What cultural characteristics have changed and what has remained?

  • Changed:
    • 男尊女卑
    • less emphasis on tradition in general
    • 说话比较直接
    • 入土为安 (more accepting of cremation after death)
  • Remained:
    • 节日
    • 炎黄子孙
    • 关系/裙带
    • 过大寿
    • stereotype of the cunning Chinese businessman

Task #2: Create a solo based on Zhou Yu (from 三国演义) without using Chinese classical dance vocabulary

His thoughts: 很难受!1. 因为自身原因(不习惯)。2. 因为周羽是中国古代的人物,但突然不能用具有代表性的中国动作语汇,很难想动作!

He said that because he was actively trying to stop himself from using Chinese classical dance vocabulary, he ended up using a lot of gestures. He felt that once he allowed himself to ‘dance’, he would fall back into his habit of Chinese classical dance vocabulary, so he stuck with day-to-day kind of movements.

He also said that because Zhou Yu was someone who was so angry that he coughed up blood, it means that he has anger management issues, and he used that logic to develop his movement phrase.

Another point Zheng Long made was that it was hard to create a solo based on a historical character if one doesn’t know enough about him/her. i.e. enough research has to be done so that the performer can reach the thoughts, emotions, habits and body language of the character they are portraying.


Task #3: Create a solo based on Zhang Zheng without using Chinese classical dance vocabulary


Task #4: Create a solo based on Zhang Zheng, using whatever dance/movement vocabulary you want


郑龙,你觉得经过这4个阶段,从第一天的探索到最后的版本,中间你经历了什么?身体和想动作的思路有变化吗?或者,当你现在再看之前work出来的东西,你看到什么新的东西吗?或者记得什么吗?

His answer: 我觉得经历了一次过山车的体验… 开始时身体与思想的限制充斥于整个创作的时间里,非常的难受… 不停的去否定自己的动作,甚至到最后结出的果实也无法满足自己,就像过山车的上坡一样缓慢却不可停止的前行着。当难受到达顶点时思绪却不由自主的开始解放,我开始产生一些奇怪的动作与想法并尝试找出他们的连续性… 意外的挺顺利。过山车驶过了最高点开始飞速下冲,接下来的一切都顺利的多… 我也磨出了一些当时觉得满意的东西。现在看回那些录像,它反过来刺激到我,延伸出了一些不同于视频的创意(我想到的是一个男子三人舞),我自己感觉选择一些贴近生活的动作加以处理也是挺有趣的一种做法。

Q8: How might we reflect the changes in cultural characteristics, within the practice of Chinese classical dance?

Feminist dance dramas?

  • Currently existing repertoire:
    • 白毛女,红色娘子军 : but which are both Chinese ballets/model plays and have a very specific historical context as well
    • 中国妈妈: a competition group dance depicting a group of women who took care of a Japanese orphan during the second Sino-Japanese War
  • Other possible characters:
    • Empress Cixi
    • Wu Zetian

Pure movement pieces?

  • e.g. 技巧组合s which are performed in dance competitions as a required section
  • “Its very hard to do pure movement pieces in Chinese classical dance as many Chinese classical dance movements already have a framework of possible interpretations, but must try!” – Zheng Long

 

Q9: Do dance dramas and competition solo pieces have a BIG difference in artistic purpose/value?


One point we’re quite sure of after the exploration sessions was that Chinese classical dance does not have a static, unchanging definition. Which sounds quite obvious, but for a dance genre that is consistently being categorised (by both programmers and governing bodies) as Traditional Arts, it is a topic that sorely lacks understanding.

It is traditional in the sense that it seeks to transmit traditional culture through narrative and storytelling, but the methods and bodies that the dance form uses is contemporary. In fact I would argue that the form of the dance itself is a modern form (i.e. because it spawned around the 1950s).

戏曲武生 Workshop Musings

郑龙 (translation by Elizabeth):

戏曲与中国古典舞(近代)的关联  The relationship between Chinese xiqu and Chinese Classical dance

我觉得两者的关联在于“像与不像”  后者因一定的外在因素(政治、民族需求)改变  创新而成  起步突兀  时间较短和缺少大量的民间基础(相对比民族民间舞的基础就非常扎实)  还有就是整体的系统一直处于成长状态  它需要借鉴相对成熟的体系去学习成长  戏曲作为历史悠久群众基础庞大并且拥有浓郁民族文化性的一门艺术  不可避免的就成为了主要学习对象之一

My thoughts regarding the relationship between these two performance forms:

  • Chinese classical dance
    • the changes in Chinese classical dance often happen due to external (political and cultural) elements
    • it came about due to innovation
    • it was institutionalised quite suddenly
    • it is a rather new performance genre and lacks a firm minjian base (as compared to Chinese ethnic folk dance)
    • the system that is currently in place is constantly being developed and growing
    • thus, there is possibly a need to borrow more mature systems from other forms
  • Chinese xiqu
    • has a longer history
    • has a well-exposed and educated audience
    • is rooted in a strong minzu culture
    • naturally became one of the ideal forms to learn from for Chinese classical dance

 

在动作上中国古典舞(近代)模仿戏曲动作并加以提炼是其通常做法  比如 手型 脚位 技术 身法这些都十分相像却在细微之处加以改动  以不同的审美方式(受西方芭蕾及传统武术影响)在不失去独特韵味的同时去改变限制并规范它  那为什么要“限制规范”呢  我个人猜测是受西方芭蕾舞剧和芭蕾基础训练里“规范性”的思想所导致的当然还带点政治因素

In terms of movement vocabulary, taking movements from xiqu and then refining them into dance movements, has been the norm. For example, hand shapes, the positions of the feet and shenfa evident in Chinese classical dance are extremely similar to those used in xiqu, with only subtle changes made. Using different aesthetics (due to Western ballet and Chinese martial arts influences), they changed these movements, while retaining their unique yunwei, and then fixed specific requirements for these altered movements. Why is there a need to make absolute requirements for the dance vocabulary? I feel that this is due to the influence of the ballet training and performance system. The notion of codifying steps with specific instructions and requirements is also a politically influenced decision.

 

戏曲的动作大多数以人物剧情生活状态为基础加以夸张的表现手法呈现出丰富的情感去感染观众  这点在中国古典舞(近代)的剧目表演编创上也起着巨大的影响  它一定程度上也借鉴了戏曲的表演编创方式  当然舞蹈在剔除了唱和念之后以纯身体的方式来表现出情感与塑造角色可谓说是非常非常困难的  在这种困难的刺激下中国古典舞(近代)才逐渐的形成了自己的编创表演风格

The movements in xiqu are mostly centred around a character and his/her setting and events experienced within the story. One of the strategies used in xiqu is to exaggerate the emotional performance so as to touch the audience on an emotional level as well. This in turn, made a huge impact on Chinese classical dance choreography. Chinese classical dance choreography borrows many of the same techniques used by xiqu. Of course, dance faces much more difficulty in portraying a character without singing and speech, and by only using the body. However, it is also this difficulty that allowed Chinese classical dance choreography to find its own style.

 

还有就是除了出发点及民众基础上的有所不同外  在中国古典舞(近代)本身的艺术系统发展上也和戏曲艺术系统的发展非常相似  四大徽班进京之前可以说都属于是地方艺术  它在进化之前本身就已经五花八门了还吸收了当地的各种唱腔身段技术技巧  我觉得这点算是中国古典舞(近代)缺失的部分  在徽班进京之后在政府支持下开始了融合与进化  这个过程就非常像中国古典舞(近代)的形成方式(可能中国比较喜欢这样的方式)  只不过舞蹈吸收的内容跨度及借鉴的各类艺术复杂程度上更加明显  时间上来说戏曲艺术在进化的道路上已经走了很久已经非常成熟了而中国古典舞(近代)的进化或许才开始不久吧

The development of Chinese classical dance as a practice is also similar to the development of xiqu as an artistic system. Before the sidahuiban brought xiqu to Beijing, it was considered an indigenous performance form. Before its evolution into jingju (京剧), it was already a combined performance form that involved different performance methods, but each with its own unique way of singing, performance technique and shenduan (specific to the place it originated from). I feel that this is something that Chinese classical dance lacks. After the sidahuiban came to Beijing, they were able to develop a system with the help of the government. This process was very similar to the one Chinese classical dance went through (perhaps China likes to use this method), however it is clear that dance absorbed the different influences and borrowed from different forms in a much more complicated way. In terms of time, xiqu has already existed much longer and thus has a much more mature system, whereas Chinese classical dance is much younger and therefore much less mature.

 

审美 借鉴 模仿 提炼 升华 突破这些或许就是戏曲与中国古典舞(近代)互相关联却又因这些最终各自产生了不同的表演艺术

Aesthetics, borrowing from other forms, mimicry, refinement, innovation: these elements exist and closely relate to each other in both xiqu and Chinese classical dance, however certain differences in the way these elements are applied, ultimately paved the way for two very different performance forms.

 

Ps:近代特指建国之后发展的中国古典舞

P.S. Chinese classical dance refers to the official dance genre that was institutionalized in the People’s Republic of China post-1949


 

戏曲武生课-小郭老师

 

小郭老师’s comments from discussions/lectures on 6/2/17 and 13/2/17:

  • 戏曲的专业性很强,入门的训练很枯燥,所以现在越来越少人会对学戏曲感兴趣。
  • 北方的剧比较多武戏。
  • 京剧有大概200年的历史(明末,清朝)
  • 京剧的前生是“四大徽班”
  • From the ritualistic songs and shamanistic dances in the 元朝, there began to have combination of 戏 and 曲。
  • Zheng Long asked about the rise and fall of Chinese opera as a performing art from the past to the present, and if the 专业性会变?
    • Answer:外来的因素能让戏曲更进步,更往前发展。京剧算是一个挺完整的系统。Change has always been a part of 京剧, even during 清朝 (e.g. 梅兰芳used innovative performing methods)。 The changes in the past were made due to 专业性, nowadays the changes are to allow contemporary audiences to understand 戏曲 and be attracted to it. One example of a big change in the current 戏曲 scene is the 舞美 (stage design).
  • In the past, parents sent their children to the opera troupes to train because they were too poor to bring them up. The opera troupe trained them harshly for 3 years, fed them and gave them shelter, then they had to work for the troupe for another 2 years after that and all the profits went to the 师傅。
  • Nowadays if an opera performer wins awards in a competition, they are set for life, so they only know one or two 戏s well. Thus comparing to the practitioners in the past, they are not as skilled.
  • “Need to keep the tradition before innovating”
  • 以前的京剧没有‘导演’这个位置的:有师兄,老师,师傅。
  • 梅兰芳met up with Charlie Chaplin, who asked who is the director?
  • Usually those performing the main roles are the most clear of the stage structure, because they have the most skill and experience. Now they invite famous directors in order to use their 名气。
  • Ruimin asked how did Chinese opera come to be Chinese dance? (i.e. the reasons behind opera 舞姿 and the reasoning behind the change to Chinese dance)
    • Answer: 戏曲是综合的艺术,其实是先有舞蹈再有曲和戏,然后再有戏曲。
    • N.B. this question was not really suitable for 小郭老师 because he doesn’t have much understanding of what Chinese classical dance is.
  • What is 民族性/民族特点?
    • 传统中国审美
    • 国家的历史与现状
  • 戏曲的根本: 唱念做打
    • 打:杂技,武术,体操
    • 变脸
    • 程式动作
    • Singing in Chinese languages
    • 唱戏,不是唱歌!
  • 戏曲从生活吸取题材,但必须要高于生活,必须要美!
  • 艺术性:美(不是普通人轻易能做到的动作/表演)
  • There is a universal 美,but an individual 审美。我们追求the universal 美。
  • 编创:要合理
    • 要能解释为什么合理
    • 有些人不觉得合理,但他们也有自己的原因
      • 不是‘错’,但不合理
      • 有时候也会发生这种情况:老师不觉得合理,但确实有人在用这种方法唱戏。
    • 有不同派别/风格
    • 但戏曲的基本功是保持的
  • 高靴的原因
    • 装饰,配合服装
    • 能改变演员的高度
  • 吊眉:隐藏年纪
  • 为什么戏曲要唱高音?
    • 当你情绪激动的时候,讲话/喊都会偏高音
    • 但高低音无所谓,重点是要唱得有‘味道’。
  • 生旦净末丑
  • 勾脸武生:
    • 高登
  • 长靠武生/大靠(靠旗)
    • 分量大,地位重
    • 厚底鞋
  • 软靠/改良靠
    • 没有靠旗但有厚底鞋
    • second-in-command
  • 短打武生
    • e.g. 三岔口
    • 薄底鞋
  • 娃娃生
    • e.g. 哪吒,沉香
  • 文老生/武老生
    • e.g. 黄忠
  • 武小生
    • e.g. 周瑜,杨宗保(穆桂英的老公)
  • 大武生/小武生
    • 技巧很好
    • 没有规定的定义
  • 刀马旦/武旦
  • “丑武生,俊花脸”
    • 武生将就感觉,不需太细
  • 武生
    • 脆,帅,美
    • 脆:不拖泥带水,干净
    • 帅:扮相
    • 美:身段美
    • 一定要化得干干净净,especially because so detailed
  • At the beginning have to learn everything: 基本功 and most 唱腔
    • Start at around 7, 8 years old
    • Don’t really have pre-requisites
    • 三年后,开始排戏的时候,老师决定学生唱什么位置
  • 戏曲服装是以明清服装为主
  • 民族文化决定服装的颜色
  • 武生用所有的道具
  • One of the common problems with Chinese opera nowadays is the use of literal, large-scale and elaborate sets. Xiqu is about the performance of daily-life movement. If the props provide the literal performance of the action then it takes away the subtleties of xiqu performance.

 

Choreographic Exploration with Zu You

 

Zu You picked Amos Yee as his contemporary Chinese character. He used a Chinese folded fan as both pen and paper/book, and had the progression of: being determined -> facing rejection -> picking himself up again -> being determined again.

His phrase was mostly front-oriented, and he created it with the use of the mirror as well, adding that he included certain 技巧 because he felt that Chinese dance required the incorporation of technique skills.

The music he used was a randomly chosen instrumental, but he felt that this piece of music suited the emotional development of the solo as well, so it was not completely random.

 

Rehearsal notes with Zu You

We began with learning an excerpt from a Chinese classical dance solo: 逼上梁山 performed by 孙科.

This was for the purpose of experiencing the method of male character portrayal within the canon of Chinese classical dance, to become more familiar with the performance quality of, in this case, 林冲 (a wronged general-turned-rebel), through Chinese classical dance ways of performing.

Then we got a bit stuck deciding whom to portray. I wanted the participants to feel a need to portray the person they chose. That is, the chosen person performs their Chineseness in ways that are representative of a certain group of contemporary Chinese people.

Some very raw ideas I had for my chosen person is a Taiwanese singer, because Chinese pop ballads often wax lyrical about the broken heart, and this tendency to melancholy (evident not only in their music, but also in their music videos) is something that is reflected in the day-to-day practices. It is difficult to prove without extensive data collection, but taking karaoke singing as an example, many sing Chinese ballads as a way to express or release certain emotions or memories of the sadder moments in their lives. Thus by performing a Chinese ballad singer, I seek to perform a kind of enjoyment in submerging oneself in and re-experiencing sad emotions, which I see as a significant part of contemporary Chinese culture.

However, how am I to dance this out?

I tried to improvise some movement according to that sense of vulnerability and sadness, but the sequence of movements soon began to feel quite mechanical and meaningless, especially since I was trying to use Chinese classical dance movement vocabulary.

There was no narrative, just a guiding feeling, which did not develop into something more or something different, so the improvisation began to feel quite pointless and boring.

I began to think if I had made the wrong decision by keeping the element of Chinese classical dance movement vocabulary in this experiment.

If Chinese classical dance was representative of traditional Chinese aesthetic values, and if the contemporary Chinese don’t necessarily subscribe to that set of values, then by attempting to create a Chinese classical dance based on a contemporary person would already contain a fundamental contradiction!

Are traditional Chinese aesthetic properties a static, fixed set of ideals?

Of course, individuals have subjective aesthetic beliefs. Some subscribe to the traditional Chinese aesthetic values more readily than others, and this is even before personal identity issues come into play.

The insistence of Chinese classical dance vocabulary might be something to reconsider in future rehearsals though.

Another issue that came up during the process was the use of the mirror during the choreographic process.

This was only brought to my attention when another participant asked me why I was ‘not allowing’ Zu You to look at the mirror while thinking of his choreography.

My initial intention was for him to pay more attention to the embodied experience of performing Chinese ‘body language’ or Chinese dance, but he felt more comfortable using the mirror (and I will assume the same for the participant who questioned my removal of the mirror).

My questions regarding the use of the mirror were then:
(1) What is the process that happens between looking into the mirror while creating and then not looking into the mirror when performing?
(2) Why is there a need to self-check while moving and creating?

Zu You’s answers were that he:
– can check the positioning and the dynamics of his dancing (whether or not they are ‘ideal’),
– can ensure that he is projecting further out (linked to above point)
– can ensure accuracy when performing traditional dance forms

At the end of the week, after quite a disorganised and confusing process, Zu You created a short dance sequence based on Amos Yee.

His main intention was to perform the experience of facing public persecution and rejection. This experience resulted in a specific and strong emotion, which created the need to create/express, and thus provided him with an impetus to create movement.

In the short solo + improvisation sequence, he made use of a Chinese folding fan as both pen and paper, ‘writing’ and dropping it to represent the power of the pen and subsequently the loss of that power with a more dramatic effect.

He also articulated the need to perform technical dance movements within the canon of Chinese classical dance.

During our discussion after watching his movement sequence, he felt that his creation process was very different from the ‘typical’ Chinese dance choreographic process, which tends to be more straightforward, with a clear structure and a climax. There is comparatively more entertainment value in Chinese classical dances as well, due to the emphasis on advanced technical skills and dramatic performance.

In conclusion he felt that it is possible to use Chinese classical dance to portray a contemporary Chinese person, because there is some allowance for a wider variety of physical performance, but it is difficult, because there are still many aesthetic and canonical rules in place.