i-Dance 2011: Festival of Dance & Improv
As an improvisational dance festival returns, its co-founders and performers tell Winnie Chau why dancing is all about ‘risk’.
“Actually, you can’t judge improvisation,” Christine He says after a brief improvisational performance at the opening of i-Dance 2011: Festival of Dance & Improv, which is presented by Y-Space Dance Company.
The Hong Kong-based German dancer thinks there is no such thing as good (or bad) improvisation. Moments ago, He, partnered with Y-space’s co-founder Mandy Yim, was seen swaying past a staffed enquiries counter and swinging at the edge of the cloakroom window to the improvisational guitar and percussion ‘instruments’ – ranging from plastic boards to the steel railings and marble floor – at Yuen Long Theatre’s foyer. “What we did today was purely physical,” explains He. “[For] site-specific improvisation, you have to be very open to the space. It’s not just [about] standing in the middle and dancing.”
When asked about the festival’s emphasis on improvisation, Y-Space’s co-founder and artistic director Victor Ma flashes an evocative – if shy – smile, as if to say that we’ve asked the right question. “What dance looks for, foremost, is the here and now. Sometimes, I notice dancers lose that spirit when they dance after continuous repetition,” says Ma. “Improvisation gives you a sense of risk – how do you make a choice spontaneously and how do you handle the risk while still dancing in the moment?”
i-Dance is apparently the right choice resulting from Ma’s risk-taking – though with much more forethought. Inaugurated modestly in 2009, i-Dance returned this year with a bit more funding and a more extensive programme. In his opening speech, Ma expresses, rather earnestly, that he treats every i-Dance as if it were the last, because of limited funds. But it is doubtful if Ma’s worry will last long, given the fact he inspired his Taiwan counterparts to launch a same-title festival this October; some Japanese and Korean organisers participating in i-Dance Taiwan have also shown interest in launching the festival in their own country.
Among Ma’s many interpretations of the lower-case ‘i’ in i-Dance are the individuality of independent dancers and their interaction with the audience in a specific space. There is Solo & Improv: Dance or What!?, a five-evening performance featuring solo works by local and international dancers, to be followed by group improvisation sessions. Dancers, including Wen Hui (Beijing/Kumming), Alex Cheung (Taiwan/Hong Kong), Michael Kliën (Ireland) and Tania Soubry (Luxembourg), will jam with improvised music and multimedia elements.
Founded in 1995, Y-Space has been organising a platform called Improvisation Land since 1998 to promote spontaneous artistic interaction among artists from different disciplines around the world. The festival extends the effort to two outdoor site-specific performances: Improvisation Land XXIX: Dance in the Bamboo Garden, at Yuen Long Theatre’s Bamboo Garden, from November 25 to 27, and Improvisation Land XXXII: Dance under the Sky, at Tai Kong Po, Yuen Long, on December 11.
Participating performer yuenjie MARU, who is better known as a performance artist, clarifies that all dancers are ‘unprepared’ for the improvisational performances. Not professionally trained as a dancer, he has a more philosophical take on improvisation. “We’re all improvising at any given moment,” the Hong Kong artist reflects. “Improvisation is similar to how we lead our life. We never know what comes next. Neither can we go back.”
More unconventional dance and choreographic ideas will be shared in the festival’s workshop series hosted by 20 local and international dancers. In addition to an interactive exhibition and round-table discussions, the one-month festival also presents a showcase of dance videos from Hong Kong, China and Amsterdam’s Cinedans International Dance on Screen Festival. “Very often, people tend to think that dance is something to be watched,” says Ma. “Dance is not something to be watched. It offers you a space for imagination – to participate, to question and to experience.”
“How do I know if your work is good or not?” asks Ma rhetorically on behalf of the more critical audience members. “I’d emphasise that when you come to see [the performance], it [implies your] trust [in us]. What we give you is what we share with you at that moment. Don’t bring along the expectations as you would when you buy a Disneyland ticket or when you go to an Aaron Kwok or Andy Lau concert.”
Very unlikely. The chances are that you’ll be seeing something unforeseeable, even for the dancers themselves. “Every movement is new. If I do a thousand performances, I’m doing a thousand different performances,” says Ma.