Advocating for an All Inclusive Dance Action for everyone

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Summer in Copenhagen with MovingCollaboratorium: Un-Cut09 and Site-Specific Project with Jay Pather

Pictures by Torben Huss, Blind Spot, Metropolis Biennale, Kobenhavn International Theatre, Aug 2009

Above - Aida Redza in Blind Spot. A work with Jay Pather and the company in Copenhagen: Witness a fusion of ritual with real life and the majestic with the minimal in a staged dance pilgrimage from the outer Nørrebro to the sanctuary of the inner city.

eleven dancers from different cultures map the psychological and emotional meeting ground amongst diverse individuals caught in personal moments. Five especially made performances take place at sites along Nørrebrogade, all the way to the centre of the city.

Please visit to read interview of Jay Pather.

Below a one week moving collaboratorium with 3 wonderful artist friend Rosa Isaldur, Anamet Magven and Raymond Roa for the UnCut Malaysia Arts Festival produced by Jambatan - Copenhagen (the first Malaysian artist network in DK).Along with us , in the process is our two malaysian artists amir zainorin and fathul.

Malaysia UnCut Festival, Copenhagen August 2009

My experience in collaborative work;
In my opinion, a collaborative process in the organizing, managing and executing of a project/program, is easier said than done. Most commonly a collaborative work in an artistic environment for example, especially in the ones that I have been involved with so far directed by others, is still very much dictated by the pyramid function where the collective artists are working towards a theme, that is suggested and directed by the Artistic Director, or the initiator of the project. The collective artists shares ideas, explore in a studio base type work, or on the ground or site with direct contact and hands on interaction/contact improv, among each other in developing conceptual ideas, narratives and the kinetic movement form of the theme given.

With the Artistic Director inspiring the collaborators, they select and string this collective ideas together to serve a larger structure. This can be executed quite smoothly and easy without hiccups when the collaborative group work is actually supported with the possibility of spending very much time not only working but actually 'living' if you can say it that way,.. on an expedition together. Sharing not only choreographic knowledge and ideas, but actually learning emotionally, spiritually and culturally the differences and similarities of each others ethos, philosophy and way of living of the other by literally going on a physical expedition together.

In a collaborative process where a group of independent artists who are very new to each other (especially in the kind of collaboratorium that i am interested in), artists who come together to identify and recognize new possibilities, set new challenges, methodology without clear definition and understanding of leadership and role and responsibility,from each artists own cultural frame and background, may actually stir the collaborative process into a state of chaos, where misunderstandings and conflicts, would arise. Rather than being empowered, some individuals may opt to play a non-active role. As there are blind or grey areas where the gaps of understanding of our cultural, personal and social differences, group dynamics is misinterpreted and judged with little tolerance and sensitivity towards the other. And this can happen at all levels of discussion and communication in an individual or group relationship of a collaborative work, even how open and tolerant we think we are. Just establishing a common vision, and questions to inspire more thoughts and take of the vision among a group of new collaborators ... definitely will create collisions, and we should always be prepared to encounter this problematic areas and find the best and timely action to establish solutions to continue moving forward rather than being caught in trying to resolve and attempting to create a functional system or work strategy of a perfect collaboration. Because there isn't a one way to a perfect collaboration. Its always a trial and error, and about feeling and sensing each other on ground level.

And that is why a collaborative process in creating a project/program - starting with a whole new set of collective artists, to share a common vision could be a failure if communication, practice and sharing does not go beyond studio work, and only rely on discussion and debate. Even though i am stressing that collaborations must be conducted on the systems of physical motion and creative action and exchange, a complete collaboration must be inspired by a central key figure who must be open and willing to share the collaborative process rather than dictate its direction. And definitely a deeper bonding among the collaborators is highly encouraged. I do not believe in just coming together to discuss a collaboration, and leave when the 9 - 5 clock-in time is over. A collaboration must or try to be as tight and involved as a whole journey like a pilgrimage together. Too difficult in this modern times isn't it? When every individual has their own daily agenda's, family commitment, full time jobs ..... so on and so forth.

Moving on, although I have always been keen to work with dance artists and performers from different cultures and background but actually this days am preferring to be inspired by collaborative work with artists from different interdisciplinary mediums. I find that it makes the work deeper with multiple layers of meaning, context and juxtaposing design in performance states and visual input. And providing many angles and entry point into the subject that is questioned when making cross culture collaboration such as power, identity, territory, differences, displacement, hope and memory. As the subject naturally hits the collaborators face on with issues they may encounter and confront when working towards establishing one plural artistic agreement among so many.

I am also preferring site-specific work as it is not only challenging, especially when the sites are not ours. Meaning we are not familiar to the area, the history - story of the site, the temperament of the people living, occupying, residing the site etc. But mainly challenges us the collaborators to identify our status in relation to the environment and the people of the area. For example, are we the immigrants - or the foreigners, or are we representing the people and the stories of the site. The whole devise process where the dramaturgy of the choreography has to be researched in relation to the background of the space and symbolic significance of the site. I prefer that the site-specific work goes beyond using the site for its architectural design and landscape, but also includes us performers/collaborators working with the daily happenings of that surrounding to discover a kind of chance happening event or situations created from researching the daily ritual, rhythm, repetition of living, working - story of the people -(for example) and that can further contribute to our search to highlight the subject of identity, or to question the sense of belonging of the community, or to bring out/highlight the idea of displacement of the culture of the site.

I am today dealing in my daily day and life on issues of immigration - trying to be both a Malaysian - mother role model and citizen, and at the same time shaping myself to be a responsible and a correct foreign resident in Copenhagen - who is nonetheless still seen as a 'Thai' immigrant who latches on like a parasite on her Danish husband as means to receive social rights and privileges that is offered to the euro-Danes. It is so awful, but that is how they perceive the asian other. I am learning ways to raise my son, marjaan so that he will not have to face an identity crisis of being born Danish Malaysian - and yet one day may find himself not belonging at all to either one. More about Displacement - my experiences and struggles in Syariah Courts, displacement when my husband has to attend a muslim syukor ceremony of his son - where he meets the whole community of muslim folk from the mosque, and is taught how to sedekah into the pockets of the praying men. A stranger among the crowd and such a cultural shock for him, but he learns to adapt and accept this new situations whole heartedly. The memory we leave when we move on, as footprints, or good and bad memory that lingers as we reminisce how much we long for the life we cannot have or wish to have, or even regret for the decisions we have made. My observation and experiences are not just about myself but of people ... including friends and family who have in their little corners of their world, subjected to different issues of immigration, identity, displacement, and the need to wipe out memory or make new ones. Those who seek asylum, those who find illegal ways of crossing borders, those who have to move from home to be able to have sex change and live an open new life, those who wish to convert and announce themselves no longer Islam,.... and more. I gaze and observe into their lives and all others who are busy moving and adapting from one home to another,... sheltering temporarily or on the run.

These issues are so present in our lives today. We are all in a state of transit in some ways or another,.... in dealing with travel, in marriage, in child raising, in job searching and survival, in finding peace and new home. And how open are we in accepting others, in learning and understanding others who face or experience this similar stories, who are different from us. How do we respond, or even confront these happenings. Where do we begin as artists to express them, especially in a non-verbal way. Is it just by a touch of a hand, a gesture of the eye, a narrative statement. How could we as collaborators be a voice to express the changes, the situations, the integration and disintegration, satisfaction and dissatisfaction of people and the living - if we ourselves cannot understand the background from where each of us come from and where others come from. I wish to explore how we could work towards zooming in into specifics to express this thoughts by sharing our body intelligence and intuition collaboratively. As we all know only talk can cause a lot of petty arguments and quarrels as each one of us have our own individual mind, opinion and perception when we begin to even speak. It will take us nowhere, if we forget to learn how to share in the most basic way. Sensing, Moving and non-verbal communication living together - and making mind, spirit and senses accessible to all and the other.

Collaborations excite me, cause it makes us see and experience, understand and appreciate .... to have tolerance and respect for the other and their choices. And in this regards, not just a collaboration where other artistic mediums serve the dance. But where all mediums are sharing importance in designing and structuring the skeleton of a work.I believe that we all in some way or another need to incorporate or reflect on the device process of a typical artistic collaboration, in our daily life ... and not just leave it for the artists or corporate sectors to use it for their artistic or monopolizing intentions. Especially this days when there are so much problems arising. Now as I am writing and adding additional notes, currently today, in Jan 2010 - what with the burning of the churches over the disagreement of one name. It is so strange as we are all human, made from the same earth, living and cohabiting on the same line and borders of existence. I propose that the National Consultative Council on Religious Harmony in Malaysia should execute programs or meets among all institutions or centers of faith to implement physical contact and collaborative exercise or camps among themselves and later to include their followers... as a pioneer to confront this problem of misunderstanding and narrow- mindedness. Not just confront the issue with endless debate and discussions. Move each other, touch ... and feel is another alternative approach to trigger sharing. Possibly this could break down the walls we are creating that separates us from the other in the name of God. It is not just about choreographic intention of a collaboration, but the principle and process of collective, non verbal collaboration which will enable us to understand, learn and appreciate each other better.

My personal input, in general into a collaborative work has always include or deal with issues on taboo, and censorship, and violation that is done against a freedom of expression and will. This is expressed by experimenting or bringing in objects or the use of props - to provoke or evoke the different state of senses - sense of smell, and touch for example. I try to include my skills in working with symbolic and metaphoric use of objects/props as a method to share with others. I lspend more time in creating a group work collaboratively by conducting an open exercise- half an hour of non talking, body to body breathing and weight sharing in a group, as its always a challenging feat be it if you are the composer, the visual artist,....everyone gets on the floor together.

Today I prefer this instead of making my individual work - which i have been busy with for the past few years. But of course it is not a 'cannot do'. I have been doing mostly solo works since 2002 and i am too comfortable performing solo and prefer retreating into my comfort zone - or safe space - which is into myself and into my own cultural body. I am sure every one does prefer this too. But if we can push and drive the individual work into an arena where we are not comfortable, and having to deal with this discomfort like for example - to take us out of our comfort zone and out into meeting people of different needs, age or social status. For example limiting us or restricting us from going back into the 'dance' form that we have learned over the years. Or back into 'my own' rebellious dramatics type of responses to the outside environment. It would be a good way as an exercise for collaborators to experience together this moment of sitting still and studying, and learning of people,.. becoming the observer, learning, listening and allowing people, space and time to shape and move us, rather than we always dictating our energy to shape the other in their spaces. That could be an area where I would like as a collaborator to move towards. Not to be rushed by time or by the expectations of others due to the need to create something or to successfully arrive with a result. But instead to take ownership to our right and freedom of choice and opinion and to allow ourselves to be heard and not hidden, yet tolerant enough to accept that sometimes agreeing to disagree is no harm. But stop and put an end when ego, pride and prejudices arises and when we begin to react or to create respond aggressively and childishly. If we can attempt this through art ..... why are we unable to instill this in reality - in the community?

I hope my discussions above are relevant, and shared some light for readers a brief view on my perception and working style in a collaborative environment especially on the vision i had while making the two moving collaboration work that i was involved in over the summer in copenhagen. May be it did not entirely turn out the way i wanted it to be, but then again, it was and always be a learning process of trial and error. Now, if only politicians and those sitting on the highest seat of the pyramid and organization work chart could reflect on 'the physical process of collaborations' and use our methods of 'viewing and learning from the other side',... it could in a longer run be the best approach to create the 1 Malaysia that we really wish for. Where there are No differences and all beings are equal in this one land. Sharing...... is the keyword in my opinion, for a good collaboration. and this i believe is the exact keyword necessary for a harmonious and happy living.