Moving… On – LASALLE College of the Arts 2017

8 April 2017

Moving… On is LASALLE College of the Arts School of Dance graduation performance, which was held at The Singapore Airlines Theatre in the basement of their campus.  The performance included five dance pieces.

The first was The Loop, choreographed by Barbara Matijevic (Croatia/France) and, I assume, the dancers involved as well. This piece took place in the area outside the theatre, stretching from the toilets to the entrance of the theatre. It consisted of seven individual stations, each with a large sign which presented the task’s title.

By taking turns in the roles of teachers, students or choreographers, they approach pedagogic practice as a performative act in its own right. The Loop presents the body as a repository of different skills; as well as an ensemble of our attitudes towards those skills and how they operate in the world dominated by logos.

–  Taken from the programme booklet

The entire performance space was large enough so that audience members had to move physically from station to station to hear and watch what the performers were doing. Every few minutes a bell would ring to signal the end of one section and the dancers would then move one spot down in the cycle.

Many things were happening at the same time: one station was labelled Dance Tutorial, one was labelled The Thing I Cannot Do, another had two people teaching and demonstrating self-defence techniques, another had a roundtable discussion where performers had microphones and wore name tags of famous figures in modern and contemporary dance.

The tasks at each station were very interesting, and when matched with the short few minutes given to the performance at each one, I couldn’t help but think how this format really works for spectators who were ‘millennials with the attention span of a goldfish’.

The gallery format and the constant moving of the performers created this (almost literal) cyclical pattern that emerged as the piece progressed.

While the tasks themselves were interesting enough to watch, what I found even more fascinating were the moments when the performers had no audience at their station, or just a few people watching them. The change of energy and projection in their performance and that occasional awkward eye-contact or that typical staring-into-the-distance-when-there’s-someone-right-in-front-of-you is quite funny.

Another funny moment was when a performer at the Roundtable, wearing the name tag that said “Lin Hwai-min” said that her (his?) first choreographed dance work was Legacy, which is unfortunately untrue. Personally I especially enjoyed this station. There were the name tags of Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Mary Wigman, Pina Bausch, Lin Hwai-min and some others that I didn’t manage to catch. Once each performer put on the name tag, they would begin to talk (and sometimes even behave) as if they were speaking from the point of view of that particular person. They spoke generally about each artist’s beliefs and background, but already there is so much to unpack! What drew me in at first was not the content of what they were saying, but that I could see that they were mimicking the body language of the artists. For example, the performer playing Lin Hwai-min sat tall in her chair, not leaning on the back of it, and had her arms crossed while nodding in agreement with what someone else had said.

This is a work waiting to happen! But because this is a structured improvisation, and only one of the seven stations (of which most require talking directly to the audience), many details weren’t given greater attention. The content of the text, the way of delivering the text, the body language, the way of responding to what others are saying, how to arrive and how to leave the table etc.

In fact I felt like this piece could easily have been a full-length work, but which instead ended up becoming something like a Buzzfeed ‘Seven Things All College Dance Majors Have Experienced’.

Then we were ushered into the theatre for the next piece, Equal choreographed by Lee Jae-young (Korea).

Everything is different in terms of body, skin, age and sex. But as a human being, we are all equal.

–  Taken from the programme booklet

I felt like this was a piece that was trying to make different people do the same thing, which is already a disaster waiting to happen.

To be fair, I felt fine till the first big musical accent (i.e. BOOM), and I even smiled a bit after that, because I love loud beats in the theatre (so sue me). But it soon crashed for me. The choreography followed the tempo to a tee, which was way too slow for a fast piece of music, it actually ended up looking like group aerobics. And because the dancers were not neat, there wasn’t much to look at either. I liked the chest isolations and the movements themselves were fine, but the regular beats were so slow that I felt the dancers were always waiting to perform the next movement, and NOT in the sense that there was tension in the waiting.

When unison movements aren’t tight and together, it is really off-putting. And because I come from a classical Chinese dance background, unisons have a special place in my heart. So… do them justice people!

There was a lot of walking across the space in the piece too, and some dancers had swag, some did the contemporary dance walking-with-intention, some were doing a pedestrian walk…. it was like, do you even know why you are walking and how you contribute structurally and dynamically to what is already onstage or not? And I feel like these things have to be pointed out by the choreographer or the rehearsal director, because its hard for dancers to see the whole picture.

Then the next piece was Yarra Ileto’s (Singapore) Elite Ramblings.

When I saw the costumes, my first thought was “Oh I can borrow those for performances next time” because they were Chinese palace maids/concubines-inspired. Oh my gosh but this piece was so politically loaded for me, especially because I’m a Chinese dancer right?

There was one male dancer among the other female dancers, and it took me half the piece to figure out if he was the Head Eunuch who trains the new palace maids or the Emperor. Turns out he was the king. He’s a good dancer with great elevation in his jumps and he’s also careful with his transitions and details, but he performs quite effeminately/femininely. Which is delicious to watch! But not knowing whether it was deliberately performed in that manner made me quite confused. Maybe he’s just a gay emperor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_history_in_China)?

The movements in the first two-thirds of the piece was a bit messy, but it was still quite energetic and dynamic, and with that costume there was this added swishy thing which accentuates that. I can’t help feeling though, that if there were more attention paid to the unison movements being performed at the exact same time (i.e. that the dancers initiate and end the movement at the same moment), it would look even better and the overall visual and energetic effect of the dance would be much tighter and therefore greater!

At this point, I must say that the dancers (whether it is because of a lack of foundation or fatigue) did appear quite weak, with many of them losing their balance in movements which required them to stand on one leg. As a dancer I get how hard that is (my teacher used to call me an ice-skater in class), but I also know that if I can’t even stand on one leg without shaking, its very hard to be respected as a professional dancer, no?

I did not like the white flower, I thought it was too symbolic, almost like something one would see in a Chinese dance drama. I would be interested in different ways of performing ‘a loss of innocence’ through dance/movement/performance though.

The sections were titled with such big words! I remember Cavalcade but I don’t remember the rest. I did like the last section though, because everything quietened down and here I saw attention to detail and tension in the air. Paired with the video projection (I preferred the second video, because the dancers weren’t looking directly at the screen), and the women-taking-over-the-emperor thing going on, I really enjoyed it.

Side note: dancers should really work on their faces more. And voices, if they die die must talk (I hate it when dancers talk, sorry). Anyone can just look at the camera and do what they’re supposed to be doing, but what are you looking at the camera for? Are you really looking at the camera or the person you perceive to be watching you? Your face is also your body you know, I’m quite sick of seeing the typical contemp poker face or intense face when there’s no specific reason for it. Its literally a face that doesn’t exist in reality, or outside the performance space. Or does it?

Then was Footprints with Dance, choreographed by Selina Tan (Singapore). The beginning was interesting, with the instruments that the dancers manipulated with their hands. They made nice sounding rattles and clicks. Then they began talking. About why they fell in love with dance.

I know this is a school production but can we leave all this ‘passion for dance’ and ‘dancing is my dream’ themes for SYF?

Can we have a deeper level of thinking? It doesn’t have to be that deep either, I could do with ‘a moment in your dance journey where you felt like quitting dance’ or even the transition from an idealistic new dance student to someone who is about to formally enter the dance industry as a practitioner and has to strategise his/her pathway in order to balance practice and income.

Then they began doing the same set of movements in different structural patterns.

I recently saw Admiralty Secondary School’s SYF item and it had even more complicated structural patterns than this.

The last piece was Patterns choreographed by Albert Tiong (Singapore).

It is always a joy to watch Albert’s work. This is completely a personal preference, but I have several reasons: he always picks the strongest dancers, not just because of preference but also out of necessity, because his pieces are technically difficult and physically exhausting to perform. His movement style is usually clean, strong, grounded and juicy. He also often complements the music and tempo, playing with them, not just with the timing of the steps but also through using different dynamics within the movement sequences.

I really liked the costume as well! This standing tall in a large second position is such a nice, strong shape!

Most of the dancers got really tired at the end of the piece and it was a pity, because when the movements lose their detail and variety in texture, there isn’t a lot left to watch.

It isn’t fair to make a comparison (because some dancers performed in multiple pieces tonight), but I will do so here because I want to commend the NUS Synergy performers. Albert created the piece Double for NUS Synergy in their recent performance FUSE(D) on 10th March. It was a lengthy duet and as usual, physically exhausting. The two dancers, however, kept their energy going and were able to perform explosive dynamic movements all the way till the end of the piece. They were not professionally-trained dancers, and I was very impressed with the quality of their performance, especially when it was not an easy piece to perform: with a lot of repetition, points of contact and of course, movements performed in Albert’s movement style. I found myself wishing I could move as well as Zong Qi could!

Anyway, on the whole it was an enjoyable night! Graduation performances always are a bit magical because there’s this energy that the dancers give off. For some it might be the last time they get to perform on such a stage. For some it might be the last time they get to dance with their fellow class/schoolmates. Its like that song in Lion King:

Can you feel the love tonight?
You needn’t look too far
Stealing through the night’s uncertainties
Love is where they are

Whether it is love for their fellow dancers, love for the stage, or love for dance… that cheer at the end of the last graduation showcase says it all.

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Logan and simultaneous narratives

Was just watching LOGAN last night with the family, and it was pretty good. Very gory, but there were some moments in the movie where I thought the script was good and the timing of the unfurling events were so tight that it was mind boggling.

And I had just read the introduction of The Enchantment of Modern Life by Jane Bennett for SIFA, and it spoke of Enchantment in a way that really resonated with me.

I think its basically been something I’ve been trying to do since… London?

When I wasn’t busy any more and when I had to fill my time up with reading, writing, watching. Until even social media became utterly boring.

Then I had to find a way to keep fascinated, to keep engaged with the world around me, even if it wasn’t with other humans. So if I couldn’t change the amount of input that I got, I had to change the way I thought/viewed the world around me.

This world of disenchantment… so many hateful people, terrible events; each day you realise that human nature is even more disgusting than before.

How does one stay aware but not lose all hope?

So this theory of enchantment. Of being aware of the tiny tiny details that you never thought to take notice of. Of being aware that while you are living out your narrative, there are a million, billion other simultaneous narratives happening. And these other narratives might even cross paths with yours, some more obviously, some less so.

Side stories, mini-stories; what if the mountain in your story was someone else’s molehill?

That would change your perspective no?

It would change your feelings about it. Perhaps.

These acts fall into the shadow of your rushing, indignant body. You note them—they are within the purview of your experience—but you pass them by. But if you were to gather up these dark, discarded scraps and peer into them, you would be on a different path, the path of a Kafkan tale.

We are always both participant and observer in this multiverse of stories. We watch ourselves from the inside, we look at ourselves through videos and mirrors, we watch others in reality and in the virtual world, we pretend we aren’t watching others, we keep our eyes lowered in front of strangers.

When Charles was dying, Laura was screaming her head off 50 metres away in adamantine cuffs, X24 was killing innocent (this is debatable) mortals, Dr Weirdo was cooing for X24 to return, the Albino was trying to reach grenades to blow the whole truck up, and I looked into Logan’s eyes and saw at once the pain that he felt and the determination to suppress it and the fear of losing himself to the pain.

That moment for me was stronger than when he was burying Charles, or when Logan died and Laura was crying “daddy daddy”.

Oops spoilers.

I am always sooo attracted to these random people that I meet in my life. People who look strong, people who are female but are very masculine, people who are male but quite feminine, intelligent people who enjoy talking about cumbersome topics, people who enjoy doing multiple things, people who are quiet but have noisy noisy heads.

And between us is the gap of socially-acceptable norms which I don’t know how to negotiate that well. Its much clearer if we have work to do or if we’re walking towards the same goal, but if there is no explicit necessity for any kind of relationship, it feels weird to maintain a bond. For the sake of… because I like you!

There are people like that that I want to dig up from my past. But it takes so much courage I don’t even know if I want to go there.

And these thoughts… they manifest and grow and stick inside my head. One little teeny tiny thing can grow to such an unbelievable size, obsession that it scares me! I scare myself.

Then I remember the multiverse. The simultaneous stories, the narratives that I am forgetting about. And for that moment I can stop obsessing over one storyline.

Enchantment

…the contemporary world retains the power to enchant humans and that humans can cultivate themselves so as to experience more of that effect. Enchantment is something that we encounter, that hits us, but it is also a comportment that can be fostered through deliberate strategies. One of those strategies might be to give greater expression to the sense of play, another to hone sensory receptivity to the marvelous specificity of things. Yet another way to enhance the enchantment effect is to resist the story of the disenchantment of modernity.

You notice new colors, discern details previously ignored, hear extraordinary sounds, as familiar landscapes of sense sharpen and intensify. The world comes alive as a collection of singularities. Enchantment includes, then, a condition of exhilaration or acute sensory activity. To be simultaneously transfixed in wonder and transported by sense, to be both caught up and carried away—enchantment is marked by this odd combination of somatic effects.

These acts fall into the shadow of your rushing, indignant body. You note them—they are within the purview of your experience—but you pass them by. But if you were to gather up these dark, discarded scraps and peer into them, you would be on a different path, the path of a Kafkan tale.

The disenchantment tale figures nonhuman nature as more or less inert “matter”; it construes the modern West as a radical break from other cultures; and it depicts the modern self as predisposed toward rationalism, skepticism, and the problem of meaninglessness.

To be enchanted, then, is to participate in a momentarily immobilizing encounter; it is to be transfixed, spellbound.

My counterstory seeks to induce an experience of the contemporary world—a world of inequity, racism, pollution, poverty, violence of all kinds—as also enchanted—not a tale of reenchantment but one that calls attention to magical sites already here. Not magical in the sense of “a set of rituals for summoning up supernatural powers within a coherent cosmology,” but in the sense of cultural practices that mark “the marvelous erupting amid the everyday.”

Sometimes this wariness of joy is expressed as the charge of elitism— that is, only effete intellectuals have the luxury of feeling enchanted, whereas real people must cope with the real world. It surely is the case that hunger and other serious deprivations are incompatible with wonder. But the claim that the capacity for wonder is restricted to the rich, learned, and leisured, or that it finds its most vibrant expression there, is more confidently asserted than established. Even if it were true, all the more reason for privileged intellectuals to develop that capacity. For, if enchantment can foster an ethically laudable generosity of spirit, then the cultivation of an eye for the wonderful becomes something like an academic duty.

The charge of naive optimism is more probing. It raises the question of the link between enchantment and mindlessness, between joy and forgetfulness. In the chapters that follow, I do not deny such a link or its dangers, but I also argue that, in small, controlled doses, a certain forgetfulness is ethically indispensable.

Enchantment, as I use the term, is an uneasy combination of artifice and spontaneity.

I think that both those who celebrate disenchantment and those who lament it remain too governed by a single model of enchantment. My quasi-pagan model of enchantment pushes against a powerful and versatile Western tradition (in the disciplines of history, philosophy, and literature) that make enchantment depend on a divine creator, Providence, or, at the very least, a physical world with some original connection to a divine will. But what is at stake in such a retelling? The answer for me has to do with the effect—always indirect—that a cultural narrative has on the ethical sensibility of its bearers.

Affective fascination with a world thought to be worthy of it may help to ward off the existential resentment that plagues mortals, that is, the sense of victimization that recurrently descends upon the tragic (or absurd or incomplete) beings called human.

Jane Bennett: The Enchantment of Modern Life (2001)

看了我一年前寫的東西
然後再看去年年底寫的

有時候真的會嚇到自己
原來自己是多麼的醒目
原來自己是多麼的清醒

我一直都相信我有兩種很不一樣的性格
但有時候望著鏡子 看到另一個我
還是會感到意外

我一直都好怕做後備
我並不是一個特別好勝的人
為了我身邊的人 我很願意放下在手裡的東西
很願意給別人

就算不是很願意 我也能說服自己
這不重要 重要的是他們的快樂

我這不是善良 不是無私
我只是把自己的快樂放在其他人身上

這是個很愚蠢的做法
但我從以前就是這樣

當然不至於會被利用的程度
但我很少會對任何事情固執

但我真的好怕做後備
若愛,請深愛。若棄,請徹底。
我就是這樣的
有深愛 有捨棄

以前更加嚴重添

我自己的不自信就會更加令我胡思亂想
老覺得人家放不下
老覺得我很容易被代替
對普通朋友我就算了
但對家人,深愛的人,最好的朋友
我不行

這就是我活著的價值啊
我不求成功 不求發財
只求被需要 被愛

很久了呀。。。
哈哈
“看透這個世界了”

好可愛啊

我不是看透
我只是接受了

要被愛 被呵護 被疼惜
要失望 受傷害 被刺激
要得到 要失去
儘管來吧

有祂我就夠了

希望有天我會真心相信這句話 哈哈

我還是有希望的噢
世界不只是黑暗的

香港人,別太悲觀啦
無聊的樂觀也許會帶給你無聊的快樂呢

她說:
我很累呢 雖然知道我一定能應付一切
嘿 親愛的 我愛你

她有一個她非常愛的男人
對她非常好
但不知道怎麼對自己好

年輕人啊 那個年紀 覺得一點點事就艱難了
做什麼都很快放棄 還覺得自己會放下 很聰明
堅持對他們來說是個很大的成就
所以他們總覺得生命好辛苦 活著好辛苦

人的腦子很厲害的 讓你覺得很多東西很真很刻苦
其實幾年之後 你回頭看 也不過是個回憶
是當你正在感觸很深的時候做的舉動和反應 改變了你原本在走的路
那一刻 就有了意義

她說:
我很怕
我很怕失去 我很怕控制不了

就算知道我能控制的東西太少太少了
就算知道『怕』沒什麼用
但心和腦子卻隔了一世
到了最緊要的關頭 它們總是走反方向

很心疼呢
還有點後悔呢
但又如何呢

失去了
得到的
誰決定值不值得呢
值得又如何
不值得又如何

睇化左 真的嗎?
還是純粹放棄了
還是無敵懶
哈哈

為了愛情犧牲了友情
為了友情犧牲了愛情
愛情和友情的矛盾 很大嗎?

她愛的男人
她愛的女人
愛了又如何
開心了
心印了

有多少個一生一世
真的會一生一世呢

還好有家人
my family is my biggest comfort.

對不起呀
你是個很好的人
我真的好想和你做更好的朋友
但總覺得我在的時候 氣氛就不太輕鬆
覺得有我在 就不好玩了

全職
你是我的全職
我可能隨時被更換的
隨時被炒的
因為那麼難得遇到一個我真正喜歡的全職
所以更害怕失去

自由一定是美好的嗎

我真的好希望可以快些離開你
但這樣的人 到處都有

你覺得我不會有這種誘惑嗎?
我當然也想撇下什麼都不管
但我不能
我能在這間學校讀書是一件非常難得的事情
有很多人非常支持我
非常幫我

我已經很墮落了
我不能再辜負其他人了

我要爭氣

但我真的好累

到幾時
我才能好好哭一場
我才能什麼都不管好好睡一覺
我才能什麼都不用想所有事情都安排好

都說了
無敵懶

你怎麼了?
說出來吧
世界簡單些會比較美好的
別再讓人猜測了
毫無意義
浪費時間

收拾你的情緒
move on
安靜
用多些腦子
收拾你的心
吃少些
擔心少些
來了四年
老了十年

To my hardworking friend

I came across this article on brainpickings.org today, about David Whyte’s book, The Three Marriages, and I thought of you.

Don’t worry, its not what you think. The title of the article was: David Whyte on How to Break the Tyranny of Work/Life Balance.

Before I begin, I just want to clarify that I’m not trying to convince you to live your life in a different way, or in a way that think is ‘better’. It is a reminder to all of us, in our mid-20s, that what we’ve been told by the previous generations (to work hard, earn enough money for a comfortable life, etc.) might not be the only ‘good’ way to live.

The original article, by Maria Popova, said this:

“work/life balance” — a concept rather disheartening upon closer inspection. It implies, after all, that we must counter the downside — that which we must endure in order to make a living — with the upside — that which we long to do in order to feel alive. It implies allocating half of our waking hours to something we begrudge while anxiously awaiting the other half to arrive so we can live already. What a woefully shortchanging way to exist — lest we forget, so speaks Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

The idea that we should work hard if we want to play hard is not new, yes? It has a bit of a… sad (?) ring to it, doesn’t it?

In David Whyte’s book, he says that we often use this term as a kind of punishment for ourselves, and suggests looking at it from a different perspective.

The word ‘balance’ itself is a PR term, an ideal state that makes everything ‘good’. Whyte says this:

Poets have never used the word balance, for good reason. First of all, it is too obvious and therefore untrustworthy; it is also a deadly boring concept and seems to speak as much to being stuck and immovable, as much as to harmony. There is also the sense of unbalancing that must take place in order to push a person into a new and larger set of circumstances.

Now I’m not exactly trying to promote the idea that people need to constantly move into new environments to grow, or suggest that you change jobs or something (though that is perfectly fine as well), but it has been proven, by many examples throughout history, that moments of instability make a person react in ways that they are not used to.

Whether that reaction or change results in growth or destruction, however, is another thing.

I’m saying that balance is impossible, even detrimental for our development. If you are in a perfect state of balance, where everything is fine and good, will you truly be ‘satisfied’?

To be a bit more dramatic: is that all there is to life? To live a safe, stable life, and then die?

Is that even possible? That no accidents or bad events (or good events!) will happen to you? Car accidents, illnesses, striking the lottery, rich woman taking a fancy to you, the list goes on…

So let’s say, it is impossible to live a perfect, stable, balanced life. So we should find another goal, yes? Or at least look at life from a different perspective?

Whyte’s version of this argument is:

The current understanding of work-life balance is too simplistic. People find it hard to balance work with family, family with self, because it might not be a question of balance. Some other dynamic is in play, something to do with a very human attempt at happiness that does not quantify different parts of life and then set them against one another. We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way.

The government, your teacher in school, and even your parents, might tell you that, if you plan well for life, it will play out in the right ways. However, they forget that we are human beings.

Oh, we definitely try to study human beings like we study machines: through medicine, psychology and the social sciences. But humans are more than the sum of their parts.

This unidentifiable and difficult-to-catch factor, is exactly what makes human interaction fun! And, of course, unpredictable.

Thus, Whyte writes:

Human beings are creatures of belonging, though they may come to that sense of belonging only through long periods of exile and loneliness. Interestingly, we belong to life as much through our sense that it is all impossible, as we do through the sense that we will accomplish everything we have set out to do. This sense of belonging and not belonging is lived out by most people through three principal dynamics: first, through relationship to other people and other living things (particularly and very personally, to one other living, breathing person in relationship or marriage); second, through work; and third, through an understanding of what it means to be themselves, discrete individuals alive and seemingly separate from everyone and everything else.

These are the three marriages, of Work, Self and Other.

[…]

We can call these three separate commitments marriages because at their core they are usually lifelong commitments and … they involve vows made either consciously or unconsciously… To neglect any one of the three marriages is to impoverish them all, because they are not actually separate commitments but different expressions of the way each individual belongs to the world.

As human beings, we don’t bring the same self to every occasion. You don’t behave the same way you do in front of your boss as you would behave in front of the friends you go go-karting with.

Your values and mindset and attitudes might stay the same, but your behaviour is different.

You also behave differently at a wedding and at a funeral, because different environments call for a different side of you to come out. And yes, you have many sides, it is how we are social.

So, the three main lifelong commitments in our lives: marriage to Work, marriage to our Self, and marriage to Other (i.e. your spouse).

Whyte says above that to neglect any one of these marriages is to fail on all accounts, because they are not separate promises to different people, they are all part of you and your life.

Regarding compromise, let me paraphrase Popova: she says that the idea of compromising is a lose-lose situation. A compromise implies that one can reach a happy balance between two or more clashing needs, but in order to compromise, one will always have to cut off the ‘excess bits’. This cutting off means that you decide that somethings are more important and somethings are less important, based on the assumption that you only have a certain amount of time, or a certain amount of energy, to handle these things.

But what if they are all important? And what if the part that you ‘cut off’ ended up being the very part that you needed?

So, Whyte instead proposes that because all three marriages are nonnegotiable, they are all important in ways you might not even understand, thus they should not be balanced against each other. Instead, he says that we should:

start thinking of each not as something to be balanced against the other two but as something “conversing with, questioning or emboldening the other two.” Only then can we begin to shift away from “trading and bartering parts of ourselves as if they were salable commodities.” Because work and life are not separate things, he argues, they can’t be “balanced” against one another; instead, they are best treated as a “movable conversational frontier.”

What this means is that when you strengthen one, you strengthen all. When you weaken one, you weaken all.

Work, like marriage, is a place you can lose yourself more easily perhaps than finding yourself. It is a place full of powerful undercurrents, a place to find our selves, but also, a place to drown, losing all sense of our own voice, our own contribution and conversation.

[…]

Good work like a good marriage needs a dedication to something larger than our own detailed, everyday needs; good work asks for promises to something intuited or imagined that is larger than our present understanding of it. We may not have an arranged ceremony at the altar to ritualize our dedication to work, but many of us can remember a specific moment when we realized we were made for a certain work, a certain career or a certain future: a moment when we held our hand in a fist and made unspoken vows to what we had just glimpsed.

[…]

Work is a constant conversation. It is the back-and-forth between what I think is me and what I think is not me; it is the edge between what the world needs of me and what I need of the world. Like the person to whom I am committed in a relationship, it is constantly changing and surprising me by its demands and needs but also by where it leads me, how much it teaches me, and especially, by how much tact, patience and maturity it demands of me.

The above passage is so good, don’t skip it.

If we see work as a means to an end (usually money), then you lose the possibility of seeing any non-monetary value in it. Especially when it becomes mechanical, repetitive and monotonous, the details of your work make you lose sight of the big plans you had in the beginning. The big plans, not for your future house or your future car, but for the growth of your skill and knowledge. The growth of your contribution to a greater cause.

If children move into their late teens with no inkling of their future vocation, not even a glimpse of the star, it is time for the adult world around them to become rightly and increasingly worried. At this point a seemingly wrongheaded but determined direction is far better than none at all. It may be, in fact, that most of the great work done by individuals through history has often been accomplished through long years of dedicated wrongheadedness.

Even if, we end up doing work that is not our ‘passion’, we can grow to love it through our commitment to it. Grow to love it, not grow to be good at it. Being good at something has long been seen as a pre-requisite for others to affirm your ability to complete a job, but make no mistake, the process of doing itself has to mean as much, if not more than the product.

There are more people who end up doing well because they enjoy what they do, than those who enjoy what they do because they do it well. We cannot all hope to be the latter, it is an impossible dream. Just ask any dancer friends you know.

Besides the two most visible marriages – to work and to spouse – the most challenging of the three must be the “internal and often secret marriage to that tricky movable frontier called ourselves.”

While poets and psychologists agree that the self is a fluid phenomenon and there is no such thing as fixed personality, we still cling to the comforting falsehood that the self is a stable foundation. And yet in its very instability, Whyte suggests, lies its promise of satisfaction — the self “moves and changes and surprises us as much as anything in the outer world to which it wants to commit,” and that outer world invariably shapes our inner experience.

Like I said before, it is not so much that you never know who you really are, for obviously there are things about ourselves that we try to keep the same: our morals, for example.

A lot else we seek to, or ends up changing over the course of time anyway. All those bitchy comments about somebody being two-faced? How can they criticise nature? It is the most hypocritical thing someone can do, to criticise others for changing.

Whyte uses the analogy of a river to describe how we change:

We are each a river with a particular abiding character, but we show radically different aspects of our self according to the territory through which we travel.

He says that, when we neglect this marriage to ourselves, we become much more vulnerable to the external pressures of work and relationship.

We find ourselves unable to move in these outer marriages because we have no inner foundation from which to step out with a firm persuasion. It is as if, absent a loving relationship with this inner representation of our self, we fling ourselves in all directions in our outer lives, looking for love in all the wrong places.

[…]

The marriage with the self is difficult because it is connected to the great questions of life that refuse to go away and which are also connected to our own mortality. In the silences that accompany a strong internal relationship with the self we see not only the truth of our present circumstances and a way forward but we also realize how short our stay is on this earth. Life waits for us in this internal marriage, but death waits for us also.

In Chinese culture, death is something we don’t speak of. We say ‘touch wood’, or ‘choy’ whenever ‘unlucky’ topics like that come up. But I think death is one of the things that makes life so beautiful.

When you accept that, you have no good reason to exist on this planet at this time, and that there is an expiry date for your life, everything that happens in between becomes less burdensome and more wondrous, does it not?

We did not ask to be born, and most of us don’t ask to die, but in this situation that makes no sense, we meet each other, we get to do and learn things, we get to exist together with other forms of nature.

Maybe I am a being a bit emotional about this, but isn’t that notion itself beautiful?

There is no reason for you to tahan anything that you hate, unless it is for something that you know you will want in the future. That could be to do good for the greater humanity, or that could be for a higher leg extension.

As a small digression I want to add that I don’t really like the word ‘responsibility’. I definitely believe that having a sense of responsibility is good, but to use the word ‘responsibility’ on other people (family, friends, spouse, children) seems to imply that you are doing it out of society’s expectations of you, and not out of the sincerity of your own heart.

On tasks, I acknowledge that it is sometimes necessary to ‘be responsible’ because it is difficult to like every part of your job, but again, if the task does not bring satisfaction to yourself in the long run, why are you doing it? If you are satisfied by the monetary pay, I have nothing to say, but let’s be honest, who is ever satisfied with their pay?

When I say, I have to wash the dishes because its my responsibility as a part of this family to contribute to cleaning up our messes, it implies that I wish I didn’t have to do it. And while that was true (and continues to be true if I’m in a bad mood), I now try to look at it as an act of love. If I wash the dishes, the others that I love can spend more of their time doing the things they want to be doing.

Here is someone else’s blogpost on how acts of service are acts of love/kindness.

So to bring things back to the main issue, ‘responsibility’ is not something you use to burden yourself with, because that’s disrespectful, I would say, to both your loved ones and yourself (because in spite of the limited time you have, you choose to do things that you don’t like in order to please others). Ultimately, I do think you should be pleased with everything you do. If serving others does not ultimately bring you happiness, then won’t it be kind of hypocritical to do so?

This willingness to look at the transitory nature of existence [is] not pessimism but absolute realism: life is to be taken at the tilt, you do not have forever, and therefore why wait? Why wait … to become a faithful and intimate companion to that initially formidable stranger you called your self?

The use of the word marriage, Whyte says, means “a mutual invitation to which both partners must respond wholeheartedly……it is something that lives over the horizon as much as it exists in the here and now. It is full of keen daily pleasures and shattering disappointments. From all of these early, optimistic appearances and depressing disappearances we realize we have had a first glimpse of secret imagined possibilities, until now unspoken.”

I think this is really important: in any kind of marriage, both parties have to be fully committed to it in order for it to be successful. It is true in terms of marriage to another person, but also true in terms of marriage to one’s work.

I believe that good employers will react to employees who are truly invested in their work. I think we’ve all seen examples of this as well, whether is by being headhunted or by being rewarded with bonuses, good employers know that by appreciating employees, the returns will be greater.

On the other hand, if one is stuck in a work situation where the superiors don’t appreciate enthusiasm or are just plain lazy and make their way up the ladder by scheming (like in Korean dramas), you should know enough to get yourself out of that situation too.

When a relationship becomes an abusive one, it doesn’t matter how much you give, because the other party is not wholeheartedly contributing to the relationship too.

To conclude, our marriage with ourselves is the foundation upon which everything else is built upon. To have a weak foundation doesn’t mean you can’t build anything on it, but you’ll have to keep repairing and strengthening it. I think you will know, too, because not being curious about your own personalities and changes will eventually result in a lot of confusion and being lost.

Our marriage to significant people in our lives and to our work are more similar than we think: it isn’t healthy to give everything you have blindly, unless you can be sure that the other party is also fully committed to the same cause. In most cases, enthusiasm and positivity are infectious, and the other party will reciprocate in return. However, if the other party doesn’t, you must be grounded enough in your understanding of your limits, in order to know that it is time to move on.

 

「去國立事件」

I call the current political sentiments in Hong Kong “contradictory” because the forces of sinicization are unbelievably strong precisely at a time when Hong Kong’s historical difference from China should stand as the most uncompromisable opposition to the mainland. While that difference is always invoked (even by the Chinese authorities themselves, who promise a “one country, two systems” rule after 1997), one has the feeling that the actual social antagonisms separating China and Hong Kong – such as a firmly instituted and well-used legal system, emerging direct elections, the relative freedom of speech, and so forth, all of which are present in Hong Kong but absent in China – are often overwritten with the myth of consanguinity, a myth that demands absolute submission because it is empty. The submission to consanguinity means the surrender of agency – what is built on work and livelihood rather than blood and race – in the governance of a community. The people in Hong Kong can sacrifice everything they have to the cause of loving “China” and still, at the necessary moment, be accused of not being patriotic – of not being “Chinese” – enough. (The same kind of logic was behind the guilt-tripping purges of the Cultural Revolution: Sacrifice everything, including your life, to the party, but it remains the party’s decision whether or not you are loyal.) Going far beyond the responsibility any individual bears for the belonging to a community, “Chineseness,” as I show in some of the pages that follow, lies at the root of a violence which works by the most deeply ingrained feelings of “bonding” and which – even at the cost of social alienation – diasporic intellectuals must collectively resist.

Rey Chow (1993: 24-25)

In present day 2016: 去國立事件

Dancing with the body and the pen

Recently the issue of scholars staying within the confines of academia and not communicating with the rest of the world is something that I have been thinking about.

Especially whenever I read articles where people just blast the other writers in their field with words like ‘laziness’ or sentences like “such and such topic has already been widely discussed in social/cultural theory”.

Because my research interest gears very much toward the Chinese diaspora, postcolonial theories and the whole notion of Chineseness, I end up reading a lot of material from cultural studies and Taiwan, where this group of talented dance scholars have gathered in one place and all talk about the different aspects of dance in Taiwan.

And I don’t know that tons of people have written on Chineseness! For me, each new article is something I excitedly dig into. Especially after reading up on Fredrick Ashton, who is in all ways great but I’m just not much of a ballet scholar (ballet music is easier to analyse because in our course we learn to use Western musical theory), and when I put the Ashton book down after sighing and rubbing my eyes, and pick up Rey Chow’s book, I’m like wow this is an awesome read.

Before this course the most complicated book I had ever read was probably… the Ender’s series (I didn’t even read LOTR cos that was too tedious).

And anyway, I just had this thought that I must jot down my thoughts at this moment because this is the best moment in my career. Beginnings are always destabilising and exciting and fearless.

Then I realised that there was a ‘usual way’ that articles were written: Critique of theories by others/your own theory -> applying that theory to a specific case study.

Of course I’m drastically oversimplifying here, but there is a standard way to write a paper, and that’s further emphasised by my lecturers when I get feedback for my papers.

Sometimes I don’t get why we need a theory. Why do you group different elements together and decide to call them a name? “That’s just the way we do it.” Well I don’t want to theorise. I just want to talk about certain phenomena and talk to people who have experienced it differently and show that there are more than two sides to any one story and just do it messily and all jumbled up.

Well then no one would understand and be interested, maybe.

But especially when we talk about dance, it is not just the experience of watching a performance but also the experience of dancing and performing that can reveal so many interesting things, and yet there is a huge divide between dancers and dance scholars.

I’m sure there are exceptions who theorise as well as dance and perform (although, to be fair, a person can only have so much time). But I desperately want to dance and learn and write and discuss and do all of that at once because I don’t see them as separate interests.

I love to roll around on the floor, I love to analyse dance movements, I love to think of why a dance step should be taught a certain way. I love to be aware of how my body feels in certain fixed positions. I love the essay that I did on propaganda ballets. I love closing my eyes while dancing in the dance studio and just feel my head travelling through space. I love blogging and talking about my emotions in the most descriptive, metaphorical ways.

I might not be a dancer in a full-time company, or a PhD student, or a lecturer in a dance conservatoire, but is there a job that exists where I can do all this? Where I can teach, dance, write, choreograph, read, learn, communicate…

And how can I perform that job? How can I make this linkage between dance and academia with others? How can I get through to those who see writing as a MOUNTAIN when we can even record through images, videos, colours, sounds now, and that writing is just one very useful tool of many?


Edited, 4 months and one dissertation later:

I really should practice writing more, this is not…very pleasant to read.

On blueness, desire and memory

“The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.

For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.”

+++++

“We treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire, though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms, since it is as inherent to the human condition as blue is to distance? If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away.

The mystic Simone Weil wrote to a friend on another continent, “Let us love this distance, which is thoroughly woven with friendship, since those who do not love each other are not separated.” For Weil, love is the atmosphere that fills and colors the distance between herself and her friend. Even when that friend arrives on the doorstep, something remains impossibly remote: when you step forward to embrace them your arms are wrapped around mystery, around the unknowable, around that which cannot be possessed. The far seeps in even to the nearest. After all we hardly know our own depths.”

+++++

“When I was two, we lived in Lima, Peru, for a year, and all of us, mother, father, brothers, and I, went up into the Andes once, and then sailed across Lake Titicaca, from Peru to Bolivia. Lake Titicaca, one of those high-altitude lakes, Tahoe, Como, Constance, Atitlán, like blue eyes staring back at the blue sky.

One day a few years ago my mother took out of her cedar chest the turquoise blouse she bought for me on that trip to Bolivia, a miniature of the native women’s outfits. When she unfolded the little garment and gave it to me, the living memory of wearing the garment collided shockingly with the fact that it was so tiny, with arms less than a foot long, with a tiny bodice for a small cricket cage of a ribcage that was no longer mine, and the shock was that my vivid memory included what it felt like to be inside that brocade shirt but not the fact that inside it I had been so diminutive, had been something utterly other than my adult self who remembered. The continuity of memory did not measure the abyss between a toddler’s body and a woman’s.

When I recovered the blouse, I lost the memory, for the two were irreconcilable. It vanished in an instant, and I saw it go… Sometimes gaining and losing are more intimately related than we like to think. And some things cannot be moved or owned. Some light does not make it all the way through the atmosphere, but scatters.”

+++++

“There is no distance in childhood: for a baby, a mother in the other room is gone forever, for a child the time until a birthday is endless. Whatever is absent is impossible, irretrievable, unreachable. Their mental landscape is like that of medieval paintings: a foreground full of vivid things and then a wall. The blue of distance comes with time, with the discovery of melancholy, of loss, the texture of longing, of the complexity of the terrain we traverse, and with the years of travel. If sorrow and beauty are all tied up together, then perhaps maturity brings with it not what Nabhan calls abstraction, but an aesthetic sense that partially redeems the losses time brings and finds beauty in the faraway.”

Above excerpts from

Rebecca Solnit – A Field Guide to Getting Lost

I will never look at blue in the same way again…