Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Daily Motion

Posted by Tom Pearson
[Originally published on greatdance.com]

Here's a couple of press items we'd like to share. First, is a program from Daily Motion, performances clips from the Urban Dance Festival in Hong Kong, featuring our new site-specific work, "Strangers on Tong Chong Street," as well as CDT and local Hong Kong youth groups.

And following, is a list of questions we were asked for U Magazine in an interview we did prior to arrival in Hong Kong. The online and hard copy version is printed in Chinese, so we have provided the English version below for our readers.

The following questions are answered by Tom Pearson and Zach Morris, Co-Artistic Directors of Third Rail Projects and choreographers of "Strangers on Tong Chong Street," and Mayuna Shimizu, a founding member of Third Rail Projects who has performed in works by Tom and Zach since 1999.

(1) Could you say a few words about what site-specific dancing means to you?
Zach: For us, site-specific dance is about getting art out of the theater and gallery and putting it into the public realm, about using performance to illuminate urban space which is often taken for granted or overlooked. It's an opportunity for art to really engage with "real world" architecture, topography, environments, and most importantly, the communities who inhabit them.
Tom: In addition, it is often about finding hidden meaning or heightening people's interactions with a space. Site work is vital because it opens up the work to a wider population, one which might not experience it otherwise. And you can never fully control what's going to happen on site. In that way, it's a collaboration with the public.

Mayuna: The experience is sometimes accidental and a surprise for so many people. They stumble upon it and it becomes their own discovery, something they really remember.

(2) What role does the audience play during performance? I don't think they are merely observers. Would they be invited to dance or interact with the performers? How?

Zach: The audience is inherently a part of the performance. There is no separation like in the theater. The simple act of gathering around a performance creates an irregular event in the space, therefore, totally re-defining it. Sometimes we make work that asks the audience to follow it, to make choices about how they view it, and the trick is to make sure the dance has an intuitive flow and traffic patterns that audiences can easily navigate.

Tom: The role of the audience can vary considerably depending on the intention of the choreographers. Some site work has a participatory element--but not necessarily, and not all people in the site would consider themselves audience members. Many are just passing through, or they are the regular denizens of the site that may feel the artist is an intruder. It's important to engage them in some way, explain what you are doing, and have them accept you in the site.

Mayuna: Focus is important. With no fourth wall, you have to make your intentions clear and imagine yourself from the audience's point of view. What would make you follow, or participate? You have to use your sixth and seventh senses, and it is always different depending on your own personality and the personality of those gathered around.

Mayuna Shimizu, Marissa Nielsen-Pincus, and Donna Ahmadi
in Tom Pearson and Zach Morris's "Strangers on Tong Chong Street"

(3) I think accidental happenings are common during performing. How should the performers react? What extent should improvisation play?

Mayuna: As a performer, I really enjoy those unexpected moments because they are so different from what you experience in the controlled environment of a theater. As people, we have so many possibilities in terms of the way we react, and we learn so much about ourselves in moments were we have to make sudden choices. Site-specific performances are like conversations, and you are discovering things about each other.

Tom: I agree. I love the unexpected because it really puts you in the moment. Our group of performers have worked together for many years and are all wonderful at improvising within the spirit of the piece to incorporate any surprises. In fact, it is important to us that the unexpected is acknowledged rather than ignored. It brings truth to the work and eliminates artificial constructs.

(4) For me, site-specific dancing is the interpretation of a site by the choreographer and the performers. Is there any re-interpretation of the site by the audience during and/or after the perfomance? What is the significance to those communities whom come to/pass by the site frequently?

Zach: For me, site work amplifies, reacts to, or comments on a space in some way. It's more of a dialogue with the site than a translation of its components into dance. The artist is drawing from certain elements or relationships within the site. Audiences will view that through their own unique lens and in light of their past relationship to the space. Meaning is accumulated, and ideally, new connections with the space will persist while echoes of the performance will help re-define audience's future relationship to the site.

(5) What elements at Tong Chong Street drew your attention at first sight? How much do you know about it's landscape, history, community, culture, stories....? Are there things in common/great differences between Tong Chong Street and the most familiar street in your hometown?

Tom: So far, our relationship to Tong Chong Street is virtual, through photos and videos of the space as it exists now. We know historical accounts through online research, but we are seeing these through someone else's filter and making our own assumptions based on that. It prepares us to a large extent, but our own personal connections can only happen once we are there.

Zach: Tong Chong Street has an urban topography that is similar to other commercial cities of the world, with its familiar coffee shops, transnational corporations, public art and gathering spaces. It's a good fit for us as New Yorkers because, although we are strangers coming into this new space, we are strangers from a city that parallels Hong Kong in a number of ways. Both New York and Hong Kong share a similar mercantile history and both are dynamic, innovative cities in a perpetual state of re-invention. As such, the streets and landscapes of both cities have undergone numerous changes and developments--history built upon history. It is perennially interesting to me as an artist to dig down through those layers, unearth each one, and have them manifest in the space as it exists now.

(6) Has your dance group ever performed in Chinese communities?

Tom: We are fortunate to live in city with such a vibrant Chinese community. Mayuna has choreographed and performed her own work for New York's Chinese New Year Festival, and we have worked in a number of capacities with H.T. Chen and Dian Dong (H.T. Chen and Dancers). We often rehearse at their Mulberry Street Studio in Chinatown, and have sought their advice on a number of topics, including artists and organizations we should connect with in Hong Kong.

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