Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
The answer finally came, not from McDonald’s take out coffee (though I admit it certainly helped), but when I stepped into the studio on the first day of the workshop. I found that, as soon as I started doing what I loved, my feelings of displacement disappeared. For me, perhaps it’s doing what you do that makes a place home.
I was reminded of our last trip here, when I also felt decidedly like a fish out of water the first couple days. Then, once we’d started working I felt more eased into the city’s flow. For me, I think it has to do with the difference between passively relating to a place’s sights and sounds and actively, purposefully throwing yourself into the mix.
This shouldn’t have surprised me. So much of our artistic practice is about creating action-based/task-based structures to create articulate, focused and grounded performance. No surprise then that I feel more at home when I have something that I’m actively invested in doing.
I wonder if Bethanie’s missionaries found themselves in a similar situation, where their practice and their activities helped to ground them in an unfamiliar context.
So now, I’m contemplating the whole idea of "home." Is it where you’re from? Is it where you know people? Is it where you find yourself enmeshed within the fabric of a community?
I’m back in New York now. It’s familiar, but somehow I feel at sea. I’ve been gone for over a month (first in Tucson and then Hong Kong). I’m having to refamiliarize myself with this place. How do Metrocards work? Why is all the money the same color? Which sponge do I use for the dishes, the green one or the blue one?
Then there’s of course the old adage that home is where the heart is. That’s also problematic. Where does my heart live? Certainly here. But also in other places…and I’m feeling like part of it stayed in Hong Kong.
Maru, a new friend and one of the workshop participants told Tom and I about a performance piece he did. It was based on a poem, where the writer gave half of his heart to someone, who consequently threw it away. The writer proceeded to bisect his heart again and again, each time keeping a smaller and smaller part.
I feel like I’ve divided my heart several times in my life. This most recent one still feels a bit raw. But I don’t feel like any of my heart has been thrown away. Nor do I feel like the heart I have remaining is any smaller. If anything, if feels like each of its divided parts have regenerated. Is it possible that I have several hearts? Are they scattered across this country? If so, there’s certainly another one that’s now waiting for me halfway around the world.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
We have been negligent updating the blog. After morning planning sessions, 8-hour rehearsals, and then evening debriefing/decompressing Tom and I found ourselves with no time to sit down and ruminate on what we were doing. Apologies for that.
Here’s a very abbreviated summary of our activities from this week.
- We spent Monday and Tuesday researching and learning about Bethanie’s physical/historical/cultural topography. This included a great visit to the BNP Paribas Museum of Bethanie.
- Having some background on the site, we started addressing the physical space. First by doing a site observation to identify the site’s overt (or hidden) architectural facets, and then beginning to explore this architecture. These explorations included guided improvisations, and choreographic exercises focused on identifying ways to repurpose space, physically engage with specific architectural elements, and create movement sequences borne from them.
- We played with some general choreographic images including a wall of hands (coming out of carved openings in the banister), an endless processional (taking advantage of Bethanie’s striking corridors), and creating a “Kerry conveyance,” by which we had one of the cast members emerge from a tiny, shuttered offering alcove.
- We continued these explorations by creating gesture-based phrases borne from our research and explorations.
- We then adapted these phrases to the site…having the entire ensemble do their individual choreography on Bethanie’s front façade.
- We continued choreographic explorations by creating active verb-based phrases on certain areas of the site. Duets or trios created movement scores based off of actions/tasks related to healing or sickness: i.e. to comfort, to bandage, to salve, etc.
- Groups did rigorous exploration in the chapel area, discovering a number of ways to climb up the walls, creep over pews, and fall off of them again.
- We spent Wednesday and Thursday focused on compositional concerns.
- We discussed “Unities,” a term Tom and I use to talk about the various ways create focus for the audience. We looked at where and how we’d already employed Unities, and other potential applications.
- We also spent quite a bit of time focusing on audience vantage points and creating an intuitive audience flow.
- We spent a good deal of Thursday and all of Friday refining, editing, and reworking the chorographic passages in preparation for the performance.
I learned so many things during this process, but there were three aspects in particular that stood out for me.
The first was a purely practical consideration: With Bethanie’s narrow corridors and verandas, how would one ensure that an audience of 40+ can see everything.
The short answer is you can’t.
More precisely, with our short creation period, this was the one challenge that we didn’t completely solve. Our biggest problem was that we had too many people who wanted to see the show. A fantastic problem to have! -- a poverty of riches.
We’d initially hoped to limit the audience to around 30 people per show in order to deal with these sightline issues. We’d also toyed with the idea of putting certain sections on a loop and allowing the audience to roam freely around the performance area. This would have alleviated some of the congestion if we’d had time to experiment with making this intuitive for the audience. However, we were again faced the issue of limited time and Bethanie’s narrow corridors, which could easily have become traffic jams in the making. In the end, we opted for a promenade format, where the audience moved as group from outside of Bethanie, through her corridors, to the chapel, and then out again.
The creation/discovery of this pathway was the second big thing that stood out for me. In every site-work, there’s this moment where you’ve got some solid material, you understand much of the site’s topography, and you’re starting to understand what the site is saying to you and how you’re responding—but you don’t yet understand how it all fits together. You’ve yet to unlock the internal logic of the piece and how it will settle onto the site.
Our early explorations and creations were borne from the site’s topography.That was our first point of entry or organizing principle. We started honing this when we refined the organizing principle to relate to our title "The One You Love is Sick”. But it finally gelled late in the week, when something clicked and the logic, through line, and pathway through the site and the piece became clear.
I think this was articulated beautifully in one of our participant’s written responses to the site. Kerry Liu wrote: “…I feel like I’m a tiny cell going through a body, entering from the blood vessel to the lung and finally I come to the heart of this building.”
This idea of Bethanie as a body or vessel that we were progressing through became the final idea around which we structured the piece:
The whole ensemble started outside, struggling in our individual phrases against Bethanie’s hard, rough façade. We came together to watch Kerry toiling to make her way down Bethanie’s front steps, and eventually be lifted and cradled by Lawrence who carried her inside, the front doors swinging open as they approached. We made our way as a procession into the central corridor, each having moments of collapse then being aided back to our feet. The group shattered then, having duets, trios, and solos that progressed through the building, each grappling with ideas of sickness, suffering, giving comfort and healing. We made our way to the chapel – truly the heart of the building – where the group playfully slid and tumbled along the pews. We reconvened to create a gestural choir of sorts. Beside us was a tiny, shuttered window that opened from the semi-circular room behind the chapel. From this window, Kerry emerged, was gently lifted and set on her feet (some saw this as an image of healing and rejuvenation). She led us out to the building’s side facade and the piece’s final image. Outside of Bethanie, Muriel found herself faced with a veritable wall of hands, which she washed and tended to, and who in turn lent her support and comfort.
This idea of passing through Bethanie on a journey from sickness to healing and eventual release had exactly the right feel.
The final thing that stuck out for me was on Thursday night, when Tom and I began to put ourselves in the piece. Up until that point we’d been working in a primarily directorial capacity. We hadn’t developed any choreography to do.
Instead of having us just make something up; our collaborators each gave us a gesture from their own material, from which we created a movement phrase. I loved being "gifted” movement and then having my collaborators make choreographic choices about how to adapt it to the areas where I danced.
Though Tom and I stuck ourselves into the piece at the last minute, we found ourselves organically integrated into the work. This was only possible because the material we were performing had come from our collaborators' own investigations, and the choreography that they set on us had come from their own week’s worth of experience molding movement to Bethanie’s architecture.
Friday, April 23, 2010
We asked each participant to write a short paragraph response to the site on Day Two after we had a chance to do a site-work overview as well as observation and exploration. Below are highlights from the collective responses, and below that, the full text from each participant. We have not edited the responses in any way, only typed them out for inclusion on the blog. Enjoy!
Clean but bloody.I feel like I’m in a tiny cell going through a body,entering from the blood vessel to the lung and finally I come to the heart of this building.
Tommy: Bethanie to me is a very peaceful place, and where my friend got married. I didn’t know that it had such a great history of pain. The history of this sanitorium reflected to me on how determine people can be, the hard work they put in to help others. Standing outside overlooking the South China Sea, my mind just wonders into the lives of these missionaries and the recovery process, what could have gone through their minds, their longing for home.
Kayuen: The Bethanie site gives me a strong sense of frustration. One hundred years ago, the site was a spiritual place for religious purpose. But now, it is preserved as a Heritage something which can be accessed by tourists; and it is rent for the Academy of Performing Arts of Hong Kong for educational use. It seems spirituality is no longer there.
Gabrielle: I had never visited Bethanie before joining this workshop. The first impression that Bethanie gave me was that it is gorgeous and the neo-Gothic style building looks like it doesn’t belong on Hong Kong Island. Reviewing its history, it is easy to understand the geographical choice for this sanitorium. Enveloped in greenery, the sea view and the gentle breeze, I can feel its regenerative power. It’s so peaceful esp in the Chapel. But I can still feel a bit of tension from the rough walls. And there are so many symmetrical structures along with multiple frames. Everything is in order. With its history and architecture, I think it’s really a nice place for a site-specific performance.
Maru: Bethanie, there might be many stories in it. The white colour makes me feel peaceful. It’s like a hospital. But the most interesting is the mixed new and old things. I can dream that I am traveling in a time tunnel. I can go to the past. I can go to the future. And I most like the “box” before entering the Chapel. There, one two ground lights from the floor in front of the sides of the inner doors. If doors closed and just these two lights on, it can be a magic room that people inside can think about their life. The past and the future.
Lawrence: Strong – balanced, dominating. The space has power beyond its esthetic . The hallways are vessels of containment, you can feel surrounded and enclosed, watched by both the modern cameras and visitors that reside through resonating spirit. The depth is shallow, with a commitment to its shape. The Bethanie is not soft, nor friendly, but it’s holy and demands respect.
Alz: I know Bethanie because there is a model in HKAPA. The first time I saw it, I feel disconsolate. It look like a castle. It is the oldest western building I saw in Hong Kong. It is old but you can also say it is modern. HKAPA restored in 2003.
When I be there in Pokfulam, I really enjoy the natural light from its high, colorful glass and the view towards the Peak and outly islands. It’s very peaceful.
The pattern on the ground, the glass on the wall, the doors and the stairs… most of the things in Bethanie are symmetrical.
I enjoy to be dancing there. It is very artistic.
Muriel: A pitched roof, Flying buttresses and pointed arches proudly defend Bethanie on the outside. While on the inside: corridors lined with small rooms focus and lead to the chapel: the space with the tallest ceiling, high ribbed vaults, stained glass tableaux and the most light. The repetition of arches lining the verandah aid in creating a sense of balance, strength, security and safety. I loved noticing that the strong lines and security of the architecture is represented by stone or marble and the doors are of flexible, softer material: wood and light. Passing the arches, the beams of light and going through doors over and over again placed my mind in an active meditative space, I experienced a sense of sinking deeper within myself, and only once I stepped into the chapel did I feel like I ever walked into a settled space and felt like I arrived.
Patricia: Bethanie is a hard site.
If you’d asked me yesterday I would have expanded on the rich history of the site – a kaleidoscopic layering of faith with healing, sanctuary with hospice, passion with restraint – and the haunting juxtaposition of its role today as a school of film & television – a surreal medium that allows for reality to be mirrored, captured, imposed, superimposed, created, edited, cropped, rewound, sped up.
I would have mentioned the symmetrical architecture with interesting potential for framing; the high ceilings that seem to highlight that separation of Earth and heaven, challenging me as a performer to try and cross that boundary, fill that space. The daily transformation the site goes under as the lighting changes with the journey of the sun and then the change into evening. And for me, I always find some of the most motivating aspects of a site are the different textures of the structures and how they look, feel and emote.
But after the fun exploration and developments yesterday, the only thing that strikes me about the site is that it is literally hard. An inventory of the bruises that colour my body, the marks they leave are inspiration in upon themselves. I love the hardness of the site, the way it challenges us physically, emotionally, spiritually… so much inspiration, and that’s just in the density of the rock.
Catherine: I’ve never been to Bethanie before until this Monday. I’ve always thought, from the pictures of the church, that it is a grandeur church situated in a piece of large greenery. It turned out to be a cozy, warm and welcoming little church housed in an elevated land, yet kept its privacy created by the plants surrounding it; a perfect space for a sanatorium in the past, and an educational space at present. It¡¦s like going to a resort every day, out from the city’s hustle life and dancing in such lovely space. There is this smell when I first entered the main entrance of the building, a smell that many historical spaces own. And the wall, the doors at the side, the patterns of tiles and the high ceiling all reminded me of my high school, which made the experience even more welcoming.
who sent forth its aura to embrace the lone visitor,
treading on its grounds for the first time,
ushering her way
through hollow hallways, hallowed halls.
nolstagia is written
in the air
entranced, enthralled, captivated, spellbound,
beyond words, beyond sounds, beyond thoughts way beyond bounds,
as if time has shifted through the embodied space,
life has inscribed itself through the walls that echo
their stories, untold stories.
but yet she is wary…
of the ghosts in the hallways
who peek at her, an intruder
into this sacred, holy place.
101 years, 101 deaths,
101 souls and ghouls, with long white beards,
creases in their foreheads, wrinkled eyelids that hid their glassy blue eyes,
in robes wrapped around their ailing bodies,
crucifixes around their necks.
101 years, 101 deaths,
101 souls who guarded this stone mansion
till their day of rest.
shaking their baldy heads,
at the intruder, the traitor,
who has forgotten,
God’s face and His caring hand.