Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Parting Thoughts

Zach looking at a misty, cloudy Hong Kong
I don’t really know what happened to me this week.
I know that I have been intensely affected by a site, a city, and most of all, an extraordinary group of people.
I’m baffled at how—in one short week—I met so many people who will now, unquestionably, be my life-long friends. People whom I didn’t know last Monday morning, but who I’ll now cross the globe again and again in order to spend time with.
Really. I don’t know what happened. I’ve got some guesses, though.
For starters, these people are brilliant. Those who we met through the workshop, as well as other friends who Tom and I met as a result are quite simply extraordinary.

Missing from this photo: Keene, Pat, Rebecca, Gabrielle, Odilia,and of course, everyone else who made Hong Kong extraordinary for us

I think there was something else at work as well. Through the intensive process of conducting these workshops and building this piece I came to know, understand, and love the people that I met and their city more deeply than I thought possible.
I’ve begun to understand something new about site-work. About the frame of mind that it puts one in. About how, by looking at the world through a different lens, a group of people can understand nuances of our shared environment and each other in a staggeringly fast, utterly profound way.
This visit, I came to understand some aspects of Hong Kong much more clearly. Last time, I barely scratched the surface. Which is no surprise.
Hong Kong reminds me of a beautiful and extraordinarily complicated knot. So many things are entwined and intermingled. The city’s geography is no exception. You can take nine lefts in a row and not go in a circle there.
And the nuances of its social and cultural dynamics are even more complicated. It is a city that is constantly in flux, constantly moving, constantly reinventing itself.
How then did I feel like I began to understand its complexity? How can one begin to comprehend something so vast, mercurial, and ever-shifting?
Perhaps it’s like the difference between standing on the ground trying to see what a cloud is made up of, versus focusing in much, much more closely.
Maybe it was like I was looking at a cloud through a microscope.
Bethanie served as a microcosm for us. Through our explorations and choreography, she became a mirror that reflected back profound insights about each other and ourselves. Our similarities came into sharp focus and our differing individual perceptions became illuminated and explicated.

Slamming against Bethanie’s walls and perching precariously on her balconies, we acknowledged our shared human frailty. Investigating notions of sickness, suffering, and healing we sidestepped cultural, linguistic, and social differences and came face to face with the deepest aspects of the human condition. In discussing the historical and political implications of the site, we gleaned sudden insight into each other’s cultural experience and viewpoints. I felt like we became a team of archeologists, discovering Bethanie’s multiple facets. In doing so, also uncovered our own. We collectively started perceiving the site and each other differently.
I do art because it’s one of the few ways we can address the ineffable. I sometimes like to think of art as some sort of multilayered, multifaceted metaphoric language by which we can attempt to translate and understand the deepest aspects of our experience. What I didn’t realize until this week was how profoundly and quickly that “translation” could occur between collaborators.
So what exactly changed? How did I form such fierce bond to these people and this city?
Was it because I was looking at everything in terms of the cultural/social/physical/cultural topography we talk about? Perhaps. But more likely, it was because this week I’d grown accustomed to really looking at things. Really listening. Something that I certainly neglect to do in the hustle and bustle of my daily life.
Maybe that’s what I’m getting at. Site-work requires you to take down all of your filters. You can’t make assumptions about anything when working on-site. Your preconceived notions about a place, or those that inhabit it will only get in your way. You have to look at everything as if you were seeing for the first time. You have to remove the filter in your head that says “that’s a staircase…you walk up and down it” and instead come to the staircase on its own terms. Utilizing both brain and body to discover what a staircase is, does, feels like, and can be used for.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe this way of working necessitates approaching environments and each other without preconceptions. And we all spent the whole week practicing that.
So, is it possible that making art - making site-work - enabled these understandings, these deep connections to people and place?
What a magnificent thought.
And how staggering are the implications of that thought? For me as an artist? For all of us as global community who clearly, desperately need to forge connections?
My bruises are already starting to fade, but Bethanie has left and indelible mark on me. This experience, and the connection to those who shared it with me will remain with me for the rest of my life.


Muriel and the wall of handsphoto by Raven Hanson

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mission Estranges de Paris and McDonald’s- Part II

Above photo of Maru and Catherine by Alz Ng.

I started off this week wondering about the rituals that brought comfort. I wondered what would make me feel like Hong Kong like “home” again. I also pondered how the missionaries who’d inhabited Bethanie dealt with adapting to a new place.

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

Process Overview

Photo by Alz Ng

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

Participant Responses to the Site

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!



"Bethanie, there might be many stories in it" -- Maru

"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." -- Kerry

"Knowing that it was used as a sanitorium, these characters do feel very much like the atmosphere of a nursing home or hospital. Also, after studying the inhabitants that were once here, I felt so much more in touch with them in their absence – than I did with the present inhabitants in their presence. " -- Derek

"The Bethanie is not soft, nor friendly, but it’s holy and demands respect." -- Lawrence

"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." -- Tommy

"The Bethanie site gives me a strong sense of frustration." -- Kayuen

"It made to think about a human. How to living and how human fight for their life." -- Odilia

"There is this smell when I first entered the main entrance of the building, a smell that many historical spaces own." -- Catherine

"It is the oldest western building I saw in Hong Kong... The pattern on the ground, the glass on the wall, the doors and the stairs… most of the things in Bethanie are symmetrical." -- Alz

"Enveloped in greenery, the sea view and the gentle breeze, I can feel its regenerative power." -- Gabrielle

"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." -- Muriel

'Her body, the wall of Bethanie, surprised me the most. It is not smooth at all, in fact, it is rough. It seems like she is trying to protect something or against something. The repeating patterns in Bethanie shows her patience or maybe she tries to remind us something." -- Rebecca

"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." -- Patricia

Other Full Responses to Site

Derek: Upon arriving to the Bethanie site – the surrounding nature and uplifted elevation is very warm and refreshing. The architecture and colors are very pretty and soothing to the eye. But, once walking through and around the premises, it has the opposite feeling. One of coldness, hallowness, coarsness, and hard. It’s very picturesque, but once you personally experience (walk, touch, sit, etc.) in the environment it has a very unsoothing vibe. Knowing that it was used as a sanitorium, these characters do feel very much like the atmosphere of a nursing home or hospital. Also, after studying the inhabitants that were once here, I felt so much more in touch with them in their absence – than I did with the present inhabitants in their presence.

in a great one piece
Where illness are healed, and where the sicks believe.
from which comes creativity.
When my senses make, and where my body shakes.

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.

: 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.

Keene: Bethanie have a over 100 years history. It experiences that the World War. The world financial problem. SAR, etc. It still here and also witness of Hong Kong everything. Bethanie grow up with Hong Kong and who love in there (HK). The building are full of Culture and Art feature. There architecture are full of it’s build feature. When I stay in the chapel I feel so sanctity and peaceful. And also means “Dead” and “Alive.”

Odilia: Is there have any ghost story? Full of secret here? Many people die in Bethanie?All these questions are around of human dying! First, I came there for my audition. I came to the theater room which are on the 2/F. It had a beautiful view to the harbor, and the glass housetop, a lovely sky view! And this is my second time to visit Bethanie, to know about the history there. It made to think about a human. How to living and how human fight for their life. The sunshine come into the Chapel, made me feel peaceful, all the love and sad here.

Rebecca: The first day I visited Bethanie, she was so calm. So peaceful and graceful. Bethanie was so silence, esp inside the chapel. I can hear the sound we made bouncing back from the wall. Her body, the wall of Bethanie, surprised me the most. It is not smooth at all, in fact, it is rough. It seems like she is trying to protect something or against something. The repeating patterns in Bethanie shows her patience or maybe she tries to remind us something.

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.

welcome, says bethanie,
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
she stood,
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.

they stare,
shaking their baldy heads,
at the intruder, the traitor,
the blasphemer,
who has forgotten,
God’s face and His caring hand.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Photos from Day Three

Below are some visuals from our experimentations and rehearsal on site at Bethanie yesterday (Wednesday). We continued to talk about methods for composing site-specific work, with a focus on unities.

As of today, we are nearly finished with the material and composition of the piece, and our task now is to link those all together, figure out audience flow, costume design, lights and other technical components.
More to come, but in the meantime, we'd als
o like to share a link to another blog series by one of the project participants, Evelyn Wan:



Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Experimenting On Site & in the Studio

Participants working in the YAF Studio

Over the past two days, we have been on site and in the studio with the Aedas My Footsteps participants. It's been fast and furious. We are already about halfway done with the work we are creating together. For the first part of day one, we had several discussions about the nature of site work and the particular site for this project. We gave a short overview of our research into the history and features of the space, and together, all took a tour of the BNP Paribas museum of Bethanie at the location in Pok Fu Lam.

Then, we began our site observation and initial site explorations. Afterwards, we returned to the studio to further explore movement motifs and gestures that were informed by the site, and worked through methods of translating those ideas into short, repeatable movement sequences which we also tweaked compositionally to discover various ways of putting them together.

Yesterday was day two of the process, and we started as a group in the front of Bethanie, working our individual phrases into a group sequence and fitting that to the front veranda and facade. You can see our early experiments in the video below.

Afterwards, we split up into groups on site in order to maximize our time, experimenting with the various architectural and compositional possibilities throughout the verandas, hallways and in the chapel. We finished the day again back at the YAF studio where we worked with several groups of participants to deepen the movement we'd created on site earlier in the day. Whew!


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Floral Arrangements

Bauhinia 'Blakeana' at Aberdeen

I've been thinking about flowers...
Maria Wong, (Performing Arts Manager for the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation) had sent a series of photographs of the site while we were still back in New York City. The very first one had a series of red bougainvillea flowers, strewn across a bricked path by a stone wall. The contrast was striking, and it also jogged sensory memories from our previous visit to Hong Kong in 2007. I remember being amazed at how much of the vegetation was similar to my hometown in Florida: bougainvillea, sansevieria, caladiums, and other tropical and semi-tropicals. When I was here last it helped me connect to a city that seemed so different at first. This time around, I felt that I wanted to include this in some way.
I arrived before Zach last week, and upon my first full day in Hong Kong, I wandered through Hong Kong Park, botanizing as I do. I saw plants I knew, but I also started to see beyond the similarities into the differences, and the plant life that was unfamiliar to me.
I happened upon the Bauhinia blakeana or Hong Kong Orchid Tree, the floral emblem of Hong Kong, and I found myself looking at a flower both familiar and completely alien. Only upon revisiting my research later that night, did I make the connection. This plant, whose image appears on Hong Kong's coat of arms, flag and coins, was discovered near Pok Fu Lam around 1880… by the botanizing French Missionaries of Bethanie!
Only one tree was ever discovered, above the shore line in Western Hong Kong near Pok Fu Lam. The tree itself is sterile and can only be propagated by asexual methods, and the thousands that now populate the island were made mostly through air-layering from this original specimen. Its Chinese name 洋紫荊 is frequently shortened to 紫荊 , dropping the first character which means “foreign” and is often construed as a negative. Ahem! So much to work with here!
So, naturally when I told Zach about this, he also became excited about the symbolic possibilities in using a flower who’s genesis and identity is so entwined with the French fathers and with Hong Kong itself, not to mention what it speaks to in terms of indigenous, foreign, and hybridity issues.
How will we use it? Well, that requires a bit more research, but we have a few thoughts. Certainly with reverence. Stay tuned…
- Tom

Further Botanical Information:
Bauhinia × blakeana (Chinese: 洋紫荊) is an evergreen tree, in the genus Bauhinia, with large thick leaves and striking purplish red flowers. The fragrant, orchid-like flowers are usually 10-15 cm across, and bloom from early November to the end of March. It is referred to as bauhinia in non-scientific literature though this is the name of the genus. It is sometimes called Hong Kong orchid tree (香港蘭).
The Bauhinia double-lobed leaf is similar in shape to a heart, or a butterfly. A typical leaf is 7-10 cm long and 10-13 cm broad, with a deep cleft dividing the apex. Local people call the leaf "clever leaf" (聰明葉), and regard it as a symbol of cleverness. Some people use the leaves to make bookmarks in the hope that the bookmarks will bring them good luck in their studies.
It is sterile (does not produce seed), and is a hybrid between Bauhinia variegata and Bauhinia purpurea.[1][2] Propagation is by cuttings and air-layering, and the tree prefers a sheltered sunny position with good soil. As it is only known in cultivation, it can also be named as a cultivar: Bauhinia 'Blakeana'.[1]

Balancing Acts

Zach Walking the Dragon's Back

My main thought for the past 24 hours has been how glad I am that we decided to come to Hong Kong a week ahead of starting the Aedas My Footsteps project here. Of course, we’ve already been working, thinking, and planning, but it’s nice to have time to slowly acclimate and find the ways in which to immerse ourselves and also gain respite from that immersion. Balance. Good to know where you are before you start throwing yourself off walls and dancing through corridors and catacombs somewhere up a mountain in Pok Fu Lam!
Today was a bit about that. Zach and I took a hike on the Dragon’s Back along the South China Sea (on the east side of the island) and down into the village of Shek-O. It was a trip I’d made last time we were in Hong Kong, and there was the comfort of the familiar in it, the excitement of sharing it with Zach, and the relief of getting away from the bustle up in the North. Hong Kong is magical to me in that way, that you can be in one of the most relentlessly vertical and densely populated places on Earth one minute, and several minutes later, alone in the jungle. Zach is surprised that I don’t feel claustrophobic here. I do in New York sometimes, but Hong Kong is 40% green space. I think knowing how easily you can escape is the reason I find it livable.

Sand Sculpture on Shek-O Beach
After arriving in Shek-O, and touring the tiny beach, we settled into a village restaurant we’d discovered in 2007 and shifted back into business mode. Tomorrow, the workshops begin.
We are balancing two agendas for this project: an educational series designed to share our methods for creating site-specific performance with a group of professional participants, and the creation of a new work for the Bethanie in Pok Fu Lam which will feature all of us.
Zach and I have been tossing around ideas and impressions for the last several days. A usual, our separate perspectives and interests cover a pretty wide range, so our agenda thus far has been to hone in on those that overlap or meet in informative ways. Zach is churning away on the historical links with the French missionaries, the Jesus/Lazarus connection, and the sanatorium while I’ve been turning over movement motifs that pull from impressions I got on our site visit this past week [See Zach's previous entry, "McDonald’s and the Missions Etrangeres de Paris PART 1"].
When we toured the Bethanie site on Thursday, I let myself free-flow with image and movement fantasies while walking through. Having developed a site-specific checklist with Zach over the years, I am quick to cycle through all of my assessment items. What can go there? How can that support weight? What is the purpose of this? And, how can it be re-purposed? What is hidden? How do I expose it? What will unify this vast space? And, how can I force a different perspective for my audience here? All of my historical, social, and contextual research steps aside as I let my eyes, ears, nose, and fingers take over.

The Chapel at Bethanie
I imagined a group sequence within the chapel, shuffling in and out of the aisles and gliding inverted among the pews, forcing audience perspectives from the doorway to the altar. Along the verandas and down the steps, I see opportunities for intimate, almost “overheard” moments: a solo on the front steps, multiple reveals around the corners and through the long hallways, turns in and out of small frames within the architecture (almost like portholes) and images of suspension in the “cathedral” spaces between features. I hear echoes. I smell rain. Most things feel cold. The pews are remarkably warm in contrast to the stone. There is a little something sweet in the air that you can almost taste. So, we weigh it all together and strike a balance, between images and senses, history and architecture, our imagination and the site’s reality, our assumptions and those of the participants, who we meet tomorrow.
- Tom

Saturday, April 17, 2010

McDonald’s and the Missions Etrangeres de Paris PART 1:

Zach in Aberdeen

I went to McDonald’s this morning.
I totally bought my coffee there. In my defense, it was a last resort. I couldn’t find anything else in the area that sold coffee to take-away (to go).
I, very conscientiously, haven’t been inside fast-food restaurant for over 5 years. I dislike them, and feel that they often embody many of the things I dislike about American consumerism and the overwhelming impact corporations have on our daily lives.
And yet….
Standing in line, I was deeply conscious of how stupid it was being an American, buying American coffee at an American-based fast-food chain while surrounded by the myriad other options that Hong Kong offers.
Sometimes, you just need your coffee to go, yo.
More precisely, sometimes you need the reassuring comfort of familiar rituals and patterns.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m loving Hong Kong. Not at all yearning to return to the States.
I’m just noting, with some degree of amusement, how I’m coping with being a foreigner here. I consider myself a pretty savvy, adventurous traveler. I’m pretty much down for anything. But still, I’m noting that, even though there’s a Circle K, 7-11, or KFC on every corner; even though English is spoken nearly everywhere, even though this was city borne out of westernized expansion and commerce, I’m still grappling with notions of foreignness.
And of course, in light of the project we’re about to embark on, this all broaches the question:
If I’m grappling with being a stranger in a strange land, how must these French Missionaries have felt?
…. I bet it was really, really hard for them to find coffee to go.

Bethanie served missionaries who’d been working throughout Asia. These priests were often the vanguard of westernization. They were quite literally placing themselves in contexts and cultures that were utterly unfamiliar and unknown.
For many of them, Bethanie was a haven. A place that provided succor, and where they sought solace, healing, rest.
So In light of all of this, I’m pondering: What is the nature of foreignness? Why are we rattled by that which is alien? Are we such creatures of habit that unfamiliar customs panic us? What are the things, the rituals that give solace? Why is it easy to get along with a single stranger, but a mass of strangers seems intimidating? Where is the line between the foreign and the familiar?
Tom and I are about to hike the Dragon’s Back to Shek-O, a village on the South East of the Island. As I make ready to go, I’m thinking about these entries I found on the on-line thesaurus:
Foreign: alien, alienated, antipodal, barbarian, barbaric, borrowed, derived, different, distant, estranged, exiled, exotic, expatriate, external, extralocal, extraneous, extrinsic, far, far-fetched, far-off, faraway, from abroad, immigrant, imported, inaccessible, nonnative, nonresident, not domestic, not native, offshore, outlandish, outside, overseas, remote, strange, transoceanic, unaccustomed, unexplored, unfamiliar, unknown
Succor/Solace: comfort, help, mitigation, refuge, relief, rescue, support, aid, ameliorate, assist, avail, be good for, better, build, contribute to, do for one, relieve, serve, succor, allay, alleviate, buck up, cheer, comfort, condole with, console, mitigate, soften, soothe, upraise, assuage
- Zach
Tom in Central

The One You Love is Sick

Bethanie in Pok Fu Lam

Inscribed in Latin above the front door lintel is Bethanie’s motto: “Lord, the one whom you love is sick.”
These words, from St. John’s gospel (John 11:3) refer to Lazarus, and are found in a message sent by Martha to Jesus. Bethanie was named after the village where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived, where Jesus made a point to visit just before the Passion in order to bring Lazarus back to life - "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."
At the end of next week, Tom and I will be presenting a site-work at Bethanie created in collaboration with the artists participating in our masterclass. We’ve yet to meet these artists, we’ve not yet fully wrapped our heads around the site.
We don’t yet know how the piece will come together, what it’ll be about, but Tom and I are agreed- It’ll be called The one you love is sick.
- Zach