Interview with Choy Ka Fai
Choy Ka Fai in conversation with Karlien Meganck from deSingel, Antwerp at Tanz im August, Berlin 2014.
Interview with Choy Ka Fai
What led you to contemporary dance and performance?
I was trained in video art in Singapore. But already during college – starting from about 2004 - I started working with performance and collaborated a lot with dancers. I also got into a physical theater training. I became associate director with Theatre Works in Singapore and for about 3 to 4 years I produced my work under that name. In 2009 I decided to go to London to study design.
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Can you explain about your recent project ‘Soft Machine’?
‘Soft Machine’ is a dance research project that studies contemporary dance in Asia. It is actually part of a trilogy. The first part was ‘Prospectus for a future body’, where I looked at technology and alternative ways of how we document and archive dance movement. I used electrical stimulation and muscle sensors to copy dance movement into a digital form. In that way a dancer could – let’s say 10 years afterwards - dance a work of an iconic choreographer. This resulted in a work ‘Dance fiction’.
Then I asked myself what’s next? What I did before was basically just looking at the body. After that I became curious about what the choreographer was thinking. And this is how the idea of ‘Soft Machine’ started. ‘Soft Machine’ is the title of a novel by William Burroughs. He made a novel by cutting and pasting different novels. I see the body also as a Soft Machine that cuts and pastes and becomes a new machine by itself. The body is full of all kinds of technology that humans still have to explore fully.
There was also something else. In Sadlers Wells in London in 2011, there was a series ‘Out of Asia. The future of contemporary dance’. They made a 5 minutes long promotional video for that program and when I saw it I was disturbed and intrigued at the same time. Out of like 10 artists only 2 artists were actually from Asia. A lot of artists were like Akram Khan, who is of Asian decent but is actually British. I became anxious. I wanted to find out what is actually inside Asia, not what came ‘out of ‘ Asia. The Western perception of what is Asian, does not interest me so much. I remember Akram Khan saying the Asian body is inherently spiritual. So immediately I asked myself “ what do you mean by the ‘Asian body’?” There are more than 48 countries in Asia! This also triggered my expedition throughout Asia.
Can you elaborate on your process of work for ‘Soft Machine’?
I started in Japan, in Dance Box (Kobe) where I got a residence and started talking to artists. I already had some background knowledge on Japanese performing arts before I started because I myself actually decided to become an artist after seeing a performance by Dumb Type, they were very famous in the eighties. So for Japan I decided to work around the topic ‘Anxiety of Influence’. Butoh on the one hand and Dumb Type on the other hand have a very strong influence on Japanese artists until today. So the interviews with the Japanese artists always included a biographical background of the artist and then a conversation about what happened in the past 10 years in the dance scene.
For each country I spoke to about 20 dance makers. And I mostly went to secondary cities, not the capital city. Because in capitals you often see artists who actually came from somewhere else, whereas in secondary cities you find more artists who are from that city itself. So in Japan I chose for Kyoto and Osaka, instead of Tokyo.
As countries I included Japan, China, Indonesia, India and Singapore.
What will this research result in?
My first idea was to make a performance in every country. But in the process I started to realise more and more what I was doing. I saw an importance in talking to all these different people and decided I wanted to make an independent archive with all this information. I decided to put them on an online platform. Every interview is about 40 to 60 minutes. All these interviews will be online. On top of that I make a performance for each of the five selected countries. Also every performance comes with a documentary about the artist who is in the performance.
As a conclusion one final question. What does this the term ‘contemporary’ mean to you?
(laughs) I asked this question to all the artists I interviewed! Every city and country has its own culture in terms of relating ‘contemporary’ to dance. My own idea is as simple as this: ‘contemporary’ means ‘what is happening now, what the artist is curious about now.'