Southeast Asian Choreolab 2015

by Joelle Jacinto

After a morning of physical and spatial exploration, choreolab facilitator Arco Renz asked the choreographers to come back after lunch with 5 things. “What kind of things?” they all asked. “Whatever thing you wish,” he smiled. But there was a hint of mischief in that smile, for when they returned, they were instructed to place each thing “in the right order.” “What kind of order?” they asked. “Whatever feels right for you,” he replied, with that smile again. And thus began the 2015 Southeast Asian Choreolab at Rimbun Dahan in Selangor, Malaysia, with choreographers from the region asking themselves their definition of “right”, and whether or not it applied.

Darlane Litaay from North Papua, Indonesia had taken natural items from the sprawling property that was Rimbun Dahan, and his idea of placing them in the right order was, cleverly enough, putting them back where he got them: a branch here, some leaves there, pebbles somewhere else. Still, Arco told him, “It did not feel right to me,” but mainly because when he placed them back, nobody could see what he was doing. This makes sense: choreography is not only in the doing, but in the showing to other people. And thus these fifteen participants knew they had to get ready for anything and everything for the next ten days.

The fifteen choreographers selected for this choreolab come from 8 Southeast Asian countries, and were a mix of already accomplished yet still emerging practitioners, and dancers and theatre artists who are only just beginning to explore choreography. Some were recommended by Arco seemingly for this reason of giving them tools to kickstart a choreographic career - for example, he had previously worked with Fadilla Oziana from West Sumatra, Indonesia, Chy Ratana from Cambodia, and Lygie Carillo from the Philippines in separate projects, and had noted something extraordinary in each’s approach to movement and/or dance making. Rounding out the 15 were Tan Bee Hung and Faillul Adam from Malaysia, Siko Setyanto from Indonesia, Eng Kai Er and Foo Yun Ying from Singapore, Thanh Nguyen Duy or Buddha from Vietnam, Nitipat Pholchai or Ong, and Sonoko Prow from Thailand, Ounla Phaoudom or Kaka from Laos, and Al Bernard Garcia and Japhet Mari Cabling or JM from the Philippines.

Each choreographer led a 40-minute session partly as a warm up, but also to introduce themselves to the rest of the group. It was nicely serendipitous how some sessions complemented each other, such as Bee Hung’s and Buddha’s separate sessions that emphasised contact with the floor, and Yun Ying’s and Ong’s sessions, which were both held on the same morning and were different but similar sensory exercises that dealt with taking tactile cues to instigate movement and partnering strategies.

Siko spent his session with a familiar improv exercise: writing out your name with your body, but he raised the stakes by instructing his choreolab mates to play with the dynamics, then adding impulses and jumps after a few rounds. It was also interesting because as each choreographer took their turn, it was obviously an opportunity to show off what moves they were capable of, and definitely responded well to Siko’s raised stakes. This was echoed later on in one of Arco’s sessions, where he asked the choreographers to compose a floor pattern score, and introduced elaboration on these scores by adjusting the rate of change.

The individual sessions, as well as Arco’s tasks, threw the choreographers constantly into each others’ spheres, as did trips into KL to watch performances or to look at the cultural venues Malaysia has on offer, chatting companionably at meal times, and even simply unwinding in their respective houses at the end of each day. They talked about what they did in the studio and what they thought of how each other worked within the group, but also projects they had done, were currently doing, were interested in doing in the future, and “what the scene is like in my country.” Sometimes, they would half-joke whether or not each cultural practice was “right.”

The participants were visited by “zeitguests” to give short talks on topics that had nothing to do with choreography. Producer Bilqis Hijjas had invited Elina Noor to talk about regional security and what it means to be ASEAN today; Kaili Ding, who discussed finance; and Jillian Ooi who talked about the importance of preserving seagrass. The idea was to break the routine of dance, dance making, and talking about dance and dance making, and perhaps see possibilities for material and themes for future dance projects.

The choreolab ended with an informal showing of the sessions at the dance studio. The most interesting parts were those that showed the collaborations of the choreographers, and sessions that were repeated to show the development of the process when new items were introduced.High from the previous week, several of the participants knew which choreographers they wished to collaborate with, and looked forward to projects they could work on together. Hopefully, they can come up with something important enough for us to read about in a future issue of Tanzconnexions.

The Southeast Asian Choreolab 2015 was a joint project by Rimbun Dahan and World Dance Alliance Asia-Pacific, supported by Goethe-Institut Malaysia.

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