“When we teach, are we translating our limitations?”
I wrote this down in my notebook when I met Xiaoyi in early September to discuss the ethos of the festival, and today that very same question appeared on the screen behind the masterclass participants as they attempted to perform five-minute solos based on the five days of three-hour workshops they’d attended earlier this week. Rady and Didik had been conducting the masterclass sessions based on this structure:
- Day 1: Engage your core
- Day 2: Groundedness
- Day 3: Circularity
- Day 4: Balance and control
- Day 5: History through movement
Xiaoyi had sprung the solo performance element on them belatedly, and some of the participants were panicking over what they would present to the audience. My assumptions about a student showcase were overturned – I hadn’t attended the masterclasses every evening, much to my enormous regret, and if I get the chance to do this again (*glances at Xiaoyi and Jo), I’d love to participate in the masterclass as a decidedly non-movement person to see how my body adjusts to or resists the forms.
Rady made some very pertinent comments in the Q&A about how he approached teaching the students, blending the drive to preserve of “traditional” forms with the spirit of rediscovery and reinvention.
I thought, we should let the students explore. We should give them the structure, but let them find their own way. But they have to learn about history and theory too – do they understand the value of culture? Or are they just using it as a backdrop?
One of the students spent her entire presentation steeling herself to step forward and onto the stage, her arms tense by her sides, leaning forward and then catching herself, pulling back – terror, worry and a nervous smile flickering across the face. Another created a small homage to both instructors, her movements not always accurate but deeply respectful and delicate, taking her time to move through difficult gestures, her attention laser-focused on the tiniest of details, combining perhaps the handwork of Cambodian dance with the footwork of Javanese dance. And then another brought a chair onto the stage, sat on it, then pulled a Halloween party-esque monkey mask over her head. She attempted to move through a series of the precise hand gestures she had learnt, but these soon degenerated into frantic typing, a monkey drone chained to her desk, hitting the backspace key – our digital dystopia version of hand gestures. As Rady quietly joined her on stage, her hands began to quiver and shake, violently, her failure to control her own body deliberately and starkly set against Rady’s complete control over his.
Didik talked about how impossible their task had been – to learn the rudiments of these dance forms within the space of a week, to try to master hand gestures that had taken them years to perfect. The students’ showcase felt both reflexive – deeply aware of their shortcomings and imperfections – but also rebellious – pushing back against the boundaries of their untrained bodies, acknowledging but also ignoring the impossibility of measuring up to what they’d had a tiny taste of this week.