That’s where the movement is, that’s what dance is for me

Intro: Latai Taumeopeau

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Latai Taumeopeau discusses her interest in a performance installation involving blocks of ice and invisible, intangible cultural heritage. Her initial ideas were just about the idea of working with ice, but it somehow transformed into an addressing of global warming. She mentions how she wants to “parallel chinese water torture with people leaving their homes because the ice is melting.” Mostly, she says, it is observing ice and the human body and seeing what movements can be generated from that. During these two weeks, she hopes to find a way to suspend ice in the landscape and find points of interest on where the ice hits the body.

As the others offer their responses to what she wants to do (including Jerome bringing up the water villages described in Steven Oppenheimer’s book, Eden in East), Latai smiles and admits this relief in “Holding on to an idea for ages and now it’s public knowledge and you can move on.”

She also shares scope and logistics of the work that have occured to her: that it is durational, and she will have to surrender another body to keep the movement going, and does this affect the work? She is currently collaborating with somebody who specializes in Japanes rope binding, and says she likes the sexual illusion of it.

This opens a rather meaty discussion as everyone raises their immediate responses to Latai’s planned project.

Vicki posits that when the event is finally staged, how does the audience’s knowledge of it as being “staged” affect the work. Particularly she asks, “How do you give them the same sense of desperation? How do you manufacture it so that the audience can empathize with you? How do you frame it?”

Cat likes the appeal of entering the work as a ritual.

Jerome asks, what if the performer is being suspended amd held up by block of ice, and that when the ice melts, the person drops.

Doris suggests that the audience should be close so that people can feel the discomfort that the performer feels.

Margie offers that, in the city, the ice will probably behave conditionally and differently from at Bundanon. There’s the condition of chance. She agrees with Doris in that “by getting a big public space, you’ll lose that sense of intimacy.”

Fitri has already worked with ice blocks, inspired by an experience in Bali, for a performance art laboratory in 2009. It was raining heavily, and there was a leak in the studio, where drops fell into a strategically-placed cup. The participants of the lab worked in the same space but individually and Fitri placed her head over the cup, catching the drops of water in her head. After a couple of hours, she pulled her t-shirt over her head, but didn’t move away from the leak. In effect, she was not consciously moving the body, her body moved on its own to find relief. Last year, she worked with ice in performances, based on the idea of the body being trapped in a block of ice. In this work, she was exploring her own mystic relationship with the earth.

Margie asks Latai about her interest in intangible cultural heritage, and she discusses how she is playing with other kinds of disciplines because of this interest, particularly the disparity of the value of objects to their creators vs the value placed by collectors/ institutions. Latai wants to use the body and movement to generate or show the difference in values.

Latai voices her frustration at “How Museums treat us as we’re dead,” meaning with no access to the people, and using a romanticized view of history. “I’m alive and live in this practice.” For Latai, activating, being active and present in the performance has power, can empower.

Latai discusses a recent collaboration she did, but I will not discuss details here, only responses of the facilitators and other participants.

Leigh Warren shares how he was part of an exercise where the group of dancers had to look back and explore their past. This action of going back and tracing your lineage brings an integrity to the work, which discusses indigenous identity.

There is digression wherein the definition of the word “Indigenous” may be inappropriate, but Simon states it simply means belonging to a place, while Vicki opines that it’s not a slur, as much as it is a fact. Latai also affirms that “indigenous” is a scientific term, meaning the people from the place of origin, used in a “Land-based culture where place and person are not separate and are indeed one thing.”

Simon adds, “Hang on, we all live here. Things are changing all the time and we struggle with all these things that are changing.”

Doris points out that it seems to her that the contemporary aspect is a Western aspect, perhaps a Western perspective? To which Latai replies that it doesn’t make the perspective non-Tongan. This inspires a discussion of tradition as a practice of the cultural context.
“The rituals of today will someday become a Tradition.”

“But a point of difference must be found somewhere,” Vicki reminds.

Fitri shares that she was born in a generation without a strong cultural background and when she gets involved with traditions, she doesn’t feel she has a problem engaging with different traditions, though she does feel that it isn’t necessary. This meeting is good for her to engage with other traditional and non- traditional practices. Dance is not just about physical movement but all kinds of ideas and concepts. Her parents taught her how to walk but not how to live, she learned to live by herself.

Jerome also shares that he has a very difficult time to explain Malaysian culture, mainly because he came from a broken family, and grew up with Chinese traditions of his mother and none of the Malay traditions of his father. People ask him if he know indigenous Malaysian art or music forms and are very disappointed if he doesn’t.

Latai discusses how “We’ve become quite obsessive about preservation,” and says dances that were performed traditionally should only be preserved if they still hold the same function that they had originally. Artists are meant to interpret these traditions and even keep it alive in multiple forms. Maintaining tradition necessarily asks, “Why does this dance exist?”
“There’s no point in passing on the same tradition when its original purpose doesn’t exist anymore.”

Vicki shares how she did a work called My Right Foot Your Right Foot, which used a traditional
spearing dance that was performed traditionally to teach the youth how to spear a fish. Today, this work is performed for tourists who will give the dancers money to buy fish in the supermarket. The function of the dance is still survival and a great example as to how the tradition should be passed on.

With this, Margie calls us to take a lunch break, as it was already almost 2pm.

(Blogger’s Note: This will be the only blog entry that will be this detailed. Funnily enough, it is the first one, and I realized I couldn’t keep up with the stream of ideas of the next sessions. This is not to say that the others did not offer up topics that weren’t as interesting as in Latai’s introduction, just that I need to consolidate everything else if I want to be more up-to-date with the blogging 🙂 Thanks and cheers, Joelle)

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