Performers and practitioners from Middlesex University’s Centre for Research into Creation in the Performing Arts, ResCen, have just celebrated the first phase of a major international project, ‘Danscross’.
‘Danscross’ is unique in size and scope – the project will extend over the next four years. Danscross centres on collaboration between dance professionals from the Beijing Dance Academy and other institutions in China and ResCen dance practitioners.
The Beijing Dance Academy is one of biggest in China if not the world – whilst a typical conservatoire may have around 400 students, BDA has over 2000 students. BDA graduates go on to work in many other creative teaching institutions in China.
In Danscross, ResCen practitioners worked with Chinese counterparts from BDA, exploring responses to the theme ‘Dancing in a Shaking World’. This theme focuses the artists’ attention on climate change,
natural disasters and a range of other issues which affect us all.
Danscross gives talented versatile dancers and choreographers the opportunity to work together, responding to the challenge of the theme. This first phase of Danscross focused on contemporary dance and classical Chinese and folk dance traditions. Each choreographer worked with dancers over 12 days to produce a 10 minute performance. Through their collaboration, choreographers and dancers gained more awareness about how creative processes and performances can be agents of change, and about ways in which the arts can reflect and offer new ways to understand an increasingly complex world.
Head of ResCen Professor Chris Bannerman and colleagues observed the development of choreography and dance sequences, which culminated in performances held over three days at Beijing’s Poly Theatre.
Over £100,000 had been contributed by the Chinese to this major performance, which took place in this major venue. Performances and interviews with project partners were also screened on Chinese TV news and one report referred to the project’s status in China as ‘the most important dance event for 30 years’.
Professor Bannerman commented: “It was fascinating to see the differences in how Western and Chinese choreographers worked. The Chinese tradition tends to be more structured, with choreographers leading and showing performers what’s required – working with them towards a set objective. The Western approach can be more collaborative - the choreographer will devise works with the dancers and performers, and a performance gradually evolves through the collaboration. Practitioners were free to use whichever approach they preferred but for many of our Chinese colleagues, the collaborative approach was a completely new way of working”.
He said: “Danscross has delivered new knowledge and understanding about the creative
processes. We’ve seen academics and choreographers working together for first time in China and we’ve been able to follow their development and the academics’ commentary on the artistic process through a blog, which we’ve set up for the first time. It’s given us real insight into how choreography is developed in intercultural contexts”.
“We saw real openness and dialogue during the creative process...it’s been fantastic to see
how quickly the differences, and the commonalities became apparent during the collaboration”, he concluded.
ResCen’s work has pioneered a focus on the relationship between creator and performer. The Centre has an established track record working with artists, performers and academics.
The next creative phase of Danscross will involve working with colleagues from Singapore as well as China, and plans may include physical theatre as well as dance. Performance dates at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre, London and other European venues are under discussion.