An unusual invitation: quit the urban jungle for an immersive experience in an invented forest. Dancers and visitors alike connected to each other for a brief, enchanted moment.
The invitation is unusual: quit the urban jungle for an immersive experience in an invented forest. Time is suspended. Artists and visitors alike are connected to the heart of a machine that intensifies the possibilities of the body for a brief, enchanted moment.
64 pieces of bamboo suspended by cords from a copper disc pierced with holes. A living sculpture that determines the contours of new territory to share. Invited to plunge into this conjured forest, the audience reflects, responds and wanders round this highly sensitive machine. Textures and sounds from this bit of nature restored then act on the senses, unfolding in tune to the movements of the participants. A Canadian choreographer born and raised in Malaysia, Lee Su-Feh is accompanied by thoughtful artists for this interactive reflection on place and belonging.* A playful yet also meditative experience, the sculpture is both robust and fragile, like the human body itself.
Produced by battery opera performance
Concept and direction Lee Su-Feh
Space design Jesse Garlick
Development and construction Justine Chambers + Jesse Garlick + Lee Su-Feh
Guest artists Justine A. Chambers + Natalie Tin Yin + Adam Kinner + Zab Maboungou + Alessandro Sciarroni + Brian Solomon + Peter Trosztmer
Co-produced by Festival TransAmériques
Presented in association with Agora de la danse
Written by Diane Jean
Translated by Neil Kroetsch
Premiered at Festival TransAmériques, Montreal, on June 1, 2017
Lee Su-Feh (Vancouver) battery opera performance
The choreographer, dancer and teacher Lee Su-Feh has been exploring the human body for the past three decades, viewing it as a land rich in stories and rituals.
Born in Malaysia, she lived in Indonesia, Paris and London before settling in Vancouver in 1988. Trained in contemporary dance and in Chinese martial arts, she has developed a somatic approach to dance greatly influenced by her study of qi gong and Taoism. Her piece Gecko Eats Fly received the “Jeune Auteur” award at the Rencontres Chorégraphiques Internationales de Seine-St-Denis in 1998.
She has collaborated with the directors Marc Diamond, Donna Spencer, Steven Hill and with choreographers David McIntosh and Benoît Lachambre, with whom she explored the energy of the body and its spatial trajectory in Body-Scan (FTA, 2009). Her solo The Whole Beast won a BOH Cameronian Arts Award of Malaysia in 2012, and she also received an Isadora Award and a Lola Award for her contribution to contemporary dance in Vancouver.
Founded in Vancouver in 1995 by Lee Su-Feh and the multidisciplinary artist David McIntosh, the battery opera performance presents multidisciplinary projects that question the body and its habits and memories.
A mélange of dance, theatre, happenings and performance art, their shows leave lots of room for the unexpected. Audience participation is encouraged, and the dances often take place in unusual venues; Lives Were Around Me (2009) in the streets of Vancouver, M/Hotel (2011) in hotel rooms. The company tested an early version of the Dance Machine at the 2014 Dancing on the Edge festival in Vancouver.
The “machine” in question is a kinetic sculpture, and in this installation you and other artists are in movement, transforming it and us. The audience moves both inside and around this structure as they please. How does the performance evolve over time?
I don’t know what’s going to happen! There is a chaotic aspect to this sculpture; it can’t really be controlled. Chaos exists within us and in nature, and I feel compelled to create and consort with chaos. How do we relate to the audience in an environment that we cannot control? When we tested the sculpture at the Vancouver contemporary dance festival Dancing on the Edge, spectators chose whether to watch or to participate.
If you decide to step into the machine, there are tasks to share; knots to untie. Forms change shape, and artists and audience can transform configurations as they wish. They can also relax, observe the evolving shapes, or listen to the sounds emitted by the bamboo. We wanted to stimulate sensations among spectators, and to engage in a dialogue with them so that the machine becomes a site for exchanging ideas. I hope we have managed to create an environment that is not simply a performance venue where people “consume” a cultural event.
Yet the idea of a “machine” evokes something that is unchanging, something indestructible and inhuman.
There is a prevalent idea that a machine has a motor powered by an external force, but a machine, by definition, is simply a device that helps us perform a task, extends the possibilities of the body. Our current experience of machines is linked to the industrial revolution and the resultant colonial expansion: a sense that a machine is, as you say, unchanging, indestructible and inhuman.
But I wonder if there isn’t another way to think about machines. After all, they are designed and made by humans, and thus linked to the history of humanity. I am curious about a machine that can respond to the complex curves and rhythms of the world, instead of imposing an inhuman logic upon it.
You arrived at this “non-performance” after thinking about how to engage the spectator. What sort of questioning did that generate?
If dance is not a performance, then what is it? How can we dance not for the audience but with the audience. Can we dance without relying on imposed codes? The idea for this project came to me in 2009 when I was thinking about the relationship between bodies and objects, between the human and the material, the energetic relationship between the body, objects and matter. That led us to create this sculpture, which is very strong yet also very fragile, like the human body. In fact, I think of it as a representation of MY body, with all its concerns and limitations. It is an invitation to open up to a greater awareness of the strengths and limits of our bodies and the bodies of others.
The body is also a powerful metaphor for the earth; can we be better attuned to the earth? I find that notion of territory very important, and I want to better understand how First Nations relate to the land, to territory. Even when growing up and living in Malaysia, I never had a feeling of being connected to that territory. I have now lived longer in Canada than in Malaysia, yet that question of belonging is always present. In our capitalist world, it is inevitably linked to possession. We belong to this earth because we own it. But the writer and thinker Dr Glen Coulthard (Yellowknives Dene) said, “Land is a relationship based on our obligations to others, and to the other-than-human relations that constitute the land itself”. I have been thinking a lot about this and have adopted it as a manifesto for my life and my art.
What type of relation would you like to develop with those who come to see the piece?
I want a relationship where I am a subject, not simply an object. No matter what type of dance you do, even dance that is more socially accessible, the body is always engaged, the body is always political. When you are in physical contact with another person, it is already something political.
In the history of Canada, as in other places, dance has been banned as a way to control people – the sun dance ceremony, as well as the potlatches of the west coast were long forbidden under the Indian Act of 1885, and I think that was because, whether consciously or not, it was seen as a source of great power.
The act of dancing is an act of sovereignty, and preventing the body from expressing itself means in some way preventing the people from becoming autonomous, from being a sovereign power. One must be autonomous oneself in order to be able to engage with another human being.
“The Whole Beast makes a strong, lasting impression that will leave you certain a little discomfort can sometimes feel just right.”
Courtney Chu, The Peak, 2008-10-20, about The Whole Beast
“There is a shocking sequence in the show that provides one of the strongest images to hit any local dance stage this year.”
Janet Smith, Straight.com, 2008-10-15, about The Whole Beast
« Faire qu’un spectacle dépasse l’expérience visuelle, émotionnelle et esthétique pour devenir une aventure kinesthésique et sensorielle est un défi que peu de chorégraphes osent se donner et que Benoit Lachambre relève avec brio. »
Fabienne Cabado, Voir, 2009-05-28, about Body-Scan
« L’expérience est inusitée, esthétique, précise dans les détails comme une recette de grand chef. Écœurante. »
Brigitte Manolo, Dfdanse, 2012-03-19, about The Whole Beast