beyond performance and control
an introduction to the written component of figures;
This project began not as a goal-oriented endeavor but as an experiment in world-making. This thesis explicates the various decisions and ideas informing the creation of figures;, providing a rationale for how the evening of choreography interfaces with ideas of identity and Hong Kong’s nationalism. It offers context that highlights the moments of laughter, surprise, vulnerability, and support that helped us to connect to ourselves, each other, and different audience members. Ultimately, however, this examination of my historical influences, creative process, and theoretical frameworks aims to draw out the intangible, embodied knowledge cultivated through the experience I shared with my collaborators, taking stock of the significance imbued in these meanings.
The rope winds around your neck and down each arm, joining your hands together behind your back. It seems simple – flimsy, even, until the ends of the rope are pulled through the loop around your neck, twisting your wrists up towards your shoulders and pinning your arms to your side. You can move, but you can’t act. With every attempt to break free, you only succeed in tightening the coil around your throat. This is the Chinese five flower tie – predicament bondage at its finest.
Traditionally used on condemned prisoners, the five-flower tie serves as an entrance into a discussion on what it means to be bound - to a nation, to one's identity, to duty and honor, to family. The idea of being bound implies the possibility of untying and freedom, but a characteristic of this tie is that it does not allow for these possibilities. Once tied, the five flower knot is never untied: executed prisoners are cremated along with the rope binding them.
"Density obliterates figure-ground in the city, and in turn re-defines public-private spatial relationships. Perception of distance and time is distorted through compact networks of pedestrian infrastructure, public transport and natural topography in the urban landscape. Without a ground, there can be no figure either." - Adam Frampton, architect
“Home ground (in a colonial / colonized space) is foreign territory. And the effect of this impossible conjunction… is to constrict the throat – to prevent, therefore, the possibility of language, to erode meaning." - David Punter, postcolonial scholar
figures; navigates the continuous cycle of loss and mourning characteristic of a postcolonial society. It acknowledges the alienation of home ground and corrosion of meaning that Punter describes, but it also relies on embodied knowledge and kinesthetic empathy to generate new meaning. By building connections between people, figures; aims to redefine home as the spaces between people, the spaces and experiences we share with those we care for.
In performing figures;, my cast and I aimed to create a new representational contract where we may write our identities into being. Performance can be seen as the physical manifestation of habitus, and its power lies in the fact that it can create a real, tangible effect on the world. This effect is a creation of history that is then embodied as the performer responds reflexively to the environment’s response, and the process becomes a constant dialectic that continually renews both one’s understanding of oneself as well as how one is perceived or represented. The dialectic between the world as it is and the world as we wish it to be—the person we are and the person we wish to be—is what gives performance meaning, as it can be used as a tool of resistance and agency to the benefit of the individual.
The choreographic process allowed us to create a world simultaneously foreign and familiar, an environment full of anger and pain, comfort and strength. Embodying all the irony of a sardonic idealist, figures; embraces the contradictions, irrationality, and accidents that form our reality. Navigating this world with collaborators who were fully invested and feeling the tug of emotions stretched taunt between our bodies affirmed the power of this process-based approach - it was both healing and humbling. I may not have answered many of the historical and personal questions that started this process, but I found and fostered lasting bonds with my colleagues. The world we built in figures; provided a space for shared embodied understandings that gave us the strength to face our fears, mourn our losses, and recover a sense of self grounded in our connections to each other.