Dance Dance Dance 舞舞舞
As a dancer or an artist, it’s impossible to avoid being asked the question of ‘What does this mean?’
Kehua Li (Lico)：我们舞者之间可能在学术讨论时会问到这样的问题。但是我自己本身在跳舞的过程中，是不会考虑这个问题的。
We would probably address it when there’s like a seminar among dancers, but when I’m engaged in the act of dancing itself, the question would never cross my mind.
Standing from a viewer’s perspective, it’s like when people walk into a museum exhibition hall and see a painting, we tend to question the meaning behind the work, what was the artist trying to convey and so on.
我觉得只要人在创作，难免会将自己的主观意识形态夹杂在其中，因为你想要表达自己，想要传达信息给别人。创作过程开始从本能表达，转变成刻意输出 — 在怎样的环境下，创作什么样的作品，给特定的人群看，目的性会变得非常明确，无形中生成了一层障碍。这时难点可能就在于，我们要如何打破这层障碍，与别人建立深层的、超脱肉体的、精神层面的连接。所以我认为伟大的舞者和伟大的创作者是两条不同的路途，他们的追求和遇到的困难也都是不同的。
True, many are curious indeed, why do I move the way I do. It’s like asking a painter why a certain colour is applied, or a musician about the choice of chords and so on. In my personal view, I separate the act of dancing from the process of creation, also from everyday training and practice.
When I’m dancing, I don’t overly consider the ‘whys’; the movements are all instinctive. In that very moment, it evolves into the purest form of expression — the body, the mind and the entire surroundings, including the audience are all merged in sync, completely unified, erasing the need for anything verbal. All barriers to communication are shattered, you can even bond with strangers — it’s an inexplicably beautiful sensation. It doesn’t happen every time that I dance but yeah, art serves as a means of expression that transcends the constraints of language. When our minds are flooded with countless emotions and images that defy clear verbal descriptions, that’s where art comes in.
I believe that whenever and whoever engages in the creative process, escaping subjectivity is almost impossible, because essentially we want to express ourselves and convey messages to others. The creative process transitions from instinctive self-expression to intentional output – to create what type of work, within what kind of context, and for what kind of audience and so on.
When there’s a clear purpose, obstacles exist. How do we break through the obstacles in order to establish meaningful connections with others on a more profound and spiritual ground transcending the physical realm? I think there’s a fundamental difference lying in between the path of a great dancer and a great creator, each with their own pursuits and challenges.
AW：以色列的一位编舞家，Gaga的创始人奥哈德·纳哈林 (Ohad Naharin) 有说过，每个人都可以跳舞，没有任何技巧是完美的。跟你不一样的是，纳哈林先生在二十二岁时才接触舞蹈，但你从三四岁就已经开始系统地接受舞蹈的教学和训练。在你个人心中你觉得怎样的舞者才能称得上好的舞者呢？
Ohad Naharin, an Israeli choreographer, who’s the creator of Gaga, once said that everyone and anyone can dance, there’s no such thing as perfect dance technique. Mr. Naharin did not start dancing until the age of 22, unlike yourself, who had gone through rigorous training and dance education since you were 3 or 4. Personally, how do you define a great dancer?
After I left Beijing Dance / LDTX1, Israel was my first stop, where I spent two weeks at Gaga’s training camp. I believe the answer to your question really depends on the context. For instance, if you are part of a dance company, your ability to quickly adapt and execute choreographic ideas and demands is crucial.
On the other hand, in the case of independent dancers, even without formal dance training when they were young, or sufficient physical skills and techniques, I still deeply appreciate their works and movements. Watching their performances is calming, somehow I can synchronise with their every rise and fall, like I’m dancing alongside them, even when I stay rooted in one place.
Similarly, some dancers who specialise in performing traditional or indigenous dancing, perhaps due to their background or family influence, they possess innate instincts and radiate a profound sense of vitality, and their dances carry a remarkable emotional power. While they may be categorised as different types of dancers, in my opinion, as long as you are able to establish some form of meaningful connection with others via your movements, you are more than just a great dancer already.
At the beginning of the interview you mentioned that it took you a long while to adjust and familiarise yourself with contemporary dance at LDTX, would you say that was the biggest hurdle that you had to overcome in your career so far?
Not exactly. True, LDTX wasn’t easy at first and somehow I survived. The current difficulties stem from something different entirely… Like um, just as I began to enjoy my journeys and explore international collaborations, this sudden halt caused by the pandemic forced me to remain very stagnant, even when I tried to settle, I came to the realisation that there is an ongoing struggle to discover a place where I genuinely fit in. This confusion has left me without a clear sense of direction, with extremely limited opportunities to engage with people and the outside world. It feels as though I’m trapped within a confined house, simultaneously enclosed by an imposing iron cage that blocks all signals coming in and out.
Perhaps the reason for this also lies in the fact that I am no longer just a dancer. Taking on the roles of choreographer and tutor, with online teachings and everything, striving to connect with a broader audience through a screen. During this process it takes a tremendous amount of effort for me to convey and explain to people the art of dance using words, it’s extremely challenging even though it has unintentionally honed various aspects of my abilities. Like I recently worked as a choreographer in director Cao Dun’s new film Heroes of Dunhuang2, my role had to constantly shift in order to coordinate with musicians, lighting technicians, costume designers, actors and so on.
On top of it, Consciousness and Body is a new system of curriculum that I’m trying to develop, it’s my attempt to delve into the intricate interaction between conscious thoughts and intuitive bodily movement, through technical training and engagement of the mind, I hope to continuously refine the understanding of our body structure and logical thinking. With every new attempt, my identity as a dancer has definitely evolved beyond.. The sheer delight I once found in dancing has now become intertwined with new beginnings and challenges, resulting in magnificent chaos.
“As time passes, people, objects, they all increasingly become blurry and distant in our minds.”
You just mentioned choreography and tutoring, shall we talk about the dance choreography that you did for As Four3?
KL：《四相》是由四部舞蹈作品组成，四个风格，呈现四种不同的状态。我在其中的作品叫《红移·遗忘曲线》，是一部二十八分钟，半台的编舞作品。我从很久以前就一直有一个感觉，每当回望我的过去，我感觉所有事情都离我十分遥远，就好像今天这两个小时的对谈，从回顾三岁时到今天，我跟你讲的很多过去我都不确定到底是真的还是假的 — 我脑中的所有，我所相信的一切，究竟是我自身的记忆，还是别人灌输给我的。“红移”这个概念，实际上是物理学和天文学的一个名词，它描述的是天体正在往远离观测者的方向移动，它发出的光波波长变长，信号频率降低，从而在光谱上呈现出向红色方向移动的现象。就好像是在黑夜中一辆警车从你面前驶过，声音越来越远，视觉，视角都越来越模糊，这个状态就跟我刚描述的感觉很像。好多记忆和我对过往的一些印象，许多画面，都并不完整，似真亦假，我只能用我自己的语言，努力地把所有碎片拼凑在一起述说给别人听。
As Four consists of four pieces of dance performance, each showcasing a different style and portraying distinctive states. My part within is a half-hour choreography work titled Redshift: The Forgetting Curve （2022）. For the longest time, I’ve grappled with the notion, the feeling, that when I reflect upon my past, everything appears so distant and so elusive. Like, we’ve been talking for almost two hours now, recalling my childhood up to today, I’m not even sure if those memories are real or not — all these memories, these things that I believed happened, they all left me with this feeling of uncertainty, of whether they are genuinely my own or impressions imposed upon me by others.
Redshift draws inspiration from a concept in physics and astronomy, describing the phenomenon where celestial bodies move away from an observer, causing their emitted light waves to elongate, causing a decrease in signal frequency and a visual shift towards the red end of the spectrum. It’s like a police car passing by in the darkness, its sound fading into the distance, while the visual blurs gradually. This sensation kind of illustrates the feelings I just described. Many memories and impressions from the past feel incomplete, like something was absent, in a way that they echo the truth but at the same time appear to be illusions. I can only strive to employ my own language to piece all these fragments together and tell my story.
One thing noteworthy is that the choreography for this piece began in March 2022. Over the course of the next 6 months, due to various pandemic-related restrictions, the production also had to be divided into four stages. The rehearsal time I had for each stage was rather brief, typically lasting only one to two weeks, with maybe only three hours a day. Interestingly, this fragmentation and assembly align with the concept of the entire work, everything remains fractured and assembled, to the extent that even the performance of As Four was scheduled to two separate phases.
Redshift was born under such circumstances, and it is precisely through these circumstances that its value emerged. It is not meant to send out any clear message but rather depicts the current state, nothing more. The current social environment I find myself in has brought about this fragmented and disjointed state. All my times and memories, and what’s being presented on stage, are all fragmented and somewhat shattered.
The performance unfolds in a continuous sequence of abrupt transitions, which I think might have confused the audience. Interestingly enough, the feedback I received from the audiences was that, despite the challenges posed by the rapid changes in the scenes, one or two exceptionally vivid images were implanted in their minds. These images replay in the audiences’ minds, leaving an impression and creating a unique significance for them. I guess that’s also a part of the Redshift idea. As time passes, people, objects, they all increasingly become blurry and distant in our minds. When we try to grasp them, only one or two images linger, and we tend to consider that’s the past we once lived through. This is perhaps what I meant by the ‘forgetting curve’, even if only sporadic swells can remain on the coastline after the crashing of the ocean waves, they are probably the most precious of what we can hope for.
AW：现居德国的美籍编舞家威廉·佛塞 (William Forsythe)，之前在一篇访谈里将舞蹈的事业 (career)，与舞蹈的人生 (life)，做了一个区分。你是怎么看待舞蹈的呢，在现阶段对你来说，她是事业还是人生？
William Forsythe once drew a line between a dance career and a danced life, which one do you incline more towards at the current stage?
Honestly I don’t know, if I’ll have a forever lifelong connection with dance. Looking back now, there are regrets, to some extent. When you make up your mind to do one thing, it practically means that you have to forgo other options right? Like I couldn’t do any other sports because I was afraid of getting injured since I started dancing. I guess it’s just me being stubborn, once I decided I was going to dance I kind of just never looked the other way, I don’t even know how much time of my life I have actually dedicated to it.
When comparing myself with other teenagers growing up, I think somewhere deep down I do feel like I’ve lost out on just being a teenager, I just never get to experience what they once did — missteps, karaoke, clubs, stupid teenager stuff you know. So when you said if dance was going to be my life or just my career, I’m not sure myself either. Right now, I’m in the most uncertain and sombre phase of my life, the colours are just a bit dull you know.
Mr. Forsythe is already a master figure in the dance industry, but it looks like he occasionally ventures beyond dance, exploring installation art, electronic music, and engaging in activities that may not be directly related to dance. There’s no way for me to know his thoughts exactly, but I do hope that one day I can meet him and ask him about the relationship between dance and life, whether it’s going to be a lifetime thing, perhaps he can provide some crazy insights for younger people like me.
Ching-Ying Chien4, a Taiwanese dancer, once said that she dedicated 80% of her time to dance, she felt that she didn’t even know too much about any other things any more. It’s quite similar to what you just described.
I ask myself this question sometimes, do I really want to continue dancing or pursue related work for the remainder of my life. Like, I enjoy painting and I have a massive interest in food as well! I love travelling and being on the road like I told you. Sometimes I even picture myself holding a tray, experiencing a completely different life. Perhaps I could sail to a solitary island and become a rancher, surrounded by all kinds of animals. My mind is loaded with all these whimsical ideas, envisioning some kind of a life far removed from the topics of dance. I genuinely think that life holds countless possibilities with tons of options, and it’s never too late to try something new.
1. BeijingDance / LDTX (雷动天下现代舞团) is a prominent dance company based in Beijing founded in 2005 by Willy Tsao and Hanzhong Li. Dynamic and versatile, the company combines elements of traditional Chinese culture with innovative choreography and diverse artistic collaborations. The performances are often powerful and thought-provoking, exploring social, cultural, and human experiences.
2. Heroes of Dunhuang《敦煌英雄》is an upcoming movie directed by Cao Dun (曹盾) and screenplay by Ma Boyong (马伯庸), based on the historical events of Dunhuang during the Tang Dynasty.
3. As Four《四相》 is a collection of four contemporary dance works directed and produced by Xiexin Dance Theatre, choreographed by four individual choreographers respectively, Kehua Li included, premiered at the Grand Theater of Shanghai International Dance Center (上海国际舞蹈中心剧场) in 2022.
4. Ching-Ying Chien (简晶莹) is a Taiwanese choreographer and dancer, she has worked with Akram Khan Company since 2023 and James Thierrée since 2020.
The original interview was conducted in Mandarin Chinese by Axel Wang on 17 December 2022, the epilogue was conducted on 8 March 2023 mostly in Mandarin Chinese and partially in English. The above conversation has been condensed, edited and translated accordingly. The title of the chapter is in reference to the book written by Haruki Murakami, originally published in 1988.
Introduction, Editor & Design: Axel Wang
Photography: All images are courtesy of Kehua Li (Lico)
Special Thanks: Harry Wang