Backstage

Interview with Scarlet Yu

28 Aug 2013
Interview by Ah Fen
Photo by Scarlet Yu

da:ns Festival is back again with 10 days of dance that will inspire and lift your heart. We are especially interested in a dance piece that was conceptualized when the artists were separated physically by a long distance. We spoke to Scarlet Yu about this extraordinary journey with the co-choreographer-performer Ming Poon.

Scarlet Yu photo

“Two dancers, living across continents, contemplate a duet across space and time.”

The idea of a long-distance choreography is fascinating. How did the idea come about? What was the inspiration?

Ming and I met in Singapore some years ago. He approached me to do a duet, a duet about two dancers. He was very interested to know: What does a duet mean? What makes a duet (in life or in dance context)? What does it mean when two dancers dance in a close distance? Is it immediately perceived as a love or hate duet? We started to look deeper into this artificial relationship produced by dance: What is behind this artificial relationship? When does anencounter start? What is this ‘between’ of two bodies in the infinitesimal distance?

The title of the dance The infinitesimal distance between two bodiesbrings out the question of ‘distance’ which is often used to measure the degree of closeness between two bodies. And as we both live in different parts of the world and different time zones, we wondered: How are we going to start this duet? This condition made us start asking: What if this fact of long-distance actually serves as a condition for this duet instead of going against it? What would this long-distance relationship produce before we physically meet?

This is an unimaginable conceptualization process for a dance piece, as we conventionally think choreography involves experimenting body movements within the performance space. How long did you take to contemplate this piece with Ming Poon, before two of you finally came together to work on the physical part? Tell us more about this incredible journey.

For me, dance is always about the doing and communication with someone. Nowadays, the mode of our communication has provided more channels, but not necessarily more materials and actuals. Hence, while part of the communication or conceptualization was through virtual channels such as email, skype call, text message, the doing was still through a corporeal exchange. It was not a linear approach where we did the conceptualization through virtual channels and we stopped there when we physically met. We spent a lot of time in and off studio together; we had conversations, exchanged our own dance practices and our habit; we interwove all these different channels to communicate. To some extent, it caused us to blur the line between ‘work’ and ‘play’.

What happens when your bodies meet, touch, collide and coalescence, as you reach out to one another? Is there a collision and merging of your ideas, fantasies and emotions? Do your dance styles collide too? Or do they easily merge together?

Again, a stereotypical idea of distance frames a relationship, making us think that short distance means the merging of two into one. Instead of going back to stereotyping what a duet could mean, what was interesting for me was to stay away from that idea and to allow what the situation of encountering could reveal beyond the norm of absolute harmony. I discovered there was discomfort and negotiation. However, instead of turning ourselves away from it, we attempted to push the extreme of this situation and see the possibility of mutual co-existence.

In the beginning of the process, you connected through fragmented encounters such as emails and phone calls. Was technology an important factor in the creative process across continents?

Although we used technology to communicate, it wasn’t an important factor for the creation. It served more as a tool.

Did you and Ming Poon need to travel a lot to physically meet during the process? Did travelling create difficulty or did it add more substance to the choreography?

This year I travelled to Berlin where Ming lives, to continue the process for this duet. I think in some ways, the ‘travelling’ caused by our circumstance did not create a physical difficulty in a usual sense. For me, the idea of travelling in this collaboration manifests in different dimension, such as when we communicate a thought, it needs totravel to someone’s head. Or even then, when we did our first short duet in 2012, we both had to travel to a common place to conduct rehearsal, although we were living in the same city – Singapore. On the other hand, travelling is part of my practice since most of my collaborations are mainly outside of where I am based now – Hong Kong. It does create a nomadic sense of being, and this sense of travelling fosters a possibility for ‘encountering’ in various manners.

Having worked with artistes from both Hong Kong and Singapore, could you tell us the similarities and differences between the dance scenes of these two cities?

Each individual artist I encountered in Hong Kong or Singapore carries different qualities. By and large, I see that the artists in both cities are similarly concerned about and exploring their domestic issues with an international perspective.

With your experience and exposure in the local and international dance scenes, what would you like to see in the young and upcoming Singapore-based choreographers?

I am curious to see what the young and upcoming Singapore-based choreographers would play upon what they know and how they discover the unknown, and to be curious, critical, conversational, communicative and collaborative.

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The infinitesimal distance between two bodies runs for two nights on 11 and 12 Oct at Esplanade Theatre Studio. More information: www.dansfestival.com/2013/shift/infinitestimal-distance

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