#danceless – Reaching Liberation Through Challenges
Text: Catherine Yau
“When her face is flushing, she becomes free.”
Ong Yong Lock (Lock), Artistic Director of Unlock Dancing Plaza, recalls an occasion when he led a group of married women in a #danceless workshop at an arts festival in South Korea. It was a poignant moment when the participant was at her most authentic and liberated self.
“They were not able to be authentic at the start because of their own burdens. The preconceived notions were to feature lithe figures with beautiful hand movements, and being elegant. Therefore, they felt a bit awkward during some floor works.”
In addition to running and jumping, Lock asked them to punch a plastic bag floating in the air during the workshop. Seemingly an easy task, Lock also asked that their lower body movements be limited and that the plastic bag cannot touch the floor under any condition.
“She (one of the participants) started to find it difficult, and people around her started to cheer: ‘Don’t give up!’, ‘Keep it up, just ten more seconds to go!’. Her emotions became intense, and that was the most authentic and compelling moment.” Lock added: “When faced with challenges, you alone know the strength you have summoned. However, when you could see and feel how others are making an effort with you together, you will clench your fists hard.” This is the exact moment when the participant faces the truest self and finds freedom.
Fueled by the aspiration in recent years to introduce the idea of #danceless into the community, the public participation project with the same name was conceived accordingly.
It all started when Lock and two artists not related to dance (SunFool, pop-up artist and lighting designer; and Andy Ng Wai Shek, theatre artist) explored together on experiments that mobilise the body through different art forms. This experiment through concerted efforts with alternative artists is further expanded by Lock to include the general public with no art or stage experiences before. Lock said, “Many participants have no stage experience, and I explicitly wish to capture their quality of rawness. I like this refreshing state of theirs, being totally authentic and natural.”
Lock is specific about putting the #danceless in theatre. This arrangement gives the participants the first taste of spotlight and fulfills Lock’s desire to interact with the audience. Furthermore, they could access and experience his work in person by being within the work itself. Lock also wishes to broaden the audience’s perception on stage and theatre: “It will be great to expand the concept of theatre being an art form exclusive to professionals only, so that the theatre is not limited to being some sort of refined art. The stage or theatre is a place where the public could participate, enjoy and exchange ideas with each other.”
Seven different works were developed through #danceless since its inception in 2015. Lock was invited to hold local workshops in many countries and regions (including Hungary, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and China). The creative collaborations with local people resulted in more than twenty performances with a variety of participants including seniors in their 60s and 70s, teenagers, housewives, and professionals.
Thanks to the Jockey Club New Arts Power, #danceless will make its debut in Hong Kong. The diversity of participants is greater than ever with eight community workshops in collaboration with six local organisations. Joining the workshops are arts therapy students and graduates, social workers, seniors, ethnic minorities, rehabilitated offenders and their volunteers, as well as cancer patients with their family members and caregivers.
Participants first joined two sessions of two-hour workshop as they collaborate with Lock in the creative process. Towards the end, the participants may unite with professional dancers to perform on stage. Lock explained his approach in building the work: “During the workshop, I will breakdown the performance-related elements for the participants to experience and understand, followed by choreography.”
In Footprint, one of the Hong Kong performances, the foot leaving imprints in different years becomes the theme. Foot movements connect the numbers which become a fundamental element in positioning. In a game held at the workshop, for example, Lock would invite a participant to “dial a number” on a 3×3 keypad: “How do you get to the second digit after the first digit? How about the third and fourth? How do you get to the next digit without leaving the first one? In what ways do you jump or turn?” Lock will continue to remind the participants on ways to using their feet. To fully grasp the potential and possibilities of the feet, Lock even invited them to try moving their bodies using only their feet while lying on the floor. With everyone dancing on their feet through innovation and combined with Lock’s choreography, Footprint becomes a performance about years and footprints that is both relevant and unique to this specific group of participants.
When asked about the difficulties encountered in projects with public participation, Lock was candid in his reply: “It is indeed quite difficult!” There is, of course, the challenge of making a collaboration work within a very short time among a group of new friends with no previous stage experiences. What he found most difficult was to “make the work simple and straight forward while reaching a certain philosophical level, and to make connections with people’s most fundamental needs or perceptions”. These are the subjects that interest Lock the most: “These motivate me to move towards action.”
In this context, Lock is perhaps not unlike the #danceless participants in gradually attaining liberation through facing challenges with honesty.