Southeast Asian Choreolab 2016

Every year, during the annual Southeast Asian Choreolab, somebody tries to do too much.

This year, during his one-hour sharing session, Cambodian participant Noun Sovitou wanted the Choreolab participants to create movements on different levels, to learn the energy of martial arts, to share their ideas about religion, and to practise the way he breathes while dancing. The other participants were overwhelmed. During the lunch break that followed, Choreolab facilitator Akiko Kitamura spoke with Sovitou. By the end of their conversation, Sovitou agreed that he should have chosen one or two things to focus on. But he also still believed strongly in his original idea.

This encounter exemplifies the way the Southeast Asian Choreolab works. During this project, a group of emerging contemporary dancers from the ASEAN region comes to live and work at private arts centre Rimbun Dahan, 45 minutes outside Kuala Lumpur, for 9 days. The project is facilitated by an established contemporary dance choreographer. This year, Japanese choreographer Akiko Kitamura, who has recently made multidisciplinary collaborative work in Indonesia since disbanding her Japanese dance company Leni-Basso, guided the project with her quiet listening and supportive manner.

Each of the participants had a chance to share aspects of their own artistic practice with the group. Citra Pratiwi from Indonesia taught some classical Javanese dance, and encouraged the other participants to mash it up with hip hop. Bernice Lee from Singapore asked the participants?\men as well as women?\to imagine the bodily changes that happen during pregnancy, and observed how the participants improvised with this sensation. ?eHaste?f Sompong Leartvimolkasame from Thailand taught the group a b-boy step called ?ethreading?f, transformed into a group exercise. The participants held hands and wound themselves into tighter and tighter knots, their concentration mixed with gales of laughter.

Akiko Kitamura also introduced the group to some of her own artistic practice: energising the body using techniques from martial arts. But most of her focus was on enabling the participants to create their own work. In groups of two, the choreographers spent a week working on creatively introducing their partners. The resulting duets were performed in an informal showing at the end of the Choreolab. Throughout the process, Akiko gently questioned the participants about their decisions. If they got stuck, she prompted them in new directions.

At the end of the project, the group returned to their eight countries of origin, having made firm new friendships which will benefit them throughout their artistic careers. They also gained new insights into the diversity of creative practices in contemporary dance, and an understanding of the international context of their own work. Perhaps most importantly, they had been given the chance to try something new, and even to fail, in a friendly, supportive environment, dedicated to enhancing their artistic lives.

Comments by Bilqis Hijjas, president of MyDance Alliance and organiser of the Southeast Asian Choreolab

During my stay at Rimbun Dahan for the Choreolab, I gave the participants the task to rely on their own sense and judgement in terms of choreography and structuring to create an informal presentation. Along with their respective partners, they were to perform a presentation of each other.

The ?gindividual?h itself is very interesting material from which to discover many distinct angles. Their diverse backgrounds made the situation all the more rich and unique, as there is not so much common ground for collaboration just yet.

Cultural differences necessitate dialogue and deep communication, friction notwithstanding, in order to locate something new. Varied awareness and even reference to dance vocabulary requires the sharing of ideas, no matter how unexpected or contentious they may be. This is what dance creation is all about, finding never-before-thought commonalities to coexist with a wide range of people.

Choreolab is one of the most exciting dance programmes in Southeast Asia that brushes and sharpens the ability to think about dance seriously in a dynamic and relaxed natural environment. This is in no small part due to the personal passion and impressive initiative of Bilqis Hijjas. The closeness between her and the participants is palpable. The respect shown to each individual ensures that their potential is fully stretched.

Comments by Akiko Kitamura, Japanese choreographer and facilitator of the Southeast Asian Choreolab 2016

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