Brian Carey Chung (Artistic Director of Collective Body/DANCELAB and Peridance faculty member) answers questions about his class, his choreography, and his upcoming workshop at Peridance!
Workshop Dates & Times:
Apr 26, 2010 - Apr 30, 2010; Mon - Fri
Monday/Wednesday/Friday: 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM
Tuesday/Thursday: 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM
1. You teach Contemporary Ballet at Peridance Monday through Friday, how do you define contemporary ballet technique?
Contemporary ballet technique is an investigation of ballet given what we now know about the sciences, the body, the progression of other art forms, and the interests, desires, and inclinations of peoples living in our time. I learned the other day that in quantum mechanics scientists have discovered that all living things undulate. If we think on that for a few seconds, we come to an additional conclusion that inanimate things also undulate—like light, the tides, and earthquakes, for example...How fascinating to know that as humans our spines also undulate. What would it be like to discover and explore this within a ballet context? How would undulating in ballet class change the movement quality of the spine? Would it facilitate greater ease and enhance rhythm, thus affecting music? Could it bring into purview the aesthetic order of things? I bring that sort of thinking and activity to the classroom.
Remember also, that classical ballet was, in its time, contemporary. It is important to push our art form, as the painters, composers and poets have always done. Otherwise, we are doomed to recapitulation. That by itself is stagnation of the art form.
2. What do you think is the benefit of taking a contemporary ballet class instead of a classical ballet or modern class?
It is beneficial for anyone interested in the profession to explore all forms of dance. Remember the goal is to communicate. The better you are at communicating (meaning the mastery of language), the better you are at reaching the person(s) you are attempting to persuade. Any mastery of nuance in a language is good. I am of course assuming that Dance with a capital "D" is one language with certain dialects. For example, if a particular dancer has any real desire to create new art within the ballet context, the dancer should take a ballet class from someone doing something new with the technique. The old rules/ideas still apply, but there are new ones as well. For instance, I come from the school of thought that there is no right or wrong in art, just beautiful and ugly. Both are necessary. In ballet, there seems to be a lot of talk still about right and wrong. Perhaps it would be more to the point to say that certain things work scientifically and here is why. The earth was thought to be flat once, but in fact, it is spherical. Science evolves, so should our dance.... Further, there are instances where "right" (or one's understanding of right) can be refuted. For example, the idea that one must breathe as though one were in a corset. For the modern mover who must use her torso in its full range and beyond, restriction to a corset is not always preferable. It is more important that the dancer know that corset breathing is one possibility. He should know it well; however, it is important for the dancer to understand that corset breathing is not the only possibility/image. There are other ways to breathe. Take for example the methods that the yogis have developed…The new ballet artist must find the best method of breathing (the way any good actor does) that works for a given artistic creation, which must be palatable to our current sensibilities with regard to movement.
3. You have worked with some of the most renowned choreographers in contemporary ballet (Alonzo King, Karole Armitage, Dwight Rhoden/Desmond Richardson). How have those choreographers influenced your approach to choreography?
I owe much to all the choreographers you have mentioned. As a dancer, they helped to shape who I have become. I do owe perhaps the greatest debt to Alonzo King. I was already a thinker and doer, even as a young child living in Jamaica, but he really opened my eyes to dance. He gave me the permission to think outside the box as a dancer, keeping art making at the forefront of my activities and decisions. I started very late. I was nineteen when I took my first ballet class. At twenty-five, I was in his company. He put a lot of faith in me when others did not. He saw something they did not, and for that, I will always be grateful. Dwight, Desmond, and Karole became interested in me after I was fully formed. In fact, I was thirty-seven when I first danced with Complexions and Armitage.
Regarding choreography, a dancer learns a little about choreography just by being near the master. However, there is still much to be said for inherent gifts, aptitudes, and proclivities. I was only six months into dancing when I created my first choreographic piece. A horrid little number, but still the need to say something on my own terms was there. I am in the business of creating, because I have a desire to reach out of my own selfish existence and hold you.
4. You have a BS in Accounting and a MFA in Creative Writing. Do you think it is important for dancers and choreographers to be well educated and explore different areas of study outside of dance?
Education is the gymnasium of the mind. A dancer's professional life is short, and a smart dancer prepares for this. We cannot all be directors, teachers, and choreographers. Most choreographers seek well-rounded individuals for their companies. Dance is difficult in that people are so impressed by the physical. They greatly admire the body. However, what good is awe without a deep understanding of the mysteries? The true artist always brings us closer to the existential, to the angst and joys of being, the bittersweet closeness of annihilation that reminds us how lucky we are to be alive. The artist helps us to remember the truths of the great themes: elevating the physical to the spiritual. This is where a telepathic communion might begin between artist and viewer. The artist, who is responsible for the communication involved, must have a rich inner-life, and study brings riches to those who arduously search in the dark the mines of the great thinkers.
The mind is the driver, not the body. A strong mind makes a strong dancer, thus a powerful human being.5. How have your academic endeavors changed you as a performer or as a choreographer?
We are changed by simply working hard at everything we do, by actively investigating and introspecting, being conscientious, and not taking time and art for granted. I have always been someone interested in ideas, perspectives, cause and effect.... I am always reading, writing, and creating. I love to share what I discover with others.... My academic endeavors have put bread on the table when I was in between dance work. Therefore, if for that reason alone, they have saved me on several occasions. For instance, now that I am a choreographer and poet, I have no board of directors, no government funding, and no wealthy donors that will fund an ensemble of dancers year-round. I work for a media firm and I teach seven ballet classes per week at Peridance and DNA and private Gyrotonic sessions. In addition, I am a bartender a couple of nights a week. I try to get dancers in the studio once or twice a week so that my choreographic muscles can stay in shape. When I get home about nine or ten at night, I sometimes write or edit a poem. Administrative duties for the company and my personal life are time consuming. I have no time to do anything else. My life is completely given over to making art. I lost my last partner due to this. Nothing truly meaningful and lasting can come without pain and sacrifice. The Greeks teach us this, and along with them, the Zoroastrian warrior-kings, Egyptians, Chinese, Christians, samurai poets, the great sculptors, musicians...I believe it was Pushkin who said of the poet/artist, "thou art a king, and kings must live alone."I feel that to be truly an artist, there is a thread of loneliness that pervades one’s life. Sad, but true, and one simply has to accept and move on, or choose another path. Either way suffering is involved. Why not do the thing that you secretly love the most?
6. This is your first week-long workshop at Peridance. After five days of working with you, what qualities or knowledge do you hope the students gain from the experience?
I hope to help the dancers to find ways/access methods to help themselves. That can come in as many forms as there are dancers. The dancer will be challenged to move beyond physical and mental limitations--to leap out of fear and into a place of genuine courage, motivated by a prepossessed, or newly discovered, purpose and love. I hope that the dancers will discover a new thing or two about their own dancing/commitment/level of execution, because I will ask these of them in the choreographed movements and building of phrases. They will be accessing formal movement in informal ways and informal movement in formal ways, and so quality will increase with practice, especially after five days. I can say to a dancer, for instance, to dance like you are on fire, but the dancer must then know what fire is. His imagination must be so acute, alive, and willing in the qualities of fire, that the cliché becomes transformed into something profoundly not cliché, akin to fire. You can lead a horse to water....In the end, if I quench a few thirsts, I will have been of some use.