That ch*nk in y/our armour
at The Fluid Festival, October 18 & 20, DJD Dance Studio
How do you transform an idea into physical language?
The answer to that question, Pam Tzeng‘s That ch*nk in y/our armour, had its world premiere at the CanAsian International Dance Festival in late September, before Calgary native Tzeng brings it home to present as the opening night show of the 2018 Fluid Festival, where it is being presented Oct 18 and 20, in tandem with Mark Ikeda and Richard Lee’s new show, Know the Rules, Win the Game, at the DJD Dance Centre.
The new piece, two years in the making, was the result of a commission by Toronto’s Denise Fujiwara, who asked Tzeng to stretch her boundaries professionally — it’s an ensemble piece, rather than a solo effort — as much as it stretched her personally and intellectually.
That’s because for this one, Tzeng decided to take a deep dive into exploring identity and race and what exactly, it means to be an Asian-Canadian woman working in a Canadian performing arts world dominated by pale females for a very long time.
Internalizing the white lens
Featuring Tzeng, Calgary actress Jamie Tognazzini, and Taiwanese dancer Su Lin Tseng, That ch**nk explores identity through sound, light, touch, music and movement.
It’s complicated, too, because Tzeng’s identity is as much rooted in growing up in and absorbing the cultural norms of Calgary and Western Canada as it is of being of Asian descent.
Trained in contemporary dance rooted in western European tradition, the first white gaze Tzeng had to overcome in creating That ch*nk was her own.
“I look at things through a white lens,” she says. “I was born and raised here.
“I am conditioned to see everything with whiteness (as the dominant perspective),” she says, “and that was really hard to acknowledge: the whiteness that I’ve internalized. And the stereotypes I’ve internalized (through things like David Bowie and Iggy Pop’s China Girl video, which gets explored in the piece) — and (learn to) play with (them).”
How do you do that in a dance piece, anyhow?
“One of the things we’ve done in this work is to really look at skin,” says Tzeng who sought out dramaturgy by Lee Suh-Feh, to provide an outside critical perspective that wasn’t a white gaze.
“What are really the differences between our skin?” she asks. “So (it’s about) exploring touch, and exploring what it is to pull and slap and compare and be curious about each other’s skin.
“And really to … observe just the physical nature of it, how we all actually have skin, and how it’s made of cells and the biology of it — and also, how it’s loaded with representation and meaning that you come upon as you’re raised, and educated.”
Making space for different voices
It’s all part of an aspect of the 2018 Fluid Festival that showcases and explores pan-Asian identity, by featuring the work of some of Western Canada’s top choreographers and dancers, including Calgary’s Yukichi Hattori, Mark Ikeda and his creative collaborator Richard Lee, along with Vancouver’s Wen Wei.
The first weekend of Fluid Festival takes a deep dive on the subject of identity, as it features seminars, a Butoh dance workshop taught by Fujiwara, Asian street food and performance.
“It’s important in a festival to make space for different kinds of voices,” says Fluid Festival artistic director Nicole Mion, “every year, you ask that question again: what’s shifting in society and what are we making space for now? What are we cultivating and developing over time and when do we need to make new spaces?
“That’s not decided in one year,” she adds, “but decided on an ongoing evolution of questioning — certainly, that’s something that’s at the forefront this year, and there are some incredible artists (participating).”
“Part of that was done because Pam and Mark were selected to have works commissioned from CanAsian Dance (Festival), so it seemed only natural that we would want to have those works featured in Calgary and share the (new) work here as well.”
(Know the Rules, Win the Game, a new dance piece from Mark Ikeda, explores the intersection between art and politics, using a combination of dance, clown and theatre. It’s part of the opening performances of the 2018 Fluid Festival, with performances October 18 and 20 at the DJD Dance Studio.)
Over the course of the creation process, Tzeng feels she has undergone a kind of personal transformation in perspective.
“Now I can really play with them (stereotypes)!” she says. “I’m completely aware of when I’m using it or not to my advantage — or disadvantage.”
A choice to explore resilience
That ch**k that emerged blends aspects of that journey, which Tzeng explores through movement, humour, anger, intense physicality — and silence.
“We have this really strong structure, and now it’s just about playing the tone and the delivery — it could actually go in so many ways, which is actually pretty exciting,” she says.
“Where I’m careful not to go,” she adds, “is the sense of victimization, because that’s not true — in this scenario, in this piece, it’s a choice, to explore resilience and there’s a lot of different layers (of meaning) that can be pulled out of it.”
(That ch*nk in y/our Armour had its world premiere at the CanAsian Dance Festival in Toronto in September, 2018. It’s being performed at the Fluid Festival October 18 and 20. Photo courtesy Francesca Chudnoff).
More Fluid Festival from 2017:
More Mark Ikeda: Sansei, The Storyteller