Monday, December 31, 2012

Sweet Gyre

Sweet Gyre is the new title of the piece rising out of the ashes of Body-Scan. I am not sure what the work is about at this point, after only two weeks of rehearsals. But it feels like we are creating a landscape out of the dreams, pleasures and needs of our bodies.

Yesterday, I attended an Idle No More "flashmob" outside the CBC. It was more than a flashmob, though. It was a prayer circle, a ceremony. As the young man who led some of the drumming and singing said, it was a recolonizing of the colonizers' spaces.

The women were in the centre of the circle, the men on the outside. Bringing spirit and the circle into the linear spaces of our cities, of our consciousness. At some point, the young man said, "Look, we have visitors." Overhead, framed by towers of glass and concrete, against a rare blue winter sky, two eagles circled in a blessed gyre.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


"Love mitigates your ruthless desire."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

the standing ovation

Sometimes, often actually, too often sadly, you sit in the theatre and driven by the drivel that is unfolding on stage, you seek refuge by letting your eyes wander to the audience. You encounter bodies that mirror your own state of mind - boredom, mad screaming boredom - the bodies are listless, unresponsive. Then you know it is time to worry. You KNOW what is going to happen. Because as soon as the piece is over, they all stand up around you and they give a standing ovation as you hold your head in your hands. This is because they are SO bored, that the standing ovation is what their bodies NEED to do in order to feel alive. They are clapping to survive.

dance like dying salmon

Speaking of death, about a week ago, Jason took me, Amélie and Guillaume to see salmon spawning in the Coquitlam River.

I marvelled at the lessons that could be learnt from the salmon fucking and dying.
That painstaking dance of waiting, adjusting, negotiating between the elements, other fish and the inexorable drive of their dying horny bodies.

The stillness of waiting in quiet pools, listening to openings in the water.
The sudden, swift darting from one part of the river to the next.
The work ethic! Digging up the river bed to create perfect places for their eggs and sperm on the way to meeting the love of their lives.

All this, amid a holocaust of dead and dying bodies.

dying well

All these years in Canada, the one thing I have not gotten used to is Halloween. Nothing in my upbringing and experience prior to Canada has prepared me for the ritual of dressing up as ghouls (or worse, skanky whore fairies) and threatening people in exchange for candy, and every year, I get anxious around Halloween. But recently I discovered the Night of All Souls at Mountainview Cemetery, a festival of sorts, I suppose. It is my antidote to Halloween. One wanders in the dark cemetery, looking for candle-lit makeshift shrines that have been set up all over the cemetery. Along the way, we peer at gravestones and cry for strangers. When we get to the shrines, there are often musicians playing, sometimes someone reading poetry. 

Last night, I discovered death haikus: haikus written by poets on the verge of death. 

An example from Basho:
On a journey, ill; 
my dream goes wandering
over withered fields. 

It occurred to me, that a good death is one that would allow me the moment to compose a death dance. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

old men

I talked to the wise old man in my life today after a hiatus of close to a year, a hiatus caused by a surgery he had to have, a reminder of our mortality.
We talked about the old men in my life. There have been many.
Of course, the first old man in my life was my grandfather, Andrew Lee Eng Kong. I was reminded that he had been not just my grandfather, but my mother and father also. 
And when he died - I was 12 - I lost the one person in the entire universe I had felt safe with. 
Today,  for the first time in my life, I spoke about what that all might mean.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

How to be a tiger #2

"In the jaws of a tiger, one's body is, for all practical purposes, weightless and, in the case of Andrei Pochepnya, it appeared to have no substance at all. This begs an obscure metaphysical question: if the body journeys through the viscera of an animal - if its substance and essence become that animal - what happens to the soul? Hurricanes, avalanches, and volcanoes consume people, but such random acts of insensate violence are considered acts of God; they don't pick their targets, nor do they metabolize them. It is rare that one is confronted as these men were, with such overwhelming evidence of one's mutability in the face of a sentient natural force. In this way, tigers and their quasi-conscious kin occupy an uncharted middle ground somewhere between humans and natural catastrophes. Under certain circumstances, the tiger can have the same nullifying effect as a long look into the night sky."

I love this passage for the possibilities of dance contained within it. The body transformed through viscera. The mind emptied by the sublime.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How to be a tiger

I am reading The Tiger by John Vaillant : "A true story of vengeance and survival" about a man-eating Siberian tiger in Russia's Far East.

While feverishly turning the pages, I stumbled upon a passage that made me think about dancing.

"Clark Barrett, a professor in the anthropology department at UCLA and an expert on predator-prey dynamics, describes the deer's advantage as the anywhere but here principle: all a prey animal needs to do is be anywhere the predator isn't - it doesn't matter if it's a foot away, or a hemisphere - and it will live another day. The predator, on the other hand, must be exactly where its prey is, and at exactly the same moment, or it will starve. Thus, for a predator, mastery of both time and space - in addition to  thorough understanding of terrain and prey behaviour - are crucial."

I love that.

I would like to think of the dancer as predator,
master of time and space,
to be exactly where the audience is, and at exactly the same moment.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

envy and longing

I have been thinking about envy - one of the seven deadly sins and a constant fixture in any artist's career. Envy is not an interesting feeling to encounter in an artistic process, however, either in the rehearsal or in the performance.

I look up the meaning of envy on my computer's dictionary and it says:

a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck .

Aha! Longing! Envy is a longing. And we know from a few posts ago, that longing is connected to being static. Thus, envy is static. It leads to a self-regarding loop that collapses in on itself. Nothing beautiful can come out of it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Talking, Thinking, Dancing

I recruited Justine into my (more or less) monthly forums, The Talking, Thinking, Dancing Body. To publicize it, I wasted no time in pimping us both. Everything is performance and as another dancer recently said, my body is public.

photos by Josh Hite

(If you want to join us, you can find more details here.)

By coincidence, Andreas Kahre, editor of the Dance Central called and wanted to talk about talking. To read it, go here.

Then, yesterday, I chanced upon this blogpost from Marten Spangberg on The Future of Dance.

We have a party!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

archiving: thoughts

I must admit, I have always had a cavalier attitude to archiving. I thought, if your body doesn't remember it, it doesn't deserve to be remembered. I find the idea of remounts and the notion of "legacy" difficult to reconcile with the beauty of impermanence that is inherent in dance.

But this archiving exercise (sometimes seemingly futile in the face of unreliable technology - harddrives crash almost as quickly as you can put stuff on them) has made me realize that time is an important lens through which to observe oneself, one's work.

I recently watched myself dance in the 2005 premiere of [storm], a version that I had been dismissive of, a version that had merely been, in my eyes, a stopgap measure while I waited to make the Holy Grail of an all-male version (a version that would take another 2 years to make). I watched it again and this time, vision unclouded by longing,  thought to myself, "Damn, that was good dancing".

Sunday, September 9, 2012

archiving: [storm]

We, at battery opera, have been archiving all summer, looking at and cataloguing stuff from the past 20 years. Amid the embarrassments and humiliations, there are moments of wonder.

This morning, I watched [storm] all the way through. It was the last collaboration with David, and remains my favourite of all our collaborations. I think this is because the road to it was filled with spectacular failures and humiliations, starting with Wake! in 1999, our very first work as company-in-residence at the Cultch, made amid the post-partum stress of our newborn child, old father-son relationships revisited through a brand new unknown father-son relationship. I have a memory of David, at the theatre before the show, calling me, at home with the child sucking on my breast, telling me that there were only 10 people in the audience. I think we broke the Cultch's all-time record for the lowest audience numbers.

Then there was Cyclops in 2003, which was another attempt to grapple with that father-son relationship, and as winner of the Alcan Award, with all eyes on it (more than 10! more than 10!), could only fail.

Finally in 2005, we made [storm] with all the heartbreaks and humiliations in both process and content. In there, distilled into a fiery, raw spirit, was still the story of fathers and sons. But this time, the darkness of old stories abated by the gentler, joyous and hopeful story of David and Junhong.

15 years to make a piece!

Do you know
how hard it is to move
with two broken legs
two broken arms
and a broken collarbone?
A broken heart?
But it's okay.
Bones heal.
Hearts heal.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Haida Gwaii

"On the Northwest Coast, there is no graceful interval between the ocean and the trees; the forest simply takes over where the tide wrack ends, erupting full-blown from the shallow, bouldered earth. The boundary between the two is unstable, and the sea will heave stones, logs and even itself into the woods at every opportunity. In return, the roots of shore pine and spruce grope for a purchase on rocks better suited to limpets and barnacles while densely needled boughs cast shadows over colonies of starfish and sea anemones. The air is at once rank  and loamy with the competing smells of rotting seaweed and decaying wood. From the beach you can see as far as height and horizon will allow, but turn inland and you will find yourself blinking in a darkened room, pupils dilating to fill the claustrophobic void."

from The Golden Spruce, John Vaillant

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

desire & longing

A beautiful question from Michelle Olson:

Is desire connected to action and longing to being static?

My thoughts:

Acting on desire may bring you to the object of your desire. You are then the subject acting upon the object, with full authority over your action. Longing suggests that what you long for is beyond your capacity. You are thus the object, your actions impaled under the authority of another's gaze.

Fuck longing.

I hate all those dance images with dancers longing for something outside of themselves: their throats exposed, chest stretched out, perhaps in the hopes of opening the cages of their heart. But that heart is just most likely getting minced through the sternum.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


I learnt from Cheryl L'Hirondelle yesterday that nêhiyawêwin is the Cree word for language. It literally means "sound out your worldview".

This is beautiful.

In this word, I have found a teacher, a guide in my efforts to locate a mother tongue out of my obstacles and desires. It  makes me wonder what sounds might come out of my worldview, which I recently described as being Daoist, with a post-colonial chip on the shoulder.

Friday, April 20, 2012


This week, I found myself saying, "When I dance, I am at my most generous."
I may have been lying.
But I've decided it doesn't hurt to start practising it.
So when I find my generosity challenged by a situation, I just tell myself to dance in it.
It seems to help.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Speaking in Tongues #2

Yesterday, while leading a warm-up in the studio with Karen Jamieson, it occurred to me that perhaps language is a construction of time and space out of the landscape of desire and obstacles in the mouth and throat.

Speaking in Tongues

Since returning from Malaysia last year, I have discovered in myself, allowed myself, the joy of speaking like I speak in Malaysia. Which means speaking an English inflected with Malay and Chinese words and syntax, rhythms and tones. Initially, as a way of expressing his suspicion mixed with amusement, Junhong would say, "You can speak in English, you know. We are in Canada now". But recently, amid a minor mishap with the pasta machine in the kitchen, I heard him yell out, "Aiyo, aiyo, aiyo!"

And so, I pass on my "mother tongue" - a tongue that has been peeled and cut up, tossed in a salad of other ingredients.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Conversation over Butter Chicken Pizza

I made, for Junhong's pre-yoyo lunch, a pizza from last night's dinner of Butter Chicken and Aloo Matar (peas and potatoes). A butter chicken pizza is standard left-over lunch chez nous. But this time, because it was there and because I was inspired by potato toppings on pizzas,  I decided to add the aloo matar.
On store-bought naan, I smeared the mushed up aloo matar. I topped this with some torn-up butter chicken with just enough sauce to moisten the whole thing.
Then, some goat gouda.
In the oven, the butter from the aloo matar and butter chicken oozed out and coated the edges of the naan, turning it slightly crispy with a nutty buttery flavour. The goat gouda melted and bubbled. The whole thing was crispy, moist and gooey all at the same time.

Junhong, however, was not impressed. The aloo matar distracted from the butter chicken, his all-time favourite thing.
"But you're still a great cook", he assured me.
I tried it and insisted, "This is good enough to be in any restaurant!"
"Just because it is in a restaurant doesn't mean it is any good", he argued.
"Good point." I conceded.
"But just because I don't like it, doesn't mean it ISN'T good." Words to comfort me.

I gave him some money to buy food from the mall. In return, he looked at the Top Worst Album Covers of all time with me. Then he left, but not before leaving a few kisses on my cheek and saying that in his experience, I was the best mother in the world.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


If everything is merely an organization of time and space, the function of drama and conflict is merely to move space from one body to another.


Somewhere in my travels this past month, I realized, through a conversation with someone wiser than me,  or through something I read or saw, I no longer remember where exactly,  that ethics is embedded in aEsTHetICS.

Without ethics, aesthetics is just empty packaging.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I have been thinking lately that all form is merely an organization of space and time.
A leaf, a song, a painting.
A butterfly.

I was in the Butterfly Conservatory at the Museum of Natural History in New York City last week with my thirteen year-old son. The fluttering of the wings breaks down the space around you into fragmented units of time and space. Dancing with the beat of your own heart, the inhale and exhale of each breath. The fractured space begins to break through the perceived envelope of your body.

The butterfly dances you.