An interview with dancers and the choreographer of ‘Cock-Pit’

Cock-Pit (Wen Wei Dance)

Fleck Dance  Theatre, Harbourfront Centre
Friday April 9 – Saturday April 10, 2010 at 8pm

Regular Ticket: $28, Student/Senior/CADA Ticket: $18

http://www.danceworks.ca or (416) 973-4000

Silent Auction Fundraiser for DanceWorks: April 9 at 7pm. Come bid on wine, dance books, coffee makers, and vouchers for everything from Flight Network to massage therapy. All items include a pair of DanceWorks tickets for the remainder of the season.

An interview with Wen Wei Wang (WW), artistic director of Wen Wei Dance and choreographer of Cock-Pit, and dancers Alison Denham (AD) and Josh Martin (JM). Interview by Lucy Rupert.

All three were asked the same questions and have responded from their unique perspectives within the context of Wen Wei’s work.

Lucy Rupert: Has creating Cock-Pit been different from other processes with Wen Wei Dance?

Wen Wei: The use of four men and one woman for the piece was very unusual. This piece is really about the men and their lives during transitional periods. In this work I also used voice for the first time.

Josh Martin: Cock-Pit was actually the first time I’ve worked with Wei and I’m glad that my first encounter was working on a brand new creation. It’s completely different and far less stressful to start with a clean slate rather than walking into a remount of a piece that already exists, which I had to do in the fall when we toured his older work Unbound. It’s much easier to insert yourself into a new work as it’s being formed.

With Cock-Pit I felt like each of the dancers, and their different personalities, were all helping to shape the work as it unfolded. For the first couple weeks of the process we were very much “at play”. We had a lot of freedom with the movement (and use of the feathers), which allowed us to really put our own style and strengths into what was happening on stage.

With other processes I’ve been involved in, it’s similar. But I think Wei really has a great talent for letting the dancers be themselves while still getting across the images and movements he’s trying to create. I think it’s always a tough balance finding that control, and some choreographers have a more difficult time discovering the pre-existing qualities of the performers that suit and benefit the work as a whole. I really feel a strong sense of trust when I work with Wei.

Alison Denham: Cock-Pit is my third creation as a dancer with Wen Wei Dance. In all three of these creations Wen Wei has utilized his dancers for their unique qualities. With Cock-Pit he has dug deeper into this interest and has therefore brought about a new energy based partly on his dancers’ backgrounds and abilities, as well as his growth as a dance artist and his courage to take risks.

How do you think about ‘props’ so that they become, as they do in this work, more than just props?

WW: These are feathers used by the Beijing Opera. I think of them as extensions of the body and the creature world.

JM: The great thing about the feathers is that they are already associated with a living, breathing, moving animal. It makes it that much easier to see them attached to living breathing, moving dancers. I don’t know about other props, it’s tough. How we did it with the feathers was simply imagining them as extensions of our body or limbs or … other parts … ahem … and created the movement with that visualization. It’s all about acting in complete control of them. You question less why something is on stage when it is treated as if it’s your own arm. Once you’re in control, the feathers become part of the dance, and not separate entities distracting the audience away from your hard work. I hope.

AD: The feathers become extensions of the body. There is a lot of exploration of the different ways the body can be affected and defined by where on the body we attach the feathers. They offer images to the audience and movement impulses to the dancers.

What is your favourite image or moment in Cock-Pit?

WW: My favourite image is when the male dancers put the feathers into the female dancer’s hands. Then she becomes a big bird.

JM: Most of my favourites involve the only female member of the cast. Ali [Alison Denham] has this section where she sort of becomes this huge raptor bird with a headdress, and takes complete control of the stage after the men have been so dominant. She has a lot of soft moments so it’s really powerful when you get to see her take charge … I feel like she actually is “holding all the cards” in this piece.

AD: The ending image. To me it delivers the humanity of the piece. The fact that we are all connected despite our differences.

From your perspective, how has the work changed since its premiere?

WW: The whole piece is tighter and more focussed.

JM: It’s faster. When we first created the work, it felt like it all came at you at an even pace, moving softly and continuously from section to section. Now, for some reason, I feel it has more fluctuation in the energy and things happen a bit more rapidly. There are more abrupt transitions, which I think is a nice change from all the cross-fades.

AD: Since the premiere in February 2009, Cock-Pit has definitely grown. Wen Wei has reorganized and re-imagined some of the elements and it is more cohesive and grounded as a whole.

What is one question that no one has ever asked you about your life/work as an artist, but that you wish someone would ask? And what is your answer to that question?

WW: Sorry. I don’t know.

JM: “How did you get so good at ballet?” (I can dream, can’t I?) My answer: “None of your damn business.”

AD: “Why are you interested in dancing and interpreting other peoples work?”

To that I would answer, “Because I am fascinated by people’s imaginations, and by my own capacity to strive and be an open, available ingredient in the realization of their visions.”

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