The Mediatory Bipolar Bodies

The pursuit of professionalism and the compartmentalization of knowledge are but the two sides of the same coin. The alert to the relation between institutional structure and the “qualification” of “knowledge” has led to the rise of multi-disciplinary practices, art practice inclusive. With all due respects to the intents of multi-disciplinary collaboration, those who have been involved know that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for us to look at the same matter from the perspective of another discipline. Because it does not only takes new knowledge but also a shift of the core belief that has supported our own discipline – and not everyone is prepared to do that. Our limited horizon means a world of mediated meaning. When two or more art practices collide, practitioners have to directly confront that limitation. Their art is how they deal with that. The art goes beyond the presentation but the latent process behind it.

Bipolar Bodies, directed and performed by Daniel Yeung in collaboration with Chen Jun of Hong Kong Dance Company and new media artist Keith Lam, performed in Hong Kong between May 15 and 17, 2015, positions itself as an multi-disciplinary experiment. While I am not sure what brings them together in the first place, I propose the belief in the value of mediation as the departure point. By manipulating the materiality of the media, the artists mediate our perception of “reality”, and hence our world view. Dance is the manipulation of the body (the media) to interrupt the dominant perception of the world based on rationality and its expression with the logic of language. Yeung and Chen manipulate the habitual usage of their bodies to mediate not just the audiences’ approach to their arts but their relationship with dance.    

Pole dance is a new set of skills Yeung has to develop based on his contemporary dance background and by doing so, he successfully mediates the form’s dominant image which swings between erotic and pornography. Yeung shows us that the pole is nothing more than a means for the body to counter gravity. He brings our attention back to the human body as an entirety in itself: it doesn’t symbolize anything, it is the meaning. Yeung’s pole dance performance also mediates the gulf between so-called “art dance” and “entertainment dance”. His experiment in this sense, though not full-fledged multi-disciplinary, has been possible because he has transcended the formal divide with his untrammeled belief in dance. The representation doesn’t bother him. He is presenting his very existence as dance.

The venture into the unknown mediates one’s position in his comfort zone. Chen, as a principle dancer of the Hong Kong Dance Company and much applauded for his extraordinary skills in Chinese dance, has ventured into new movement vocabularies in his duets with Yeung. He even shared the pole with Yeung. Undeniably his solos reveal his drawing on his own resources, but I do regard this as a classic example of what it really takes in a multi-disciplinary collaboration: an exchange that goes beyond knowledge. It takes an exchange of trust and reliance among the people that are behind it.

I therefore encourage Lam to venture into a deeper exchange between the performance arts and that of his. Multi-disciplinary is an idealistic notion that requires a lot for its true potential to be realized. We will have to keep our experiments going until we reach the other side of our little mediated world. Bipolar Bodies as an experiment describes everything from training background to size and to aesthetics of its artists. The bipolar bodies embody the rejection to bipolar dichotomy and our belief in the beauty of what lies in between.