A few months ago, I was having lunch with a fellow choreographer friend. We were talking about all of our unhatched ideas- the pieces we hadn’t started or had barely started with no real performance date in mind.
There was a new ballet that I was working on a year prior but had put down because I didn’t feel that the series where I was to perform would be interested in a piece like the one I wanted to make. I also was just not ready to make that piece, tackling issues of disability and sexual violence, the masks we wear to cover those aspects of our experience. I felt ready now, but had no idea who would want such a work.
“Have you heard of the 7MPR Festival?’ my friend asked. “You should look that up”.
Last November, I had the privilege of being part of the 6th Midnight Physical Research Performance Series.
*Photos by Christine Abbate
I choreographed and danced in a new work, ‘Calling All Attention’ a 10 minute piece that explores disruptive behavior as a call for trauma hiding under these masks.
I played with juxtaposition between distracting audience behavior in the theater (yes, there were Werther’s Originals) and behaviors including perfectionism and self-deprecation used to hide greater traumas, even from oneself.
The purpose was to think about honest communication, and noticing each other.
What made me excited about the Festival when I initially applied was the focus on seven societal issues (yes, that’s where the 7 comes in). I wanted to be part of a group of artists and have an opportunity to make work that was expected to be more than something pretty or fun.
Throughout the process, it was nice to have clear communication with the director, Jiali Wang, about tech schedules, space, and lighting. The showcase itself introduced to me to many other creative, talented artists, each with their own perspectives on these important issues. For me, I loved having the chance to be part of something special and bigger than just my story were I to present new work on my own. But mostly, I was really happy to have an opportunity to try something new, something substantial, something fun in storytelling through movement, text, technology, and music.
Being part of the festival and meeting Jiali made me curious as to how she brought it to light. Here is some of Jiali’s fascinating story…
Where did the idea for 7MPR come from? When did it begin?
The idea for 7MPR comes from my MFA Thesis. Back to earlier time, the actual idea of 7MPR began from my experience in ADF 2016 as I received ADF tuition scholarship and did my MFA thesis research during the six-weeks school program. That’s where 7MPR draws it roots from. Here I would love to say thanks to two of ADF dance artists, Jesse Zaritt, for describing the purpose of dance by sharing and explaining the 7social issues during a discussion class and Vanessa Voskuil by rehearsing and supporting my thesis research during her choreography for footprint program. I was inspired by two of them through the time of my study at ADF 2016. Then, as a dance group, 7MPR began in 2017 when I performed my Thesis work at Mark Morris Dance Center and moved to the city after I graduated from SUNY The College at Brockport. But at that time, I just simply choreographed works and performed with my dancers as a choreographer of 7MPR until the Fall 2018, the seed of the “young” 7MPR kept growing and formed into an original dance project, Themed Dance Theater-Midnights Performance Series.
Back to 2018, I had a wonderful experience premiering my work, Garden1- Looking for Luke, at Arts On Site Performance Party in March. Since then, I have fallen in love with the lovely space and vibe. I love choreographing, teaching and performing, but AOS gave me another inspiration that began to think about doing something for people and makes them happy and being supported with each other, as this city is kind “cold” for dance artists, especially for immigrated artists like me ( Immigration issue, people’s issues, job issues and so many unfair things to my life ). Therefore, I began to review the idea of my thesis, drew the blueprint of 7Midnights Physical Research, and contact the Creative Director of AOS, Kyle Netzeband and Executive Director, Chelsea Ainsworth, and shared my idea of 7MPR to them during Fall 2018. After that, I started 7MPR Themed Dance Theater-The First Midnight Performance on Feb 23, 2019.Yes, the idea of 7MPR has been growing when I first time having it in my mind. It just took a while to grow and be more mature, and it did happened in 2019 when everything gets ready!
What was your experience choosing submissions, booking space, organizing the festival like for the very first performance? How has that changed now?
I would love to choose choreographers from all parts of the world, as New York City is the most wonderful multi-cultural city in this world. The First Midnight was a learning process and also a huge success that taught and encouraged me to continue this project throughout the whole year of 2019. I remember there was only one Asian choreographer, Feng Jiang, in our First Midnight show, and the rest of dance artists were all American. Since then, I started to think about having choreographers from different countries for the rest of 6 shows. So there are dancers, choreographers and musicians from France, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, and China. Booking space and organizing the First Midnight showed a good start and it gave me direction and ideas to some details that improves our performance, like adding an opening dance and finale dance for artists and audiences to interact with each other. Therefore, for the rest of 6 shows, I did improving solo as the opening dance with the soundtrack of 7MPR Introduction, which perfectly brings audiences into the space and vibe of the show. And finale dance is a great part, both artists and audiences love it. Therefore, when I did First Midnight, I found we need these details to improve our shows. Now, I’m feeling to add the opening dance and finale dance for our shows is absolutely helpful and smart. Also, I invited NYC musicians to our show since Fall 2019, as a great idea to enrich the finale dance apart. In this way, to make a more lively and active vibe for both artists and audiences.
The performances are dedicated to 7 themes, how did you select them?
I named my dance project, 7Midnights Physical Research, and all the performances in this project are dedicated to 7 themes that directly relates to 7 social issues: Class, Education, Ability, Sexuality, Race, Age, Gender. The idea of the 7 factors was from my ADF instructor, Jesse Zaritt. After a shooting event happened, he held a discussion in his technique class and talked about the 7 social issues to all of us. He asked us to keep notes and also recommended some resources about dance and society to us. I wrote down the 7 social issues he highlighted at that time as an important part of my thesis research. In his words, dance is not only about movements and aesthetics, it’s about a way exploring the relationship between human and society, as well as the humans rights. Jesse strongly mentioned the reason of why we are dancing, he highlighted the purpose of dance for dancers and choreographers should be deepened from movement arts to another level of human spirits as an research of the relationship between dance and society. Indeed, it inspires me a lot and lead me to see the function of dance from another aspect toward human and society. Thereby, I decided the 7 themes for 7MPR Themed Dance Theater project because they summarize all human’s perception, and somehow, reflects the existing contradiction between human and society as we are influencing each other and also being influenced. So dance is a critical view that leads people to deeply see, realize and understand what is happening to us.
How do you think art can speak about society? How has this been apparent in your own life?
I believe art embodies a state and ideology of the society as many art works express the information relating to artists’ perception from the outside world. The way to speak about their perception is somewhat very hard to be explained and even understood, but that is how artists to share their personal information through their works. Therefore, in my view, dance is absolutely perceptual art, similarly like fine arts and visual arts. Movements, actions, and behaviors transfer a sort of metaphor and consciousness that activates people’s awareness to receive and even interact with these bodily information. When a dance work is speaking about social issues, the bodily information tends to be more indirect and internal, which is a better way to release words through abstraction rather than a direct speaking. It is the most attractive thing to let people thinking about it rather than knowing it. So I prefer the way to transfer these information through body movements and actions to make people “perceive” me and all these talented 7MPR artists. Back to my ADF thesis research, my Footprints dance choreographer, Vanessa Voskuil, shared the most important thing as I talked with her about dance for my research. She mentioned that “Perception is the top.” Since then, I confirm my dance research is not only about dance, movement and language, it is also about humans psychological transition and our spiritual realm. So I decided the 7 social issues as the 7 themes of this dance project because 7MPR is not just about dance, movement research, physical theater, it further about the analysis of human in the society and social factors involving with human beings. The aesthetics I advocate for this dance theater project is more in terms of the Anti-Aesthetics. Therefore, the aesthetics of 7MPR Themed Dance Theater embodies a series of concepts of Minimalism, Dadaism, and Dark Arts as comprehensive and informative expression based on the notion of Anti-Aesthetics. That is why, somehow, I even think the 7 social themes have been playing the internal roles of the 7deadly sins. The internal meaning of 7 has become a very symbolic number connecting both issues of human being and events in the society. That is how I choreographed my thesis work, Inside7, to expresses the 7 social issues reflecting to the 7 sins in 2017.
About how this has been apparent in my own life, I would love to say my life in US pushes me to “the edge of the cliff.” To create 7MPR was a natural growth and development from my mind to acting on it, which was an unspeakable motivation and power from myself. To some extent, building 7MPR is to speak about what I have been experiencing and seeing as a Chinese in the society. It supports artists to share their voices through their works while helps myself to get more support from people, dance, love and my own right. I’m still experiencing many things in the society and trying to against with those who are “anti-social” doing things without awareness of social justice. Contradiction is anywhere, it is even between me and my own Chinese people. For example, in the Chinese cultural dance field, it is like a very tiny world with less human right and justice. I have been suffering from unfair treatment at my work. Also, I have been being tripped on purpose by my own Chinese people. And I found that I don’t even have the right and courage to accuse those who are fake of religion destroy others for their personal benefits. I know it is really ridiculous as I’m talking about something relating to my own Chinese community, but it makes me realize there are some problems underneath the surface of the ocean that we can’t see. Therefore, by creating 7MPR, I hope to find a way to against to these problems by physical and spiritual expression.
Furthermore, as a Chinese, feminist and dance artists, I have been suffering from the traditional opinion and restriction of Chinese women’s age and ability issues since I have turned 30, and I have been psychologically being influenced by that “traditional shadow.” There is no way to change or remove the “shadow” from my mind, so the only way to help myself is to compete with time. To start this project, my personal thinking is also to speak about this kind of women’s issues because it is a huge issue to women in this society especially in China. I hope more women like me to discuss and convey their thoughts about the problems of age and ability, particularly women who are being restricted by their traditional and cultural idea. That is why I performed my piece, A Clock Chaos, at the First Midnight Performance this Feb 23. This piece is about the limitation of time to women and the psychological status of women’s anxiety towards age problem
What have you learned from the various performances? Any particular pieces that stick out in your memory?
I have learned a lot by running and organizing the 7 performances this year, and I appreciate all the experiences and artists in 7MPR themed dance theater. One thing I truly learned is the importance of building a teamwork. I’m a dancer, teacher, and choreographer working for companies and people, I have never had experience to build a team of my own. This time, I felt the way of organizing people to do things for my project was so different and informative to my mindset. Beside just being a dancer, teacher, choreographer, there were many things that I had to deal with as a founder, director, manager, and artist. I still need to grow myself in this learning process and I’m happy to have my 7MPR team, which is exciting to review how we have done the 7 shows throughout this year. Team, group and community are the key for me to continue my dance life. Facing to this city, I can no luxury life, but I cannot live without friends, teams and communities. As a foreigner, to have supportive and lovely people in my life is the most important thing. On the other hand, social skill and language need to be improved, because I’m not only an artist, but an entrepreneur as well. Language is always a key for me.
Actually, it is hard to tell the particular pieces that stick out in my memory because there were so many great works I love during the 7 midnights. If I have to tell, to my personality, I feel the solo, Of Her (Too), by Kelsey Saulnier, and the trio,Your Issue Too, by Caitlin Javech in Third Midnight Series were very touching to me and I remember another group dance by Caitlin Javech is called, Yellow Ball, which was also a fantastic work to me in the Fourth Midnight. In addition, the musicians and dance artists from, Reliant Tom, (Monte Weber, Claire Cuny, Vera Paganin and Larrisa Asebedo) presented wonderful works with live music and sound in our Fifth Midnight Halloween show which brought so many imagination to my mind and I want to have them for 7MPR performance events every year. Surely, I love to be inspired by all these stunning works from each midnight show.
What do you hope for the future of the festival?
For the growth of 7MPR, I hope to develop it into a non-profit organization (or LLC). That is my dream and goal for future 7Midnights Physical Research. Indeed, there are so many things that need to do, such as: fundraising, board members, education program and so forth. I want to have more people and artists to join and support us and make 7MPR to be a great community for NYC artists. Also, I really hope ADF can support us, for example, I’m thinking if we can hold shows during ADF every summer as a special summer dance program ”7MPR Home sweet Home-ADF Program.” By doing this, I want to build this idea in 2020, but I need more thinking before I start to do it. As the idea of 7MPR is originally from ADF, I really want to bring it back to its “home” for student dancers to join it as a new part of ADF and a brand new dance program of 7Midnights Physical Research. Moreover, I even want to do some festivals in partnership with Judson Memorial Church in the upcoming future. For 7MPR, I hope to naturally develop everything just like gradually letting the seed grow into a tree!
Call for NYC dance choreographers for 7MPR-The First Midnight Performance, March 27, 2020
Application Deadline: Feb 8
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