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  • Writer's picturePrumsodun Ok

Dancing the Trees

Updated: Jan 6

As part of the Asia Discovers Asia Meeting residency in Taipei, I made a small dance with young Taiwanese contemporary dancer Chieh Li. In our five days together, we talked about beauty, about life and death—and about money and sustainability too. It was a joy to reconnect with this powerful performer after four years, as I first met him when he took a Khmer classical dance and choreography workshop I taught at Camping Asia in 2019.

Working beyond my tradition, with an artist who comes from a very different movement practice, was very challenging and rewarding. I quickly found myself at a limit with technical vocabulary, experiential knowledge, and understanding of his social and cultural contexts—but I still had a goal and destination to reach. I realized I needed to work not as my usual teacher and choreographer, but strategically as a director, philosopher, collaborator, and friend, creating and sharing the images, histories, and experiences to move forward. With the aid of Google Translate, and the support of Taiwanese friends and staff, we put our trust in each other and pushed through.

The movement seen in the short rehearsal clip above reflects exercises in Khmer classical dance, one-to-one conversations, and Chieh Li's unique ability as a dancer. It was generated using the anatomies, structures, textures, and torquing of Taiwan's trees as notation, through daily improvisations to music by Toe, Jonsi, and New Jeans among others. In the clip above, it's set to one of my favorite songs: "To Build A Home" by The Cinematic Orchestra, featuring Patrick Watson.

Chieh Li performing at the Taipei Performing Arts Center. I designed and styled the costume, working with two elderly tailors based in the city. Photo: C.K. Hugo Chung.

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