Reviews

The march of time through confined space: Rourou Ye’s ‘May I dance on your screen?’

From Rourou Ye's 'Daydreaming'.
From Rourou Ye's 'Daydreaming'.

Streaming online at digitaldance.space.
Premiered October 31, 2021.

Life happens in both time and space, and so does dance. In both life and dance, to varying degrees for different people, how we’ve experienced time and space has looked and felt very different since March of 2020.

Rourou Ye’s digital dance gallery May I dance on your screen? gives aesthetic form to the feelings of tight spaces, lack of full human connection and the constant march of time (however much it seems to drag or speed up at separate points) through it all. 

Through a medium to which we’ve become all the more accustomed these (almost) two years, Ye offers a highly abstract, yet at times achingly real and relatable, meditation on all of these phenomena – those which we might not always have the words to describe, but which our body and spirit understand all too well. 

At the same time, these works are in no way specifically about COVID – making them both timely and timeless. This review describes two of the works that were most memorable and affecting for me personally. The full gallery of Ye’s film work is available at www.digitaldance.space

Daydreaming is a work of both deep realism and deep abstraction, bringing something fully unique in concept and aesthetic but also grounding us in the all-too-familiar. It’s largely Ye’s creative brainchild; she provided choreography, performance, filming, editing, text, voice, sound and lighting. 

To begin, she is lit and shown from the back, her face not shown, while writing and drawing. I think about how writing and visual art are, by and large, profoundly solitary pursuits. Soon, a film effect drops us unto the drawing itself, and the scene it depicts comes to life. 

In this space of drawing come alive, Ye dangles her feet from above, evidently hanging upside down, and then she slides down a door in this scene. These are actions all defying our expected spatial relationships with such structures – and therein imbue something mysterious, unexpected and even counter-cultural. She’s finding new relationships with the spaces she inhabits, just like we’ve all experienced in the face of a global pandemic. 

The door then opens to reveal a staircase, projected unto the white of the backdrop, on which Ye again slowly descends and moves. Coming to a supine position, she dances through various unconventional shapes and fresh qualities of movement – alone and confined to this space, but nevertheless finding possibilities in what her body in and of itself can experience.

Accompanying all of this is a score of a single piano (piano composition and performance from Sophia Shen), one that adds something reflective and melancholy to that mystery. Speech and the scratching of a drawing or writing utensil again point to those solitary, reflective activities of writing and drawing. Time can pass mysteriously by while we’re fully absorbed in such activities, as well – and at one point, almost in a reminder of time’s linear march, Ye’s body moves along an arc from a central axis, like the hands of a clock.

Like in a dream, there’s a sense of realistic time: minutes as minutes, seconds as seconds, and so on. Yet there’s a feeling as if also that it’s impossible to really know how much time has gone by. In the age of COVID, we can all relate to that sense of time feeling mysterious and unpredictable: no matter how constant and regular it may be. As with some dreams, as well, the atmosphere and aesthetic are quite surrealist, but there’s somehow also a very grounded and realistic sense to it all. That comes perhaps from the authenticity of Ye’s movement and presence, as well as from the relatability of the solitude that she experiences.

Later on in the work she faces a doppelganger, a carbon-copy of herself. This effect reminds me of the internal debates in creative lives – in and out of art – and how we face up to what we learn about ourselves as the exploration of art and life continues.

An even later section brings a freneticism, including much repetition and variation on what is repeated. The camera pans out to reveal a small version of herself caught in a square shape that’s held by a life-size version of herself. To me this feels like being caught in a cycle of that trial and error, driven by creative fire. The aesthetic and conceptual risks here are fresh and bold, captivating in the chances that they take.

Later, we see her in a typical apartment and in a business casual blue dress, looking around as if perhaps searching for something: a reminder that all of that creative wonder and turmoil lives within everyday lives, the lives of artists who live among us and are our friends, loved ones and neighbors. We may be caught in the daydreaming of creative exploration at certain times in our lives, but we also have to live in this real world of minutes and hours steadily passing as they do: tik tok, tik tok, tik tok.

I followed the moon to the river, my far-flung home puts aesthetic form to feelings of longing for home, for the comfortable and familiar – with Ye’s signature originality and daring when it comes to concept and aesthetic. For this work, Ye provided concept, choreography, performance and video editing, and, along with Pedro Veloso, videography. 

The work begins with a score of melancholy singing (music composition and performance from The Southeast of Rain) and a meandering spotlight against darkness. The spotlight expands to reveal Ye’s shadow moving against a larger spotlight, in a perfectly circular shape – in combination with Ye’s description of the work on the website, leading me to think of Lunar New Year. 

As Ye also did in Daydreaming, she creates many carbon-copies of herself – by, seemingly, manipulating the shadow with film effects to delay and double herself many times over. That effect feels short-lived, however, and I’m curious what the effect of staying with it for longer might have been. 

Later, a shape of classical Chinese architecture emerges, in silhuoette against a white wall – and then grows bigger. We see a smaller version of Ye moving inside of it, as if she were dancing inside of that building. There’s new ease and release to her movement while inside of it. These video effects, while seemingly straightforward and nothing too fancy, pull me right into the work. The idea of imagining being in a larger, more expansive space – from merely the projected image of a simple two-dimensional shape – is also fascinating, particularly in these often confining times. 

Later, she moves her hands through grains of rice – bringing in further movement dynamism. I reflect on the significance of rice as a sustainer of life for millions of people, through countless generations, all across the world. Then, directly on the pearly white rice, we see images of people in her “far-flung” home.” One can imagine her projecting images, memories, desires unto the simple grain – perhaps with it bringing up those things for her. 

The camera pans out to reveal a television screen, like she’s watching a film of these images. In this way, the work is demonstrating the different ways in which we can see and remember. Next projected is what seems like a filling bath, or perhaps a pot for washing or cooking: conveying purity, domesticity and rejuvenation. Is this the “river” to which the moon led her? There are many potential interpretations, offering something potentially fruitful for varied audience members – those just as diverse and unique as people out there in the world can be. 

The work ends in that mysterious place for audience members to ponder, be perplexed by, or to simply sit in the discomfiting but ultimately fruitful space of not knowing. Additionally, just as in Daydreaming, there’s a dream-like sense of time that’s both realistic and surrealistic: very possibly with the seconds and minutes ticking by just as they do each day, but also with a sense that it’s impossible to know how time is ticking by because there’s something hazy and mysterious as to how it does. 

The spaces of rice grains spread out, a water spigot, a moon-like spotlight and the imagined building in which she danced all contributed to this realistic, yet also hazy and mysterious feeling – and therein offered another point of relatability for audience members in this confusing, unpredicatable day and age. 

At any time, but particularly in times of disconnection and dislocation, works like those in Rourou Ye’s May I dance on your screen can offer a mirror up to the present moment – and through that offer insight, healing, and maybe even a bit of fruitful discomfort. At the very least, the creation of something fresh and bold can be something to appreciate.     

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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