Translating the Language of Movement. Interview with Performance Artist, Yu Bai.
You might say Hund Hund is under the spell of Yu Bai’s artistic intellect. We became fans as soon as Yerko from our studio team introduced us — and I even ended up collaborating with her on a dance film a few weeks later. Floating between performance, visual art and academic research, Yu explores a range of subjects from ecology to feminism to capitalistic culture. But, of course, Yu’s diverse practice encompasses much more than you can fit in a sentence — so it was a no-brainer to catch up with her for our Stories series. After realising though that our meeting cafe was closed due to the discovery of a World War One bomb in Wedding, we took refuge back at the studio with a Baldon coffee for a chat about Yu’s development as a dancer, her artistic process, and her newest movement research project, Waiting ROOM.
I was curious how Yu originally discovered her affinity for movement — but also what led her to explore such a variance of disciplines in parallel to performance and dance.
“Dance came first. I started ballet when I was four years old, and then at one point, my teacher said to my Mom she should bring me to a ballet academy — but I never did anything like that. I didn’t want to be a ballerina… When I was eighteen I decided to do cultural studies — and then I did an MA. It was very interdisciplinary and I got super interested in new media and digital culture because it’s also very performative.”
We talked then of how this unique path into the movement arts has shaped her approach.
“I guess I have a different interpretation of movement than if I’d have went to a dance academy. I think I would be missing all the other parts of visual arts which I now really appreciate — now I feel I have more to give to dance… But I actually feel like what I’m doing now is more in the direction of performance art.”
Our conversation then drifted into the nature of the artistic process, and how Yu engages with hers.
“It’s very open… Obviously, it’s hard to not have a vision of where you want to go, but with dance, and with performance, everything changes along the way. And for me, I don’t like to work with the idea that I have to make a production in the end. I just really focus on how I get there; the process of how I create a piece of performance art with the dancers or non-dancers.”
My interests were piqued at Yu’s mention of working with non-dancers.
“For dancers who’ve been trained classically for a long time — even for myself — it’s very, very hard to break the movement patterns. It’s hard to create a new movement language. And if you don’t invite people from outside of dance who haven’t been trained in classical dance, you don’t generate new movement material. So I'm always interested to work with people who didn't start their career as a dancer.."
I was curious to dive deeper into the foundations of these movement practices. I wanted to know how one might even define contemporary dance.
“In my understanding it’s very localized. The contemporary dance in Berlin is very different than in Amsterdam, or in Japan. It's totally different. How the public conceptualizes contemporary dance is also very different. You can almost call anything contemporary dance. Like there’s a choreographer now in a museum working with robots — not even a human body anymore. And it’s contemporary dance. So I think it’s just expanded to all other disciplines of art.”
I was aware of Yu’s interdisciplinary approach across her diversity of specialities — but I also wondered if there was any specific, unifying role which she finds herself returning to in her collaborative projects.
“I feel like I’m often in the role of a movement translator — because most of my work comes from researching with dancers, or with people from different disciplines who give me input which I can then translate into performance art.”
We talked then of her personal style of choreography.
“When you’re a choreographer and you walk into the studio with a lot of material already in your head, it can be very limiting for the dancers. On the one hand, they may be comfortable letting you do all the work, but on the other hand, it might just not suit their body. Like whatever you create might be fluent in your own body, but then you let another body translate it and it’s totally different. So I try to keep everything very loose.”
I was eager then to learn more about Yu’s upcoming research project: Waiting ROOM. You can read the project statement below.
“Waiting ROOM is a process-oriented artistic research project investigating the notion of Otherness through the following topics: capitalism, feminism, and ecology. The objective of the project Waiting ROOM is to foster the links between art and culture, economy and democracy through the process of making a performance. It aims at democratization, empowering individuals and minorities through research and production in the connection between performance and new technologies.”
“I come from the philosophy of ecological art. Doing art that’s very sustainable. I don’t need to make a premiere and have a dance performance to charge money for the tickets. That’s not my goal… My goal is to really work with the local environment, the urban environment and the people that are willing to join the project. So it becomes more like a kind of alternative education system, and whatever knowledge you have to bring, we are utilizing, so that everyone can bring something to develop it and see where it goes.”
“I started the project officially on October 1st 2021 with an interest to create a performance that’s very sustainable for the people of the project. Because with performances, a lot of dancers get injured and overworked, and all of these deadlines are usually very short, and that’s really high stress for everyone. I feel like this limits the creative process that could be involved and it’s also a very capitalistic way of making a performance. Obviously, I’m still working with a deadline, but I really position this project as more process-oriented artistic research.”
“Waiting ROOM is a model of encounters between human beings and constructed environment. It is research into the conceived environment in relation to the shared movement practice. It is an experimental zone set up in an urban space waiting for absurdity to occur. It offers a physical and conceptual infrastructure, a transitory space for equal encounters between sound, image, movements, humans, and sensoria. At the same time, Waiting ROOM opens up a performative space for the companions and guests to be in conversation with each other. Waiting Room is not a definite statement, but a collective manifestation of thoughts with the intention to inspire one and another to reimage a different constellation of the current environment.”
“We’re now in the era of Anthropocene — the human is such a big factor in the environment. It’s so absurd that you can just claim this land is ours, this forest is ours, this ocean is ours. How did we come so far to do that? We are part of it, but we decided, no, we’re not part of it anymore. We decided we have power over everything around us and we disrupt everything… And so the Otherness is this ecological way of thinking to create a narrative in which the environment, nonhuman factors and us, are collaborative, so we can live in harmony.”
Thank you to Yu. You can find her links below.
Words by Ewan Waddell.