Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jin Xing

Jin Xing, the famous dancer, came to visit our workshop today. I'd wanted to set up a link between her and this project ever since I met her in Hong Kong a couple of years ago, and read her book last year. In England, the book is called Shanghai Tango - which is not a very good title, and is not her own. Jin Xing wanted to call the book Halfdream - which is also the name of one of her pieces, and comes far closer to echoing her life. But the publishers and the marketing men won the day.

Apart from being China's greatest contemporary dancer, and the founder of the only private dance company and the only private festival in the country, Jin Xing is also famous for having changed sex. Born in a male body, she rose to the rank of colonel in the Chinese army (admittedly in the dance troupe), and was astonishingly tenacious in her campaign for gender reassignment surgery. As you'd expect of so determined a person, she is outspoken and enjoyably forthright in her views on Chinese and Western cultures; theatre, dance and politics; gender and sexuality. Her presence alone is a huge help to the actors who will be playing gender-ambiguous characters - it's wonderful to watch Qi as he studies her way of moving, the way she holds her body, her energy.

In Jin Xing's opinion (and mine), Chinese culture has traditionally been very open in its view of human sexuality. It is only since Western influences arrived that anyone has disapproved of sexual practices outside the mainstream. She says that there were often lesbian couples in China who lived together and loved one another, but who did not necessarily express their love in a sexual way. This idea develops further some of what Hui was suggesting in the workshop as a possible development of the Song-Alex relationship: we could think about the tendency of the West to sexualise emotions and to make the relationship with the lover primary - as opposed to the Chinese privileging of emotion over sexuality and family / community above personal fulfilment. Not quite sure how to do this in performance, but it's an exciting way forward.

Meanwhile, we develop the play's cacophony of voices. There are some very beautiful sequences, especially in visual terms. The text is still a long way off, but that's to be expected. With work of this kind, the writing comes at the end.

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