Halling meets Kung Fu

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November 12, 2012

In the ruins of a 15th century Chinese temple four Norwegian Halling dancers and four Kung Fu monks have created a dance performance about great movement art and talking together without words.

‘It is an old dream of mine to work with Kung Fu monks and to choreograph people I can’t talk with’ says Halling dancer, choreographer and founder of FRIKAR dance company, Hallgrim Hansegård.

In the performance 8, which premieres at the Bergen International Festival, he gets to do both. He has spent four of the last twelve months in China, and has brought home a performance choreographed using only body language. The title refers to the eight performers on the stage: four Halling dancers and four Kung Fu monks.

Earlier this spring four of the members of FRIKAR visited the Wudang mountains in China, where the Temple of the Returning Dragon lies. With four of the Kung Fu monks who live there they have developed the performance without any kind of interpreter. The choreography is based on the encounter of the eight and their two disciplines.

Started with sword games

The atmosphere was tense the first time the FRIKARs and the Kung Fu monks met.

‘Ten-year-old Zhou Wenbin went straight for them and had already shown them the pig, the lavatory and some of the choreography before I could even introduce them. When we subsequently ate a meal with the monks no one dared to make contact. So I started our first session with a balloon game – using swords. Everyone forgot what tradition they came from and lost any performance anxiety they might have had. Since then our chemistry has only got better,’ says Hallgrim.

The dragon temple is in a beautiful location, close to an orange forest in a large national park.

‘Our stay lives up to our expectations: basic amenities, cold temple rooms, rice every day, a master actually wielding a whip and absolutely amazing movement art. We train in 15th century temple ruins at the top of a little cliff – very inspiring!’ Hansegård related on Skype earlier this year.

He has been fascinated by martial arts ever since he played Kung Fu games on his Commodore 64 as a boy. Even so he spent a year building up courage to start doing the choreography alone in China.

‘As a foreigner and a miserable Kung Fu practitioner I am on the lowest rung of the ladder here, and it is challenging to take command in a temple with a 750-year tradition of martial arts. What I feared most was that the monks would not understand my instruction. However, after one month here I think it is almost easier to choreograph them than European modern dancers. What’s more, I have become very good indeed at playing charades!’

Behind the façade

Not everything has been trouble-free. When you don’t speak the same language, it is easy to misunderstand. Like the day none of the monks turned up for rehearsal – because it was a holy day. And how do you mime buying a hard disk?

‘There were many embarrassing moments, but there was also body communication exposing the individual in a different way from usual – a treat for the performance!’  says Hansegård.

Certain things have been more difficult. In the temple the younger monks are intentionally humiliated as part of their training. In Norway the same acts would be considered bullying. The choreographer mentions traces of this in 8:

‘I want this performance to look behind the façade – the idealised image – of Kung Fu, and to also present some of its less comfortable aspects.’

Kick through the hat

Hallgrim’s ensemble works untraditionally, often combining halling, breakdance, capoeira and modern dance.

‘I’m always looking for new ways to work on genres unrelated to art dance. Modern dance has to a great degree been created by women with a classical training, and this time I wanted to do exactly the opposite: to challenge the entire being of eight physical guys with no dance training,’ he explains.

Despite great geographical distance between the origins of Kung Fu and Halling dancing, the choreographer considers there to be many similarities between the two traditions, particularly in their use of centripetal energy.

‘We don’t kick the hat, we kick through it. Kung Fu monks do not strike a tree, but into the tree and back. The Halling and Kung Fu traditions both focus a lot on the dynamics of flow and explosion, and may change the experience of time for those watching. In many ways I think Halling is closer to Kung Fu than to classical ballet,’ claims Hallgrim Hansegård.

Text: Silje VestvikEnglish version: Roger Martin

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