Emma Geliot's picture

JO FONG Still from Witness, Jo Fong, Ino Riga image

Director, choreographer and dancer Jo Fongexamines the complex relationship that women dancers have with their bodies and with performance in a new three channel installation video that has just begun a national tour. Emma Geliot caught an early glimpse at the Sherman Theatre.

My relationship with this work goes back almost a year to when Jo Fong first came to see me with her laptop and showed me some of the work in progress for this installation. Much later I would interview her for CCQ, but without having seen the work in its final edited version and I wasn t properly prepared for the experience.

Over the course of just over an hour the audience witnessed a process of candid exposure that was as moving as it was aesthetically pleasing. Andwitness really is the word here, for it implies more than passive engagement. Three women, Ino Riga, Eeva-Maria Mutka and Annabeth Berkeley, describe, or try to describe, how they feel about performing and how they go about making performance.

Ino Riga is the first to appear and is unswervingly frank in her questioning both of the motivations that provoke her to dance and of her relationship with her own body as a woman she is critical, critiquing breasts and hands that she feels are too small, but as a dancer she is appreciative of it it is as if she is two distinct corporal entities that are in animated discussion. As we watch a series of moves on one screen develop into a dance on the other while her head looks into and then slides away from the camera on a third. She is constantly revising what she says, pulling comments back before they are fully formed, before they have fully left her mouth. As Riga s monologue develops (Fongs voice is edited out of this) there is a real sense that this is the first opportunity she has had to fully articulate her relationship to dance and to her own body.

Eeva-Maria Mutka is equally candid but seems to occupy more secure emotional territory. While Riga and Berkeley are filmed entirely in a studio space, Mutka occupies a woodland environment that she, in turn, responds to testing out how her body fits against a tree stump, under a branch or how it feels to lie in the soft damp moss beside a stream. These movements and improvised body placements are taken back into the studio as she talks about her relationship with landscape and with her own body.

And finally there is Annabeth Berkeley, the youngest of the three and obviously still at a stage where she is easily spooked by the process of talking and performing to camera. We observe long periods when she is, thinking, and the camera locks on to her as she considers her next move, as she strives for the next sequence.

As the film moves towards its conclusion the three dancers appear together, yet separate one on each screen as they perform their own individual dances, brought together by a thread of music and a connection on video that might not otherwise exist.

Often it is not what is revealed but what s concealed that makes the difference between something good and something that is otherwise. Fong s thoughtful editing, always mindful of what she s revealing about her subjects, is what makes this piece so compelling. She says that she had the worddignity in her mind when preparing herself for the editing process and there is clearly a respect for her subject matter, and an understanding that over a period of time spent in front of a camera more might be revealed than was initially intended.

I left with new insights into how dancers, particularly women dancers, feel and think about their practice and, more surprisingly perhaps, about their bodies. I was touched by the revelations and more so by the things that I sensed were held close and not shared.

After I had interviewed Fong she sent me an email with the following observation:On the way home I thought, what am I doing right now and realised I m asking the question How do you hold a room full of people and lead them on an uncertain journey?

Perhaps it is the uncertainty that is so captivating.

Reviewed at Sherman Theatre 28.09.2013

Witness Portraits of Women Who Dance will be touring Wales and beyond:

Galeri Caernarfon - 27 January 2014 7.30pm

Aberystwyth Arts Centre - 21 February 2014 6.30 and 8pm

Theatr Brecheiniog - 13 March 2014 times tba

Chapter Arts Centre (mixed bill of work by Jo Fong) -02 May 2014 tba

The Place, London June 2014 tba


You can listen to Jo Fong talking about her work on Pitch (Radio Cariff via the Culture Colony archive here