Title

The reinvention of tradition: Transformation of Chinese water sleeve dance and Tai Ji in contemporary performer training and performance making

Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)

First Advisor

Dr Renee Newman

Second Advisor

Dr Frances Barbe

Third Advisor

Ms Nanette Hassall

Abstract

The aim of this practice-led research was to investigate the nature and characteristics of the notion of reinvented tradition in China through the examination of dance practices. First, this research focused on the continuity of tradition demonstrated in the development of Chinese classical dance. Second, it concentrated on the malleability and applicability of two representative Chinese cultural dance practices, water sleeve dance and Tai Ji, in contemporary performance and performer training.

The central concept behind this research was the commonly held perception in China that “tradition is a river” (P. Huang, 1990) in the context of the Chinese dance community. The overarching research methodology of this practice-led research involved critical analyses of Chinese classical dance works, 16 workshops with dance and Performance Making students, interviews, focus groups, critical reflection on my dance-making practice and the making of two new performance works: Penanegra and Hunger. Central to this entire research process is a discussion of the tension between tradition and modernity in the phenomenon of reinventing tradition in contemporary Chinese classical dance making, contemporary performance training and in the making of what I identify as contemporary performance influenced by Chinese cultural traditions. During the practice phase of the research, I investigated what traditional insights and techniques could offer contemporary performers and performance makers. In particular, the philosophy and practice of Tai Ji was analysed in relation to contemporary movement training and performance making. The research has culminated in an evaluation of how the changes and ramifications of tradition can be embodied in the current performance context.

This research makes two significant contributions to knowledge in terms of understanding tradition and its reinvention. First, this thesis proposes the idea of reinventing tradition to interpret the development of Chinese classical dance since the 1980s, and it articulates the motivations and cultural meanings involved in the creation of contemporary Chinese classical dance. The thesis also analyses the ambiguity of ‘Chinese contemporary dance’ as a new term and demonstrates the hybridity of movement language as a response to the modernisation of Chinese traditional dance.

Second, this thesis articulates the interweaving of tradition and originality in artistic creation through the examples of two representative Chinese cultural elements: the water sleeve dance and Tai Ji. The study examines how these cultural forms can be transformed and applied to contemporary training and performance. The water sleeve dance was examined within an intercultural performance project, Penanegra, illustrating how a traditional dance form can be transformed to facilitate communication between different cultural backgrounds and body languages, and how conservatoire training can enable the inheritance of tradition through body memory. Tai Ji was applied to movement training and to the making and performance of a new contemporary work, Hunger. The discussion of Tai Ji and its transformation in this project contributes to understanding psychophysical training practices and discourse. The particular approach to Tai Ji developed in this thesis informs the critical analysis of other Tai Ji-inspired works.

Overall, this thesis considers the reinvention of tradition in relation to making tradition relevant to contemporary performance making and performer training. The resulting performances, new training approaches and exegesis contribute to scholarship on the body and movement in performance.

Access to this thesis is restricted. Please see the Access Note below for access details.

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