Assembly Showcatcher (online)
August 20, 2021
In a black-curtained space, Chang Yun-er (Ruby, 張芸爾) walks slowly but purposefully around a sheet of paper maybe 2.5m square. She looks down, she stops to brush away a crease or a bit of dust. It’s as though she is looking for something. Herself, her identity, perhaps.
So begins This is Not a solo dance by Yun Collective (云云) duo Chang and ‘performance maker’ Lee Yun-ju (Vera, 李昀儒) from Taiwan, who seek combine their respective illustration and performance backgrounds as they explore femininity through bodies and performative objects.
When Chang drips ink from a bottle, it creates droplets and pools, lines and swirls. When she drops to the floor and begins shifting on the inky surface, her body becomes a brush, simultaneously destroying and recreating the picture.
Returning to that initial thought of identity, she uses her hands to repeated write the Chinese character ‘女’ (woman). A discretely subtitled voiceover details the steps. Her slow, purposeful and firm ‘writing’ easily transforms into dancing. The inky characters merge and overlap. Like the initial ink pattern, they also get destroyed as she moves; a suggestion that women, indeed anyone, does not have to conform to expected norms.
Like all Chinese characters, the strokes are usually written in a given order, but Chang soon moves away from the prescribed. Looking from above, she almost vanishes into the inky image.
All the time, one senses that there is conversation going on between the internal and the external, that she is talking to herself, questioning herself. Does that character now have the same meaning? Is there one ‘woman’ or lots of ‘women’? And, where, what, who is she? There is a sense of wrestling with herself as she seeks answers and tries to find herself. It is a lonely journey.
Chang later turns the ink directly on herself, turning her already stained loose white shirt almost completely black in the process. When she takes it off an places on a hanger, it is as though the expected ‘女’ has been banished. Now one picks up a found confidence and individuality.
This is Not a solo dance feels very real in all senses, although I suspect it would feel even more so close up and live. There is probably a lot one misses on film, the smell of the ink, the slight rustle of paper and so on. However, this 20-minute digital counterpart to the live show is nicely paced and edited. Close-ups show excellent detail and the concluding split screen reminder of where this journey started is very effective.
This is Not a solo dance by Yun Collective is available on Assembly Showcatcher until the end of the Edinburgh Fringe on August 30, 2021. Visit assemblyfestival.com for tickets.