Learning repertory from Akram Khan and Reggie Wilson, but particularly from the former, has felt like an intensive language-learning immersion program. I dove into Reggie’s unembellished, minimalist (but above all unnaturally natural) world in which the pelvis is at its core before navigating a dynamic space with lightning flashes of power, whirling energy, and glittering details in the fingers and hands. These long, arduous sessions of learning and practice would leave me thinking about the work and the philosophy behind it long after walking out of Broadway Rehearsal Lofts. Hearing the music or reviewing (both theoretical as well as choreographic) material in my suite reminded me of when I would listen to French television programs online or read newspaper articles online to get more practice outside of class.
But after the immersion session is over, in the contexts of both language-learning and YDT-dancing, I’m at a huge loss for what to do. How can I communicate in French to maintain that level of knowledge? How can I continue practicing Akram’s style beyond that which I’ve learned with Lali and Young Jin? I already have holes in my memory about Reggie’s choreography and feel anxious about losing Akram’s choreography from my memory too.
Language fluency comes and goes in waves. When in France for a week, my Spanish died. But it came back when in Spain. And then in French class, my French came back, too. The environment, and above all the mindset, can help flesh out what may have been feared as forgotten. And I think the same is possible for my inimitable, unbeatable dance experience with YDT. The tide of memory may recede but it will come back because it never really went away to begin with.
But beyond choreographic memory, I think I’ve developed a more deep-seated knowledge about the choreography, in learning about the creative motivations about it, that I think will last longer than my muscle memory about the choreography, for this deep-seated knowledge doesn’t apply to only certain repertory, but also any and all work that I do from now on: with YDT, A Different Drum, or at an open Contemporary class at Steps. My awareness about dynamics, the pelvis, appendage-related details is so much higher, and I’m slowly improving in the ability to stop being so cerebral in my dancing.
They say if you learn one foreign language well, picking up other languages becomes significantly easier because you’ve worked that mental muscle. Perhaps one can compare a talented dancer to a polyglot who is well-versed in a couple of corporeal languages and can easily learn others to achieve fluency. I’m still very much in the process of really digging into Contemporary dance, which is my foreign language (or language family since it’s such an umbrella term), while Ballet remains my mother tongue. But I’m glad that I’ve picked up phrases and structures from different corporeal languages to help me adapt more easily to other tongues. I mourn the brief but wonderful time I learning everything I could from Lali and Young Jin, but even if my memory of the work fades, I’ve gained much more than I will eventually lose to time.