The final episode of the series Stargate SG1 is entitled “Unending.” It’s a rather complicated episode involving the cast being in a sort of suspended timestream, but luckily for you the only aspect that is relevant to this post is the title.
In working with Lali and Young Jin on the Akram Khan material this semester, we were told to see the moments of sharp “hits” not as endings but as hits that then rebounded into the next moment (often, if not always, a moment of relative softness). These moments then in turn move into the next movement in a phrase. Watching myself and my fellow dancers work with this comment, the difference was immediately apparent. It kept our energy visibly moving through the phrase rather than allowing it to stop in these moments where we were tempted to lock up. Creating the idea of (un)ending at these moments allowed us to craft our way through the phrase. In my mind I imagine the way we move our energy through Khan’s phrases as though we are sculpting with a limited amount of pliable putty. In sharp “hits” we gather it up into a central peak, but rather than it solidifying in that position, it flattens itself out naturally, flowing back into a pliable mass, still active, and then immediately swept back up by us into a new form – here a wave, there a flower. This, to me, holds something essential of the incredible dynamic of his movement and about the insight of our teachers.
The use of the breath in Khan’s phrases also echoes this theme of (un)endings. The breath doesn’t stop – the end of every inhale is the beginning of an exhale, and so on. The deep connection we were taught to find between the breath and the dance was life-changing for me. The shaping of these breath dynamics allows Khan’s phrases to carry incredible energy and power in sweeping arcs, gentle releases and sudden pops. The exhilaration of “breathing” through one particular phrase, from a piece called Bahok, is a feeling I will not soon forget. Everything comes alive. Connecting the life force of the body, breath, to the dance allows for a palpable connection between the movement and that life force, an idea I hope to be able to work with in the future.
In my three years in Yale Dance Theater, I have always wished that each project did not have to end. Never has that feeling been so acute as with the Akram Khan project. Experiencing the way that Khan’s movement felt on my body, the way that his principles of movement cultivated that experience, and watching Lali and Young Jin has changed my own way of approaching dance training and composition. I have new-found motivation to train myself physically, knowing that this type of choreography exists in the world, knowing what it looks like when performed by incredible dancers, and I wonder how his principles of fusion and breath can be applied to my own cultural dance form, Irish step dancing.
This, then, is an (un)ending as well, an exhale at the end of my Yale career on its way into the inhale of my future. I will carry with me in my breath and in my body what I have learned from Yale Dance Theater, and I could not be more grateful to Emily, Lali, Young Jin, my fellow dancers, and all of the previous coaches for the experience.