The Art Of Colour .Dance original series was featured on the dance website The Dance Current episodically between September 28 and October 12, 2016. The publication was accompanied by write-ups featuring excerpts of an interview between the creators, dancer-choreographer Ming-Bo Lam and filmmaker Christian Peterson, and Emma Kerson of The Dance Current. The full interview transcript can be found below.
The Art of Colour .Dance is a series of dance videos that provide contemporary duets the ability to create, simply. Giving the dancers full freedom in an empty ‘white box’ studio, TAOC.D largely forgoes cinematic embellishments, presenting short choreographic works in stark, crisp black and white. Inspired by Bauhaus artist and theorist Johannes Itten’s seminal work of the same name, among the first to formally define chromatic theory, TAOC.D poses the question: can a colour be represented through movement? Inviting dancers to interpret a specific colour - identified by its HEX number - and its emotional implications, it leaves the viewer to enjoy the flow of movement with minimal filmmaking
The following is the creators' full interview with The Dance Current's Emma Kerson. This interview took place over email exchange on September 18, 2015.
Emma Kerson: How did this adventure / collaboration begin? Where did the concept originate?
Ming-Bo Lam: Christian and I first met on a commercial shoot, and from that point forward wanted to collaborate on something more artistic. We met to brainstorm a few times, prior to The Art of Colour, but it wasn’t until my sister Jee came to visit, in the summer of 2015, that we pushed to solidify the concept and make the shoot happen. The first two duets were choreographed and filmed that summer. It coincided nicely with a personal goal of mine to explore the creation of duets, to play with moments of unison, connection, and focus. The third originated in a choreographic process I participated in as part of The Garage. It was after I stepped back and looked at the duet between Jenna and Julie - which is really an excerpt from a larger work in progress - that I felt it would work beautifully as the third installment to our short series.
Christian Peterson: As far as the specific The Art of Colour idea is concerned, it came from the book of the same name by Johannes Itten. It’s a really important work in art history, and when I was brainstorming with Ming-Bo, I brought it up and became enamored with it, conceptually. Itten has all these illustrations that detail how you perceive a colour not just by itself, but in relation to others that it is placed with - for example, how does red feel if it’s beside green, versus if it’s in the middle of an all-black page. So we rolled with that, and the concept became to put two dancers together in a blank space and see how they could relate to each other around the idea of a colour; how there could be instances where they reinforced each other's movement, and others where it was more about push and pull. It’s all a bit abstract, but in the end it’s about perception… whether it be about colour or movement.
EK: You seem to be interested in the female duet. Can you speak to that?
MBL: Sometimes, when a duet is conceived with a heterosexual pair, the viewer can infer that a specific relationship exists: Him and Her. And with that, the viewer’s preconceived ideas can overpower their experience. It was my hope that by featuring a series of female duets, there would be more fluid storytelling, less assumptions about how their relationship would play out. There was a sense of freedom as a choreographer because I didn’t feel the need to define their relationship. You can see vulnerability, strength, sometimes trust between partners. That being said, the specific narrative in each duet is not overwhelming. The viewer is able to develop their own interpretation. In the end, it was exciting because, especially as a series, it felt like more of a blank canvas.
EK: What are your plans for the future? The amount of colours available are limitless, or is this specifically a trilogy?
CP: In an ideal world, we’d love to keep creating choreographies that represent specific colours, and then have a large body of work that would really explore the nuances of how we perceive and think about the relation between colour, motion, and emotion. Then you could watch, say, all the videos that live in the purple spectrum, or orange, or whatever, and you’d see how the dancers actually live that. Almost like a compendium. For now, because resources are finite, we’ve decided to make a triptych, but we’d love to eventually reopen the series and provide a platform for dancers to play with those ideas.
EK: Was the derivation of the choreography colour-based? If so, how did you go about doing this? Could you share a little bit about each video and what sparked the inspiration for each / how did you select the colours and interpreters?
MBL: I focused almost entirely on intention and mood in the creation of each duet. I felt that there was a sense of interchangeability between mood and colour; if I focused on one, the other would emerge. I don’t think I could have foreseen the exact colour we’d end up choosing during the creation and filming of each piece, but on some level, while I couldn’t pinpoint an exact shade, I could sense the general hue. It was really interesting to witness the evolution of our colour choices. I also feel that as you - the viewer - watch each duet, you may imagine a different colour or wish we’d chosen something else. Where those instincts and associations come from, that’s a whole other conversation...
CP: Similarly, when I saw the choreographies for the first time on set, the decision-making process for me was about how each film should feel. For #677E7F, we went mostly neutral white, whereas for #958EAC and #1E1F27, a contrasty-er look just happened. We did shoot brighter looks as well, but the feeling, both on set and in the editing room, was that we wanted those relationships between the dancers to happen in the shadows, in that zone just before the darkness. What you’re left with, I think, is one ‘lighter’ piece in which you see both dancers almost as mirrors to each other, and two other ‘darker’ pieces that portray relationships that are a bit heavier, sometimes borderline predatory. These nuances came to be once the camera got rolling and Ming-Bo and myself started looking at the monitors and allowing ourselves to feel all this.
EK: Which came first, the dance or the colour?
MBL: The dance. After we had wrapped shooting, we all gathered around the computer monitor to pull a few different ideas. All together, we would shift shades just slightly to see how closely we could pair a visual with the emotional experience we’d just shared. I remember being surprised by the lilac chosen for #958EAC, but once we had seen it, we couldn’t change it. Nothing else had the same impact. It was quite powerful, how setting the colour locked-in the intention of the work.
CP: And then when got into editing. Once we’d chosen the colour, even though that process was ‘soft’, we really wanted to be striking in how we communicated it. That’s why each video starts with this mysterious colour HEX code (the hashtag) and ends with that statement coloured square. They’re short pieces, so it’s like ‘here’s the dance, here’s this massive bloc of colour, done.’
EK: Anything else you’d like us to know about these videos?
CP: Yes, one thing that might be interesting to know is that, very early on, we decided that there should be as little camerawork as possible in the actual videos. What I mean by that is that I see a lot of stunning dance films - stuff that blows your mind as far as how it looks, and how it makes you feel - that are actually not really about the dance, but are more of a visual showcase for everyone involved. From the onset of the project, we agreed that the camerawork should be ‘invisible’. We could play with lighting and editing, but it had to be a straightforward perspective: a plain studio, a camera pointing at the wall, no tilting, panning, sliding, nothing. That way it might be less about ego, and more the relationship between film and dance.
MBL: We’d also like to thank everyone who made this project possible! The dancers, Jee Lam, Mayumi Lashbrook, Julie McLachlan, Natasha Poon Woo, and Jenna Schaefer, for their willingness to do take upon take, their open minds, creative energy, and patience as we worked to release this project, the fabulous makeup artist Brooke Palsson, who did such great research and preparation, brought such positive energy to set, and helped us feel the part.
CP: Thanks as well to the whole filmmaking crew: Julie Hong, who was a producer and co-director on #677E7F and #958EAC (for which she was also the editor), Lucca Dutra, our camera assistant, our PA Cynthia Ji, as well as our amazing key grip Crystal Lockhart, who’s always my go-to. Thanks also to Dorothy Leung, who created our strikingly minimalist visual identity.
MBL: None of this could have happened without these people supporting our vision!