The Body Beyond A Body

A conversation with Xiao Ke
26th August 2010

Dora: Hello, Xiao Ke. Can you have a self –introduction first?

Xiao Ke: Hello. My Chinese name is Xiao Ke. I am a chorographer and dancer, also an independent artist living in China. What I do is focus on physical art, which includes contemporary dance, physical art, like performing art and other art forms connected with physical performance.

Dora: Can you give us a background briefing? Like what kind of dance did you learn before? What kind of physical performance you are doing now?

Xiao Ke: In China, I began to dance when I was four years old. At that time, nobody taught me dance and I used dance to express my own idea. Later, when I was six years old, I took the lessons of traditional Chinese folk dance and became a dancer. I had been dancing traditional Chinese folk dance for twelve years. When I was eighteen years old, I went to my university and joined the traditional Chinese dance company. Then I tried to find a new dance language by myself thus I changed to modern dance and started to research the contemporary dance. This is the first time I open my mind.

With my research going on, in 2000, I opened myself again as I tried to cooperated with different artists, including painters, installation artists, video artists and live musician. I try to do more crossing-over art. In 2004, my friend and I worked together and built up our own physical theatre group, called ZU-HE-NIAO in Chinese, which means NIAO collective. It's an independent collective. I worked as a dancer, chorographer and performer. Our group worked together, and created a few physical theatre performances until 2007.

In 2007, I created my own art studio in Beijing, which was named as "Ugly". From then, I began to create my own conceptual work and explore the way I understand my body and physical art in wider and more open discourses.

Dora: You are talking about you are quite interested in different art forms. Within different art forms, how do you improvise your piece of dance? What is your working method?

Xiao Ke: It's a huge question. It depends on cases.

Dora: Tell me the how you improvise your individual performance and how you cooperate with the other artists alternatively. It must be different.

Xiao Ke: Definitely. However, the way I work highly depends on the private relationship, in most cases, the friendship, between my colleges and me. I cannot work just for a job because my dance is related to my daily life thus whether I am interested in the personalities of my colleges or not is especially important to me. Generally, I am open-minded and freely embrace different ideas.

Talking about my esthetic idea, I choose different way to make different works. I will make a solo piece and invite different artists to join in it if my fundamental idea comes from my esthetic thinking and my study of philosophy. Normally I choose cooperation if I find myself interested in anything of my colleges, especially the personalities, backgrounds and philosophies. They works well for me that I develop myself by both making solo and cooperating with others.

Dora: That's great. But I am still quite interested in how you cope with different performance languages, which come from artists from either different backgrounds or different cultures?

Xiao Ke: Normally I don't separate people in these ways. I try to understand people from my private point of view. I believe that all the artists are willing to arrive at the same destination in the end. The only difference is I use my body language, musicians use computer or music instruments, and for painters, they are using color. The key point is communication. My college and me need to find similarities in our ideas, which means I need to spend more time to communicate and finally build up the bridge. As long as we find the common concept or topic, we can use our own way to establish our cooperative performance together.

Dora: Then how do you use your own body in different ways? Have you ever use your vocal language or? What do you think of vocal language as a performance element?

Xiao Ke: Yes, I use vocal language sometimes. However in my own piece, I don't use human languages on stage very often, Chinese or English. I believe that it's difficult to express your ideas in vocal or written languages, as they are abstract. To be honest, for me, they are more abstract than body language. When we came to the world, no one is able to talk but we understand the sound and use our body to react it naturally therefore body language is the base for human beings rather than language, which is the result of education. For me, physical language is my root. But I never avoid using language, and what I would like to do is to create something in between.

Taking my body as a whole, I use not only my voice, the sound from my mouth, but also my muscles, my belly and my feet to make sound.

Dora: That's interesting. Tell me a bit about what you are doing right now.

Xiao Ke: Now I work with a German artist and make a show in Shanghai Expo. There will be another show which was produced in May and show in the coming October. My solo piece is on the process as well and it will be shown in Switzerland in November and in Shanghai next year. It seems like I am busier than I thought. I will start my fourth conceptual work in Shanghai later. I separate my work into different parts. For those theatre pieces, I will try cooperation and for conceptual works, I would rather to be my solo pieces. It makes a balance for me as in different works I earned different experiences, which push me to think wider and deeper.

Dora: Thank you very much, Xiao Ke.

Xiao Ke: You are welcome.

About Xiao Ke

Xiao Ke graduated from the Fudan University. She founded her own dance studio XK Dance Studio in Shanghai in 1999 to explore personal contemporary dance and performance work; from 2002 she collaborated with different contemporary artists to build up some crossing communication. In 2005, Xiao Ke collaborated with Zhang Xian and other artists and found Zuhe Niao, began the exploration of physical theatre in Shanghai, which was invited and performed in Europe and Asia, and was the winner of ZKB AWARD in 2006 Swiss international theater festival. In 2007, she founded UGLY conceptual dance studio in Beijing, and collaborated with other artists, choreographers and musicians from Germany, Japan, Ireland and Switzerland, created "Sickroom #Ji", "Dialogue", "PingTan Tales" and "Overseas", which were performed in Berlin, Amsterdam, Dublin, Edinburgh and Beijing. Now, her main focus is the exploration and development of conceptual dance with various artistic forms.