We’ve had an exciting and interesting week back in the studio, with research and development into our new production Playful Tiger. Dance Artist Kai-Wen Chuang shares her thoughts on the process so far.
Playful Tiger is a new Barrowland Ballet production inspired by the successful children dance theatre performance Tiger Tale. It is a version of the show being made specifically with and for children and young people who are profoundly autistic and mainly non-verbal, although they may use language in an echoing or associative way or by vocalising. Other means of communication that they may rely upon include the use body language, symbols and signs.
We have had a great packed schedule for the first week of research and development of Playful Tiger with a brilliant team. This includes Natasha Gilmore the choreographer and artistic director, Ellie Griffiths a theatre maker who specialises in making multi sensory theatre for neuro-diverse audiences, Belinda McElhinney as producer, Craig McNeill as Technical Manager and dance artists Jade Adamson, Kai-Wen Chuang, and Vince Virr.
We spent time during the week observing pupils in class at Isobel Mair School, training and rehearsing and at the end of the week performing segments of the show with four groups of students in the Isobel Mair School. (*Info about Isobel Mair school https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/er/IsobelMair/)
Sensory exercises: Create a small performance with hands
After one week of working with our new audience of children and young people I have learnt many things but also realise how little I know. After this week, I feel artists, who use sensory ways to experience, think and communicate with the world, have some things in common with our new audiences.
I can relate to some of our audiences who are non-verbal and think in visual and physical (body) way as I am more like a visual thinker being a dancer.; I am good at memorising movement and have an awareness of the environment by visual clues. I also use the various images to stimulate and create different (movement & dance) qualities and characters. Moreover, I love to go to contact improvisation Jams because it is a way that I can communicate with people fluently and purely without language or any social concerns.
Maybe it is also about my own experience of living and working in a foreign country, which has a different culture, language, custom, tradition, and natural environment. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and stress by living in Scotland, but I learn to allow myself to be patient and take times to finish daily life tasks or to stick with the same daily routines. It makes me feel better.
Sensory exercises: Feeling the physical vibration within the music
This week I particularly enjoyed the various sensory exercises led by Ellie Griffiths. Those exercises helped us to tune into our five senses and open a door to maybe put ourselves into our audience’s shoes; to have different experiences and perspectives of the world. For example, Jade and I paired up to do an exercise, which I called “Camera zoom-in eyes”. I closed my eyes and Jade led me to move around the space. Once she touched my shoulder, it was a signal to open my eyes. A giant object full of details and colors was in front of me. She tapped my shoulder again, and I closed my eyes. That image faded away slowly. We repeated this several times. The world I knew was different and it felt like going to see photography works, stimulating various thoughts and emotions, in the art gallery.
I was concerned about several things this week connected to performing Playful Tiger. My biggest worry would be that I made our audiences have bad experience and that they wouldn’t go back to see dance theatre in the future. Moreover, my other silly concern was about my character (Mom) being too strict, boring, and scary so that the audiences wouldn’t be interested in interacting with me in the second half of the performance.
However, I am quite happy with the result of the test performance on Friday in school. Most of the audiences enjoyed the performance and naturally came to me to dance, play, and explore the set.
Performing segments of the show in Isobel Mair school – Interacting section.
We created Tiger Tale in 2013 and have performed hundreds shows over the world for six years. It is special and exciting for me to be part of the creative team in Playful Tiger. It offers a great opportunity for me to re-visit the show and re-imagine my character. Moreover, I enjoyed facing surprises and the process of learning while you are doing it. Like, the performance on Friday in school, a boy came into the performing space while we were dancing. It was a new situation and my mind flashed with some questions and solutions, and then I decided that my character within the story works better not to notice and interact him.
Next week I would like to explore my character’s story journey and create a sensory character’s profile, which includes what smells she has, what voice she has, what sound or noise she makes, what physical quality she has, what objects texture she can offer. I also want to discover how my character will interact with audiences. After this week training sessions, observing from school class and the test performance, I would pay more attention to listen, connect, find mutual interests with audiences.
Playful Tiger is supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Creative Scotland.