blurred lines // dance calligraphy in taiwan
Amid the business of modern life and the buzz of modern technology we think it is important to acknowledge the importance of human movement and the tactile world. So these stunning performances and visions artistically captured by Jeffrey Wang have inspired us to slip into our slippers and observe in awe the athletic and grace of dance calligraphy.
Performed en pointe by the Taiwan’s Assembly Dance Theatre (組合語言舞團), they express the meaning, philosophy and movement behind the ancient Chinese written characters through human movement and modern ballet. This set of photographs was created for an exhibition in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan by Wang.
The luscious and textured images were captured using light reflected off the light skin and costumes of the dancers against a black background. Wang used a very long exposures, almost to the point of it being a slow video effect a technique. This is a technique that he uses in his art photography that blurs the line between video and still photography.
Each image forms a Chinese characters through the body and blur of the dancer and each symbol is more than just a word in the conventional sense but a succinct philosophy. The picture above forms the symbol for 'god-like' or 'miraculous', while the picture below mean 'witty'. The others in the sequence of four are 'unique' and 'poetic'.
Although it might not seem obvious at first, ballet and calligraphy are ideal partners in art. In ancient Chinese history and culture calligraphy was as much than a writen functional word but rather the movement of the hand to make the word was as important as the imprint left on the paper.
The characters in modern Chinese are more or less the same as those that were being used in 1500 BC, and arguably the Chinese were doing symbols that could recognised as early as 4000 BC. Although the Japanese had a completely different spoken language they gradually adopted the beautiful Chinese symbols into their written language as they also adopted Zen Buddhism. It shaped the simplictiy of their haiku poems.
Like a dancer, the calligrapher practiced a move or letter for many years before they performed it on a silk scroll. To the reader, they could see the writers dancing hands as they read the characters hundreds of years later empowering the language a dynamic life.
According to Japanese calligraphy writer Joan Stanley-Baker (one of the foremost experts on Japanese art, whose calligraphy derives from the Chinese)
'Calligraphy is sheer life experienced through energy in motion that is registered as traces on silk or paper, with time and rhythm in shifting space its main ingredients.'
In the West our writing systems may have always been simpler but they showed the personality of the writer by the way he looped his 'j's or crossed her ’t’s. So, perhaps, much the same as in the Far East we compromise the art and poetry of writing when we use a keyboard instead of pen and paper.
If we could add to the sequence of words and symbols (unique, witty, miraculous and poetic) it might be the world and symbol for 'freedom'. There is a sense of freedom from the constraint of modern desks and screens, it give us the urge to stand and raise our arms even if we cannot pirouette and form the beautiful shape of the dancers.
We've included a video below which we hope we'll give you that same sense of bliss and beauty.
Jeffrey Wang is an arts and fashion photographer and graphic designer who runs the Blanq agency in Taipei.
Taiwan's Assembly Dance Theatre was founded in 1993 and is inspired by Chinese calligraphy which it uses it to create universal language and expression through movement. The dance ensemble has presented more than 140 performances across the world from New York to Edinburgh.