Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

Beijing, China: Week 11, Part 1 (Connections, Obsessions, and Commitment)

I get off the bus at 11pm yesterday, a long day almost drawn to a close.  I got into the office early, and left late. There is much to be done, and as the first of the month springs its sweaty, smoggy head into my face, I feel the toothy bite of haste nipping at my heels. Still, I spent the evening with Mel and some of her AYAD cohort, at of all places, a Tex-Mex restaurant. I had fish and chips, which I threw up the next morning. I should have known better than to eat that kind of non-Chinese food in China. Mostly I wanted to catch up with Mel, who was my delightful travel companion throughout Jilin province. We promised to meet up in New York next year. And, as I apparently have a distant relative in Adelaide, I have twice the excuse to visit her there.

The complex I live in sprouts with apartment towers, shaken from the same mold.  Fortunately, like any good quality replica, each has its own number, and so I meander my way home every night.  From the bus stop I walk over the street on a pedestrian bridge. I am an urban rat after all, for as I approach, I delight in the sparkle of colored lights in every window. Like planets in the deep nebula of space, their glow brings life to darkness.  Yellow. Blue. Orange.   Later, having entered my cookie-cutter apartment, I leave my 14th floor apartment curtains open and go about my evening ministrations. I look at the lights across the way, and feel a kinship to the others.

I am not what one would describe as being “centrally located” in Beijing. It takes me 3 line changes, and a bus, and an hour of time to get back from dinner with Mel.  Being me, I cannot stand to just stand. So, I spend a lot of time on public transit trying to push my left shoulder lower than my right one, shoving my shoulder blades down while keeping my arms relaxed, and standing straight up in my hip joints. Why? Two weeks ago my dance coach pointed out that I have a tendency to “list starboard,” as Ravi put it. And, that my hips could be stronger.  I care nothing for the vagaries of fashion or fitness trends, but a single comment from my dance teacher is capable of setting me on an obsessive path to “correct myself.”

Well, we all have our fixations.

I read an interview today, with an artist (Jen P. Harris) who is launching her first solo show in New York. She talked briefly about what happens when she doesn’t get a painting quite right, how she becomes very difficult to be around, “I get kind of a single-track mind, I would say very internal and somewhat obsessive…at times I need space away from the work. But at other times you just have to be right up against it…you have to, otherwise you’re not going to get through it.”

She says, too, that painting (like poetry) requires a kind of commitment.  You can’t just consume it in packaged form and truly enter the painting’s many dimensions. So what is the difference between ballroom, which is a kind of performance art, and the poetry/painting she speaks of? Like forms of other, more mainstream performance – classical music, ballet, opera and plays come to mind – ballroom at its best is forever unstable. The very nature of performance is that it cannot be replicated, that it flees with time. The best performances carry their audiences through its many dimensions. If paintings were like this, the painting should be burned immediately after someone looked at it. And then, it would have to be re-painted for the next person.  

When I think of packaged consumption, I think of Oreos, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and McDonald’s French Fries (my three favorites).  Businesspeople know that the allure of such items is their consistency: you know what you’ll get, and every single time will be just the same as the last. Low risk.  But with dance, you can never say what exactly you and your partner will produce. You know the elements, but not how you will choose to apply them. It is like baking from scratch, with no recipe. And so, I feel myself in the process of always becoming more than I just was.  

The light squares from neighboring apartments satisfies me, in their remoteness and also their distance. But ballroom is the height of sensation between two people inside of music.  It is the pas de deux on Prozac, hyperbole in motion. At its best, it is a physical display of the fleeting artistry that two people can create together. We can return obsessively to beloved paintings and poems; they illuminate us differently as our life contexts shift, and yet they do not change.  In some ways, I feel that my actions toward dance, like standing up straight in a subway car as it hurtles forth underground – can become an act of creation, and of commitment.

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