My working process usually involves 5 phases. The first 3 phases focus on research, while the last 2 phases are production-oriented. The phases are porous and follow a non-linear trajectory. Throughout the whole process, they form, inform and transform each other through a reflective iterative loop.
Central to my works is the human subject, and in particular, the marginalised and minoritised people. Before starting to create a work, I need to have a clear understanding of the human subjects in the work and what they want to communicate to the audience. So I usually start with an intensive research process, using participatory action research method. I am attracted to this method because of its approach to creating change through a close interaction between practice and theory. My research process can be divided into 3 stages:
Phase 1: Make sense
I approach the human subjects in my projects as agents who hold knowledge and have the capacity to analyse and employ it. In order to gain a deeper sense of their lived experiences, contexts, needs and what they wish to change, I use a combination of movement practice and ethnographic methods (specifically, archival research, interview, focus group discussion and participant observation). In some projects, I myself am the human subject, while in others, they come from specific interest groups.
Research ethics when working with my subjects:
– Subject must not be exposed to any harm, be it physical, mental or emotional, during their collaboration in the research.
– Subject must not be manipulated or coerced to collaborate in the research. They must take part out of their own free will and with consent.
– Subject must not be tokenised or exploited.
– Subject must be informed of the purpose of the performance and have full control over the use of the materials they bring into the research.
Phase 2: Conceptualise
The aim is to create a conceptual framework for a performance, based on the information gathered in Phase 1. This involves defining the key concepts of the performance and developing an overall vision for it. The key questions I ask are: What do the human subjects in my project want to convey to the audience? How can I bring it across through the performance? What is my role as an artist in it? What is needed to turn the performance space into an engagement and transformative space?
Phase 3: Strategise
As my works are designed as choreographic interventions and social experiments, I need to develop performance strategies, in order to make them effective. I work with performance strategies that usually involve decolonisation, queerness, vulnerability, care and failure.
There are 2 phases in my creation process. Here I focus my attention on the other main group of human subjects in my works: the audience. Working with audience collaboration requires an understanding of the audience’s motivation. I believe that audience collaborates willingly in a performance, only if they feel invested in it. Therefore, other than designing the performance dramaturgy, narrative, choreography and structure, I also design the audience collaboration. 4 principles form the base of the design of my audience collaboration:
- The audience is present. They are the protagonists and form a central part of my works. They are not silent and invisible witness/observers.
- The audience is intelligent. They know what they want and what works for them.
- Non-participation is a form of participation. Participation and non-participation are both actions and equally valued. Audience must have the freedom to choose, based on their own needs and situations.
- Change is a collective act. The choice of each individual audience affects the collective outcome of the performance.
Phase 4: Prototype
Based on the conceptual framework and strategies developed in the research process, I create the necessary contents for the performance, which include movements, text, sound, lights, costumes, props, staging, etc. Instead of completing the performance in one go, I create bite-size prototypes, which allow me to test out in a manageable manner how well all the elements work together.
In addition, I work on the audience collaboration. For this, I follow the motto: form follows function. This means that all the elements in the performance must work together to enable audience collaboration. Whatever does not contribute to it will be removed in this phase because it may confuse the audience, thereby affecting their collaboration.
Phase 5: Test
Prototypes are tested on different groups of test-audience at various points during the creation process. This allows me to try out specific aspects of the performance and find out blindspots in it. Testing also helps to give me a glimpse into what goes on in the audience’s mind and their experience of the work. I start testing quite soon in the creation process, often with a very rudimentary prototype. I use the feedback from each test to re-working the prototype, until it develops into a complete performance.