By Alicia Tan
In his novel My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgård said writing is about drawing the essence of what we know out of the shadows: “Not what happens there, not what actions are played out there, but the there itself. There, that is writing’s location and aim. But how to get there?”
This how is the very core of what an artist does, yet it is not always visible in the final work most spectators see.
In her piece “Tough One,” Yeujia Low, a dancer, choreographer, actor and instrumentalist—or “multi-hyphenate artist” as she calls herself—explores and embraces the artist’s internal process.
Low presented the dance at the WAXworks Showcase at Triskelion Arts on October 16.
Low enters the stage with four dancers, all wearing french braids and various shades of red. Low is also in red, but she’s wearing a coat and takes a seat at a piano situated on the back corner of stage right, facing away from the audience.
She plays Philip Glass’s “Mad Rush,” filling the venue with a tone that’s daunting, hopeful and hesitant all at once. In a mirror-like formation, the dancers set off in a series of repeating movements. There’s something beautifully childlike about the hesitant crescendos of “Mad Rush,” as if the dancers are as new to this routine as the audience.
But then there’s growth and maturity. The stage lights impregnate the room with a wave of crimson and rust, and the dancers get fiercer and stronger during every repetition. It’s as if the audience is watching them at a rehearsal, perfecting every leap and turn each time.
Low still plays behind the dancers, though she’s not completely out of focus. Perhaps it’s her we’re watching at a rehearsal—the dancers a visual embodiment of what’s going on in her mind, the gears turning, the synapses communicating, the same leaps and turns, in an effort to master what is also a repetitive structure in Glass’s composition.
The physical presence of a pianist onstage pulls back the curtain that separates the audience from backstage. There’s no distinguishing between the final work and what happens before it’s final. In “Tough One,” the creation is always a work in progress.
In fact, “Tough One” itself is a work in progress. When I spoke to Low after the show, she explained that she wanted to experiment with the dissonance between live music and the dancers—a pause in the piano while the dancers continue in silence or the dancers freezing while she continues to play—bringing to life the touch-and-go nature of practicing.
Low could play “Mad Rush” over and over and the dancers could dance the same routine over and over. And each time would be an effort to, as Knausgard puts it, draw out the essence of what they know, to try again and again and again to get to “there.”
YEUJIA LOW'S GUIDE TO NEW YORK