Visual by Jack Kek
By Richard Chua
28 July 2012, 8pm
I was in my early twenties … and at the time, of course, being a young intellectual, I wanted desperately to get away, see something different, throw myself into something practical…One day, I was on a small boat with a few people from a family of fishermen…as we were waiting for the moment to pull in the nets, an individual known as Petit-Jean … pointed out to me something floating on the surface of the waves. It was a small can, a sardine can…It glittered in the sun. And Petit-Jean said to me – You see that can? Do you see it? Well it doesn’t see you (Lacan 1981: 95; Copjec 1994: 30–31).
What has Lacan’s little story got to do with Malaysian choreographer Jack Kek’s dance piece entitled Adam and Eve? Nothing much, I think, for the inference is weak and narrow, based on a gaze his fellow dancer Hoi Cheng Sim (as the biblical character Eve) gave to her co-dancer, founder of Malaysian dance company Magic Beans Kek (as the character Adam) at the very beginning of the dance piece. Taking this gaze as departure to a dance review likens the man pushing the chairs for a frail woman in Pina Bausch’s Cafe Muller. The act of clearing indicates both an intention to explore and to love (clearing the dangers for the beloved). Not so much a re-telling of the biblical story, Kek’s Adam and Eve is a re-organisation of vignettes of Bausch’s dance theatre genre. Bausch created the genre of dance theatre in the seventies with signature pieces such as the mentioned “melancholic Café Müller (1978), in which dancers stumble around the stage crashing into tables and chairs, and a thrilling Rite of Spring (1975), which required the stage to be completely covered with soil (1)” . One might ask: Is this a re-hash of Bausch’s aesthetics and style? It is easy to criticise it as an aesthetics copy, but by considering the complexities in cultural translation, strictly speaking, every single copy of the original cannot be classified as a copy; a re-creation, at most, with the choreographer’s own artistic sensibilities embedded within.
What matters in this piece of work is the choreographer Kek’s own intention and language that either complements, augments, or subverts the form, content, aesthetics of Bausch’s dance theatre. Attempts in doing so are in themselves a huge challenge, for the literature for and against it abound, there are many different ways of “breaking” it. In Kek’s Adam and Eve, his intention might not be attempting to break it, but to tease out the beauty of dance theatre, introducing it to the Malaysian audience, of whom the understanding of the concept of dance theatre might be limited. All aside, it is interesting to engage in this debate. As a writer, I am keenly interested in striking up a conversation with the dance piece, via a loose reference to Krips’ criticism of the misrepresentation writer Jean Copjec’s reading of [Michel] Focault’s panopticon has brought in her “choosing to focus exclusively upon those aspects of his work on the panopticon that have been taken by orthodox film theory (Copjec 1994: 4)(2)”. It is not the debate between Krips and Copjec’s reading into the theories of these thinkers I am interested in, but the claiming process they have adopted in order to understand the theory in contention a little better. It is my intention to adopt this spirit of inquiry here, albeit in a small way, into Kek’s Adam and Eve.
I would like to return to my quoting the little story of Lacan at the beginning of the review to provide a little background on how the Lacanian gaze came about. Lacan’s encounter with the Breton fisherman brings about a revelation brought about by the light the sardine can caught that briefly blinded him. The physiological discomfort occasioned by the flashes of light from the can blends and reinforces a qualitatively similar affect in the young Lacan that comes from a different realm. He experiences a feeling of discomfort, which, rather than physiological in origin, is filled with political guilt at his own privileged position in relation to the working class fishermen. It caused excessive anxiety in the young Lacan, even shame, about who he is and what he is doing (Krips, 2010)(3). My focus is not to criticise Lacan’s privileged class status in society, but the “look” or “looks” that took place between Lacan and the tin-can. “In Freud’s terms, we may say that the scrutiny that the young Lacan directs outwardly at his surroundings encounters resistance from the blinding light reflected by the tin can; and as a result the scrutiny “turns around”, that is, reflexively turns back upon Lacan, at the same time as it switches from active to passive voice – from “I look” to “I am looked at ”. (Freud, Instincts and Vicissitudes 1997: 92–94). Krips (2010) puts it best, “To put it in general terms, because it encounters an uncomfortable resistance, a conscious look that is directed outwards transforms into an self-consciousness that returns to its agent as anxiety in relation to the scrutiny of an externalised anonymous Other. Lacan refers to the latter scrutiny, but also to the object that is its source as “the gaze”.
Krips interpretation of Freud’s on Lacan provides me with a little window in analysing dancer Hoi’s Eve gaze towards Kek’s Adam. It not only exhibits love and seduction, but also an acute awareness of their sense of identity, as created by the creator (Hoi as Eve, and Kek as Adam could also be studied separately as different identities). In every part of the dance piece, from the time both of them get acquainted, to the time when they get married, the time they decide on revisiting the dating process etc encompasses gazes that direct towards each other, but encounters resistance. The resistance might be about the rules they are required to abide by in their world (or, to us, the society), it might also be about their bodies. For both are in direct surveillance from a power above.
Clearly, both Adam and Eve are trapped and monitored in their own world. The red apple in the form of red helmets, as interpreted by choreographer Kek, is a trapping device for both of them. As Adam and Eve attempt to ride away in a motorbike, and to kiss away passionately, they encounter resistance. Metaphorically, the use of the helmet is apt and poignant. What makes interesting discovery is when they mutually smell each other: smelling as an act of discovery and exploration. The act of smelling couples the act of seeing and gazing into each other. The politics within the bodies are in one with the politics of the relationship between “to look” and “to be looked upon” between Adam and Eve.
This seemingly resembles Bausch’s aesthetic style of repetition in Bluebeard, involving both a male and female dancer. In Kek’s attempt to draw out a visual essay about male-female body politics — as New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff puts it about Pina Bausch’s Bluebeard (1984): “To use a wife-killer and his victim as a metaphor for the impasse reached in the battle of the sexes is to say something less than hopeful about the basis of male-female relations (Kisselgoff 1984)(4),”– his rendition of the husband-wife politics, albeit in a more sweet and over romantic way, attempting at a no-nonsense toughness seems dissipated, lacking the energy. However, what makes Adam and Eve an interesting read is the spiritual aspects of the relationship. It is the hurt and happiness that defines the every symbol of Adam and Eve. Hoi’s hurt is perhaps one of the most haunting a female body could embody. Her rendition of the struggle of a woman wanting to free herself from the restraints of not being able to love has provided a good direct reference to the male-patriarchal naivety and oppression. It is accredited to her extreme effort in body-centredness in technique.
In conclusion, with all the problematics within the gazes both Adam and Eve gave to each other, reflexivity and struggles in fulfilling their desires aside, is there a way both Adam and Eve (it might be a good reference point for all the male and female bodies in this world) could break free from these centres of powers. Krips usage of Zizek’s Ideological Fantasy seems to provide further thinking into how bodies in society and in dance could be freed: To actively encounter the object, bypassing the intermediate role of the the screen of fantasy (Zizek 1997: 31)(5). According to Krips (2010), “it is a matter of not merely saying but also acting out publicly what everyone knows in private but dares not say: not merely announcing in public that the Emperor is naked, but arresting him for indecent exposure. By Lacanianizing Foucault, as [he has] done here, we are able to understand the logic behind such heterodox strategies for opposing modern regimes of surveillance.” Krips’ notion might not apply to the analysis of Kek’s dance piece Adam and Eve, but the spirit of engagement Krips has could be a counterpoint allowing us to reflect upon the room of improvement Kek’s Adam and Eve has in making the work a more cutting-edge and engaging intellectual reading than just a feel-good rendition of the beauties in the world, falling into the pits of creating a piece of work reflecting the sensibilities of a certain privileged class of educated, intellectual and not to mention affluent peoples, appealing only to them.
(1) “Pina Bausch”, Wikipedia, accessed August 25, 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pina_Bausch
(2) Copjec, J. 1994. Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists, Harvard: MIT Press.
(3) Kripps, H. “The Politics of the Gaze: Foucault, Lacan and Žižek”, Culture Unbound Volume 2, 2010: 91–102. Hosted by Linköping University Electronic Press: http://www.cultureunbound.ep.liu.se.
(4) Kissellgoff, A. 1984. Dance: A “Bluebeard” by Pina Bausch Dance Troupe, New York Times, 6(16). http://www.nytimes.com/1984/06/16/arts/dance-a-bluebeard-by-pina-bausch-troupe.html
(5) Žižek, S.1997. The Plague of Fantasies. London: Verso. Quoted in Kripps 2010: 91–102.