In general the topic “masks” can generate interesting discussions - for example people can perhaps feel they can hide; it could be a manner or expression that hides our true identity or feelings, literally or figuratively. White face masks made their debut in the studio today. These particular masks give a monster-like quality to the work. To me this monster face doesn't invoke typical spine-chilling feelings, rather an emotional response of allure and intrigue.
Humans usually feel like they can hide behind masks, but in this case the camouflage disguise reveals even more about the person/dancer behind it. A very specific character is created when the mask is worn, a strong figure - and so the movement quality and dynamism need to be it’s equal. This challenge is a wonderful opportunity for the dancers; a chance to dance to their extremes with a certain wildness of spirit. Movement needs to be exaggerated and a powerful physicality should consume the entire body for an excellent outcome. “When its low it’s low, when its high it's high, and a plié is a real plié. You have to go to the extremes otherwise it looks like a mish-mash. Get risky!”
In the first place, to perform well with a mask, body awareness is important. Luckily our dancers are on a good path regarding this. Portraying things that aren’t human, like colours, textures, sounds and emotions are all part of the training for this project and improve the way one would embody the masks while performing. Masks can also be used as a theatrical link between planes of existence, moving between reality and fantasy. For dancers this is an exciting space to be in.
Even if the same mask is worn, different personas can be portrayed. This is why it is good for the dancers to research and explore by themselves, and then bring their discoveries back to the group. With masks, discord between dancers are even more exposed than usual - to have the same physicality and musicality are key elements in working as a team.
The plain reality of masks too is that they often hurt, you can’t see or breathe properly and peripheral vision is impaired. This is the moment to get used to it, and make it work to your advantage.
Lots more can be discovered about building a character with the white mask. Today was just the beginning.
(Pictures by Lee Wai-Leung)