The Set Up: Saya Lei
Choreographers Wally Cardona and Jennifer Lacey, and composer Jonathan Bepler share an interest in re-examining the place of performance in our culture – where, why and how it is. In their last collaborative work, TOOL IS LOOT, they worked on “unknowing”, estranging themselves from their own codes and beliefs, soliciting encounters with people with no experience in dance, including an astrophysicist, sommelier, medical supply salesman, social activist. Taking their opinions, desires and assessments as “correct”, the resulting work was formed through aesthetic propositions that persisted because of their foreignness.
They now continue discussing/doing/dancing – around context, meaning, purpose, value, need – with dance experts, in The Set Up, a series of 7 full-length dances made over a 5 year period. Each dance displaces contemporary practice by living temporarily within a distinct tradition of mastery.
THE SET UP: SAYA LEI, part 6 in the series, premiered June 25-27, 2015 at the River to River Festival in NYC. The New York Times wrote: “The Set Up: Saya Lei,” a dense, captivating work, comes in and out of focus — purposely — as the artists fluctuate between premeditation and casualness, though nothing in the piece is truly casual.”
Made in Myanmar and the U.S., the work launched with an encounter with U Than Aung who, beginning to teach at age 16, was given the name “Saya Lei” (“young teacher”). Now 74, he is one of the remaining masters dedicating his life to preserving a Mandalay-style of classical performance, a style overshadowed by the government-supported Yangon-style.
Saya Lei was invited to teach what he deems most important about his life’s work. Not a normal construct for learning, the encounter was immersive yet finite: 6-weeks in Myanmar, 6-weeks in the U.S. Cardona/Lacey/Bepler also researched and participated in subcultures surrounding the forms being taught, incorporating different ways of knowing – intellectual, imaginative, projected – into the process.
The immersion period – its effort, failure, disorientation, re-orientation – is the root of all that followed. When Cardona/Lacey/Bepler, experts in “contemporary dance and music” become novices immersed in an unfamiliar cultural form, they become aware of the chaos characteristic of that space. Cultivating a creative practice within the ambiguity between doubt and belief contributes to the live-ness of the work.
Bepler’s musical score features 3 vocalists/percussionists and is an integral part of the live performance. The evening-length work also features 8 dancers.
THE SET UP: SAYA LEI was presented free of charge, outside of a theater, on a small 8’x16’ stage in the corner of Cannon’s Walk, a historic courtyard in lower Manhattan’s seaport district. Performing in this space, without charging admission fees, counters expectations and contributes to a broader discussion that deconstructs the conditions audiences expect when encountering performance.
The work was developed in residencies at Vermont Performance Lab and Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and on site at Cannon’s Walk. It will be performed in the full series premiere of all 7 dances at River to River 2017, before touring in the U.S. (including Los Angeles and Portland, OR) and France.
Parts 2, 4, 5 of THE SET UP, a 7-part series
Each piece, made by Cardona, Lacey and a master of an existent dance form, uses the elements of the site in which it is performed as its technical & theatrical palate.
Heni Winahyuningsih: dancer/teacher @ Sultan Palace, Yogya
Music: Reiko Fueting
Park Avenue Armory
Proeung Chhieng: major figure in post-war reclamation of Cambodian dance
Music: Megan Schubert
Nyoman Catra: master of Balinese Topeng
Music: Jonathan Bepler
River to River Festival, empty storefront
Cue 1: 44:45 – completion of a section of object description, beginning a dance to an invented erotic poem. Cue 2: 57:30 – start of the “opera”. Choreography, Libretto: Cardona & Lacey, Music: Bepler (Oct 2011 @ The Kitchen, NYC)
This 1st collaboration between Bepler/Cardona/Lacey was the direct precursor, and initiator, to THE SET UP. It laid the groundwork for further estrangement from their own codes & beliefs through a practice of unknowing. Throughout TOOL, people and objects are animated and re-imagined via a “libretto”, spoken and sung.
Start and End Dates
03/03/2015 — 06/27/2015
New York City, New York