Yesterday battery opera's Lee Su-Feh stopped by the sixth floor offices of The Dance Centre to chat with Justine, Alexa and I. She talked about coming to Vancouver in 1988 as a landed immigrant and that one of the first shows she saw was a piece by Peter Bingham featuring Noam Gagnon and Dana Gingras. That combination alone seems kinaesthetically perplexing, although I do know that Noam and Dana first met taking class with Peter at EDAM. However, what Su-Feh remembers most about the show was that while thematically it was supposed to be about conflict, she registered the exact opposite from the dancers' bodies. As she put it, she left the show thinking, "Wow, people are really happy here!"
Before forming battery opera with David McIntosh in 1995, Su-Feh created her own work (including her first piece in Vancouver, Tiger), and it was while presenting a couple of her solos at Dancing on the Edge that she met Anne Troake, who asked her to join D.U.C.K., or Daring Unknown Choreographers Kollective. Su-Feh then recounted the story behind a piece in which DUCK stopped folks on the street and asked them what they'd like to see in a dance show; they put every suggestion into the show. But at the end of the piece there is a moment in which the women dancers insert clothes hangars underneath their tops, deftly removing them to reveal the word "Mine" written across their backs. On the first evening they performed the piece, December 5, 1989, the moment received huge laughs. But on the second evening, with the news of the massacre at École polytechnique fresh in everyone's minds, there was nothing but silence.
Su-Feh also talked about dancing for Pipo Damiano and Susan Elliott in their company Frozen Eye, which when Susan took over its sole direction morphed into Anatomica. She was also in a piece that Cornelius Fischer-Credo made for Dancecorps based on the story of Joan of Arc; Su-Feh wore a nun's habit and walked around the studio with a television monitor strapped to her belly--and from which glowed the saintly image of Jean Seberg. The nun's habit, together with the red dress at the heart of Su-Feh's three-part solo, The Character of Dubious Morality, definitely has to become part of our costume repertoire.
In talking about dance moments that have stood out for her, Su-Feh focused on Spektator (2003) as a highlight for battery opera. An intensely physical work built around different bloodsports, including cock fighting, the piece features some very complicated rule-based scores of combat. By the intermission the piece's first audiences were in a frenzy, placing bets on which dancer would win. At the end, with a winner declared and his foe "dead" beside him on the stage, the audience leapt to its feet in wild applause. It was the "woo-woo" moment that Su-Feh said she'd always wanted for battery opera--whose work up until that point had mostly met with polite confusion. However, the Spektator ensemble couldn't bask in the moment because they deliberately forsook a bow at the end of the show.
Incidentally, in what forms part of another eery accident of timing in Su-Feh's dance career, battery opera first presented a portion of Spektator outside The Dance Centre on 9/11.
Towards the end of the interview, in reflecting on why she has stayed in Vancouver, and on what the future of Vancouver dance holds, Su-Feh said that having come to the city for love, it is now the place to which she is most connected in the world. And that, she elaborated, is because of the relationships she has formed here, which precisely because they require constant work and collaboration become a form of choreography. As for the future, Su-Feh said she's less interested in dance per se, than in bodies. And precisely because of Vancouver's unsettled colonial history and its links to resource extraction, among other fraught practices of place, thinking choreographically about how bodies are connected to larger pressing planetary questions means that this city becomes an interesting lab and a potential microcosm for how to be globally, and how to move together locally.