We are thrilled to welcome Brenton Cheng as a guest teacher in dance today. Brenton is a teacher, performer, and director of movement-based performance. He has been a faculty member of Integrated Movement Studies, the West Coast Laban/Bartenieff certification program, since 2007. In addition to directing his own work, he has performed with internationally-acclaimed Contraband, Zaccho Dance Theater, Angus Balbernie, Kim Epifano, Jo Kreiter & Flyaway Productions, and many others, at such places as Jacob’s Pillow, Bates Dance Festival, and the Festival d’Avignon, France. He teaches the Laban work to professional and non-professional movers in classes and workshops around the world, and has been a presenter at the Motus Humanus Roundtable. He created the world’s first Laban mobile app “Moving Space,” a compendium of the Space Harmony scales. Brenton lives in Oakland and is also an adjunct faculty at University of San Francisco.
1. What is Laban Movement Analysis and how did you get involved with it?
Laban Movement Analysis is a comprehensive framework for describing, analyzing, and recording any kind of human movement, whose application ranges from the functional to the artistic. I was first exposed to LMA in 2002 at the Moving On Center school in Oakland, during a workshop with Peggy Hackney. She watched a student performing a slightly awkward warm-up sequence, and after a single moment of hands-on feedback from her, the student’s movement suddenly “clicked” and became graceful and powerful. I decided right then and there to pursue studies in LMA. I now teach together with Peggy in the Integrated Movement Studies (IMS) Laban certification program.
2. What is your app, Moving Spaces?
Moving Space provides a visualization of the Laban movement scales. Similar to musical scales, the movement scales consist of mathematically ordered pathways through space, which can be used as warm-up, body training, or prototypes for movement phrases in improvisation and choreography. The app uses 3D graphics and touch input for interacting with the scales. Prior to creating this app, I usually had to construct the geometric solids that serve as the scales’ scaffolding out of 4′ long garden posts and wire. While the physical models are more tangible and the students can actually stand inside them and do the scales, the Moving Space app is much more portable.
3. What is contact improvisation and how does it differ from set choreography?
Contact improvisation (CI) is a particular improvisational movement score in which the dancers are constantly tracking each other’s weight centers, and often remain in physical contact. Staying in physical contact leads to the possibility of weight exchange arising out of the flow of the dance. Dances can range from tender and subtle to high-energy and acrobatic.
CI differs from set choreography in at least two ways: 1) the constant tracking of the partner’s weight center, and 2) the fact that CI is improvised. The former creates a visceral, kinesthetic relationship to one’s partner, which is generally even palpable to an external observer/audience; a piece of choreography may or may not emphasize these kinds of relationships. The latter means that every dance, every moment, is explored for the possibilities that it contains, without assumption or prejudice; it is always “new.” You can certainly set a particular CI sequence and use it as choreography, which can be great, but it is no longer contact improvisation—we usually just call that “partnering.”
4. How do you balance your different roles of dancer, teacher, and choreographer/improvisor?
Those aren’t my only roles. [Smiles.] I’m also a technologist, a father and husband, and a linguaphile. I find balance by feeling into which of those roles feels most alive for me in a given moment and then go focus on that one. I jump around a lot.
5. What advice do you have for young dancers?
The full richness of the moving body as resource for living a fantastic life is still vastly under-appreciated by most of society. By choosing to explore the body and by sharing your process with the world, you are a radical revolutionary blazing the trail to integral living, wise relationships, and the next golden age of art-making. One of my teachers, a woman named Keriac, as she lay withered on her bed, days away from dying, held my hands in hers and said, “Never stop dancing.”