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YIN YUE: FORCE OF NATURE
Chinese American choreographer Yin Yue has been experimenting with a new choreographic approach. Her FoCo technique connects the core elements of Nature with the core elements of dance by fusing the Earth's forces with the body's energy. Sources from elemental actions, such as flow, pulse, and grounding, are transformed to serve as useful tools for inventive choreography. Human qualities such as awareness, desire, and adaptation are also rooted in Nature and therefore become organic principles for creating dance. Yin Yue spoke candidly with Dance ICONS, Inc. about the current stage of her artistic investigations.
ICONS: Could you describe your new innovative approach? What is it, and how do you use it in teaching and choreographic practices?
Yin Yue: Well... FoCo (originating from shortening the words Folk Contemporary) incorporates five core elements: root/ground, wood/axis, water/surrounding, metal/tension, and fire/kinesphere; and three rhythmic stages: pulse, drop, and flow, which are spread across three training stages for dancers: activating, rooting, and mapping.
The five elements serve as an overall concept for the technique to set the tone or the environment for the practice. However, the three stages are functional training systems I use in physical practice. Each stage focuses on exercising different muscle groups. For example, Activating works on the upper body, Rooting works on the lower body, and Mapping works on the connection of the entire body.
Through this training, dancers will develop an awareness of their bodily movement under FoCo guidance and form an understanding of desired movement quality. This kind of awareness and understanding will be carried through to the rehearsal process, where dancers will be immersed in the same environment and approach new creations with the same attitude.
When in creation, I don’t particularly think about the FoCo approach; I embody it and let my instinct and sense of flow inform where I need to go choreographically. It is less a formula and more Nature to explore the physical movement possibilities.
ICONS: As a recipient of the 2021 Harkness Promise Award, you were recognized for your innovation in choreography and education – what makes you an inventor?
YY: My innovation lies directly in movement creation and teaching. FoCo style is a fusion of Chinese influences and a contemporary approach, bringing forward my heritage, dance training background, and passion for contemporary dance creation.
Through my choreographic and teaching endeavors, I am able to share my artistic creations with the world who is unfamiliar with Chinese dance and curious about how a Chinese-trained dancer can integrate Chinese dance with contemporary, what this new vocabulary looks like, and in what way it can be translated into a universal dance language and performed and taught around the world.
ICONS: Is FoCo an evolving technique implementing new exercises or a set practice?
YY: While the structure is set, the content of exercises for each stage is constantly changing. New exercises are introduced, and old ones are brought back, and the cycle continues with each period of teaching, commission, and research. I actively reflect on the practice with each teaching and each commission. Also, different groups of dancers will need different focus based on their strengths and weaknesses. The technique is continually evolving with what is required at the moment.
ICONS: You founded your own dance company in 2018 -- YYDC. Who were the original members, and are they still dancing with you?
YY: Even though the company became a registered non-profit dance company in 2018, the artistic practice began in 2012 with freelance dancers. The company doesn’t have a set number of dancers; however, many of my creations have 5-6 dancers. Grace Whitworth and I were the original members still active in the company. Grace has danced with me for 10 years and is now transitioning to rehearsal director while the company repertoire is growing and there is more demand for restaging.
ICONS: You have incessantly choreographed and danced during the pandemic years: How did you keep creating despite the limitations?
YY: I always try to be active in creative efforts with or without a production at the end. In each class I teach, I also create. The pandemic taught me that I could continue to create with the limitation of live performance, space, and even audience. I desire to create, and I can find ways to make. Of course, teaching on Zoom and making dance in a living room is not ideal; however, it also shows that the creativity is in artists, and we will keep discovering a way to create.
ICONS: You are particularly active on Instagram, where we can see that you are creating nonstop: Is your goal to share FoCo with a broader audience?
YY: Social media has become an incredible platform where I can share the creative process with the world when the company doesn’t have professional engagement. I use Instagram to offer either training or a peek into my practice. During the pandemic, I started teaching three classes a week.
After I stopped teaching online due to Zoom fatigue, I continued getting requests for online content. It is an excellent alternative to the in-person class because not everyone can travel worldwide to take classes. I do believe FoCo has the potential to become a global dance training technique. So I may discover a way to keep the online training to invite more dancers to experience it.
ICONS: Your work is entirely based on the FoCo technique: How long did it take you to develop this system?
YY: The name came in 2013; the structured teaching system started in 2016, and each stage was formed in 2017. I structured the technique according to my understanding of teaching and training preferences. Rather than creating something out of nothing, I believe the training was always embedded in my way of moving.
Creating FoCo Technique is a way to expose that quality in a way that can be transferred, elaborated, and developed. FoCo is a unique training system that allows FoCo-style movement to be taught, shared, and analyzed. It helps dancers differentiate one style from another and offers clarity and direction in training to support the exploration.
ICONS: Do you use other choreographic techniques besides the FoCo approach?
YY: I start my process with movement research. I dive quickly into making phrase works, short or long combinations. I use movement creation and teaching to inform me where we all are. I can determine if the dancers and I are artistically on the same page from how we communicate, how dancers receive movement instruction, how we have conversations when we rehearse the movement, how the result looks after coaching, etc.
Then the choreography may shift based on the feedback from the dancers or the particular atmosphere developed in the room. It is all very fluid yet determined because the movement will be created at the same time. My work relies on movement quality, naturally my most significant focus.
ICONS: How do you create movement? Does one movement lead to another, or do you have a vision of multiple movements needed to begin a new choreography?
YY: There are two approaches: First, the movement I created on the first day serves as an introduction and becomes a part of the new creation as more sections burst out from this core. Second: the sections I test repeatedly become a way to understand which direction I need to take, and it gives way to a new movement, and the test never made it into the piece.
ICONS: Do the dancers you work with also propose and incorporate their movement, or is it always you creating them?
YY: In a large percentage, I create the movement. People who have worked with me for a few years will be able to know when input would be welcome and appreciated.
ICONS: What are your current and upcoming choreographic projects for the rest of 2023, and why are you excited about them?
YY: I will start creating a 75-minute evening-length dance production titled NOWHERE featuring original music, scenic design, lighting, and costumes to world premiere from June 8 to 10 at Chelsea Factory this year. This production will be the company's first total evening dance production since 2019, and it will be the first of the trilogy to be created in the next few years.
NOWHERE will feature an expanded dance company with eight performers, original music score and live music, YYDC's signature movement style FoCo Technique™ and dynamic choreography. I am beyond excited to start this creative journey and see where the inspiration will take us.
Later this year, at the end of November, the company will bring back three repertoires to be presented by Gibney Presents at the theater in Gibney Center. The program will include three dance works performed by the company in the past with a new cast and fresh take on choreography.
Between these two YYDC productions, I will take on a commission from Gibney Company and collaborate with Oscar Nominated musician Ryan Lott of Son Lux to create a world premiere at Joyce Theater in May. The dance will be performed by the ensemble of Gibney Company featuring the original score and my movement style. This will be my second commission for Gibney Company.
ICONS: Imagine taking a fictitious time travel to the past -- What would you say and advise your younger self?
YY: My thought process is always about looking forward. I would use my knowledge to start things in a more structured and organized fashion; however, I believe every action in the past contributes to how I gained my understanding of dance, creativity, and the artistic direction of today. In my case, the delay, wondering, and even the questioning are the motivation for exploration. This process gave me inspiration and understanding. So I guess the "mistakes" of the past are the driving force and the perspective of my "achievement" today.
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Yin Yue is a dancer and choreographer based in New York and the artistic director of her company, YYDC. She studied at the Shanghai Dance Academy and NYU’s Tisch School of Arts, where she received her MFA in 2008. In 2018, Yin founded the YYDC, an NYC-based, non-profit contemporary dance company dedicated to teaching, producing, and performing original choreographic works by Yin. She has developed a training method and choreographic signature called the FoCo technique, a fusion of Chinese folk, contemporary dance, and ballet. More information can be found at YYDC website https://yydc.org/about/
SAMPLE VIDEO TRAILERS:
Through The Fracture of Light (2022), choreography by Yin Yue, performance by YYDC:
Just Above the Surface (2020) choreography by Yin Yue (Excerpt), by Peridance Contemporary Dance Company
Portrait of Yin Yue, photography © Steven Trumon Gray. Additional stage and performance photography © Whitney Browne, Christopher Pelham, Paul B. Goode, Danica Paulos, Arian Molina Soca, and Joseph DiGiovanna.
CREATIVE TEAM ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:
Interviewer: Veronica Posth
Executive Content Editor: Camilla Acquista
Executive Assistant: Charles Scheland
Executive Director: Vladimir Angelov
Dance ICONS, Inc., March 2023 © All rights reserved.