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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Float Like a Martial Artist

Fred Ho. Photo: Robert Adam Mayer

The Sweet Science Suite: A Scientific Soul Music Honoring of Muhammad Ali. The title spells out the essential intrigue of Fred Ho’s new opus, at the BAM Harvey Theater on October 11 & 12. But add to the mix martial arts choreography by Emmanuel Brown, one of the stars of Broadway’s Spider-Man and a previous collaborator on Ho’s projects, and prepare to be ultra-dazzled. BAMbill asked the pair a few questions.

Q: What inspired the inclusion of martial arts AND hip-hop in the choreography for The Sweet Science Suite?
Fred Ho: Since 1996, I’ve pioneered a new genre of performing arts, for which a variety of descriptors have been applied, such as “martial arts music/theater,” “manga opera,” “martial arts ballet,” etc. During that time, I was very bored by much of the performing arts—music, and especially dance—that refused to confront human conflict at the level of intensity of war and violence, and actually be bold about exhibiting such conflict.

In addition, my intention and desire to create a new Asian (Chinese) American expressive culture made me realize that Chinese—and Asian—martial arts could become the bold, new, and explosive performing arts movement expression; have tremendous appeal to young people; who, no matter how much we want to deny it, were being saturated in popular culture with the martial arts; and with which legendary, epic conflicts and clashes could be conveyed, just as they had been for centuries in Chinese (and Asian) literature, theater/opera, and legend.

Since I was very young, black music and radical politics has greatly inspired and catalyzed my own unique role in life as both an artist and activist. My Afro-Asian political and cultural sensibility would connect urban hip-hop and the martial arts (e.g. Shaolin hip-hop), just as urban youth have been doing for several decades (cf. Wu-Tang Clan), finding Afro-Asian connectivity in a myriad of cross-fertilized forms.

Q: Manny, how did you arrive at your acrobatic/martial arts style of dance?
Emmanuel (Manny) Brown: I began martial arts when I was pretty young and had been tumbling before that. I also did competitions where acrobatics and martial arts were mixed together. While in college I began dancing with a hip-hop crew, which is how that became a part of my style.

Q: Have you two worked together before? How did you come to work together on this project?
FH: In 2005, I hired Manny to perform in my then-work in progress samurai-manga-opera, Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon!, developed by the Japan Society. A year later, in 2006, I was hit by the cancer bomb and everything was postponed. In 2012, knowing that I am going to die from stage 4c metastatic cancer, I decided to spend my personal finances and do a complete, fully staged production of She-Wolf—the last show I had done before the cancer diagnosis—and hired Manny to be the choreographer. Enter the 2013 BAM Next Wave Festival. It was only natural to continue to work with Manny in adding the martial arts movement component to The Sweet Science Suite.

Q: Fred, what were you looking for in a choreographer?
FH: As with all my artistic collaborators, I want someone who is adventurous with an assassin’s precision and relentlessness. A martial arts choreographer isn’t a fight choreographer who  has been stereotyped and mitigated in stage combat assignments. Rather, that person is really a choreographer who happens to use martial arts movement as their primary vocabulary and expression. They use the martial movements and props (such as weapons) to express the entirety of the human experience, transgressive beauty, and intensely revolutionary imagination. &nbsp

Q: How does the story of Muhammad Ali influence the choreography?
EB: His story inspires the ideology of the choreography, specific movements in the choreography, some of the fun of it... things like that.

Q: If you could sum up The Sweet Science Suite choreography in three words, what would they be?  
FH: Kick-ass, spectacular, revolutionary!

Reprinted from the September 2013 BAMbill.

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