The Social Impact of Monday School and Battle Jam - Les Petites Choses Production
Both Monday School and Battle Jam were initiated by the choreographer YANG Nai-Hsuan, the founder of Les Petites Choses Production, and her partners. Monday School was launched in 2016 under the Huashan Xinsheng Overpass in Taipei City and is free to join. It takes place every Monday evening, and gathers people from different backgrounds, statuses and ethnic groups from across Taipei who share the same passion for dance. Battle Jam is an annual event that offers a stage for performers of all kinds as well as for enthusiastic art lovers. Inspired by hip-hop, YANG uses dance to create communication between diverse communities, and takes street culture, social engagement and life education as her artistic practice.
As an independent producer and arts manager, I’ve been working with public and private sectors in the field of performing arts for quite many years and consequently, have known YANG for quite long time. I’ve seen almost all of her creations and have an impression of her artistic approach, which is easily recognised in arts circles in Taiwan. However, it wasn’t until Monday School and Battle Jam that I understood more deeply her attitude towards hip-hop dance, her perception of the performing arts, or more exactly, how she has been striving to integrate the arts into people’s life with her artistic practice.
How contemporary dance meets hip-hop dance
Les Petites Choses Production (LPCP) is a dance company founded in 2015 in Taiwan which involves hip-hop and elements of popular culture in its productions. This choice is driven by the company’s founder and artistic director, YANG Nai-Hsuan, and supports her views on dance and the wider performing arts.
Being a professional dancer and choreographer who received academic dance training from high school till university, YANG has an interest in different kinds of dance and was often regarded as “rebellious” during school years – a time when credentialism existed in the Taiwanese society. The most important thing for teachers was for students to focus on their studies as well as the dance genres taught in school, jazz and hip-hop did not form part of YANG’s academic training, but they were what she liked. “I enjoy the feeling of freedom that hip-hop dance provides. We can dance at any moment and at any place, with or without music.” She’s impressed by the sense of humour that hip-hop dancers have alongside their approach to musicality and life, a sense of humour that was ignored during her dance education.
After graduation, YANG split her time between theatre creation and teaching performing arts in high school, where many of her students have a hip-hop dance background. How to share her theatrical experience and creations with these young people has been one of her major concerns for the past decade. In 2013 she was working on a new production that was going to tour to different cities in Taiwan and she sought a way to make dance accessible for more people, rather than for communities who’re already familiar with the arts. At this point she decided to integrate hip-hop dancers into her new production. A Take-away Show was inspired by hip-hop culture, a production that, merely with a floor and a speaker, brought dance to any corner in any city; it was a work as flexible as hip-hop dancers she was working with. What she kept in mind while conceiving this work was not to necessarily create a great piece but to adopt a choreographic language that was understandable to young people and one which would make them feel the happiness of dancing.
Given that the watching experience is quite different between dance theatre and hip-hop dance works, hip-hop dance became the channel through which she could communicate with her students and open a possibility of bringing them into the theatre. Once this channel was established, more exchanges and discussions could then be initiated.
Monday School, an open space without restrictions
In 2016, YANG once again got her inspiration from hip-hop dance. Whilst looking for a rehearsal space for her newly founded company (which was lacking resources) she decided to rehearse under the Huashan Xinsheng Overpass, a public playground that is reserved mainly for basketball and skateboarding. Right in the city center and next to the cultural space Huashan 1914 Creative Park, the playground is convenient, easily reachable by public transport and protected from the rain and wind. With its lighting equipment, it soon became one of the most popular venues for basketball and extreme sports in Taipei City, and lots of people go there to exercise after work. It’s a space full of graffiti and a few pairs of old shoes hang from the ceiling. When YANG and her partners started to rehearse “modern dance” in that space, it triggered the curiosity of people and passengers of the playground and people began to ask to join them. She and her partners made a decision to open the warm-up section of their rehearsal to the public, which eventually turned into the Monday School.
Starting with a group of 20 people, the Monday School is now an indispensable part of the cultural scenery in the city. Every Monday evening, more than 100 people from different corners of the great Taipei area, people of diverse backgrounds, statuses and ethnic groups assemble under the Overpass to join this school on the street. Here they dance, learn, exchange and share their passion for dance and for the arts. It is a space without restrictions. There is no registration, no qualifications are needed, no fees required and all kinds of dance are welcome.
It’s a space to meet people in the same situation as you, who have a dream or need the courage to rise a challenge. They’re possibly totally different from you, but are willing to try out new possibilities together. YANG says, “By bringing dance out of the theatre and into public spaces, it becomes, somehow, friendlier. Monday School is gradually becoming part of the urban landscape to which people make themselves accustomed. That’s how the arts integrate into people’s life.”
CHEN Yun-Cheng is a service designer, and still remembers his very first Monday School. He said, “YANG and her partners didn’t care whether I knew how to dance or not. With my school education, I was always taught to behave with good manners and not to act in an unruly way. I never imagined that one day, my body could develop a relationship with music as well as with other people. I started to see lots of possibilities…what is essential here is to see how you build the relationship with others…in a space like Monday School, everything is ‘organic’. I feel so touched by the warm power between us, the power that brings us forward steadily. I hope this landscape can be kept in Taipei.” For Monday School’s sustainability, since 2018 CHEN has been helping the LPCP to initiate the long-term subscription of crowdfunding project, which is still the first of its kind in the performing arts history in Taiwan.
Trailer documenting Monday School © HUANG Yu-Min / Film provided by Les Petites Choses Production
Battle Jam, a platform to exchange and share
Extending out from Monday School, Battle Jam was originally conceived as a platform on which people who participated in Monday School could exchange and perform their new knowledge and skills. Though inspired from the form of the battle in hip-hop culture, YANG had a clear idea that this platform should not be designed for any specific dance community. Combining the idea of the battle from hip-hop and the improvisation from open jams, Battle Jam welcomes people of all levels and disciplines who want to be on stage. It’s an occasion for people to share what they are fond of and create a live theatrical experience together that goes beyond dance. The concept was supported by the National Theatre & Concert Hall (NTCH) in Taiwan whose programs are rarely related to hip-hop; they always have lots of people, some of them are also participants of Monday School, who practice hip-hop dance outside their building. Battle Jam took place for the first time in 2019 in the lobby of the National Theatre and with this event, YANG and her partners invited those people who were dancing outside to join the battle inside the theatre and to enjoy the performances.
For many of them, it was their first theatrical experience. The reason that they choose to dance outside the NTCH is because they want to use the glazed doors around the building as a mirror. However, they might never enter inside to see a performance or think of having the chance to dance on the other side of the glazed doors. One of the participants of Battle Jam, SHIH Han-Yu, was moved and said, “Today, for us, or even for all hip-hop dance participants, is a great honor. We truly performed in the National Theatre.”
HUANG Yu-Ming, who participated both in Monday School and Battle Jam, shared his journey with these two events, “Breaking is my first dance style, but during a certain period, I quite disliked battling. Because of dancing, I gradually become confident and even liked myself. I didn’t see the logic of fighting for a victory to make oneself valuable….I have joined some theatrical works over the past few years, though my dance experience started on the street. As a result, I was always looking for the beauty from both sides. Monday School lets me see the possibilities and Battle Jam changes my mind. What I saw on the ground was not a mere competition, but an exchange and even more so, a sharing that’s about music and life.”
Highlights of Battle Jam 2021 © WU Hsiao-Lu / Film provided by Les Petites Choses Production
The incubator of artistic talents outside system
Both Monday School and Battle Jam are ongoing projects and the company have started to see some positive results. People have begun to create their own work, some now frequent the theatre and others have put themselves in touch with a new artistic discipline. YANG sees the two projects as a vehicle through which people could be led to another stage, and for her, that’s the most meaningful aspect of the projects.
Artistic creation in Taiwan is mostly conducted by the institutional or academic system; people who are not in the system and who have a desire to create their own work are not easily seen and find it difficult to get the resources. Since 2020 she and her partners have been setting up plans to provide more practical information and support for people outside these systems. Firstly by giving them some guidance, either in work appreciation or in the regular practice and helping those promising creators to shape ideas. YANG and her partners then select from these ideas, award a grant, and share their advice from a professional perspective. What they actually provide throughout the process, is a sense of company. Monday School and Battle Jam is an incubator of artistic talents who exist outside of the system.
Being an artist who receives resources from the national government, YANG often questions her relationship with the society and recognises it’s a shame if artistic creation only occurs in the theatre or institutions. When she brings the dance to public spaces, she feels that she is creating a work with all participants and emphasises, “This process of collective-creation through participation is already a form of creation.” YANG brings forward a space that can influence the perception of different people, and it’s important for her to keep her artistic practice on the street, so those established ideas about what and where dance is produced can be shifted.
When contemporary dance meets hip-hop dance
Les Petites Choses Production has a strong and long-term connection with hip-hop dance and for YANG it’s something that happened naturally, “When I imagined the development of the company, or a creation that we produce, hip-hop dance is never the main point. We all agree, without any doubt, that diversity and tolerance need to exist in arts and culture, so why do we need to discuss the reason for involving hip-hop dance elements in a contemporary dance performance? If we could establish a bridge between the contemporary and the hip-hop dancers, a space which they could exchange properly and professionally, then the chemistry between them would be exceptional.”
Half of the members of the dance company are from a hip-hop dance background, however this composition is not intentional. YANG just invites the dancers that she likes, thinks are good, and wants each of them keep their own character. If in the beginning the reason that she integrated hip-hop dance into the contemporary performance was to make her works more accessible, today she hopes that the scope of the arts in the minds of audiences has been broadened.
Monday School and Battle Jam forge a bond between dancers from different communities, especially between hip-hop dancers and dancers with academic training. When they gather in the same space, they have the chance to observe each other’s mechanisms for dance, their approaches to how they use their body, the way their bodies respond to music, the way of breath…etc. In fact, at the centre of the discussion, whatever their dance style or background, is always a good performer’s mastery of body and if they are willing, they can then learn from each other’s strong points.
Unusual experiences that Monday School and Battle Jam can provide
Why does Monday School and Battle Jam attract people’s attention in Taipei? Besides the fact that there was nothing like it before, in the context of dance development in Taiwan, dancers who are instructed in the institutional or academic systems are quite separated from other dance communities in the society because most dancers remain in the zone that they’re familiar with. The two projects offer a new medium where conversations between diverse communities can begin.
YANG comments, “I believe that’s because we provide an ‘experience’ that is broadly a first, new or unique to many of them. Our battle is different from the battles that hip-hop dancers usually go; dancers with academic training have never joined a battle before; people are having modern dance lessons on the street…etc. Indeed, it could happen in any city in any part of the world, as long as there are participants and a design process. However, how to imagine the experience that we wanted to give to people, how to have the participants experience through your design and through being sensitive to their needs, and how to modify immediately our actions according to the situation and to the participants of each time, that’s not something easily copied. After having built this over the past few years, I and my partners are quite confident about what have achieved.”
Commissioned for Ink Cypher, November 2021
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Having diverse experience working with public and private sectors in the field of performing arts, she is currently an independent producer and arts manager based in Taipei, and a member of Asian Producers’ Platform.
Projects include: from 2019 Curious Shoes Approach Type Bespoke Performance, inclusive project receiving support from British Council and National Culture & Arts Foundation (Taiwan); in 2019 Melancholic Mambo with Thunar Circus, production shortlisted for the 18th Taishin Arts Award; in 2017 with Taipei Performing Arts Center, the first edition of "ADAM - Asia Discovers Asia Meeting for Contemporary Performance", platform aiming to build a network to facilitate creation, mobility and cooperation among artists from Asia-Pacific region; the production of the Thematic Show, Window of the City, at the Shanghai EXPO 2010.