image: Tingying Ma

The Air Chrysalis: The Bodily and The Sonorous. Thoughts on Tatyana Tenenbaum’s Tidal

Huang Banyi

and ​Tingying Ma

Our writing on Tatyana Tenenbaum’s 2019 Tidal, which was performed at the Danspace Project, approaches her dance-making as an endeavor to find bodily autonomy, solidarity and kinesthesia within the sonorous realm. We evoke the imagery of Murakami’s Air Chrysalis(空気さなぎ), a cocoon produced by a cryptic society in a year parallel to 1984, out of strands laboriously pulled out of the air.

Driven by the desire of “ wanting a body” and the hope to “ have a voice”, Tenenbaum has been oscillating between tonality and narrative to derive systemic pleasure from traditions of American Music Theatre and the “homeless” abstraction of the experimental dance stage. Her work bears its own historicized weight, transcending the fraught history between utterance and stance through an exacting inquiry. As an unofficial workshop transcript, our writing elaborates on her usage of bodily muscles and vocal cords as the somatic belt that conjures kinetic and aerodynamic movements. By facilitating the attentiveness of body from all training backgrounds to a sonorous realm that allows broader interpretation and participation, Tenenbaum is able to intensify the representational and imitational power of the body, bringing such spatial-architectural energies together to form an agile, resistant collectivity.

We write in first person narrative in an attempt to bring our own alienated, personalized, and humorous perspectives into view.

-Tingying Ma and Huang Banyi


Mouth open wide, I’m floundering to elucidate a point, flipping an imaginary .epub file with a finger in my brain.

“Haruki Murakami was talking about modern dance in 1Q84, without his realizing it. In his book, a group of cryptic dissidents, the Little People, conduct social intervention by making this ambiguous THING called Air Chrysalis(空気さなぎ). I think Air Chrysalis could be referring to modern dance.”

Huang ¾ Yi nods, sitting against two slightly ajar closet doors. I forget but now recall that ¾ Yi has an agreeable personality, where they never judge, only add. They used to be ½ Yi, but since the accident, they diminished 1/4.

"What a wonderfully luminous and effervescent image," they chirp.

I go on. “The story is a delinquent form of reality. Air Chrysalis apparently doesn't exist, it might just be a form of production that disguises a prohibited mode of social gathering. The essence of such covert gathering is enigmatic and agile. That is how “WE” are being composed. In modern dance, there are no cryptic relations between bodies, or between ourselves and our bodies. These relations simply exist, and are constantly in the making.” My voice raises unconsciously. “It is irreconcilable, indescribable, but nevertheless recognizable. ”

Upon hearing this, ¾ Yi's hair turned purplish silver. I recall now that when they listen very hard, their hair changes color.

“You must recognize the unknown in order to identify the familiarity of strangeness called nostalgia,” 3⁄4 Yi says. "Tell me more about this technique that produces a cocoon by collectively generating vibrations in the air."


One evening, dampened by an unremitting autumn rain, in an ill-lighted rehearsal room in the basement of Abrons Art Center, a 2-hour class is wrapping up. Time must have slipped away somewhere else, the space felt slow inside G05.

“I really have no secrets anymore, it’s all here.” Tatyana turned to me, her arms extended to the sides, both palms flipped upwards. “I told people everything I know, everyone can take this knowledge from me.”

She stood vertically.

At the edge of the floor, a laptop screen glowed in the dark. I was the only person who came to Tatyana’s class that day.

Standing vertically, I frowned. My neck sank into my chest. Shallow breath. I wasn't sure how to proceed, to forget the big outside, the hustle and bustle we were about to plunge back into.

She came and stood next to me to examine my face, then gathered five fingers to make a tapered shape. Touching my forehead, her fingertips grabbed the invisible threads of thought out of my head and pulled them out. Her hand turned into a descending leaf, swinging a couple times then cascading down.

“Don’t worry, all things will land.” She said. We talked briefly about Rosh Hashanah and her dinner plans and she left. The space continues sinking in acquiescence, but my mind was ignited in motion.

I stepped out, trying to recall what I was taught. The class visited a series of analogous concepts between sound and movement. One exercise investigated the motion impetus: I was asked to project a sound, connect it to the root of my legs, and stay still until an authentic impulse to move emerges. We also explored counterintuitive connections, linking the higher vocal register to the lower body, projected sounds and the immediate space around the body, as well as pockets of space in between two breaths. Later, I was encouraged to adapt a round trajectory of movement to mimic my spine's natural curvature and reinforce my vocal improvisation.

Investigations were exacting. Frustrations often stood in the confrontational silence between me and my body. Due to my intellectualizing tendencies, I often found myself lost inside processes of rationalization. Whenever I was about to fall into such esoteric puddles, Tatyana looked at me stoically and held the space.

“Is this body mine?”

I could not answer intelligibly. In order to expel the noise that pervaded my flesh and bones, I produced a vowel, letting it ascend from my chest, through my throat, out of my mouth, rejoicing and traveling around my temples.

Finding a rhythm to ground myself, sounds in the air were centrifugally summoned. I gathered threads around my skull, stretching the tendon around my heels to keep my balance. Sound began to exteriorize, forming a mirror image of my immediate surroundings. My voice, in the beginning, soft, smooth; later, sure, round and steady. My body stepped toward a realm of the sonorous.


In Tidal, Tatyana’s new piece, the systemic pleasures of structural compositions are modestly relinquished, ceding to the body’s kinesthetic needs. Rather than having a compositional mechanism, the rhythmic syntax in Tidal only solidifies, repeats, and ascends as what it is.

"Sssssssss-Circumstance." Spinning, one performer croons while sliding onto center stage.

Harmonics are deliberately made frugal, still they effortlessly bring back the over-the-top sensation that distinguishes traditional American Music Theatre from other musical genres. However, feel-good lyrics and bouts of jubilance are made to hang much lower, and pronounced much fainter, to enable sentimental distancing. Dramatic gestures normally attributed to pious devotion or self-pity, like hugging oneself, or raising one's arms in emotional plea, become merely a series of deconstructed movements that flow outward, downward, and forward. Likewise, a hand-sewn piece of a fake plant--untethered from its function as theatrical prop--is tugged around by a performer crawling on two knees. Just like a souvenir that has been kept personal and will never again re-enter the circulation of commodification, in this piece, private, ingrained memories find a way to reconcile with gravity and keep orbiting. Here, choreographic references do not function as markers that can be pinned down or identified; rather, they just come out, as an innate part of Tatyana's tradition.

Seven performers--Marisa Clementi, Pareena Lim, Rebeca Medina, Emily Moore, Jules Skloot, Saúl Ulerio, and Tatyana--constantly come into a harmonic unification forming an algorithmic hexagon. As audience members sit nestled among them and scattered on the periphery, the group's presence gradually departs from being formal, becoming relational. Six bodies, expediting and mapping the soundscape in reverberating relation to the architectural set-up, simultaneously congregating and fissioning.

Breathing plays a major role in the piece, as sounds are mostly composed within the physical affordance of breathes and muscular elasticity. With open channels, bodily exhaustion comes through in the breaking of certain vowels. By embracing their shared somatic lineage, the performers are constantly in a state of locating a delicate correlation between movement and vocal articulation: from repeating circular gestures, to clearing the passageway from the abdomen to the skull, to listening and receiving feedback from the space. Bodies in movement forgo the awkwardness of signs to join a bigger resonating substance.

A space is opened, where everything is pronounced and perceived in a multilateral equilibrium. A soundscape emerges, fades and alternates. The group chants "wu-ma," and, in finding some kind of rhythmic cadence, renders the space in between the notes much more pronounced. The enlargement, amplitude, and subtlety of the acoustics introduces the audience to a fluctuating realm that is in-process of composing itself, persisting with no borders.

The bodies are where the sound comes from. Affects and resonances are never too far from the vessels that produce them. After sharing this time amidst a small audience with many attentive ears, one is rendered aware of the vast emptiness of the physical architecture where the performance takes place--overbearing, distancing, and prescriptive in lacking a certain particularity. Here, site-specificity becomes inverted. The three-dimensional correlations between the choreographic and the acoustic require an intimate setting in order to be fully registered.

Later in the piece, the performers converged, stepped on to a tide of rhythmic rises-and-falls, together they counted: North, West, South and East. As if directions were arbitrary and were something of a choice, as if in the realm, this form of utterance could again be reclaimed as a pleasure.


“The story is a delinquent form of reality. In 1Q84, Haruki Murakami was talking about modern dance, without realizing it. In fact, Murakami’s little people must have cared deeply about where to place and nurture the Air Chrysalis. He even wrote about these little people’s appearances, or the lack thereof. ‘The kind that can be seen anywhere. Once you take your eyes off them, you can’t possibly remember what they looked like. ’”

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​Tingying Ma

Tingying Ma ( born in Chengdu) writes, makes plays and dances in New York.
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Huang Banyi

Huang Banyi (born in Beijing) is an independent curator, writer, and designer based in New York, for the time being.
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