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Introducing Jo Fong

We were delighted to introduce our first cohort of Creative Associates last month. This dynamic group of eight artists and creative practitioners join our team at a crucial stage in our story.

Over the coming months, we'll be getting to know each associate a little better. This week, meet Jo Fong, who introduces herself in her own words...

I’ve arrived.

It’s not absolutely plain sailing, but what is these days?

A bit about me? I enjoy working and being with people. I probably don’t need to say a pandemic wasn’t helpful.

I’ve made a few shows of late, real ones and remote or digital. I guess what I’m interested in lies in the titles: Ways of Being Together, What Will People Need?, The Rest of Our Lives, An Invitation…, Our Land, Neither Here Nor There. Ultimately it’s all been about belonging, even years ago when I wasn’t aware of it.

If there’s something new going on, it’s a nod to the future and how does it go from here? I’ve never found it easy to think about the future, preferring to be in the moment - or at least doing my best to anchor and do something well.

I’ve been around a while. I graduated in 1989 at Rambert Dance School and I’ve danced on stages all over the world: the Paris Opera, London Coliseum, La Monnaie, and Wales Millennium Centre. I don’t often mention this but essentially dancing saved my life, giving me a place to express and be my fullest self.

I turned 50 this year and I am still planning to dance on stages this summer and into the autumn. It was daunting before but now doing anything or getting up to speed is an achievement in anyone’s profession.

I’m excited. The sense I get is people are wanting to book live events and be in rooms, dance together and have conversations. The word culture springs to mind: the bits on the stage, the things people don’t see, the ways we work together.

Why am I here?

I guess I’m an idealist and knowing there is much to change, being part of these conversations feels important. I love the idea of many voices, many ideas of success having a place at this time.

When I moved to Cardiff I was aware if I was to thrive rather than survive as an artist, the whole thing has to work - our art centres, community spaces, arts councils, different leaders, teachers, different processes, priorities and spaces - and we should be asking a lot of questions. I’ve got plenty of questions.

I work slowly, the projects I make might take a year to plan, create… it's often about relationship building. Stuff that exists only between people. 

My work has been described as playful, unpredictable, joyous, felt, empathetic, rebellious, raw, spontaneous and alive. The best one I’ve heard was “the opposite of fascism.” There’s often a lot of listening or exercising ourselves, our bodies and our voices, and a sense of togetherness. It's like a good party where everyone feels comfortable rather than awkward, though I also don't shy away from some healthy and necessary probing of the uncomfortable and unfathomable. 

My work attempts to show the people, see people and for people to be seen, and since 2016 it continues to evolve around a question: what is community? It asks people and audiences to bring themselves - we are not actors. While there might be a score or the skeleton of a “script” the event is often about what people carry with them, asking for a level of trust and honesty which can be rare in both performance and the “real” world. It all hangs around the idea that we all need people. 

I try to find a good reason for a piece of work to happen. Since the beginning of lockdown the question I carry is: what will people need? The multiple crises have opened up everything in terms of seeing it all differently; how we can work together, give space, inspire, make invitation and authentic conversation. This for me is an active part of the work.

I’m interested in all the changes to come, and bringing unheard voices into the foreground. I’m interested in how representation and racial justice will become part of the whole, and how the role of the arts can shift and engage in unperformed conversation and connection.

I've been researching how process can do some of the essential work of this time, and thinking about the word audience and how this now feels old. I’m interested in work that reveals the inner artist or dancer or thinker or writer or singer in everyone; the bit that makes us free, not in a twee way but in an empowered uninhibited way.

I should say I don’t manage any of this by myself. There is a long list of collaborators and in our work everyone is an expert. 

I realise I used the word “work” a lot, I think for it to sound like it has purpose in a world that measures things in ways I don’t agree with. I do my best “work” when it doesn't feel like work, where there is energy, flow, risk, buoyancy, liveness... a sense of whole. If there is work to be done it is perhaps the preparation, but then it has to go on its course and be allowed to happen in its fullest ways.

I’ve decided I’m going to try to make myself “at home” at Wales Millennium Centre. If I can manage that then perhaps when I create space for something to happen between people, they might find they can and would like to make themselves “at home” too.

During lockdown I’ve managed to carry on, remained curious, and regained my health. Realising performances once again in ways that it can meet people feels like a leap, yet I remain imaginative and continue to be part of this moment by practicing saying the truth, redesigning, rethinking how we think, supporting, protest and recovery.

To see some of my work this year, please check out these links:

Rise 2021 Festival of Contemporary Dance and Performance

The Rural Touring Dance Initiative's Fifth Dance Performance Menu