Entry from Acts of Transfer:
Lily Eng is a Chinese-Canadian dancer and teacher based in Toronto, Ontario. During her time at Western Front, she visited with close collaborator Peter Dudar, who filmed the documentation of Eng’s performance. In 1972, Eng and Dudar formed Missing Associates, the first experimental choreography project working out of Toronto and Canada at large, until 1982. Rather than perform in traditional theatres, Missing Associates performed primarily in Toronto galleries such as A Space, 15 Dance Lab, Mercer Union, and ARC, a move that contributed to the rise of the term “artist dancer” to describe the interdisciplinary and innovative performance/dance activities occurring within this region. Eng and Dudar also toured extensively across North America and Europe, sharing their experimental practices outside of Canada for the first time. In 1977, Eng, along with other affiliated members from the Centre for Experimental Art and Communication (CEAC), were invited to participate in Joseph Beuys’s “Violence and Behaviour” workshop at the Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research in Kassel, Germany.
Eng grew up in Lind River, a small town in northern Ontario where her family operated a Chinese restaurant. When she moved to Toronto at the age of 10 with her mother and siblings, Eng took up gymnastics and worked as a teen model. While auditioning for a role, she was scouted by Elizabeth Swerdlow, her future dance mentor. Swerdlow encouraged Eng to study classical ballet, modern dance, and German expressionist dance, though Eng notes that her Kung Fu training and apprenticeship at Hong Luck Kung Fu were also particularly influential, inspiring her to begin experimenting with the convergence of Western and Eastern practices. Missing Associates also provided a space for Eng to explore these interests by examining “human behaviour, the body, and its relationship to the environment through a structural approach to improvisation and experimentation.” Eng explains her philosophy behind improvisation: “I need to feel that something new is emerging from the flux of choreographed movement and unleashed emotion. I re-evaluate myself non-stop. But I can’t be anticipated. I can be wild one instant, and quite elegant the next.”
At the time of Eng’s performance at Western Front, she was beginning to experiment more with improvised solo works. In the absence of a soundtrack, Eng uses her body to make contact with the surface of the floor and to generate noise and effect, rooting the performance in a confrontational and physical exploration. Occasionally she speaks in playful verse (“one two buckle my shoe, three, four, shut the door”) and makes animal noises: hissing sounds, low growling, heavy breathing. She mimics the movement of animals, gesturing like a bird and baring her teeth like a dog. Her martial arts training materializes in various energetic movement sequences.
Eng’s performance at Western Front also features spoken word performer, verse poet, and scat singer Honey Novick who performs a solo reading set, as well as a collaboration with Eng titled “An Ode to Missing In Action,” which appears at the end of the tape.
Dance: Lily Eng
Vocals: Honey Novick
Video: Peter Dudar
1 – Dudar, Peter. “Peter Dudar—Missing Associates Collection.” Peter Dudar—Missing Associates Collection. Accessed April 2018. http://peterdudar.com/missing-collection.html.
2 – “The term “Artist Dancer” was coined in the mid-1970s by Lawrence Adams to describe the work of Susan Aaron, Lawrence Adams, Miriam Adams, Jill Naomi Bellos, Elizabeth Chitty, Margaret Dragu, and Missing Associates (Peter Dudar and Lily Eng).” Dudar, Peter. “LILY ENG High Concept Choreographer AND TORONTO’S EXPERIMENTAL DANCERS, 1972-1987.” Graphic Exchange Magazine. 2011. Accessed April 2018. http://www.gxo.com/LE.php.
3 – Ibid.
4 – Dudar, Peter. “Peter Dudar—Missing Associates Collection.”
5 – Poon, Coman. “Lily Eng: Real Asian Canadian Woman Warrior.” Reel Asian International Film Festival. November 10, 2011. Accessed April 2018. http://www.reelasian.com/festival-archives/lily-eng-real-asian-canadian-woman-warrior/.
6 – Ibid.
7 – Ibid.
8 – Ibid.
9 – Ibid.
10 – Dudar, Peter. “LILY ENG High Concept Choreographer AND TORONTO’S EXPERIMENTAL DANCERS, 1972-1987.”
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Original Archives Entry:
Three performances: Lily Eng, dancer; Peter Dudar, video, film and graphics; Honey Novick, vocals. Vocal and dance collaboration with Honey Novick and Lily Eng titled “An Ode to Missing in Action.” Missing Associates is the performance art partnership project of Lily Eng and Peter Dudar.
Full version of digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.