Cenote Workshop

Cenote Workshop is a long-term communal project that explores mysticism, performance and art making using improvisation techniques in a collective context.

As co-founders and co-hosts, Mei Liu and Joyce Ding incorporate meditation, tarot, clairvoyance, past-life regression and hypnosis into the process of art making. In the beginning, the workshop experiment with different art forms and themes each week: performance, improv theater, live film, installation, writing, sound, etc. The themes include: aloneness, channeling the spirits, two-person relationship, imitation, and the creation of oracle. Each workshop usually involves camera and projector to create a ‘live film’ experience.

The core of Cenote Workshop revolves around self-exploration and reflections on one’s connections with the outside (society, universe, other dimensions). By tapping into the place of total presence and unselfconsciousness, the participants investigate ways of stepping outside of one’s ‘self’ and outside one’s usual modes of expression, to empty the containers that we–artists–are, and to welcome new possibilities and definitions of ourselves.

Workshop Documentations (selected)

You are I, I am You

The workshop begins with a guided Heart Chakra meditation, then leads into a massage train where participants massage the person in front while standing in a circle. The circle then turns around for participants to give back to the person behind them. Then we warm up our voice with an acapella vocal jamming session. A poetic self-introduction game follows, called “if you are, then I am…” We then use tarot cards to group all participants into pairs, and each group participates in a word game called “find sameness” whereby by free association, two people say at the same time one word that’s in the middle of the two random words they each start with. (e.g. water and window → ‘transparent’) The pair with the best connection (that say the same words within the least number of rounds.

Finally, the improvised performance section of the workshop titled ‘You are I, I am You’ let person A in each pair tell a 2-minute story to person B. Then, the story becomes B’s, and B is to expand the story to be more than 10 minutes. When improvisation begins, B will perform to the music A chose in advance, and with first-person perspective, act out the story in much more detail. The performances will be filmed with a smartphone connected to live-projection, and a ‘live film’ is made in the meantime. In the end, A will respond to B’s performance and tell the original story.

Gift Exchange

The workshop begins with a guided Third Eye Chakra meditation, opening participants’ intuition. Then, we begin a simple game of clairvoyance, where we hold up the back of a tarot card in front of each participant and ask them to trust their intuition and ‘read’ the front of the card. Some are able to read the cards very accurately. Then, all participants stand in a circle and start a ‘massage train’, where every person massages the person in front of them. Eventually, the circle turns to the other direction for everyone to give back. A poetic self-introduction game follows, called “if you are, then I am…” 

The participants then take out the objects they have prepared beforehand, which carry meaningful memories for them. The objects are placed secretly in a separate room. By randomized order, each participant goes into the room to choose one object that they feel connected with, without knowing whose it is. After everyone has chosen their object, we ask participants to use their senses and intuition to touch, feel, listen, watch, and smell the object. In a 5-minute automatic writing session, participants jot down all the information that the objects have conveyed. Then, participants try to reconstruct the memory concealed in this object with a 10-minute improvised performance. In the end, the object’s owner reveals themselves, and responds to the performance. In many cases, the owners respond very emotionally, when the memories resurface in this vivid form.

Forest Tableaux

Taking place in a forest of a national park, this workshop begins with a guided sitting meditation with a focus on connecting with the natural environment around us. The sitting meditation then progresses into a walking meditation, where we connect with the earth by walking barefoot and with intention. The participants stand in a circle and start a ‘massage train’, where every person massages the person in front of them. Eventually, the circle turns to the other direction for everyone to give back. A game called ‘Shadows’ follows, where groups of two people stand front and back, facing the same direction. With eyes closed, the person in the back leads, holding a gesture without touching the person in front. The person in front senses the energy, and follows with the same gesture as the person in the back.

Participants regroup into 3-4 people each group. Each group draws a card from the ‘deck of characters’, and uses one ‘place’ card and one ‘character’ card as starting points to create a body ‘Tableux’ with the group members in 10 seconds. Attention is drawn to each person’s level and facial expression. Finally, each group draws cards from OH cards, and use the image + text as starting points to create a 10-minute performance in the natural environment. A long rope must be incorporated as a prop.

Covid and After...

In December 2019, a novel coronavirus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic, was first discovered in Wuhan. The city was the location of the first lockdown of the pandemic. Now, 2 years after the outbreak, Cenote Workshop is invited to a psychiatric rehabilitation center in the outskirts of Wuhan to do a series of workshop. Ever since the pandemic, there’s increasing need for psychiatric rehabilitation in the city. This center takes in mostly low-income and homeless patients.

As hosts of the workshop, we bring in kendama toys, crayons, drawing paper, speaker and OH cards. We start connecting with the patients by drawing colorful portraits for them, and chatting with them each during the portrait process. Then, we encourage them to participate in simple group games, singing and dancing sessions. We ask them to pick an OH card and introduce themselves and narrate imaginary stories through these poetic images.

After a few days, we bond with the patients and their genuine souls. We invite outside volunteers who are interested in connecting with the patients to bring in unused books, snacks, stuffed animals, and their talents (dances, magic tricks, improv theater, etc.) to nourish the lives of the patients. After exchanging so mcuh mutual appreciation and gratitute with the patients, we believe joy can bring healing and let everyone experience togetherness. 

Meisner Workshop

To be an interesting actor – hell, to be an interesting human being – you must be authentic and for you to be authentic you must embrace who you really are, warts and all. Do you have any idea how liberating it is to not care what people think about you? Well, that's what we're here to do. — Sanford Meisner

In this workshop, we introduce the Meisner Repetition Exercise and expand upon it to create short scenes with a simple dialogue script.

After a simple warm-up session, we ask two participants to sit across from each other. We give a brief introduction of the Meisner Technique that the goal is for the actor to not focus on themselves and instead concentrate on the other actors in the immediate environment. One participant is instructed to start the repetition exercise by simply saying a physical characteristic of the other participant, such as “You are wearing a T-shirt.” The other participant is instructed to repeat, “I am wearing a T-shirt.” The words are deemed insignificant compared to the underlying emotion. As the exercise progresses, it becomes more about each other’s behavior, and reflects what’s going on between them in the moment, such as “You look impatient.” The way every phrase is said as it is repeated changes in meaning, tone and intensity to correspond with the behavior that each participant produces toward the other. Through this device, the participants stop thinking of what to say and do, and respond more freely and spontaneously, both physically and vocally.

After the exercise, each pair of participants use a simple dialogue script as starting points of dramatic circumstances to create short scenes.

The Creation of Oracle

This workshop takes place at TANK Shanghai, during the exhibition Jia Aili: Harsh.

Rituals in Rituals of the Future

This workshop/performance takes place at Himalaya Museum, Shanghai.

After an hour of meditation, instructed body movements and energy works, the performance begins by having two participants sitting in chairs, facing each other. One begins by stating a simple, physical trait of the other person. The other person is asked to repeat this sentence until he/she observes any change of actions and emotions of her/his partners. As the dialogue changes and progresses, the participants move from sitting position to standing, running, dancing, crying, screaming, playing etc.. The connotations of the repeated words become less important as the participants move and act spontaneously.

In the last part of the workshop, the participants randomly choose the viewers to be their partners. As the participants initiate abrupt, irrational and dysfunctional conversations with the viewers, the viewers react accordingly to their immediate emotions, which are sensed by the participants to further the interactions.

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