Creative Social Experiments: CNN International Presents ‘Fusion Journeys’
CNN International has produced a series of premium cultural blend featuring some of the world’s most noted and gifted creative leaders. Fusion Journeys, a Connect the World segment series that can be seen through May 18, takes viewers on a voyage unknown, presenting an opportunity for a dancer, singer, chef, photographer, classical musician, and fashion designer to transcend their comfort zone and delve into the culture of their global kin. Revealed at the end, is the outcome of the challenge, to construct a piece of art and creativity respective to both cultures, ergo a fusion.
Fundamental to Fusion Journeys is the idea that artists and creative individuals of a common discipline can come together, learn from one another, and then merge those nuances of each inspired mind to form an accord of art. CNN International senior producer Rosie Tomkins, who helped oversee Fusion Journeys and produced two of the series’ stories, concisely summed up the selection process for the program.
One pertinent factor was the need to be representative of every region and every artistic discipline, whether it was dance as art, food as art, design as art, and so on. Character, persona, and commitment to the challenge also came into play.
“We tried to find a selection that complimented each other,” Tomkins said. “We chose people that were very charismatic and could hold the film if there was no presenter. It was important that anyone taking part was excited by the prospect [of the experience], or the fusion itself simply wouldn’t have worked. The impetus had to come from them.”
Embarking on its third week, the series led off with the incomparable Spanish prima ballerina, Tamara Rojo, and her travels to Beijing to work with a flourishing Chinese choreographer by the name of Fei Bo. The artistically inclined and insightful principal dancer of The Royal Ballet of London uproots her innateness for ballet dance to take on Chinese dance.
A delicate and swan-like mover, she morphed in and out of the Eastern and Western dance techniques in a matter of days. A philosophical artist, she spoke to her openness to embrace a style so different from her own, both in movement and in thought.
“Most of [ballet’s] structure and rules come from the perception of beauty that the French court had at the time,” Rojo said in her Fusion Journeys interview. “It is very easy for me to know at this point in my career what is beautiful from a classical ballet point of view; also, how to express love or tenderness. And, it’s very easy to communicate these things to a Western society because we all live with those rules within us.”
Rojo looked forward to the challenge because in her mind, she thought those same communicative and emotional rules were non-existent in Chinese culture. As she worked in the studio with Bo, she quickly found that the openness of body language and carriage in a Western dance form, such as ballet, is not something found in Chinese dance. Bo described it as more closed and fluid, whereas ballet is more “straight and open.”
She added, “It’s going to be a lot more difficult for me to understand the music in the first place, and then I’m sure that lots of physical movements are going to appear awkward, for me. So I’m really looking forward to being challenged from those perceptions.”
Rojo sets the tone for Fusion Journeys perfectly as she has focused on engrained ideologies and the openness to look at those ideas from another angle. Featured in week five, American classical violinist Sarah Chang was also one of the chosen few who dared to be thrown into foreign territory. Her individual excursion transformed her into a sponge of learning for the tango culture of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“We started out in Boston, where CNN filmed me doing what I do every day,” said Chang. “Giving concerts in beautiful, gorgeous sold out halls. It was a true classical program of Brahms and Frank works. We then plucked me out of my comfort zone and went to Argentina,” where she said she took a tango dancing lesson, learned a new tango [musical] piece and played with a local tango band in a tango club. “The two atmospheres couldn’t have been more different!” she exclaimed.
Chang admitted to her initial nervousness about Argentina and tango, mainly due to differences in adaption of musical styles and technique.
“I was a bit apprehensive at first because my musical training has been purely classical, and tango musicians have a different sound, different way of counting, etc.,” she said.
Even so, it seemed that her immersion in the culture made for an easier transition to tackle Buenos Aires and the tango world.
“We went to a tango dance lesson, worked with the local tango band, went to [tango composer] Carlos Gardel’s mural, Milonga, which is a casual tango party, and countless amazing restaurants!” Chang said with evidential excitement.
Elated and grateful from her time in Buenos Aires, Chang came away with so much more than she ever thought.
“It’s not about the perfection and absolute precision of every note; it’s more about connecting with your audience — the emotional journey you experience with them,” she said.
Furthermore, she was able to live and breathe into an art form that became more multidimensional once she was present in its natural environment. As a visitor in any place, there is always the choice to experience the surface level of a locale and the realness of the people and customs. Chang’s encounter with Buenos Aires and tango traditions allowed her to capture its authenticity.
“The only tango I had seen until my Fusion Journeys experience was ballroom tango, where the women are in gorgeous dresses, every single hair is perfectly in place, and everything is extremely polished. I was blown away by the tango dancers and musicians in Argentina. It’s real, it’s flawed, it’s raw, and it’s sexy beyond belief and a true emotional experience,” Chang stated.
A positive collision of cultures that enabled six artists to expand their horizons, and in the process connect others, who are worlds apart, was the aim of Fusion Journeys. Tomkins reflected on the project as another way for CNN to not only engage its global audience, but the participants as well.
“I think that everyone working on [the show] felt like it was a great opportunity to profile some of the world’s exceptional creatives and to capture the way they develop their work, but to do so with a new format that offered the guests an unusual opportunity,” she said.
Tomkins went on to say, “As a concept, it was very well suited to CNN given our global audience, and in particular, the specific outlook of Connect the World, which is very much about looking at how stories resonate across the world.”
Tomkins was also intrigued by the idea of putting the individuals in situations where they worked with a culture, or a person from a culture that was different from their own. She enjoyed the sight of them stepping out of the box to enhance and deepen the knowledge of their skill. She was able to see this more personally through her experience working with American opera singer Thomas Hampson, and Indian chef and television personality, Sanjeev Kapoor.
“For both of them, the experience I think really was an extension of something that they already loved to do,” she said.
Tomkins noted Kapoor’s interest in incorporating other types of approaches to cuisine and his cooking that is so richly based in a masala of spices, and Hampson’s interest in the meeting of culture, as well as his human approach to music.
Hampson kicked off the second week of the series making the trek to Durban, South Africa where he collaborated with the country natives and famed group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The lyrics baritone thought the likelihood that the group had heard of him prior to CNN was slim, most likely due to them not being regular listeners of opera, if at all. However, their partnership culminated in a scene of emotional connectivity, singing on the scenic tops of the Valley of a Thousand Hills melodies of apartheid and the quandaries of the less fortunate.
Hampson said he is very passionate about promoting intercultural dialogue through song.
“What I find enchanting about [their music], and other Mambazo pieces that speak of pain and suffering, is that it still sounds so full of hope,” an intrigued Hampson said on Fusion Journeys. He later adds, “I can tell you all the members of Mambazo have suffered incomprehensible loss in their lives, and yet none of their music ever feels angry or spiteful, it is always rich with love. I found that very inspiring.”
The saying goes that “you learn something new every day.” That could not be more true, especially for the six artists of the global series. Their fish out of water experiences seemed to teach them something that further developed them not only as artists, but as human beings. Tomkins said that for people at the top of their field and the world’s best at their profession, it was a very humbling process.
“They all had a huge amount to learn from the person that they met with. It just goes to show that you never stop learning, no matter how much you can master your own particular niche,” he said.
“Fusion Journeys” runs from April 9 through May 18 and airs at 8 p.m. GMT on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, during Connect the World on CNN International. View current and past segments online at http://edition.cnn.com.