Stephanie Burridge

November showcased Singaporean dancers and choreographers; sometimes working in collaboration with international guest artists but unreservedly putting their stamp on the productions. Singapore Dance Theatre presented an annual season of contemporary dance, Passages, and Italian choreographer Teresa Ranieri worked with RAW Moves. Frontier Danceland’s Milieu showed a generational work co-created by artistic director Low Mei Yoke and company dancer/choreographer Christina Chan and the M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2015 kicked off with DiverCity.

  • Singapore Dance Theatre in Passages
    Goodman Arts Centre, November 1
  • RAW Moves in The Fleeting Moment
    Goodman Arts Centre Black Box, November 6
  • Frontier Danceland in Milieu 2015
    Esplanade Theatre Studio, November 14
  • DiverCity 2015, part of T.H.E.’s M1 CONTACT Festival 2015
    The Singapore Airlines Theatre, LASALLE College of the Arts
    – Programme 1, November 26: T.H.E Dance Company, Singapore Dance Theatre, Frontier Danceland, MAYA Dance Theatre, CHOWK.
    – Programme 2, November 27: Daniel K, Jereh Leong, Chiew Peishan, Soul Signature.
Singapore Dance Theatre in Sticks and Stones by Kinsun Chan Photo Bernie Ng

Singapore Dance Theatre in Sticks and Stones by Kinsun Chan
Photo Bernie Ng

For Singapore Dance Theatre, Kinsun Chan’s Sticks and Stones has a tentative beginning as the group of twelve men gather in a ritualistic circle with long bamboo poles. The work opens slowly but it finally explodes into the space with enthralling feats of acrobatics, embodied rhythms and plenty of bare-chested machismo from the entire cast.

Natalie Weir’s Four Seasons is a stunning work for 20 dancers that takes on a new dimension within the restrictions of the Goodman Arts Centre studio space. The glorious running centrifuge she establishes, clever formations and high flung lifts lose some energy; however this is balanced with expressive close ups of the dancers in reflective solos and sensual pas de deux. This creates an intimacy for the work that was commissioned by SDT in 2013 and premiered for Ballet Under the Stars in a vast, outdoor setting. Weir recounts a bittersweet symphony where the passing of the seasons are juxtaposed with the joy and poignancy of love…youthful, mature, fading and eternal.

Gigi Gianti’s Bliss and Max Chen’s Incandescent Dream are developments of workshop pieces they previously explored with SDT. Gianti infuses her choreography with traditional dance vocabulary from Indonesia and mixes this with contemporary narratives of movement. Bliss exploits the talents of SDT who are able to transit the east/west vocabulary; however the intention is blurred somewhere between the overtly literal costumes and the abstract expressionism of the choreography.

In contrast, Chen’s Incandescent Dream is overtly crystal clear as the dancer’s journey through a dream-like state with Rosa Park, as the dreamer, held aloft in a sea of blue cloth supported by other dancers. Visually interesting it incorporates the vertical space investing it with symbolism and metaphors about the interface of dreams and reality. There are many awkward transitions at present and interactions that could be re-worked to allow a fluid, abstracted reading of the material.

RAW Moves in The Fleeting Moment Photo Bernie Ng

RAW Moves in The Fleeting Moment
Photo Bernie Ng

RAW Moves’ vision is about investigating different choreographic practices and ways of creating. The performance of a full length contemporary piece was a conventional choice in contrast to their recent post-modernist, conceptual work and challenged the dancers physically and emotionally.

Teresa Ranieri’s beautifully crafted The Fleeting Moment explores the landscape of the mind and body in a collage of episodes. It is a gentle, organic work involving leitmotifs of soft folding and interconnecting while maintaining tenuous threads of intimacy that continually break apart then are reformed. Retaining meaning for an instant, they continually refigure into new templates. The need to keep together, find clarity, support and nurture underpins the action. Some  dancers fold paper origami birds, a couple find each other in a lilting duet, a trio slithers across the floor in a spasmodic spurt; everywhere there is a flux of movement and stillness. One strident moment when all the dancers meet centre stage thrusting their bodies forward with arms held aloft in defiance to the established fluid dynamic, is a welcome contrast. A projection by media artist Bruno Perosa supports the concept through photos that appear and then fragment; sometimes the faces of the dancers; or images from nature and abstracted graphics.

While RAW Moves tackle the physicality well, deeply thought subtlety and a nuanced emotional layering is missing. Heads down or thrust backwards their faces and reactions are hidden and this negates much of the complex beauty of this work. As a reflection of personal stories and investigations of how our lives make meaning through often random moments that scatter through time, this aspect was key to finding the intention in The Fleeting Moment.

Adele Goh and Joy Wang with Jalyn Han in Low Mei Yoke's Fade Photo Bernie Ng

Adele Goh and Joy Wang with Jalyn Han in Low Mei Yoke’s Fade
Photo Bernie Ng

Milieu 2015 performed by Frontier Danceland is a collaborative, cross-generational, season pairing the elegance and clarity of a heritage inspired narrative choreographed by founding Artistic Director Low Mei Yoke with the abstracted, chaotic, individually centrered work of contemporary choreographer/dancer Christina Chan. Both were grounded with the evocative strains of the Chinese chamber musicians Ding Yi Music Company.

Rather than seeing this as a collaborative work spanning two generations I saw it as a symbolic passing on of the dance baton. The serenity and order of the past is typified in Fade by the stolid, earthy presence of a ma jie, (rural Chinese immigrant workers in Singapore in the 1950s), eating rice. The younger dancers play out the story of a resilient life bent in work and service to another country. Vows of celibacy, unremitting loyalty and dedication imbued their spirit in an idealism that is lost in the tide of progress. With sweeping gestural arm movements and tiny flat footed running steps incorporating traditional Chinese dance, the poignant tale works through a series of numerals that represent a brushstroke of the hair during a traditional celibacy ceremony. The dancers weave between dance phrases and dramatic actions that fuse the mundane with idealism; yet history reveals divisions across lines of class, race and service. The choreography enables the performers to capture this context in this powerful, narrative driven work. Although disconnected from the second section when the intention is to make a co-creation, it was a welcome return to dance theatre and Asian inspired narratives that typify Low’s early choreography.

In contrast Christina Chan and French dancer Aymeric Bichon sweep into the space in a series of chaotic spins and elongated shapes initiated by long skirts that enable them to cocoon inside or open out towards each other as a prelude to joining the rest of the group. In Chan’s Flux of Time they clump together before dispersing to a new place. There is some urgency in this need to share the space, trust and touch. In another instance the dancers discuss local food making up sequences for each choice like a ‘danced’ memory game; they continually stroke and pull at each other before bursting into gaga inspired high energy unison sequences. Chan’s work condenses many moods and feelings with an empathetic edge and a wry look at society. Her fellow Frontier dancers give clarity to these ideas and integrate the concepts through an increasingly distinctive dance vocabulary. But my lens was deeply affected by the atrocities in Paris just twelve hours before I saw the show – the huddling together, chaos, mixing of linear and parallel time frames where we try to find order resonates in Flux of Time in a superbly contemporary way.

Milieu places a thematic heritage narrative work as an equal partner with the contemporary. The dancers’ ability to move within the styles enables innovative juxtapositions of east/west, tradition/change and older/younger artists. The philosophy and intention of the company is clearly embodied enabling them to be expressive and ‘live’ the choreography with raw honesty, subtlety and connectivity.

DiverCity has been part of the T.H.E’s M1 CONTACT Festival since the inaugural 2010 edition. Transforming through various configurations the essence has been the same, to open the creative space to Singaporean contemporary dance companies and independents with a mission to innovate, take risks, move out of their physical, emotional and past-practice comfort zones. Co-presented by the National Arts Council and T.H.E Dance Company, this very special edition of DiverCity invited ten of Singapore’s most notable dance companies and independent artists.

Daniel K in his own Planet Romeo Photo Bernie Ng

Daniel K in his own Planet Romeo
Photo Bernie Ng

Apart from the diversity and quality of artistry over the two performances, the number of dance professionals across the established companies and growing independent sector was impressive. Within the restraints of time and a format using minimal lights to effect quick transitions between the pieces each group grasped the opportunity to show well honed favourites like T.H.E’s classic As it Fades by Kuik Swee Boon, SDT’s visually beautiful Blue Snow by Japanese choreographer Toru Shimazuki, and Stephanie Lake’s dynamic White Noise for Frontier Danceland. Shahrin Johry (Maya Dance Theatre) remounted The Conference, and CHOWK gave Raka Maitra’s haunting thesis on the civil war in Sri Lanka You Cannot Turn Away a melancholic spin with the soulful artistry of musician Zai Kuning and narrator T.Sasitharan. The restaging of existing choreography is to be applauded in Singapore where there is an oversupply of quickly sketched ideas that lack resonance and reflection over time. The buzz came from the independents who bared their souls in ways that were surprising and risk taking.

Moving to the second evening, Daniel K’s award winning Planet Romeo polarises audiences literally – those who consider the central pole dancing section ‘non dance’; the concept of generating an audience through multiple interactions via the gay dating site of the same name irrelevant; and the tone provocative. Yet it is fresh, opens up dialogues on the conceptualisation of performance and the interactive nature of our globalised world.

It is not without skill and beauty on a purely physical level either. A body lit in one the four coded levels of desire or sexuality we were advised about in the beginning (red the top) is suspended gracefully in an acrobatic pose or wrapping the pole while circling suggestively to the base level becomes loaded out of  context. Does it belong in a dance space, the circus, a sporting competition or a strip club? Planet Romeo confronts our perceptions and traditional notions of dance and art.

The men on night two certainly thrust their bodies into the spotlight and Jereh Leong’s duet with Phitthaya Phaefuang, When the Cold Creeps in with a Thousand Cuts was cathartic in a metaphoric sense. The two men struggled awkwardly embracing a complex of emotions from tenderness to sheer aggression and brutality.

The subtlety achieved by soloist Chiew Peishan in Peeling Me softened the edges thematically tracing the symbolism of layering, like an onion. The gentle revelation of self was intricately performed through opening and closing the body from a central fulcrum that allowed the arms and legs to float gently connecting the audience and dancer in an intimate flow.

Check, mate created by new independents Sufri Juwahir and Sheriden Newman under the aegis Soul Signature stayed on safer ground in a work shadowing the concept of a game of chess. Ably danced with a touch of humour by artists from two difference countries and dance backgrounds, the journey was absorbing as they strove to find connecting points and common threads within the structure of the choreography.

DiverCity at the M1 CONTACT Festival is not only a generous opening of the performance space to share with fellow local performers and choreographers but a litmus test of the contemporary dance scene in Singapore.