From Friends to Co-Choreographers: Interview with Chua Pei Yun and Maybelle Lek

By April 17, 2020 July 13th, 2021 No Comments

Working together with friends seems like a ton of fun. In an ideal scenario, friends love, play, understand, trust and support each other – What more could one ask for? Yet we often hear of the perils of working together with friends and how diverging opinions or working styles in ’work-ships’ could ruin friendships for life. 

In this case, creating a dance piece is very personal to a choreographer; it involves the whole works – from conceiving the piece, to developing the mood, movements, music and costumes, implementing the artistic vision, the list goes on – so much so that one could say it is almost impossible for co-choreographers not to come to a head throughout their creation process.

Find out first-hand from the Festival’s Off-Stage artists, Chua Pei Yun [PY] and Maybelle Lek [ML], how two young dance-friends developed a successful working relationship built on their mutual love for contemporary dance and admiration for each other as dance-artists and co-choreographers. 

How did you meet? 

PY: We got to know each other through work when we needed to get a simple body check-up before we could teach in kindergartens. I’ve actually met Maybelle unofficially when I was in my final year at LASALLE when she came for our contemporary classes. We didn’t exchange words but we were around each other’s circle of friends at that time.

ML: I first met Pei Yun when I took contemporary classes at LASALLE, but we didn’t exchange words, until we had to get a vaccination for preschool teaching – so we met under rather mundane circumstances. As we have mutual friends within the same circle, we got to know each other better over time.

How did you decide to work together to choreograph Moving With Touch for the 11th edition of CONTACT? 

PY: We wanted to work with each other even before CONTACT. When we started to get to know each other, we would have coffee sessions here and there just to pick at the other’s brain on the things we were working on at any point in time. We also shared a lot about our thoughts to further develop our dissertation practice with each other. That’s when we realised that our dissertations explored many similar aspects. We knew we wanted to find a way to collaborate and expound upon these topics that we had both been investigating and CONTACT also happened to be the platform that we were both interested in, so we submitted our proposal and left it to fate to decide if this could be the place for us to realise our practice as an actual creation that we could share with our audience.

ML: The more we conversed through coffee meet-ups, talks of wanting to work together naturally came up. Pei Yun actually performed in a duet that I had choreographed back in November 2019 titled Felt, at T.H.E Dance Company, as part of an open sharing session. I trust her work ethic as a dance artist and a person. She’s great. In fact, even before working together on Felt, we realised that we share similar interests and perspectives towards dance and our artistic practices. Our dissertation is a great example, because it revolves around a similar theme, although through different lenses. We thought about how we could combine our ideas, and CONTACT seemed like a great platform to be able to share that experience and experiment.



Pictured: Pei Yun and Shaun Lim performing in ‘Felt’ choreographed by Maybelle at T.H.E Dance Company in November 2019

Talk us through the process – how has the experience of working together been? 

PY: The process has been slow for us. With the current COVID-19 outbreak, the internet has been our main mode of communication where we discuss, share and record down our ideas. Despite it all, I believe the situation challenges a work like this, that makes use of touch. In a time where we are advised to practice physical and social distancing to flatten the infectious curve, how can this work be developed whilst taking the necessary distancing precautions as socially responsible individuals? I am both nervous and eager to see how Moving Through Touch unfolds in a time like this.

ML: For me, the word that comes to mind is ‘trying’. We are taking most of our conversations and research online due to COVID-19. It is not an easy period of time for most of us, but we have to make use of the resources that we do have. In retrospect, I agree with Pei Yun that this global crisis would challenge the core of our piece – physical touch. Physical distancing is encouraged right now, and it piques my curiosity: How we can incorporate touch without actually touching? The current restrictions we are facing may give us more to play, explore and challenge our practice. 

Pictured: Never too far apart – Pei Yun and Maybelle working remotely due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Pei Yun, you trained at LASALLE and Maybelle, you trained at Rambert and subsequently the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. How did the different dance trainings you received impact your approaches to choreography or collaboration? 

PY: I believe it is what makes it enjoyable because Maybelle is able to offer such a different perspective in viewing the same work. With that said, there are also similarities in our preference of things we desire to include in the work. Training in different institutions opens up more references to tap upon when we exchange ideas.

ML: Our different dance trainings offer a wider spectrum of perspectives and resources to tap into. I believe that beyond the training, the environment and culture that surround our training also shapes our perspectives. For instance, London is very different to Singapore, and Singapore is very different to Leeds vice versa. This is most useful when we want to mobilise more creative solutions towards choreography, or approaches towards collaboration.

Do you think you work well together? 

PY: Definitely. As an emerging artist, I have come to a point where I am not satisfied to go into a process that simply fuels my desire to achieve certain things. I am also looking to work collaboratively with others who will spur me on to learn and experience new things about movement.

ML: For sure. Pei is someone whom I have great admiration for. Her sense of curiosity, wonder and approach towards problem-solving makes me really excited to work with her. Within my own artistic practice, I am an interdisciplinary artist, and collaboration is one of my core values. Being able to work with someone else offers everyone an opportunity to learn and be pushed. It allows for deeper, more meaningful conversations and connections within the community.

Pictured: Pei Yun, Photo courtesy of LASALLE College of the Arts

Have there been any major disagreements, or do you anticipate any to come? 

PY: Not at this point, but in any creative endeavour there are bound to be disagreements. Without it, you wouldn’t really call it a collaboration, no? To me, a disagreement left untouched is an idea left unexplored.

ML: Not yet. Keyword: yet. I would definitely anticipate some disagreements; what’s a collaboration without them? Without disagreement, there’s no challenge. If there’s no challenge, the potential of the choreography is not able to fully come to life. That would be a real shame. I want to touch every corner and aspect of this practice, so we do not leave any idea behind. Any idea that is willing to come onboard to reveal its magic, we’ll take it.

Do you foresee any future collaborations? 

PY: Yes, my desire is to see what this work can further develop into in future together with Maybelle. Perhaps seeing how it would be like taken out of the studio and into public spaces.

ML: For sure. I share the same desire as Pei Yun; to see how this work can be further developed in the future. In the future, I would also like to bring this piece to festivals overseas where there is an opportunity to share with other audiences.

Pictured: Maybelle, Photo by Crispian Chan

Finally, what does this piece mean to you? 

PY: This piece expounds on a portion of my dissertation. Touch is a topic that has intrigued me since I was in school and it still has. My experience with touch comes from dance (somatic practices, partnering and contact improvisation). At the moment, I am also working on the side on the use of touch to reset the body. Just like how one would go for a massage when feeling sore or tired, how can my knowledge on the usage of touch in dance allow me to create a practice that uses touch to look at the way movement can arrive from the body and how different is it without it?

ML: I am currently developing a small practice for myself which was shared at SCOPE (Dance Nucleus) in January 2020 titled P.A.L.M.S that involves exploring the use of hands, gestures, physical touch, giving and receiving. Touch is important for humans – it is something that we need and crave. Trillions of small, tiny bits of information can be transmitted through a single touch. To me, Moving Through Touch is a response to what is happening to society. I am researching and exploring the transmission of warmth, kinaesthetic empathy and human-ness without the physical act of touching. 

Stay tuned for more updates on Pei Yun and Maybelle at Off Stage!

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