“Besides technique…I place a lot of emphasis on attitude.”
Posted on May 12th, 2017/ Comments Off on “Besides technique…I place a lot of emphasis on attitude.”

We catch up with Silvia Yong, Associate Artistic Director of T.H.E. Second Company, on the challenges of teaching the next generation of dancers.


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You were part of da:ns festival’s commission, Above 40, several years back. As a dancer in your forties with a long career, what do you look for when you go on stage?

I decided to accept the commission because, firstly, it allowed me to dance again with my friends. The second reason is because I wanted to rediscover that sense of satisfaction. Being a dancer is also like being an actor; when we’re on stage, we need to express emotions, be it passion, or sadness or anger. I feel that satisfaction when I arrive at that emotion within myself. It’s that moment on stage when you can offer the audience something that you long to present. It’s not something technical but comes from the spirit, an innate sense. I feel this more now, especially now that I’m not able to dance like I could in the past.

 You suffered an injury three years ago. How did it affect you?

It’s still affecting me today. Due to the large range of movements that I perform as a dancer, there was quite a bit wear and tear in my hip joint, so I had to go for an operation. However, the outcome of the operation was not the most ideal. As a result, my technique and ability to perform have been reduced to about 50 percent of what I used to be able to achieve.

From a psychological perspective, it was quite upsetting and it took some time to adjust to the new state of my body.  However, I was ready to retire and start a family, so perhaps it happened at a less detrimental time.

How do you think dance education in Singapore has changed?

Unlike the past, where individuals with dance experience and passion could teach, the government now lays down certain rules so that only those who are certified are able to teach. It’s good for our students, as this ensures that they are learning from qualified dance educators.

The current mindset is to give students as much as possible, to let them learn from different teachers and instructors. On the one hand, it’s good for them to be exposed to different styles, philosophies and principles; on the other it may not truly aid their learning.  Before they completely grasp one technique, they receive a different set of instructions from another teacher. Without the filter that comes with experience, it can be confusing for students.

I think one needs to be clear on who he/she is as an artist. But that may take many years to discover and unfold.

You lead T.H.E. Second Company, who talent spots young dancers who are not ready to join a professional company. How do you choose your dancers?

Besides technique, personally, I place a lot of emphasis on attitude. I interview them to find out how they go about learning and the intentions behind their desire to join us; for instance, do they want to work with us long-term, or are they looking for a stepping stone?

I also look at their ability to focus and be absorbed in the art form. Also, humility, because having the passion is not enough; you need to be able to take a bit of hardship. A lot of people love to perform, but they overlook the tough training process that is necessary before the stage performance can materialise.

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This is the first time local choreographer Albert (Tiong) is choreographing for T.H.E. Second Company in Asian Festivals Exchange (AFX). You’ve been friends with Albert for a long time. How did you persuade him?

As you said we’re friends, so I invited him and he just said yes (laughs).  I didn’t have to persuade him. With T.H.E. Second Company, we usually collaborate with younger choreographers, so I’ve never invited him in the past.

What do you hope Albert could bring to the dancers of T.H.E. Second Company?

A lot of the choreographers we bring in to work with our dancers are very open. If the dancers can’t seem to achieve a certain style or technique, they may allow the dancers to execute the movements within their own range.

Albert has clear beliefs and a specific vision. He’s very rigorous about this – and he will ensure that you achieve exactly what he has in mind. I want him to bring discipline to my dancers, and the idea that easy compromise should be the very last option. This is the type of training that dancers lack today.


Interview by Adeline Loh. Photos by Bernie Ng.  Catch the dancers of T.H.E Second Company in Asian Festivals Exchange (AFX) on 26 June.

“You don’t have to be the ball rolling down the ramp.”
Posted on May 9th, 2017/ Comments Off on “You don’t have to be the ball rolling down the ramp.”

Germaine Cheng is the first local artist to be commissioned to create a new work for DiverCity. She’s been busy working on Corollary知执止•秩》since March and we catch up with the feisty choreographer to find out more about her “human Rube Goldberg machine.”


 

How do you think you’re developing as an artist through this festival commission?

I’m more concerned with a seed of idea and how that might grow into something. I’m open to moving to where the idea takes. I don’t want to limit myself in that way. If I allow myself to get overly concerned about the platform or opportunity, it’ll give me a lot of pressure; then it isn’t conducive for me anymore as a creative person. What’s important is I have a seed and a seed can grow into something. Wherever it grows, whatever pot you give me, it will still grow.

With Corollary, you’re exploring the concept of the Rube Goldberg machine, a complicated device made up of many parts and processes. How did you come up with idea of a human Rube Goldberg machine?

The Rube Goldberg machine combines art and science. Though it works perfectly, it’s not actually something functional. The beauty is in watching its working process. The Rube Goldberg machine has become a metaphor for things that can be achieved simply, but have become huge and unnecessarily complex. One of my earlier works exploring this concept portrayed how human communication has become unnecessarily indirect. In this work, I started thinking about bureaucracy and how it’s a long loop of processes made up of humans. This led me to the idea of a human Rube Goldberg machine.

This work for the festival sparks a debate between free will and functionality. All of us fulfill our little role in the process but we don’t know what the end goal is. The interesting thing is that the parts are human, not machines. You don’t have to be the ball rolling down the ramp. You can walk away.

That sounds fascinating. How many people are involved in this work?

I was keen to work with more people. I pushed for five, though it was originally four. Now that it’s five dancers (myself included), in all honesty it’s the largest number of people I’ve worked with so far.

What have you learnt about your four collaborators, Chan Weizhi, Chen Jiexiao, Neo Hong Chin, and Kwan Yue Tong?

All of us need different amounts of information to operate at the same level. Through a simple task of five people standing and falling, you can already see the differences. Hong Chin and I are the type of people that just fall, while Weizhi and Yue Tong will wait and see.  I don’t want to curtail their personalities. It’s important they each find their own personal relevance to the work.

You’re also taking an unusual position by being a dancer in a work that you’re choreographing. How do you manage this balance of power?

When a dancer has an idea during our rehearsals, I take a back seat and give the dancer the freedom to contribute to the choreography of that section. It took the dancers a while to understand this open way of working. “Aren’t you supposed to be charge?” they would ask. But if I’m realistically going to be one out of five dancers, then I have to whole-heartedly try their suggestions as a dancer. I have to rely on the sensation of being in the work as opposed to how it appears.

As a choreographer, I’m leaving the structure open to being tested. I’m trying to craft the work based on a structure as opposed to setting everything in place. That leaves space for real-time responses by each dancer.

Do all your works have improvisational elements?

The tipping point which led me to gravitate towards this approach was a local choreographic competition called Sprouts in 2014. I worked on a solo that dealt with Parkinson’s disease, something my grandmother suffered from for a long time. Because of the nature of the disease, you don’t really know what’s going to happen. Different people are affected at different times with different symptoms. It only made sense for me to have an improvised section because that was what it called for. I won Best Dancer for that work though I don’t know how I did it (laughs).

Many people were very moved after watching it. Do you think the improvisational section played a role in establishing an emotional connection?

I was performing from a place that was relevant to me, but really, nobody needed to know. It left the space open to do whatever I felt at the time. Though I was working with something abstract, because of the personal relevance, people could connect with the work even at that level of abstraction.

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What is your personal connection to Corollary?

Working in the arts suggests you didn’t follow the norm. I’m in a position where I’m a teacher but I’m straddling something else. There’s this tension between what you do in your day job and what you do apart from it. What if I walk out of this system and devote myself to dancing, choreographing and making art? What facet of myself do I lose? I am in a place where there are things that are simultaneously pushing me out and keeping me within the system.


Written by Adeline Loh. Photo by Bernie Ng. Catch the premiere of Corollary in M1 Open Stage + DiverCity on 2 and 3 June, 8PM at Esplanade Theatre Studio.

Spotted! M1 Open Stage + DiverCity Day 1
Posted on April 28th, 2017/ Comments Off on Spotted! M1 Open Stage + DiverCity Day 1

Don’t miss these five talented young choreographers, who dish up some unexpected surprises on day 1 of M1 Open Stage + DiverCity. Here’s a sneak preview!


 Kota Kihara Dance Pic

 

  1. Watch these body language cues: Ever wondered about the differences between male and female body language? Well, guest artists Kota Kihara and Yoshika Shinohe present a quirky, playful piece, Body Language, exploring the hidden dynamics of our body language. By the end of this act, you’ll realise these gender constructs don’t really matter. Expect lots of laughs, and food for thought.

 

  1. Enjoy some projection play: Step into the inner world of Nguyen Thanh Chung… through a larger-than-life projection. From close-ups of Chung himself and scenes of wildlife, this intriguing work contrasts the dancer’s performance on stage with experimental video work.

 

  1. Follow us into the dark: Be warned – this act’s going to be full of suspense… With just rays from a single torchlight to keep us going, Silentium by Choi Young Hyun and Son Yu Joung brings this performance to a feverish pitch, before returning to silence. Ahhh… 

 

  1. Step into alternate psychological spaces: Enter a different headspace with Anton Safonov’s Jamais vu and Lai Hung-Chung’s Watcher. Jamais vu takes you into “never seen” psychological places you may have been before (cryptic!), while Watcher channels movement techniques from the East to express the trials and tribulations of the on-looker.

 

  1. Encounter a human Rube-Goldberg machine: In fact, this “machine” will be made out of five dancers, including the choreographer, Germaine Cheng. Inspired by these intriguing Rube-Goldberg videos, this performance is an allegory of how contemporary society works. “All of us fulfill our little role in the process, but we don’t know what the end goal is. The interesting thing is that the parts are human, not machines,” says Cheng. Touché! Keep your eyes peeled for Cheng’s in-depth interview later this month.
    Hand, Shake by Germaine Cheng (HATCH 2016) - Photo by Bernie Ng
    Choreographer Germaine Cheng and dancer Chen Jiexiao in an earlier work, “Hand, Shake”. Photo by Bernie Ng.

    Written by Adeline Loh. Book your tickets to the opening night of M1 Open Stage + DiverCity.

Four top acts to catch this season!
Posted on April 21st, 2017/ Comments Off on Four top acts to catch this season!

Gear up for a bigger and better M1 CONTACT Festival 2017 with 27 featured works and 33 technique classes and workshops over four weeks. These are four shows you don’t want to slip past your radar – with just 1 day left to grab your Early Bird tickets!


 

  1. M1 Open Stage + DiverCity

Performing on opening night (2 Jun, Fri) is an intriguing lineup from 5 Asian cities and 1 East European act. Anton Safonov’s Jamais vu is a psychological trip into unfamiliar territory, while Silentium by Choi Young Hyun and Son Yu Joung contemplate the silence that comes after a long battle. Watcher by Lai Hung-Chung alludes to the trials of the “on-looker”, while Nguyen Thanh Chung wears his heart on his sleeve in A Trip of… Bookending the M1 Open Stage line-up is Japanese guest act Kota Kihara and Yoshika Shinohe who present a gender-neutral piece with a child-like, playful solemnity. To sweeten the deal, the night ends with DiverCity: a 25-minute commissioned work by local choreographer Germaine Cheng inspired by the ironic whimsy of Rube Goldberg machines.

Pssst… Catch the full line-up of M1 Open Stage + DiverCity over two nights (2 Jun & 3 Jun) for an absolute steal with our twin deal package.

 

  1. Binary – International Artists Showcase

Two superbly talented couples are set to fire up our festival stage. Trust us, the last time Dimo Kirilov and Tamako Akiyama were here in 2013, they sent shivers down our spine with their chemistry. Dimo and Tamako were formerly principal dancers at Spain’s acclaimed Compañía Nacional de Danza. We’re also stoked that Rudi Cole and Júlia Robert from UK’s Humanhood are performing Zero, a 30-minute visual and sonic feast that came out tops at the 2016 Madrid Choreographic Competition.

We recommend you snag your tickets to the performance on 29 Jun featuring a post-show dialogue with the artists.

 

Photo by Shaun Ho (www.shaunho.com)

  1. Borderline

They’ve both danced in some of Europe’s most-acclaimed companies, and they’ve both returned home to become trailblazers in their respective contemporary dance scenes. So it seems fitting that New Zealand’s Ross McCormack (Muscle Mouth) and Singapore’s Kuik Swee Boon (T.H.E Dance Company) have joined hands to present Borderline – a night of drama, captivating soundscapes, mysterious sets, and lyrical choreography.

This is one performance you don’t want to miss, opening 22 Jun, Thu.

Photo by Oh Sang Hyun

  1. Asian Festivals Exchange (AFX)

Only one night, folks. We’ve got a couple of treats for you at AFX, including two award-winning acts from the Yokohama Dance Collection and Seoul Dance Collection. In a long-running tradition where we pair local dancers with international choreographers, Goh Shouyi and Zhuo Zihao will present works-in-progress with their Japanese and Korean collaborators. And for the very first time, local veteran choreographer Albert Tiong will be creating an original work for T.H.E. Second Company.

 

Early bird discounts are on sale till 23 April.


Written by Adeline Loh. Photo of Borderline by Shaun Ho. Photo of Ode to Youth by Oh Sang Hyun

“We need a space to listen to different voices.”
Posted on April 14th, 2017/ Comments Off on “We need a space to listen to different voices.”

Festival Director Kuik Swee Boon looks to the future of the festival and shares why his latest work Vessel explores transcending one’s limits.


Why doesn’t the festival have a theme?

When a festival has a theme, while it becomes easier for the audience, it also excludes a lot of artistic voices. Over the years, the festival has brought in different types of contemporary dance works and has opened up the horizons of audiences in Singapore.

From being a pragmatic, results-driven nation, Singapore is increasingly seeing the value of community. You may be an ordinary 80-year-old woman, or an 18-year-old who’s yet to see the world. It doesn’t matter; every individual is equally valuable. We need a space to listen to different voices. At the festival, we have always pursued this attitude of openness. We are dedicated to creating a space where every individual’s point of view is cherished, no matter who they are.

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When we started the festival, there were fewer players promoting contemporary dance at such a scale and depth. It is now an art form that’s widely accepted in Singapore. Moving forward, I hope the festival’s ownership can be shared with different voices, curators and programmers.

Is this a right time to allow new voices into the festival?

An open society will always want to hear different voices. It’s healthy for our festival and arts industry to allow different voices to enter and add to these conversations. Since last year, I’ve been speaking to different people about this direction that the festival is heading towards. Many of them are interested.

At the end of the day, it boils down to budget constraints. While we want to professionalise the industry, we need to be realistic as well.  We need to work within our finite resources and do the most we can within our means, otherwise we risk overreaching and diluting the vision and quality of the festival.

It’s also a challenging time now for the festival. There are many new players entering the dance scene, but audience numbers here are not growing at the same pace. Contemporary dance is an art form I’ve worked hard to promote and I don’t wish to see a situation where this art form becomes alienated from the general public. That’s why we’re introducing a new platform, Dance at Dusk, to bring contemporary dance to the public this year. It’s a free performance that’ll be held at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre. In early April, the Second Company performed at this same space for Esplanade’s in-house programme “In Youthful Company”. 

Your new work, Vessel, seems to deal with this ‘dance’ of facing up to and transcending one’s external conditions.

One’s fight is not just on the outside but within oneself. How do you face a difficult situation and transcend your own borderline? In my earlier work, Pure (2016), I wanted to find an inclusive, intuitive body and Vessel has developed from there.

 

What’s an inclusive body?

An inclusive body is an open body. It allows for an exchange of different energies.  In your dialogue with others, physical or otherwise, you may push or accept; choose to lead or follow, change or make decisions. Each body has its own potential. In Vessel, what I’m looking for is a body that can accept challenge. It can fight but at the same time, be flexible and strong enough to receive others.

When people are placed in a competitive environment, everyone wants to achieve the highest points and get what they want.  The question I’m exploring is whether we able to let go of this competitive nature. Only when you let go can you go beyond yourself. Otherwise, you’ll be trapped.

You’ve dedicated yourself to eight editions of the festival. Since becoming a father, do you find yourself taking a step back?

There’s been a big change in my lifestyle. I used to spend long hours working on the festival for months on end.  With my son, I can’t work as intensely as I did in the past. I try to get home earlier as I don’t want to miss out on his childhood. Now, I work late at night after he sleeps.

Both you and your wife Silvia are dancers. Do you teach your son about dance?

No, we prefer to let him absorb whatever he’s exposed to and develop naturally. He’s still very young so we can’t predict how he’ll turn out. Silvia and I each have our strengths and weaknesses. He seems to have inherited both our weak points! I’m not very strong in language, while movement-wise, Silvia struggles with her jumps. But we do see that when he enters the dance studio, he will imitate the dancers. He mimics us by dropping onto the floor.

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What do you hope to see in the dance scene in five years?

Artistically, I hope there can be more choices available. That people will be willing to watch a variety of works even if the works veer off the mainstream; that society will know how to choose and appreciate different things. If our society evolves to this state, it would mean that greater room is made for different views and different ways to live.


Interview by Adeline Loh. Photos by Bernie Ng. See Swee Boon’s and Ross’s work come together in Borderline – By T.H.E Dance Company and Muscle Mouth 

“I’m always interested in the internal conflicts.”
Posted on April 7th, 2017/ Comments Off on “I’m always interested in the internal conflicts.”

Bulgarian-born, French national, Spain-based choreographer Dimo Kirilov’s intimate works investigates the nuances of our inner world.

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You performed Aimless with your partner Tamako Akiyama here in 2013. People really responded to the sensuality and subtlety of the piece. How do you create such intimate dances?

I prefer the Asian style of rhythm. It can be very calm, or very stressful. In Asian movies, the actor can be smoking a cigarette for two whole minutes and there are no cuts. The viewer can digest the image; better understand the emotion. In Europe and even more so in America, this smoking scene will be diluted to two seconds with a lot of cuts. It’s a completely different rhythm. I connect much more to the Asian way.

This year, you’re returning to the Festival with Broken Lines. What inspired this work?

I’ve been observing people on the metro: their body language and what that means. People seem very serious. They might just get pushed around a little bit but they start to become nervous, to argue. It’s a small situation, nothing really important, but a lot is going on the interior.

The work is about how we exaggerate normal situations. You meet someone, something small happens, but in your head you exaggerate the situation. From a small problem, you create a bigger problem. For people who are just looking on, they cannot understand your reaction. Broken Lines is about these different realities between what’s the inner reality in our heads.

Your works always seem to be exploring the human psyche. What fascinates you about people?

I’m always interested in the internal conflicts people struggle with. When something is too happy, too beautiful, there is nothing more to think about. In my work, I prefer not to explain too much, rather, I choose to suggest more than explain. When it’s too clear, it’s of no more interest for me.

I also like the inside work, unraveling the internal worlds of people, because it’s very different from what we see as outsiders. On the surface, there are manners and behaviours to observe. If you peel away the surface, it’s much more natural, primitive, and less organised.

Are you a different person on the inside?

Many people say I look calm, but on the inside I’m jumping from one thing to another. I’m not very organised in my head. I live in a very intense way, sometimes too much! But this is the passion that drives me.

You met Tamako at Spain’s Compañia Nacional de Danza. What’s it like to collaborate for so long with a partner?

We have no time to get married. We’ve been together for 12 or 13 years now.

When we were both dancing at Compañia Nacional de Danza, we spent a lot of time working. Now, we are together for 24 hours, at home and in the studio. When you are a couple, actually, you never finish working. But you can go much further into the details and ask much more from the other person.

Does the intensity of creating a new work sometimes overwhelm you?

It’s difficult to maintain a distance in these situations. As a choreographer, sometimes you want to see the results fast so you know how to keep the piece flowing. It makes you ask a lot from the dancers; you want them to work immediately on an idea, and you want it now.

You went through a major health challenge several years ago, but you’ve continued to choreograph and perform. How did that episode change you?

That changed my priorities completely. Before, the expectation of quality in my work was very important; now it’s even more so, because we don’t know how long we have to live. Now, if I want to do anything, I try to do it truly well.

At the same time, I am working on trying to separate personal and work life. Before, I was mixing these two aspects a lot. It’s very easy to get very busy, but when I feel tired, or when I feel I need more time to myself to read, see a movie or just walk, I take the time to do so even if there is much waiting for me complete.


Interview by Adeline Loh. Catch Dimo and Tamako in their new work in Binary – International Artists Showcase

5 Awe-Inspiring Performances!
Posted on April 5th, 2017/ Comments Off on 5 Awe-Inspiring Performances!

 

They came, they danced, and made their way into our Festival history. From quirky comic acts to searing, emotionally-charged performances, here’s a recap of the five most unforgettable shows that hit our Festival stage.


1. Coming and Going (Apple and Chinese Cabbage): Japanese choreographer Takuro Suzuki smashed his way into Festival history in 2012, when he turned everyday groceries into the star of this dance. This wacky work saw Suzuki playing and smashing cabbages to pulp and creating fascinating scenes along the way, leaving us laughing in stitches.

2. Coexistence: This was one riot of a dance – at one point, the two dancers ended up dressed in beach shorts and sun hats, landing punches and chasing each other across the stage. Performed by the Ambiguous Dance Company in 2013, Korean choreographer Kim Boram turned some pretty heavy material (one human’s battle between his positive and negative sides) into a racy fight on stage.

3. Aimless: This slow burn of a dance sent shivers down our spines in 2013. Backed by a sensual Cuban guitar soundtrack, husband and wife duo Dimo Kirilov and Tamako Akiyama drew audiences into an intimate dance journey. No wonder one reviewer aptly called this piece “born out of a deep understanding that only comes with a long relationship.” Don’t miss their highly-anticipated performance at Binary – International Artists Showcase at this year’s Festival.

4. Bo.LE.RO: Ravel’s most famous orchestral piece, Bolero, received an unexpected twist by Japanese choreographer Shintaro Oue. Oue, along with Swedish dancer Piotr Giro, stole the stage in 2014 with this colourful performance full of comic turns and acrobatic moves, creating a playful relationship between the two.

5. Je Te Haime: This tongue-in-cheek piece based around a lover’s tiff had us on the edge of our seats. Choreographed and performed by French dancer Arthur Bazin and Argentinian dancer Candelaria Antelo in 2016, Je Te Haime was full of seductive moments, showcasing the duo’s sizzling chemistry. Little wonder it scored best dance performance at the 27th Feria Internacional de Huesca in Spain.

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Written by Adeline Loh. Don’t miss this year’s line-up of Festival shows!

“All sound for me is worth investigating.”
Posted on March 31st, 2017/ Comments Off on “All sound for me is worth investigating.”
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Sound designer Jason Wright from Muscle Mouth on what really goes into creating sound for the dance stage.


How did you become a sound artist?

It happened by accident. I grew up playing the piano and guitar and was really into music. I auditioned for jazz school but didn’t get in and that door closed for me. I was recommended to take up the sonic arts course, though I didn’t know anything about it at the time. I went into the New Zealand School of Music, ended up staying for five and a half years, and did my Masters in Sonic Arts and Composition.

How did the course change your views about sound and music?

It completely changed my perception of sound and music. Being a sound artist means you have to be open to all possibilities of sound, while music is a part of the whole umbrella of sound. All sound for me is worth listening to, investigating, recording and re-appropriating. There’s no such thing as silence – when John Cage went into the anechoic chamber, he heard two sounds: one was his nervous system and the other one was the blood circulating through his body. It becomes a blessing and a curse in a way. When you’re completely attuned to sound, you can’t ever really get away from it.

Do you get inspired by cities?

The sound environment in Singapore is really interesting. It’s completely different from Wellington where I’m from. It’s a really dense sonic landscape. I did a bunch of recordings here, things like bird songs, mechanical sounds, beautiful sonic spaces in the place that I’m staying in Geylang. Using these type of sound sources in my work really imbues the composition with a type of energy. For example, with Borderline, I took that literally by exploring bird calls from New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia.

What’s a day in the life of a sound artist like?

I work better in the morning because I’m fresher. I try and get up early and I’m working by 8am. I create sounds before I go into the dance studio. The rest of the day might be editing, or I’ll work in the studio improvising with the sounds. I’m not very good at relaxing when I’m on a project as my brain just keeps going.

Somehow, I seem to always create far more sound than I need. I’ll always be influenced by something that happened in the day. Even if the additional material doesn’t make it into the piece, it’s so interesting to keep on creating.

What’s it like building a soundscape for a dance piece?

I really try to involve myself in the process by coming into the dance studio for the whole creation. I’ll start bringing in sound that has the ability to influence the choreography or the dancers. I really enjoy the challenge of creating something for a director with a strong vision, because I’m always pushed to make sound that I wouldn’t make by myself, which is extremely rewarding.

For example, Swee Boon is bringing out different qualities from me. He’s focusing a lot on internal intention and the beauty of the body. In some ways, he has pulled something more musical out of me.

What types of end results make you happy?

The end goal is to really find a balance where the energy of the sound feels generated by what’s happening on stage. The sound shouldn’t move on its own accord; it should be part of the stage environment and come from the movement intention.

Part of it is also being able to operate live and respond to the fluctuations of each performance. For me, that’s really important, because if I can operate live, the dancers need not move to cues and I can really react off them.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. As an artist, sometimes it’s good to think of yourself as a business and have a bit of a plan. I’m a bit conscious of that, being in a company like Muscle Mouth, which does have long-term goals and projects. It helps me to be mindful of what I need to do to keep working as a sound artist.


Interview by Adeline Loh. Jason Wright’s sound design is featured in Borderline – By T.H.E Dance Company & Muscle Mouth.

Getting real with Ross McCormack
Posted on March 24th, 2017/ Comments Off on Getting real with Ross McCormack
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“Coming out of a block artistically is where you grow,”

says Ross McCormack.

The former dancer from Les Ballets C de la B and rising New Zealand choreographer gets real about starting his own company, staying original in the age of social media, and his new work for the Festival.

 


 

You spent a decade dancing with acclaimed Belgian troupe, Les Ballets C de la B, before starting your own company, Muscle Mouth. What was it like to make that shift?

Les Ballets C de La B is 30 years old, they are massive. Working with them, there’s a fantasy in there. You can get caught thinking that’s the way it works: you make a work, it takes off and travels around the world. The truth is, it’s not. You realise you can’t even self-fund your own season and get 50 people along, no matter who you are. It’s a very humbling experience to leave a company that scale and build your own little thing. It’s also what it’s all about. There’s something incredibly beautiful about it.

What’s your approach to choreography?

I spent a lot of time in two companies. Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) was very focused on a virtuosic expression of high-end perfection, while Les Ballets’s approach is very guttural and emotionally driven. When I was in ADT, I wanted more connection to the world, but when I was with Les Ballets for such a long time, I didn’t want to get trapped with everything dictated off pure human emotion. I’ve held onto aspects of both approaches, while finding a middle ground somehow.

I danced right up till I couldn’t anymore professionally, so I started concentrating on choreography quite late. It still feels quite new to me.

Your father watched you perform only quite late in dancing career, didn’t he?

Yes, and only because the piece I was performing toured to his town. I think he would like to support but just doesn’t know how. Arts, theatre, dance is not really his thing. He doesn’t make any attempt to show it is. A lot of guys – and it’s a large generalisation – might have that battle with their father. You can be very intimate with your work in the arts, and it causes a very real response, especially when you haven’t got a close relationship.

How did he feel when he came and watched you?

There’s this moment in the work when I got pushed down on stage, and for a moment, I looked straight at him. He definitely was connecting with what I was doing. That was what we really needed to do. There’s not much to discuss. He was more interested in the numbers: how many people came, how much they paid, the productions costs – just business.

You’ve been in Singapore this February to kickoff a new creation for the Festival. Tell us more about it.

It’s called Area² and it is inspired by two artists, David Altmed and Samuel Beckett. For Altmed, the works I’m drawn to are these large Perspex cases; they look like a monolith and inside them is incredible amount of detail. I find this kind of precision and detail really fascinating. Beckett looks at space in a really expansive way. He has very simple props in his theatre pieces. Area² is a collision of those two things. There’s a central prop that will just sit there. It will be enough to hold on to what the world is, and the dancers will bring this incredible detail and precision.

How have you gone about developing the piece?

I don’t create any of the movement. It all comes from the dancers (from T.H.E. Dance Company). I task them. We spent the first two days constantly looking at things on YouTube. We watched octopuses having sex, through to cars being built, mechanics of huge factory lines, and kaleidoscopic details.

How have the dancers responded?

This work suits them in the sense that I’m really interested in detail. This precision that I talk about, they’re really good at that. In this piece, the dancers not going for an emotional state. It’s a very collective kind of work. It’s very robotic. It’s like they’re building and testing, breaking each other down.

Any personal observations you’ve made on the dancers?

I’ve worked with Billy once before and I’ve seen a real growth in him. Poh Hian has an incredible kind of presence, and it’s about working out how she can understand that. Anthea’s incredibly dynamic and very fast. Someone like Brandon influenced the work with something quite robotic and maybe even shifted the work in that direction. Because of his face, eyes and his skin, he interprets it in such a way that he looked like an android. So it’s just not about what the dancers can do physically but how they are as people.

What’s next in putting the show together?

There’s definitely another part to it. For now, we’ve just done movement. There hasn’t been a focus on the set or the world of the work. That would be the next thing. I love making the movement which I’ve done for the last two weeks. But what I really love to do, is to set it all in the environment. In my mind, I see it very clearly how it would be framed. The sound designer, Jason (Wright), is also so extraordinarily good at building a sonic world, that the prop, the lights and his sound, will have people sink into the world.

What trends in contemporary dance have you seen recently?

People are making really intensive efforts to investigate movement and also investigate the world. There’s a lot of more of this happening compared to the late ’90s, or early 2000’s, when movement was really physical and minimalistic. Movement was an abstract thing. People are now framing the world, with an incredible body of movement.

Do you think social media opens up opportunities for choreographers?

It opens more opportunities but it also weakens originality. People get stuck artistically and then they go to what they can visually see. Next thing you know, their work has whole passages in it that aren’t reflective of what they would have done if they didn’t have something visual to reference. I’ve never seen more movement connected throughout the whole world. Some people will say, ‘that’s a great thing Ross, because people are sharing.’ I don’t think it is, because it dampens originality. Alain (Platel, Artistic Director of Les Ballets C de la B) said he was glad he never had something like this to get in the way of being blocked. Because coming out of a block artistically is where you grow.

What about competition from other digital media?

We’re in the era of streaming TV. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when there’s so much competition for live theatre. It needs to dig deeper and work harder than it ever has before. People are making work to try to attract the audience back and it can be cheesy. People are purely concentrating on what the audience wants, and we can’t go too far down that path; then you start making stuff that you don’t want. We’re in a real hot pot at the moment.

How does Singapore’s contemporary dance scene compare to New Zealand?

It’s brave, it’s young and very similar to New Zealand. Without a doubt, Singapore’s still finding it’s place and still trying a lot of things. In that trying, some things are experimental. That’s a very new world and super interesting.

What’s next for you, Ross?

I’m going to be acting in a play for the Auckland Theatre Company. It’s a piece called Amadeus and I play Mozart. The director saw me in one of my works, Triumphs and Other Alternatives. The character in there is a mastermind of his own workshop. He’s obsessed with detail and immersed in his own world of perfection. The director wants Amadeus to be very embodied and physical, so he asked me to audition, which is very brave of him, but I see what he wants.

 


 

Interview by Adeline Loh. Catch Area² by Ross McCormack at Borderline – By T.H.E Dance Company & Muscle Mouth.