From now till 23 November 2018, dance artists from Singapore, Southeast Asia and the rest of the world are most welcome to submit your applications and proposals for the 10th edition of our Festival! Visit this link for more details!
“It’s so easy in today’s world to build a wall between people based on differences. For Mirelle and I, with our differences, we decided to build a bridge.”
Black Velvet, an award-winning performance by Shamel Pitts and Mirelle Martins has already turned heads in cities across America and Europe. It’s now headed for Singapore in Binary – International Artists Showcase on 3rd and 4th August, in a performance that promises to challenge your perceptions on gender, power, sexuality and race. We caught up with Pitts, a Brooklyn-based choreographer, ahead of his upcoming showcase.
Hi Shamel. What excites you about bringing Black Velvet: Architectures and Archetypes to Singapore?
First of all, I came here for the first time in April to perform OCD Love with L-E-V Dance Company at the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA). I really love this country. I thought it was really attractive, futuristic and clean.
I also have an interest in bringing my work to audiences that haven’t had the chance to be exposed to this kind of work, or these types of artists. There are lots of blurred lines in Black Velvet: power, femininity and masculinity, race and sexuality. One could see this as something messy, but the work itself is choreographed in a well-designed way. There’s a lot of visual beauty and order in the details, as you might be familiar with in Singapore from the look of your city.
From this beauty, we allow space to make a mess; a beautiful mess. We can learn from it. There’s this sense that messiness means something dark or incoherent, but there’s actually a lot of colourfulness and beauty in the mess.
When you created Black Velvet, your dance partner Mirelle Martins, had never performed on stage. Was that a messy place to be in?
It was nerve wrecking. We came from such different places in relationship to dance. As you mentioned, Black Velvet was the first time Mirelle had ever performed on stage, while I had just finished seven years performing on endless stages as a dancer with Batsheva Dance Company in Israel.
In Black Velvet, we were trying to create a work where we were mirroring and matching each other. It was very challenging and I felt uncertain over whether it could be done.
How did you face those fears in the beginning?
Often when I have fears, I try to meet them with bravery. I had a strong belief that Mirelle had something powerful to say as a performer. It took a lot of patience to listen to what was inside of her. I gave her a safe space to research, learn and to grow very quickly.
It’s amazing what you can do when you can give someone this kind of safety net, and when you believe in another person’s abilities.
So somehow it unleashed magic?
Yes, Mirelle is capable of creating magic. It comes from a deep, deep place within her. Magic is such an interesting thing. You know we recently completed a series of Black Velvet workshops in New York in May. We’re bringing that workshop to Singapore in August and it’s about the efficiency of strangers becoming partners. In many ways, it’s the story of how Mirelle and I became collaborators.
What we teach is similar to Gaga, the dance style that I was trained in at Batsheva, in terms of listening to what’s inside your body, inside your partner’s body and what’s around us.
The workshops we’ve run so far have been really inspiring. It’s amazing to become inspired by others, especially with our differences. It’s so easy in today’s world to build a wall between people based on differences. For Mirelle and I, with our differences, we decided to build a bridge.
How did the both of you create this connection?
We met in 2013 in Brooklyn, New York. She was coming to New York from Brazil to do her first dance course ever, a Gaga Summer Intensive, at age 28. I was her teacher.
When we first saw each other, we had an instant connection. I really felt this from the first moment of seeing her. We saw something very deep within each other, almost like seeing a mirror of yourself. It was very instinctual, and I think she would say the same.
What we realised was that we had a lot of similarities. We’re both African American. That’s just something obvious that’s physical. We came from places and cultures where we found ourselves to be outliers and outsiders. While we’re very connected to our cultures, we’re also very connected to what’s inside of us.
Almost like soul mates…
A lot of people say that. It’s kind of true though. We’re soul mates artistically.
What happens in Black Velvet?
It’s a duet performance created in collaboration with lighting and video mapping artist Luccaa Del Carlo from Brazil. We wanted to create a space where we could both exist with our mirroring and also with our differences. Black Velvet has a consciousness, and a questioning about our ideas and concerns as people living in this world. It’s about how two people reflect each other, blurring titles and labels around colour, power, sexuality and gender.
Since Black Velvet, are you Mirelle working on any new projects?
Currently I’m creating my third project with Mirelle called Black Hole: Trilogy and Triathlon. It’s the final piece in a trilogy that began with the first work, Black Box, and second piece, Black Velvet, which we’re bringing to the M1 CONTACT Festival.
A Black Hole has this huge gravitational force. Everything within its parameters is absorbed into it. It exerts a strong pull in every direction. In the work of Black Hole, I am not researching or sharing the science of the phenomenon, but rather the “magic” behind this extraordinary force in relationship to the physical qualities of the dancing, the piercing precision of the lighting in relationship to the contained and condensed energy of the audience. And in this way, the audience would feel condensed and absorbed into the performance itself.
While Black Velvet was a lot about mirroring, in Black Hole, it’s not about Mirelle and I; ultimately, we want the audience to receive a lot more about themselves.
South Koreans Kim Ho-yeon and Lim Jung-ha will be bringing their performance First Abundance Society to Asian Festivals Exchange (AFX). Spotted for their playful visual wit, they’ve been busy at work with collaborator Hwa Wei-An (Singapore/Malaysia). We went into the rehearsal studio to catch up on the thrills and spills of their new work-in-progress.
Hi everyone, it’s been three weeks since you kicked off your collaboration for Asian Festivals Exchange. How did the three of you hit it off?
Ho-yeon & Jung-ha: We shared our past works with each other before we met. In certain ways, our work feels pretty similar to Wei-An’s. Some of our past collaborations with other artists didn’t work out so well, so we were a little worried about coming on board for AFX. But when we started working with Wei-An, he was really friendly and we realised our working styles were quite in sync.
Wei-An: The three of us are quite playful in how we approach things. We like things that are funny or quirky. In terms of movement, we’re definitely not minimalist and you’ll see us moving a lot – big jumps, and lots of action. It helps that we could also bond over coffee and beer (laughs).
What was the inspiration for the work you’re creating?
HY & JH: We were inspired by a book titled Sapiens which we shared with Wei-An.
WA: They proposed the book Sapiens as a source of ideas and they let me pick the topics I was interested in. The book discusses the cultural and social evolution and revolutions of humanity, and we decided to use the Scientific Revolution as a jumping off point for the new creation.
Ho-yeon and Jung-ha, you are presenting your award-winning work First Abundance Society at AFX. Are there similar themes with this new work and First Abundance Society?
HY & JH: We’re interested in where humanity is heading, what humanity is working towards and how humanity is changing. First Abundance Society was based on a different period of human history – the primitive society – but in this work we’re exploring the period after the scientific revolution.
How do you move from these abstract ideas to creating a dance piece?
WA: One of the things we did was to find and create phrases based on certain ideas. In the past, society operated around religion, so we thought of a movement quality to express that. The movements we created were ethereal, soft and continuous, as opposed to the movements we created for the period after the scientific revolution which is dominated by machines. Another idea we had was to use the Morse code as a platform to create movement.
We then took the time to review the bigger picture and messages underlying this creation. Where are we going as humanity? What is science doing for us, and is it taking us to a better place? These are the questions we are asking in this work but in a fairly lighthearted manner.
Were there any surprises for you during the creative process?
HY & JH: What really surprised us is that Wei-An has really good technique! (laughs) With his background in street dance, he can perform tricks, and many things we can’t do. He is ‘too technical’ and we couldn’t follow his movements (laughs).
WA: Ho-yeon and Jung-ha like to use lots of props but I’m not really used to using props. It’s a new experience for me.
What were other challenges you had to overcome?
WA: With three people creating one piece, it’s really about finding a way to not let too many cooks spoil the broth. There are a lot of ideas and there has to be quite a fair bit of give and take between us, or just allowing one party to run with their ideas and finding ways to support what he’s creating. Learning how to navigate this process between three individuals was huge learning curve for me as a choreographer, regardless of language differences.
Any parting words for your experience at AFX in Singapore?
HY & JH: We’re really impressed by Singapore’s support for this type of collaborative residency. In the past, we haven’t really had a chance to focus on just creating one work; we usually have to work on many creations at the same time. We’re amazed by the support and environment given to us to create during this residency.
Photos by Kaier Tan
Don’t miss this talented troupe of local and international choreographers, who dish up innovative and exhilarating works over two nights at M1 Open Stage 2018. Here’s a sneak preview.
Programme A: 19 July, Thursday
By Annamaria Ajmone (Italy)
Billed as the Best Young Italian Performer 2015 by leading Italian dance magazine danza&danz, Annamaria Ajmone’s unique work Trigger now heads to Singapore. Turning the stage into a “place”, Ajmone uses a movable system to artfully bring audiences into the “space” of the performance.
This Is How We’ll Meet/Part
By Marcus Foo (Singapore)
Local choreographer Marcus Foo is no stranger to the Festival. After his previous showing at the 2014 edition, This Is How We’ll Meet/Part crackles between opposites: harmony and duality, connection and separation, rapidity and pressure.
By Shou Yi Goh (Singapore), Mai Kubota (Japan)
Seasoned collaborators Shou Yi Goh and Mai Kubota take their winning chemistry further this year. We can’t wait to see the evolution of NAKA, which was first presented at a work-in-progress at AFX 2017, and a work that reflects their differing states of mind and ongoing conversations.
By Jinyook Ryu and Hyeayoon Kim (South Korea)
Two-gather is presented by two very capable dancers from Korea’s Ghost Dance Group: Jinyook Ryu, who’s performed at Jacob’s Pillow, and Hyeayoon Kim, who bagged 1st Prize for Young Author (Solo & Duet) at the Seoul International Choreography Festival 2016. Two-gather expresses the tensions and tenderness between men and women as an allegory for the universal dynamics between people.
Nice To Beat You
By Gil Kerer and Korina Fraiman (Israel)
Nice to Beat You is a passionate whirlwind, intertwined with pain, desire and elegance, as a couple strives to resolves the power struggles between them. Don’t miss stellar performances by Korina, who was previously from Batsheva Dance Ensemble and currently in Vertigo Dance Company, and Gil, a former dancer with acclaimed Israeli dance troupe Vertigo Dance Company. Nice to Beat You continues to tour to Germany, Hungary and more.
Programme B: 20 July, Friday
By Albert Tiong (Singapore)
From the mind of veteran choreographer Albert Tiong comes a poetic sleight on hand in Double.
His last duet created in 2017 was instantly picked up by Fukuoka Dance Fringe Festival, so watch out for surprises and intense moments of beauty in this new work for M1 CONTACT Festival 2018.
By Chey Jurado (Spain)
Chey Jurado is one to watch: this self-taught breakdancer brings a fluid urban edge to contemporary moves. Be entranced by Agua, which premiered at Sadler’s Well Breakin’ Conventions, with choreography that reflect water’s amorphous states, from liquid and adaptable, solid and rigid, to gaseous and volatile
By Ruri Mito (Japan)
From Rencontres chorégraphiques internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis to the Aura 27 International Dance Festival, Matou now makes its pit stop in Singapore. Ruri Mito conjures a beguiling response to the multiple meanings of the word matou, and asks: “A body without content cannot remain, but where do the contents go without the body?”
A Fantasy Of Going Home
By Tom Tsai (USA/Taiwan)
Stirred up by the political events in the United States, Tom Tsai draws from his Taiwanese heritage and American education to reflect on what it takes to battle within a marginalised environment. This dance solo showcases Tsai’s edge dance language with its freestyle sensibility and breakdancing influences.
By Logyee Jung (South Korea).
“What do you usually do to endure your loneliness?” asks Logyee Jung. Whether Jung decides to count sheep or retrace past actions, Time Killer is a performance that will keep you on the edge.
“With contemporary dance, you can’t always put your finger on why it speaks to you. That’s the most interesting feeling!”
A former Electrical Engineering graduate turned contemporary dancer, Anthea Seah is no stranger to dipping her toes in new fields and following her gut. This year, the feisty dancer and emerging choreographer joins Festival Director Kuik Swee Boon as co-curator for Dance at Dusk, a free outdoor contemporary dance performance at the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.
She candidly chats with us on the curatorial process, the differences between physical and theatrical dance works, and what it’s like explaining contemporary dance to our local taxi uncles.
This is the first time you’ve undertaken a curatorial role. What has the process been like?
As a choreographer and dancer, I prefer to start with things being very “closed” in the beginning. I will distance myself from external perspectives to identify what I want to express first and foremost.
As a curator, you need to consider the audience a lot more and articulate your choices. Why do you put two works together? You also consider how you can nurture an audience’s tastes, bring out reactions and explore different perspectives.
Having to explain my programme choices and consider differing viewpoints from Swee Boon was an eye-opening learning experience. We eventually agreed upon a programme that would fit both our artistic objectives and the logistics of the space.
Was the outdoor setting at the Esplanade a challenge for you?
In an indoor space, you can define the world of the work entirely. When it’s an outdoor stage, there are many elements you can’t control, from how the light falls, to the elements beyond the stage.
The obvious approach would be to select loud and attention-grabbing works. But I went with my instincts and chose works that I had a genuine connection with, because I believe the same meaningful impact can translate to a wider audience.
The first work, an excerpt of Organised Chaos by Swee Boon and resident choreographer Kim Jae-Duk, has toured many countries. What’s special about this edition?
When I first watched Organised Chaos, it was almost too frenetic and chaotic. Over the years, through numerous versions performed on tour,,the work has become a lot more refined in the way it delivers its motifs and messages. As an exaggerated version of life, it offers some of the strongest and most compelling imagery amongst T.H.E’s work.
One can feel how far the piece has grown through dancer Brandon Khoo’s performance in each iteration. Organised Chaos was one of the first works Brandon performed in after joining T.H.E in 2015. In his earlier performances, he took a highly physical approach to the role; now, he has added nuances and quirks that bring a layered intensity to the work. I think his performance is one to look out for in this show.
This is also one reason why dance companies greatly value re-stagings of work. The process of revisiting familiar roles helps dancers deepen their craft and stage confidence. In turn, it allows the audience to discover new elements in the work. With a diverse mix of audiences visiting the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre, restaged works allow us to create a balanced programme that is accessible yet able to offer unexpected surprises.
What attracted you to the second work selected, She’s Chinese and I’m Twenty Five, choreographed by Malaysian artist Lee Ren Xin for T.H.E Second Company in 2014?
I’ve chosen an excerpt from a work that centres on female identity. I think there aren’t enough works out there created by female choreographers that celebrate femininity.
The piece is theatrical yet smart: it gets you thinking about the subliminal messages tucked within. It’s a quietly impactful piece. With contemporary dance, you can’t quite put your finger on why a work speaks to or unsettles you. That’s the most interesting feeling!
How do you think these two pieces work together?
Generally, most people have a misconception that contemporary dance is like ballet, or is something too avant-garde that they won’t be able to understand. For newcomers, attending a formal show can be an intimidating experience. Through Dance at Dusk, we want to introduce first-time audiences to contemporary dance in a stress-free environment. Even if the themes aren’t immediately understood, we’ve created a programme that allows audiences to enjoy different forms of contemporary dance.
One strand of contemporary dance is very physical, where the body comes first. Concepts are expressed in abstract ways entirely through the body: for instance, through patterns in body movement, or through everyday movements such as walking or sitting, presented in either a heightened manner or a deconstructed form. Organised Chaos could be considered a type of physical contemporary dance.
Another form of contemporary dance can be described as theatrical. Theatrical works use a variety of devices to convey ideas (not just the body) and includes elements like speech, music and comic timing. The movements usually follow an internal logic that the viewer can easily identify and follow. I think Ren Xin’s She’s Chinese and I’m Twenty Five brings these ideas together well.
Ultimately, we hope the performances leave a lasting mark, and resurface in the viewer’s mind to resonate at different points in their life, or to widen their perspectives on a particular issue.
How would you explain what contemporary dance is to the general public?
I would say contemporary dance is the bodily expression in relation to a current context. Its definition depends on the time, place, situation, person, culture. For example, to a tribal dancer improvising for a ceremony, that may be their contemporary dance. But to a foreigner watching from the outside, it is not. It boils down to the meaningful experience that you glean from the dance.
In a city like Singapore, contemporary dance can mean many things because there’s a wide range of cultures and experiences to relate to. For me, contemporary dance is my own style that’s constantly evolving as my vocabulary expands with experience.
“We try to act through our subconscious and intuition.”
This year, UK company Humanhood presents EARTH, the first dance work in a series on the elements which debuts at the Festival. Deeply influenced by mystical ideas from the East and cutting-edge research in physics, we spoke with choreographers Rudi Cole and Júlia Robert Parés on their intriguing creative process and inspirations.
Hi Rudi and Júlia, we know you’re both inspired by Eastern mysticism, and your choreography has a fluid and almost meditative quality to it. How do you both approach the creative process?
Júlia: Being a choreographer is very much about being a person. You go through experiences that influence and inspire the pieces you make. But sometimes, the process isn’t about filling yourself with information; it’s about emptying yourself, and having the time to not think or take action. Then you return to the work, and try to understand what is the new thing you are making.
Rudi: We don’t come into the studio with a pre-determined idea of what we want to complete in a day. We try to act through our subconscious and intuition. It’s a big battle, especially with yourself, when you’re holding on to an idea. How do you let go of that sense of possession, that it’s your work? How can you just allow something to flow in a space?
Photo by Bernie Ng
What happens if the ideas don’t come?
Júlia: When an idea doesn’t come, maybe it’s because the idea you wanted is not coming. If you listen more deeply, you will realise maybe the piece needs more silence, or it needs more time in certain sections. You work with what reveals itself, as opposed to what you think needs to go on stage.
Rudi: In the studio, where we’ve arrived for that day, hour or moment, that’s simply just where we’ve reached. We aren’t trying to find the middle, beginning and end of the piece and predict it before it comes.
However, our work is also very physical. We’re trying to find our own unique language (which we call the Humanhood Practice), and pass on that physical knowledge to the dancers. The dancers don’t just embody the choreography but also a physical state of mind. Even if we’re not working on the choreography, we’re also working on getting the dancers into that physical state.
Both of you have worked together for five years, and your natural synergy comes through in Zero, which you performed at the Festival last year. How do you create that synergy in a group or between dancers who might be very different?
Júlia: When we met, our synergy was there. We didn’t have to work much on it. You can find this connection between other dancers as well. When we begin our auditions, it’s very important for us to spend some time with the group. A lot of this process comes back to the idea of listening, letting things come to you instead of having to propose or to do things.
Rudi: You don’t have to physically force someone to be in connection with a group. A lot of our work is about the interconnections of the body. It’s about the knowledge and complexity of human interaction, of receiving and sending information without actually having to touch. The fact of being in synchronicity and synergy with each other: once this is established, then we see how can we go deeper.
Júlia: There’s something powerful about this. When we come to the studio, there is this intricate human connection right from the start.
Your new work, EARTH, which kicks off a series on the elements, debuts at the Festival. Tell us more about it.
Júlia: We wanted to start with earth because it’s the first element we’re connected to from our feet. We’ve been using Vietnamese hats as part of the work. As a symbol, the Vietnamese hat reflects something essential and pure through its geometrical properties and relationship to the earth.
The Vietnamese hat is connected to the ground, to the seasons, farmers and people at work on the earth. It’s also very geometrical. We use a lot of geometry in our work and geometry connects us to the ideas we’re interested in, such as Eastern mysticism, geometry and Western physics.
Photo by Bernie Ng
We know your research into physics has become a huge inspiration in the pieces you make.
Júlia: We have an on-going collaboration with the University of Birmingham, Physics and Astrophysics department. Our research into physics is very much ingrained into what influences us.
Rudi: Now, it’s very exciting because there’s much more commitment and exchange between the two parties.
What are your interactions like with the physicists?
Rudi: It’s more about being in each other’s environment. We are most creative and comfortable in the studio and they create their work in their laboratory and offices. It’s about breaking down the barriers of where you feel comfortable.
We get them to walk around the studio, relax and use visualisation. When we go to the university, there are graphs everywhere with mathematical properties to them. They are very beautiful to look at and are an aesthetic stimulus that feeds us.
It’s a very bizarre relationship we have, but it’s something we’re building over the long-term.
You both mentioned it’s important for you to spend time in Asia which has influenced so much of your philosophy. What about a modern city like Singapore – does it also inspire you in certain ways?
Júlia: Coming here, there’s something ingrained in the culture that is different from the West. In the West, we’re used to experiencing and communicating time in a certain way. Here, we feel the subtle and subconscious shifts in the way people experience time and the way the body communicates.
“I’m discovering a new way of working.”
Choreographer Kim Jae Duk chats about reinventing his choreographic style in his upcoming work Filled with sadness, the old body attacks.
Hi Jae Duk, we’ve heard you’ve been “messing with your style” for your new work Filled with sadness, the old body attacks. Tell us more about that.
I’ve been really bored with my old stuff after all the works I’ve created. This time, I knew that I didn’t want to repeat what I’ve done before. I wanted to develop my movement style, even if it’s not a complete overhaul of the way I work.
Photo by Bernie Ng
How would you approach choreography in the past?
In the past, I would know exactly what I wanted before going into the studio. I’ve worked in Buenos Aires and El Salvador, where the dancers are used to chatting and discussing things with the choreographer before getting into the work. I would just say hi and get them to start moving immediately! (laughs) I would talk with the dancers only if they were not able to understand what I needed them to do, so I could help them further.
How have rehearsals gone this time for Filled with sadness, the old body attacks?
It was a bit hard in the first week. I was a little nervous and initially, it was bad (laughs). But it was also interesting for me, as I knew that I was in the process of discovering a new way of working.
This time, I focused on a lot on the “feeling” and what was being communicated through the movements. I wanted to move away from just “aesthetics” to something a lot more internal.
I would also throw out key words to the dancers about ideas I wanted to express or specific intentions behind the movements. We would then try out the movements using words such as “arms attacking” or “arms relaxing” (starts moving his arms), and layer these movements with emotions like “sadness” or “romance” (alternates between expressing sadness and romance in his arms). Other metaphors like “the old body” were also used in this work.
This was how we developed the title, Filled with sadness, the old body attacks. I would say this work evolved from my time with the dancers in the studio, rather than from a pre-determined idea or sequence of movements.
Photo by Bernie Ng
I know some of the dancers in this piece have worked with you for a while. How do they feel about your new approach?
They can’t afford to talk about how they feel (laughs). The situation is already challenging enough for them. They have to concentrate on how to move. But they are enjoying the process, as it’s a new experience for many of them.
You’re not just exploring a new movement style, but also creating the soundtrack for the work. There’s an interesting section on the soundtrack where it’s just you “coughing” – tell us more about that.
I haven’t used my voice in this way since 2011. Creating the music was really challenging. I really wanted to create a very contemporary piece of music that brings together “opposites”. In the apartment that I am currently staying in during my residency in Singapore, I started creating “weird” noises when I was recording my voice, but I also combined that with more classical instruments such as the cello and violin.
I’m also bringing in a classical tenor singer to sing in Filled with sadness, the old body attacks.
What does he sing?
Well, the lyrics themselves have no meaning (laughs). They are gibberish! You know gibberish is also a form of aesthetic; the way words enunciated can create an artistic quality.
So you’re creating a very formal image of a classical tenor, and yet he’s singing words that don’t mean anything.
Yes, I’m in a bit of a pranky mood! I wanted a tinge of dark humour in the work too. The whole approach appears humorous from the outside, but the singer will also express a sense of soulfulness from deep within himself – sometimes he’s soft and sad, and sometimes he’s funny.
I would like to give the audience the space to access and feel different emotions when they’re watching this piece – it could be sadness, love, or humour.
The things I’ve done in this work are things I personally like and enjoyed doing. It was great to also feel a sense of personal breakthrough.
Are you glad to be back in Singapore too?
Of course, it’s warm (laughs)! Every time I come back here, I feel very free to do what I want and have control over the things I want to do. Not forgetting the Tiger beer, duck rice and bak kut teh (laughs).
Keep a lookout for M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival happening on 9 June to 5 August this 2018!
Tickets on sale NOW! Click here for more information (:
Applications for the OPEN CALL are now closed. All the best to our applicants!
We are now accepting proposals for M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2018!
This year, our OPEN CALL is not just for one, or two, but THREE different platforms in 2018’s Festival, which will take place from 15 June to 4 August 2018!
Please click here for more information.
Humanhood, a UK dance company founded by Júlia Robert and Rudi Cole, will be performing this week in Binary – International Artists Showcase. The duo generously shares how they turn their research in physics and Eastern mysticism into exciting, new material for dance.
As dancers and choreographers, you’ve both expressed a curiosity for physics and Eastern mysticism. How did you both become interested in these fields?
Júlia Robert (JR): Before I trained as a contemporary dancer in London, I started a physics degree at the University of Barcelona. Physics and questions around the wonders of the universe and our world have fascinated me since childhood. When Rudi and I met, my passion and research in physics captured his curiosity. He started diving into it and doing his own research too. Eastern mysticism became a more important part of our lives through practices we picked up during our travels and in the UK. In 2015, we spent four months in India learning ‘Moving Breath’ from Sheela Raj, and we’re currently taking Taichi sessions with a master in England.
It sounds as if you’re finding a way to bridge physics and spirituality to contemporary dance.
JR: The Dalai Lama himself said, “Spirituality without quantum physics is an incomplete picture of reality.” Sometimes, making that connection to dance is about letting concepts from physics become alive in the body, without trying to be literal or ‘making a story’ out of it. It can be a pure, physical and playful experience, like kids rediscovering our bodies. At other times, these concepts become images from which our choreography grows.
Human beings have thus far divided the world into different fields; this has allowed us to study each field in detail. But a new paradigm of science is emerging, which is currently evolving from the Newtonian vision where the world is a machine governed by laws, to a new vision where the way the ‘Observer’ views the world affects the ‘events’ that happen within it. So, actually, we’re an active player within everything that is happening.
And dance helps us to plug into this experience?
JR: There’s a special beauty in dance that enables us to connect the pieces. In fact, dance teaches us that there are no pieces – when you’re dancing, you can tap into the whole.
Tell us more about the Humanhood Practice, which the company refers to as a practice of dancing with “presence and consciousness”.
Júlia Robert and Rudi Cole (JR & RC): The Humanhood Practice helps to cultivate focus and a calm, self-centered state while working with the body from within, past exhaustion. We work with intention and totality, using the coordination of visualisation and breath. During our 1.5-hour workshop in Singapore, our students will get a taste of this, though we usually spend over three hours to really dive into the momentum. We invite participants to let go of expectations and self-definitions, to dive past their mental limitations.
You’ll also be performing ZERO, a dance about “the beginning of a process, the beginning of the universe”. What did it take to translate such a lofty concept?
JR & RC: ZERO is our first full-length piece and in a way, it was also the beginning of Humanhood’s universe. The challenge was being as open minded as possible in the studio. During the early stages, we didn’t set any tasks. We started the day with nothing and allowed our intuition to generate ideas and movements. In fact, our minds had to be as neutral as possible, without the constraint of thinking about ‘choreographing a piece’. This resulted in a lot of improvisation, exhausting our bodies of habits and conformity. We also had to consciously discard ideas bearing any resemblance to choreographers we’ve worked with in the past.
Were there connections in ZERO to physics as well?
JR & RC: Yes, there’s a clear insight from ‘quantum entanglement’ which is translated into the last section, where the two of us, like two particles in the distance, are constantly correlated and in sync even with our eyes closed. In one moment at the start, there’s an association with ‘dark matter filaments’, with their quality acting like a web-like superstructure connecting galaxies.
There’s also a very defined moment in ZERO, where everything suspends and we are left with a feeling of Yin and Yang. It’s a moment aware of the foundation for balance and harmony within dynamic processes. There’s also another section in ZERO which brings the moment close to nothingness within a theatre setting, leaving the audience with just sound, inviting them to let go of the need to be entertained, and instead, fall into calmer, inner states.
How does Humanhood collaborate with scientists?
JR & RC: At the moment, we are undertaking a residency at Birmingham University’s department for Physics and Astrophysics with a focus on Art informing Science and vice versa. The physicists participate in movement sessions led by us, while we’re informed by research from their labs and observatories in the field of Asteroseismology, the study of the structure of stars. The idea of this exchange is to see how their research can inform our creative intentions and the application of Humanhood’s work, with a polar effect on how our movement sessions can provoke these physicists to look and question their research from completely new angles.
Your works also seem very interdisciplinary for a dance company.
JR & RC: We’re interested in exploring subtle ways to invite the audience into the world of performance. Currently, we’re focusing on different ways to experience sound in a visceral manner. We’re also starting our research for Humanhood’s first group piece, Torus.
What excites you about coming to Asia to perform?
JR & RC: The audiences! We’re extremely curious to know how our work is received by the part of the world from which we’ve taken much of our references and inspired us to create ZERO. This is our first time performing in Asia and we very much look forward to feel how the world of Humanhood is experienced.
Interview by Adeline Loh. Photos by Donata Kukyté.. Catch Humanhood in Binary – International Artists Showcase at Esplanade Theatre Studio on 29 and 30 June.
We catch up with feted local choreographer, Albert Tiong, on his upcoming new creation for Asian Festivals Exchange (AFX), and share a few light-hearted moments with Silvia Yong, Associate Artistic Director of T.H.E. Second Company.
Albert, you started dancing only at age 21. How did you become a dancer?
Albert Tiong (AT): Simply put, I fell in love with contemporary dance. I was curious to find out how the body could be expressed through many layers of complex and intricate meaning. Eventually I followed my intuition and devoted myself to pursuing contemporary dance.
Did you have to make sacrifices to pursue this life?
AT: I was initially working in costume design but I gave that up for this practice. That was perhaps the biggest change. The other major sacrifice was time: as a choreographer, you have to be ready to surrender all your time to creating work. Despite this, the moments of sheer enjoyment and inspiration outweigh all the supposed sacrifices.
Where do you head for inspiration?
AT: It begins with music. Listening to a wide range of music creates scenes in my mind and triggers my imagination. Naturally this evokes certain emotional responses or feelings that I try to capture in my work.
I have this habit of researching titles of novels and recording them in a journal. For the copy I’m keeping right now I’ve collected about 60 titles so far? Recording these words provides a ready source of inspiration for the titles for my creations. I find this works in tandem with the music – once all the elements are in place, it adds a great burst of adrenaline to the process.
Tell us about your new creation for AFX with T.H.E Second Company.
AT: Picture a tornado: there’s the visible exterior where it’s chaotic and sweeps everything up in its path; move further in to the eye of the tornado, and it’s an oasis of calm. That’s exactly what happens on stage. I’m creating a space where the audience gets a sense of what came before, and what was left after – the chaos and the aftermath.
If you relate this to a person or a character, imagine someone quiet, seemingly reserved and keeping his thoughts to himself. What happens when he is provoked beyond what he can tolerate? He may transform into something different, unrecognisable. In a sense, what I’m looking to capture is that powerful shift – the moment where the energy is suddenly ‘switched on’, how it changes the entire situation.
Silvia, how is it working with Albert as T.H.E. Second Company’s Associate Artistic Director? Many years ago you were his dancer in a number of works.
Silvia Yong (SY): Well, I can now tell him what I want (laughs)! When I was a dancer in his pieces, I would work my hardest to fulfill his requirements and expectations.
AT: What expectations? I have no idea.
AT: Actually, even if Silvia hadn’t voiced these I would have held myself to my own expectations in terms of what I should deliver. I can’t claim to be a perfect choreographer. However the creation must at least meet my personal standards so that I can stand by it – I feel it’s the choreographer’s responsibility. Let’s put it this way: I can cook the tastiest dish to the best of my abilities, but it may not appeal to everyone. It doesn’t mean the dish tastes bad; it’s a matter of different appetites.
Today I would say I’m able to face honest criticism about my work. I’m not sentimental about past creations – if a piece is bad, it’s bad. I’m aware when I make missteps. Often it requires a period of private reflection in order to arrive at honest conclusions about the work.
Albert, how did you cast the dancers for your piece?
AT: I asked Silvia how many dancers I should cast, and she told me as many as I possibly could!
Silvia shared previously that she wanted the younger dancers to have the opportunity to work with you.
AT: Yes, I feel I’ve been duped into participating! I’m now at her mercy… (laughs)
Honestly it was not an easy decision to work with a larger group. There are eight dancers in my creation and coordinating different schedules takes a lot of effort. The question should be, from experience I could foresee these difficulties, why did I decide to go ahead anyway?
SY: Can’t it be a favour for a friend?
SY: [When we first discussed] he was meant to cast just four to six dancers and the rest would understudy. At some point, he decided to take in all eight dancers.
AT: I’m in my 40’s now and I’ve encountered all kinds of challenging situations. In the end I chose this option because I know the dancers, I’m aware they have been trained at certain standards and know they have abilities I can work with.
Silvia, do you think Albert’s temper has mellowed over the years?
AT: When she was my dancer in the past, she used to avoid me.
SY: I don’t really take his harsher words to heart. I’m the dancer who’s always in the corner practicising on my own, until I get it right.
AT: I have to admit: age really does mellow you out. I do still have occasional outbursts, but I think time has blunted the worst (laughs).
Interview by Adeline Loh. Photo by Bernie Ng. Catch a new creation by Albert, performed by T.H.E Second Company at the Asian Festivals Exchange (AFX)!
For every edition of the Festival, our team of choreographers dig deep and work hard to present all-new contemporary dance works to the stage. We caught up with some of them to suss out five ways we could all learn to embrace the creative process.
- “The one thing that’s helped me survive in creating new work is continuity: working with same people over the years. People give up on working with their collaborators way too soon. Don’t just chuck everything out and try to start something with entirely new creative people because the last work didn’t work so well. You’ve got to have arguments, and have those tough times but you got to carry it through as well.”Ross McCormack
Watch Ross’ latest creation, Area², in Borderline – By T.H.E. Dance Company and Muscle Mouth.
- “My biggest takeaway from creating new work is surrendering to things that I can’t control or change and the ability to adapt. What I’m really looking for is a process – be it good or bad. The opportunities to watch and know more about what other artists are investigating and doing is a reward in itself.” Goh Shouyi
Catch Shouyi in his new creation in Asian Festivals Exchange.
“During the creation process, you might feel stressed because there’s so much work, but once it’s done, I usually feel sad for some time. Because things are so interesting during the creation period: so many things happen to you; you discover so many things about the work and people. Though it might be intense, embrace this process because unexpected things happen all the time” Dimo Kirilov
Catch Dimo in his new work in Binary – International Artists Showcase.
- “Find your personal relevance to the work; if there’s nothing you can bring to the performance for yourself, it’s very difficult. If you can find your personal relevance, even if you work with abstract things, people can still understand it because of your connection.” Germaine Cheng
Germaine presented Corollary in M1 Open Stage + DiverCity.
- “Be very clear on what you want to do. Some choreographers give dancers too much room for interpretation. You need to be clear, so that even if a dancer questions you on your ideas, you will be able to answer him or her. You need to do your research and your homework”. Siliva Yong
Silvia directs T.H.E. Second Company, which will perform a new creation by Albert Tiong in Asian Festivals Exchange.
Interview by Adeline Loh. Photos by Bernie Ng
Mai, you’ll be presenting Dialogue on the green way, an award-winning duet performance from the Yokohama Dance Collection 2017, in the first half of Asian Festivals Exchange (AFX). What’s the story behind this piece?
Mai Kubota (MK): The slang “green way” usually refers to a place of little importance. Therefore when you say someone talks “on the green way” it refers to pointless conversation but we [Mai and fellow dancer Tokio Uchida] wanted to show it’s actually not. There’s more beyond the surface to these supposed “less important” things.
What’s your favourite moment in this piece?
MK: I like the moments where Tokio’s and my movements synchronise. When we perform we don’t count the beats in the music to match our movements. Instead we worked on synchronising the movements to the physical sensations of our bodies.
Is there one message you’ll like to communicate to the audience?
MK: It’s the simplest things that are most important. Genuine, good conversation without the digital frills.
Shou-Yi, in the second half of AFX, you and Mai will present a new work-in-progress with a rehearsal period of just two weeks! You’ve been through this process several times over the last few years. Does this get any easier?
Goh Shou-Yi (GSY): It’s scary and never an easy journey every time you enter the studio to create. Often there is literally nothing but your self – your own thoughts and physical canvas – to work with. Creating a new work with an international collaborator is always interesting. Most of time, (festival director) Swee Boon match-makes these collaborations and the moment we get to know our collaborators, we have to start making decisions about the creation rather quickly. Hence, it depends on who my counterpart is and what kind of interests and artistry he or she possesses.
What are your first impressions of your collaborator, Mai?
GSY: My first impression of Mai was really positive. There are similarities to our artistic beliefs, preferences and vision. For example, we have been discussing the playlist and there is always some sort of overlap in our suggestions. Mai also seems to be extremely kind and courteous. Her youthful energy and enthusiasm has influenced my process and is keeping me on my toes!
What have both of you been discussing for your upcoming residency?
MK: We’ve agreed upon the fundamental themes and ideas. We’ve also come up with a working title for our piece, NAKA, and the props we might use.
GSY: We had to decide the exact amount of time we would need for sufficient rehearsal and rest in order to maintain optimal physical condition for the performance – given that we have the shortest rehearsal period amongst all the AFX choreographers! We’ve also worked out the technical parameters of mounting this work with the festival’s production team.
We have sending each other loads of information through (the mobile application) LINE – mind maps, words, pictures, drawings and even short movement videos of ourselves. It is an ongoing process and hopefully when Mai is here, everything we have envisioned and planned will fall in place.
What are your sources of inspiration, specific to this creation?
MK: Our inspiration comes from not knowing who or what the other is really like, since we haven’t met each other yet. I often imagine and wonder who Shou-Yi is; I’m looking forward to discovering his emotions and memories (during the residency).
GSY: To be honest, my inspiration specifically for this creation is Mai. Since the act of collaboration is to work with someone in order to produce something, there is no better approach than to set aside personal egos. I start by listening and getting to know her better, then share my own thoughts. It’s through this back-and-forth, give-and-take process that we begin find the right content and direction for our creation.
Interview by Adeline Loh. Photos by bozzo and Toyama. Catch Mai Kubota and Gou Shou-Yi at the Asian Festival Exchange (AFX) on 26 June, 7:30pm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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.
Written by Adeline Loh. Book your tickets to the opening night of M1 Open Stage + DiverCity.
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!
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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
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.
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.
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
Bulgarian-born, French national, Spain-based choreographer Dimo Kirilov’s intimate works investigates the nuances of our inner world.
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.
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.
Written by Adeline Loh. Don’t miss this year’s line-up of Festival shows!
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.
“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.