Silences We Are Familiar With (2015)
Commissioned by the Singapore Arts Festival 2012, and restaged at SOTA Drama Theatre in May 2015.
“Dance review: Connecting with the Silences of T.H.E's work”
Writer: Lisabel Ting
The Straits Times, 29 May 2015
Esplanade Theatre Studio
This restaging of Kuik Swee Boon's Silences We Are Familiar With, which was first commissioned for the Esplanade's da:ns festival in 2012, was swathed in isolation, unveiling love as a prickly creature with as many lows as there are highs.
Love is a "desperate, messy business: a society-wide struggle for human contact", Life!'s freelance reviewer Ng Yi-Sheng wrote when he watched the first iteration of this piece by T.H.E Dance Company three years ago.
And he was right. Silences We Are Familiar With is imbued with near-misses, dancers who are always, almost, on the verge of touching but who frustratingly never quite make that connection.
They barely make eye contact with each other or with the audience, their gazes always cast down to the floor or fixed firmly beyond each other, wrapped thickly in their own impenetrable worlds.
Instead of ensemble work, Kuik grouped the dancers mostly in scattered twos or threes. These groups were like cars driving silently on an expressway, sometimes in canon, sometimes in sync, but sooner or later fragmenting or breaking up without colliding.
The performance began with Zhuo Zihao clasping a red cord, being pulled inexorably towards the stage before being swallowed up by the heavy curtains and flung into this bleak world.
This world, where a tiny, blazing spotlight illuminates two hands that yearn to touch, but instead dance lightly and swirl around each other without ever making contact.
This world, where the feelings poured into a crackly Skype conversation are one-sided, and where there is a raw yearning and hurt that the technology can never convey.
This world, whose soundtrack is embodied by Bani Haykal, who sits with his instruments in the orchestra pit, and is magnetic enough to be a performance on his own.
Haykal is mesmerising, a revelation. On stage, his eyes are rarely open, and his hands dance in tandem with his voice. When he speaks, the words are sculpted from emotion and delivered like a gust of wind.
Whether he is playing the bass, delivering a spoken word performance or singing, he is so consumed in what he is doing that it is impossible not to be drawn to him.
Haykal provided the perfect backdrop for the seven T.H.E dancers. Three of them - Zhuo, Lee Mun Wai and Wu Mi - are more established, having been with the company since 2011 at least, and were clearly more at ease with Kuik's choreography.
The 2012 show, which I did not have the pleasure of watching, featured dancer Jessica Christina, who has since left the company. Christina was a strong, grounded performer, and losing her was definitely a blow.
But T.H.E has now found something else in young dancer Evelyn Toh, who joined the company last year as an apprentice dancer and who has since been promoted to dance artist.
While Toh does not yet possess Christina's self-assured expressiveness, she is a technically firm and confident dancer who I am sure will have much more opportunity to grow with the company.
A pas de deux she danced with Lee was one of the only tender notes of the evening, as the pair drew strength from and braced their bodies against each other.
And that was what drew me to this work. Despite the sense of loneliness and the yearning, it has gentler moments, where love is expressed quietly, though subtle moments and silent, unwavering support.
In the end, despite Silences We Are Familiar With being about the sense of disconnect, it ended up being one of T.H.E's pieces that I connected with the most.
Silences We Are Familiar With
Where: School of the Arts Drama Theatre
When: Until May 30, 8pm
Admission: $28 and $38 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go towww.sistic.com.sg)
Commissioned by Esplanade, Theatres on the Bay, premiere in 10th year anniversary of da:ns festival 2015.
“Dance in unlikely places”
Writer: Leong Kay Ean
The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2015
Local dance troupe T.H.E Dance Company will be taking audiences on a backstage tour of the Esplanade's hidden spaces for its next production. The "back of house" spaces include the theatre workshop, basement, loading bay and cargo lift.
Impulse, choreographed by the company's resident choreographer, Kim Jae Duk, 31, is an exploration of "the spaces not normally seen by people outside the industry". He will also be composing the music for the piece.
The choreography, performed by eight dancers, is characteristic of his style, which company manager Jael Chew describes as possessing some "dark humour".
She says: "There is a sombre and serious atmosphere, but with certain witty or funny elements. There's also an innate musicality - even without music, you can almost hear a beat or rhythm to it. His movements are very grounded and weighty, almost animalistic.
"Interestingly, this time, Jae Duk will be adding steps from ballet, such as the entrechat and the pas de bouree. But his characteristic style is still there." An entrechat is a vertical jump in which the dancer crosses and beats the feet mid-air, while a pas de bouree is a running step on the toes.
Impulse opens on Oct 9. Audiences will meet at the Esplanade stage door on the mezzanine level.
Because the backstage spaces are used daily, rehearsal hours for the dancers have been starting late into the night and ending at 3am.
Dancing in non-traditional spaces also carries physical risks. The spaces are unlike theatre stages, which are usually constructed with sprung floors that help absorb impact and reduce injuries.
To overcome these difficulties, the dancers have prepared themselves well. Evelyn Toh, a dancer with the company, says: "To prepare for the late-night rehearsals, many of us changed our daytime sleeping patterns so that we would be able to stay awake and alert during the night. We've also taken extra precaution for our bodies. To protect my knees, I've started to wear knee guards."
But for Kim, the biggest challenge is neither a physical nor personal one. He says: "The biggest challenge is creating a piece so powerful that we don't have to create a literal story for audiences to like it.
"I want them to feel the space in its true form. We're keeping the spaces as original as they are, even the lighting is simple. I hope people will immerse themselves and learn more about the internal dynamics and feel of the theatre."
T.H.E founder and artistic director Kuik Swee Boon, 42, says: "Dance can be so powerful. The way we play with space, energy and emotion can convey so much without telling a story."
He had invited Kim to be the company's resident choreographer in 2009 after seeing his works in Indonesia. Since then, Kim has created six pieces for T.H.E: Bohemian Parody (2010), Re:Ok...But! (2011), Hey Man! (2013), Present (2013), Mr Sign (2013) and last year's Organised Chaos.
Kuik says, referring to Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter, who also composes music for his pieces: "His ability to compose music from scratch makes him a rarity in the dance world. I like to call him the Asian Hofesh."
As a dance company, he says, T.H.E has evolved - while ballet still forms its foundations, the seven-year-old entity is hoping to define its style "in a unique way that relates to our Asian cultures and traditions and us as individuals".
Kim adds: "I'm exploring what it means to be Eastern. We want to find our niche, but we keep it very open and let our direction evolve naturally. We don't let it restrict us."
“Magic of nooks and crannies behind stage”
Writer: Germaine Cheng
The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2015
REVIEW / DANCE
Kim Jae Duk & T.H.E Dance Company
Even for performers at the Esplanade theatres, much of the backstage area is off limits. Beyond the starry lights which frame the mirrors in their dressing rooms, these performers do not see anything else.
Yet, behind, above and beneath the hallowed stages of Singapore's premier performing arts venue lies a realm of obscurity and mystique.
Impulse, da:ns festival's commission and residency this year, is therefore unprecedented as it lets audiences in on the secrets of the trade. This novelty imbues audiences with a child-like wonder and excitement, leading to wandering eyes, curious spirits and an exceptional hyper-awareness.
Kim Jae Duk, T.H.E Dance Company's resident choreographer, heightens this by depicting the nooks and crannies of the backstage area as a cross between a thrill ride through a crumbling, haunted mansion and the dark lair of the Palais Garnier in Phantom Of The Opera.
His choreography, featuring eight dancers, literally bounces off the space as it combines his signature vocabulary of hard- hitting quivers, pulses and lopes with expansive spreads and leaps. Verticality intersects his trademark horizontality as the dancers suspend from ledges and ricochet off walls.
Former ballet dancer Wu Mi seems to set the immovable in motion in his extended solo, loosening the cogs and bolts which used to hold his upright posture, splayed feet and symmetrically curved arms.
Kim's soundscape of ominous chimes and crackles, matched with the squeaking of the dancers' sneakers on concrete, is both grinding and gripping.
His aesthetics and sly humour are clearly suited to the industrial grittiness of the various sites he chooses to work - in a ramp in front of a shady security counter, a cargo lift beeping from having its doors unnaturally held open, a cavernous workshop which spells danger and a caged-in storage area.
The audience is rapt, partially because its curiosity is held at bay. It watches the ebb and flow of the dancers while being confined to a designated seating or standing area. This configuration is one way of filtering the space through Kim's eyes, but one wonders if the audience could wander freely through this new world with the performers as its guide. Would this make for a more immersive experience, or would it reveal too much?
After all, the magic of the stage is sustained by the mystery of what lies behind it. The glimpse Impulse provides makes an impact while obstructing some of the vision with the dark potency of Kim's imagination.
And perhaps for its audience, the inner workings of a theatre are even more of an irresistible enigma than before.
Above 40 (2015)
Commissioned by Esplanade, Theatres on the Bay, premiere in 10th year anniversary of da:ns festival 2015.
“Flame burns strong Above 40”
Writer: Germaine Cheng
The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2015
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Turning 40 seems like the first step to middle-aged doom and gloom, especially in a society and workforce that prizes youth and vitality. But a famous Confucian saying suggests that being 40 is when one attains clarity in their ways.
This is the Chinese title of Above 40, a deeply honest meditation on love, life and dance by four of Singapore's beloved second- generation dancer-choreographers - Kuik Swee Boon, Silvia Yong, Jeffrey Tan and Albert Tiong.
Throughout, the show's various sections are met with applause, roars of laughter or hushed silences. The audience, made up of mentors, counterparts and students, is familiar with the backstories, quirks and prowess of these artists and holds tightly onto every shred of this rare comeback.
The shelf life of a dancer is undeniably short. It is dictated by the body and the increasing demands of the profession. When the frustration of a maturing mind paired with a body in decline is too much to bear, the stage is too revered to be trod on. Yet the flame that was lit never gets extinguished and, as evidenced by the performances of Kuik, Yong, Tan and Tiong, it is still burning strongly.
The quartet are dressed quintessentially, as they are now - directors, educators and choreographers. A fan rotates overhead, its shadow looming large a reminder of the passage of time. In the spare void of the Esplanade Theatre Studio, the artists begin to carve out space with their presence.
Tiong pushes the air like a taiji master, Yong manifests her emotions through circular pathways, Tan's stylised articulation reveals his balletic roots and Kuik's minute pauses evince a contemplative mind. They are vastly different, yet united by their experiences of the ecstasy and agony dance has brought them.
Engaging in stunning physical banter, they take turns to bear and give weight. There are surprises - Kuik smiles as Yong falls towards him, Tiong misses a hand. But these are uncertainties the mere body faces, their beings still stand firm.
While the pacing of the hour-long show is uneven, Above 40 is a success because of the genuine perfor- mances by its creators.
As Kuik grabs a chair and repeatedly hits its back legs on the ground, the force he exerts causes the front legs to rebound off the floor.
This dual sound reverberates through the space and, in his rippling frame, like a heartbeat pumps blood through the body.
Kuik is visibly spent by the end, his efforts paralleling his sacrifices for dance. The art form takes a lifetime of dedication, but as evidenced by the sentiments of these artists, it gives them life.
The Highest Animal (2015)
Premiered in Triple Bill: East to West, M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2015.
"Poignant and powerful dance about man and beast"
Writer: Germaine Cheng
The Straits Times, 5 Dec 2015
Esplanade Theatre Studio
The similarities between man and animal are perhaps the very reason for our dissociation and separation from these creatures some rungs down the natural hierarchy. These are highlighted in a triple bill by T.H.E Dance Company, as it helms its annual M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival in its sixth edition.
While artistic director Kuik Swee Boon's movement style can hardly be described as animalistic, the dancers inhabiting it have to possess feline power and agility as they meet impulse after impulse.
Dancing in a reprise of Kuik's early work, Pellucid, they are poignantly human as they disintegrate on the inside.
The contact work is borne of assistance rather than affection, and only in a serene trio do the men manipulate Evelyn Toh with an unadorned, beautiful gentleness. Elsewhere, the piece employs Kuik's tendency towards frenetic full-bodied physicality, but this tips the balance against the titular concept as it crowds and clouds the otherwise arresting work.
Spanish choreographer Iratxe Ansa's Dos Cuerpos is in a similar vein - kinetically, it hardly lets up, but the physicality is charged with beguiling effort. The illusion of ease, as is often a filter in dance, is eschewed here for faces distorted as a result of genuine intention, force and determination.
In moving as honestly as the body dictates, expression comes as a riveting consequence rather than an overwrought intention. The explosive ferocity of Anthea Seah juxtaposed against the expansive luxury of Chia Poh Hian make for compelling viewing, but the duo is almost upstaged by a surprise opening solo by Toh in near darkness. In slivers of barely visible movement, her gawkily fragmented limbs hold as much fragility as strength.
The year 2015 has been one of flux for T.H.E Dance Company, as it boasts almost an entirely new troupe of dancers. Veteran members such as Lee Mun Wai and Yarra Ileto have left the company, thereby injecting new blood into its veins and pumping out new work that is refreshingly different yet no less exacting.
This is evident in Indonesian choreographer Jecko Siompo's frisky The Highest Animal. The developer of a contemporary dance style termed Animal Pop, Siompo reads and portrays animalism not primordially, but quirkily.
In this romp of a piece, the ensemble of seven peck, leapfrog and yelp through what at first seems like an elaborate animal race. Then, they reveal themselves to be a dysfunctional family of hybrid creatures with the proud arched back of a peacock, the sniffing curiosity of a dog and the piteous flop of fish on land. T.H.E stalwart Zhuo Zihao is like the group's boisterous drill sergeant, bounding across the stage like a monkey and summoning the outliers back into line while providing much of the piece's humour.
While the caricatures in The Highest Animal elicit laughs, they draw parallels to man's need for inclusion, family and love.
Siompo points out these similarities as he questions our place on the top rung and whether there is room for some of these special animals to join us.
Grace, athleticism and flawless teamwork
Writer: Cheah Ui-Hoon
The Business Times, 27 May 2016
SOTA Drama Theatre
A DOOR isn't just a door when it's in the hands of practised dancers, as those from T.H.E. (The Human Expression) Dance Company showed last week. The piece of wood became a wonderful prop as it was incorporated into the dancers' movements and even became an extension of their bodies.
It turned into a very convenient board for the dancers to gracefully throw themselves on and around, under and over, sideways, frontways - you name it, it was done.
The teamwork was seamless and effortless as the dancers became one and showed off their very slick and athletic body work in the troupe's latest performance, Helix in Progress.
The use of the prop also added to the suspense as there was always that chance it would slip out of the dancers' hands as it was tossed and turned about in the piece choreographed by THE founder Kuik Swee Boon.
The latter's own role, where he seemed to be on the outside and separated from the rest of the dancers, was a bit more puzzling - especially when he danced with a female dancer around the frame of a door.
Helix in Progress, however, is a dance that one doesn't need to ponder too much about its intent as one could give the night over to the graceful fluidity of the dancers and their athletic abilities.
The double bill, Helix, comprised Helix in Progress by Kuik and Against by associate director Zhuo Zihao and former founder member Yarra Ileto.
Zhuo and Ileto's combined piece incorporated more "drama" as the dancers were given a platform to speak about themselves and express their individuality.
The dancers went from rhythmic to hip hop, even robotic movements, to fluid contact work with one another in a range of movements to express themselves. The individualistic parts saw them egging one another on while corporate dance segments were a pleasure to watch as dancers focused on a sense of group motivation.
What is also encouraging to see is the audience and this community of fans that T.H.E as well as other dance companies seemed to have fostered over the years.
Their enthusiasm and support are infectious and positive, much more so than that of theatre audiences, one feels, most likely because this is a more niche group and young.
It's clear, however, that they're the ones partly fuelling the growth of the independent, contemporary dance scene in Singapore.
by Fivelines, 21 May 2016
SOTA Drama Theatre
Helix deals with delegation at its core. Kuik Swee Boon presents an unusual double bill for the company; there is a sense of right of passage to younger voices in the company, specifically Zhuo Zihao and ex dancer Yarra Ileto opening the evening.
The first installment of dance brings the company on stage – migrating from the backs of the Theatre into the spotlight, dressed in full black costumes, we can hardly notice skin. The atmosphere is dark throughout and the dancers present their dance-selves on a moving platform.
Against choreographed by duo Zhuo Zihao and Yarra Ileto is a narrative of the ensemble’s work as people in the dance studio, voiced over from the outset we are introduced to the dancers personal profiles. The work becomes most interesting when the choreography presents smaller sections of dance, especially Brandon Khoo and Billy Keohavong. There is a feeling of acceptance by the entire group, translated into simple movement on stage, however when the microphone is passed around from dancer to dancer the piece becomes more informative in its bilingual take but less captivating as these dancers are trained to move and not necessarily to speak fluently on stage. The latter needs more attention, simply because the communication through the body; i.e. choreography embedded in the voice over seems sufficient in itself.
Against is a sharing of creative minds with a focus objective in giving the dancers centre stage to share the intricacies of working in a group, the sense of direction and vision shared amongst an eclectic group of talented dancers.
Helix in Progress by Kwik Swee Boon in collaboration with the dancers is a transient choreographic statement.
Rising from the darkness, Swee Boon unravels a platform on stage through slow and calculated dance, the performance is striking due to its detail and focus on simple movement – the manipulation of this object, perhaps a metaphor where Swee Boon resolves his own dance on stage opening up a new arena to be explored by younger dancers – commissioning new ideas from his ensemble, he hides in the dark leaving the space open.
A beautiful trio arises, constantly changing Swee Boon’s initial state of mind. This particular section of the work is compelling – simply put the dancers manipulate a platform in a range of directions, departing into new dance horizons where manipulation, upside-down material as well as flying low present a new dance venture for the company, proposed by its dancers.
Distinction is at the heart of Helix in progress, highlighting the beautiful and emotional solo from Anthea Seah taking over the stage with a personal movement identify not mirrored on anyone else.
Helix, in progress finishes with the suggestion of continuity and brand new perspectives on dance; the curtain comes down while the entire company is still onstage exploring their own dance signatures. A beautiful theatrical end – letting the audience curious for more.
From the playful to the philosophical
Writer: Germaine Cheng
Straits Times, 3 Dec 2016
Esplanade Theatre Studio
With a growing repertoire and reputation, T.H.E Dance Company boasts a touring schedule that is packed to the gills.
Yet its commitment to new work also keeps it in its studio, immersed in the thrill and pressure of the creative process.
This year, the company opens its annual M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival with a triple bill of world premieres by artistic director Kuik Swee Boon, resident choreographer Kim Jae Duk and Arthur Bernard Bazin, who is working with the company for the first time.
Although the pieces posit similar existential questions, each of the choreographers situates the body differently - as vessel, barometer and playground.
In Bazin's Attachant, the dancers display a child-like state of playfulness, stripping away the usual confines of personal space as they climb up and tumble off one another, navigating an obstacle course of limbs and bodily surfaces.
Then, they shift from one sleeping position to the next, cradling one another's heads in their arms.
Billy Keohavong, ejected from the huddle at one point, flails his limbs with a limpness that belies great physical strength.
It is as though he is learning how to move for the first time, not by coordination but by sheer force.
This is much like the entire work, whose sections adhere, but do not necessarily cohere.
Contrastingly, Kim's Equilibrium and Kuik's Pure are more mellow. Drawing from philosophy, these pieces present a captivatingly muted physicality, one that is refreshingly different from Kim's usual loud, hard-hitting output and Kuik's often frenetic, exacting vocabulary.
Equilibrium still showcases Kim's movement signatures of lopes, bobs and tremors, spliced here with overt references to the piercingly directed limbs in martial arts.
But these movements, when performed with less speed, allow for nuance to be made visible - the spine ripples, joints flex to cushion a landing and the head floats above the action.
Evelyn Toh holds a steely gaze throughout, as she allows Kim's movement to engulf her body.
Like ninjas, the dancers scurry in and out of slivers of unison, accelerating until they find collective release. With chanting and hypnotic percussion, Equilibrium is contemporary dance as ritual, filling the empty vessel of the body with stillness through intense motion.
Kuik's Pure, too, has a calm, predictable quality. Dancers Anthea Seah and Wu Mi are together and then apart, they advance and then retreat, they reach and then release. The cyclical nature of their interactions is based on the interchanging phases of conflict and compromise in human relationship.
White coats by designer Jamela Law encase the dancers like clouds, both protecting and preventing them from their true selves. They dance much of the piece in symmetry, skirting around the borders of each other's kinespheres.
Then, the coats are removed and the dancers launch into solos with a palpable hunger for mobility, bounding through the space with unfettered abandon. Seah, in particular, moves in a wondrously edgeless manner as movement just seems to well up inside and escape out of her being.
The predictability of human nature seems inevitable as the pair establish a new rhythm and find themselves in step again.
Perhaps our bodies are always a true indication of what our minds and souls desire, and dance is a way to listen to ourselves.
“Works of discipline, elegance and energy”
Writer: Cheah Ui-Hoon
Business Times, 9 Dec 2016
Esplanade Theatre Studio
THE M1 Contact Dance Festival kicked off on the right foot with the triple bill by T.H.E. Dance Company, which saw three works premiered, choreographed by Kuik Swee Boon, Kim Jae Duk and Arthur Bernard Bazin, respectively.
All three were arresting in their own right, and so different so that one walked away with a spring in one's step, just reeling from the elastic possibilities of contemporary choreography. Kim's vigorously disciplined piece gave off military vibes with its precise and angled moves and poses. Kuik's pensive duet was an elegant meditation of two bodies while Bazin's Attachant was energetic to the point of exhaustion.
All were danced well by T.H.E. company dancers.
Kim's work had that aggression to it, with a lot of disciplined energy as white-suited dancers often moved in tandem with one another. In Equilibrium, where the dance is supposed to probe Chinese philosophy and contemplate the pitfalls of Western capitalism, the dancers often took poses that looked confrontational and rigid. Their energy was rooted downwards, and even looked like mating dance rituals of birds at times - for their rhythmic symmetry.
Kuik's Pure, that followed the first piece, was completely opposite, as the two male and female dancers simply melted into one another in a beautiful pensive piece.
The follow-through from the first piece was in the dancers' very conscious, deliberate breathing - and Kuik made much out of the inflation and deflation of the body, through breathing.
Pure speaks of tension and compromise, as indicated by the elegant magnetic pull the dancers had towards each other. The rise and fall of limbs and bodies also reminded one of the ebb and flow of water. Filmy linen-like tops completed the feel of the meditative piece.
The third piece, Attachant by French choreographer Bazin, is about how life is this complex tangle and web. Bazin's work was a study of the struggle and it involved such rough play that it looked almost like he invented new torture techniques.
The dancers spent most, if not all of their time, interlocked with one another as they tugged and pulled and pushed, with body slams, and intricate limb locks.
There was the element of chaos and abandon but it had to be planned and executed very well, because it was all controlled and thought-out. The dance started off with high-octane movements, but slowed down to slow-motion pace towards the end.
It's an amazing, almost masochistic piece - so kudos to T.H.E. Company dancers who danced their hearts out for this: Evelyn Toh, Chia Poh Hian, Kei Ushiroda, Billy Chantasan Keohavong and Brandon Khoo.
The triple bill was an excellent start to the dance festival - a testament to how much effort T.H.E. dance company has put into professionalising contemporary dance in Singapore.
“Triple Bill T.H.E Dance Company – Review”
Fivelines, 2 Dec 2016
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Triple Bill opens M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival 2016 with determination and accomplished choreography. Kim Jae Duk, Kuik Swee Boon and Arthur Bernard Bazin bring cutting-edge choreography in a refreshing and delightful evening of contemporary dance.
In ‘Equilibrium’, Kim Jae Duk creates a lunar and singular reality, where dancers consistently defy gravity, shifting between weightless and grounded tight unison- hovering the stage with fast momentum interjecting the latter with the precision of mercenaries crushing skulls at the speed of light.
Jae Duk’s movement signature is polished, lustrous and precise inciting calm and fulfilment across the entire performance. We are guided through gentle breathing sounds from the start into chanting, accelerating the pace as the piece transforms into a conquest for serenity and composure. The cast is agile with catching and dashing arm gestures and incredible dynamism as if one were in the middle of a pest of flies, however, certain of survival like modern Tao warriors.
Kuik Swee Boon masters stillness to remind us all, we are humans and not machines.
Setting one thinking, ‘Pure’ is a clean and charming movement piece about attachment and belonging. Anthea Seah is visceral and transforms into a drop of sweat, running down Wu Mi’s neck in an intricate duet of acute sensibility and tune.
Two dancers become one single shifting cell, lengthening arms and hands spiralling towards one another, leaving the audience mesmerised by the impulse quality nature of Swee Boon.
‘Attachant’, a family portrait complete with one unwelcome guest.
Devised from Contact Improvisation this piece of repertoire sheds new light into the versatile skills from T.H.E Dance Company dancers.
The choreography is overscored with cumbersome rock music, providing a silver lining for comedy in dance. In here, the dancers perpetually fall together on the floor and recover to expel one individual from the group.
In contrasting costumes, Billy Chantasan is ousted from the group into solitude, finding pleasure in pain in the most agonising solo. Like a pride of lions, he is welcome back into the family to challenge gravity.
Climbing one another, we are pleased with these new hypotheses of seeing the human body upside-down, lateral and contorted supporting a family of five literally on his shoulders while walking on stage.
Humour brings a lightness to this otherwise violent piece of dance, playing games of severe pulling and supreme pushing causing laughter on both audience and the cast.
Blurring boundaries and celebrating differences
Writer: Nabilah Said
Straits Times, 24 June 2017
Esplanade Theatre Studio
M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival
In theory, borderlines are something clear cut - neatly demarcating one region from another.
But as real-life cross-border disputes have shown, borderlines are sometimes hard to pin down. At times, they even become sites of danger.
Borderline - By T.H.E Dance Company & Muscle Mouth, which is part of the annual M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival, is a double-bill which similarly blurs boundaries.
Despite being choreographed by two different people - Ross McCormack from New Zealand dance company Muscle Mouth and Singapore's Kuik Swee Boon from T.H.E Dance Company - the works blend together perfectly.
The result is a dark, trippy picture of dystopia, where citizens clamour for power, sometimes to the extent of violence, yet at the same time also long for a personal sense of redemption and inner peace.
Ostensibly, Borderline comprises two dance items.
Area² by McCormack is a surrealist, conceptual piece about the fight for control and territory, represented by a rock in the middle of the stage that the dancers seemed to revere and fear in equal measure.
Kuik's Vessel explores the notion of the dancers' personal boundaries and limitations.
Kudos to all six dancers from T.H.E - Wu Mi, Kei Ushiroda, Anthea Seah, Brandon Khoo, Billy Keohavong and Lee Seulyi - for pushing themselves to punishing lengths throughout the 70 minutes of the show.
The sparse lighting (by designer Adrian Tan) was very effective, not only in enhancing the otherworldly mood, but also in highlighting every sinewy muscle on the dancers' bodies, showing the audience just how hard they were working.
The lighting also helped to create beautiful tableaux vivants - living pictures that hark back to Muscle Mouth's theatrical style.
One haunting image was the female dancers hanging upside down from the shoulders of the male dancers, creating a kind of sub-human, almost bestial creature on stage.
Equally powerful was the sound design by Muscle Mouth's Jason Wright.
Acting like the seventh character onstage, the sound not only created feelings of terror and eeriness, it also added an element of wonder for the audience.
In some segments, a dancer would hold on to a small box that seemed to emit sound responding to his or her movements.
The dizzying array of sounds were controlled by sound artist Wright.
This resulted in a magical mix of audio wizardry by Wright, who worked closely with T.H.E on this production, and perfectly timed movement.
It was a treat to see how a collaboration between two companies can create such a living, breathing work built upon a bedrock of trust.
Judging by the shouts of "bravo" at the end of the show, the audience in the packed theatre lapped up the powerful performance.
Other borders may divide, but in Borderline, differences are a thing to celebrate and be proud of.
M1 CONTACT CONTEMPORARY DANCE FESTIVAL
Breaking through borders and limits
Writer: Gillian Daniel
Business Times, 24 June 2017
Esplanade Theatre Studio
BORDERLINE is a compelling new collaboration comprising two dances, one choreographed by Kuik Swee Boon from Singapore's T.H.E Dance Company and the other by Ross McCormack from New Zealand's Muscle Mouth. It features a strong cast of six dancers: Wu Mi, Kei Ushiroda, Anthea Seah, Brandon Khoo, Billy Keohavong and Lee Seulyi.
The production's theoretical underpinning lies in the challenging of the very idea of borderlines themselves. Especially in today's climate, the reality is that margins are rarely the distinct demarcations they promise to be. The divide between the two parts of the performance is as nebulous as the gossamer mist that shrouds its dancers, as McCormack's Area 2 blends seamlessly into Kuik's Vessel. Both are set to an atmospheric soundtrack by Muscle Mouth's Jason Wright, supported by T.H.E Dance Company's Jing Ng, that hovers somewhere in between organic and synthetic.
McCormack's Area 2 is inspired by the work of Canadian sculptor David Altmejd, whose vivid, complex sculptures erupt the boundaries between representation and abstraction, and interior and exterior. Area 2 is a montage of bodies under siege, as barriers are broken by internal and external pressures.
A gripping sequence early on recalls Altmejd's busts, in which grotesque cavities and fissures are recurring motifs. Seah and Keohavong maintain a grip over a struggling Khoo, who has his shirt pulled over his face. The climax of the sequence features the silhouette of Khoo's face in a wide-open, Eisenstein-esque scream. He soon breaks into a series of contortions as his body turns on itself, leaving him writhing on the floor. Here, Khoo shows his star potential with a rare combination of power and fluidity. The scene is visceral and raw and it is here that the production begins to come alive.
Another particularly strong sequence features Keohavong, another breakout star, using every ounce of his physical strength to push a rock across the stage. The strain is visible on his bare body, illuminated by Adrian Tan's ascetic lighting design. The sequence recalls Sisyphus' futile and repeated attempts to roll his boulder up the hill. The powerful image created begs the question of whether our constant battle to negotiate the world we inhabit is but a laborious, potentially fruitless pursuit.
In Vessel, dancers push their bodies to their physical limits through choreography that is technically challenging to the point of being gruelling. One evocative sequence features four of the six dancers standing in a row upstage, side silhouettes golden in the single light source from stage left. They begin a series of movements mimicking free fall in extreme slow motion, drawing striking parallels with Chinese artist Xu Zhen's In Just A Blink of an Eye. Both explore the concept of bodies in space and time, exploring how we navigate the world around us. It is the perfect embodiment of the ongoing instability in today's world, as the dancers' bodies seem suspended in time, constantly appearing to be at the precipice of some tragedy that is about to occur.
Vessel closes with the six dancers appearing as a tangle of bodies working to unravel itself. Through this, the production's final closing proposition suggests that life is the persistent manoeuvering of the winding and unwinding of relationships and physical spaces.
liTHE 2017 marked the sixth of its kind since its inception in 2012. This year’s iteration marked the first of many happenings for T.H.E. Second Company. We saw a shift to a larger stage from the Goodman Arts Centre, to the Studio Theatre located in the School of the Arts (SOTA). More interestingly, to signify the growing talents in the company, the production featured the works of three promising choreographers — Anthea Seah, Goh Shou Yi, and Marcus Foo — at the beginning of a planned three-year incubation to observe and nurture their creative processes. In addition, the dancers for this show consisted of 8 dancers from T.H.E. Second Company, alongside 8 dancers-in-training that joined the company in April 2017, allowing for novel pairings and new-found chemistry among the dancers.
liTHE 2017 begins with the piece titled Surface: 間 (MA), choreographed by Goh Shou Yi, with dramaturgy support from Rei Poh. The piece was created as an exploration of the concept of ‘in-betweens’, with Shou Yi seeking to discover the potentialities lying within these spaces. In collaborating with Rei, Shou Yi discovered the Japanese concept of 間(MA), meaning ‘space’, which provided further inspiration for his item. Surface: 間 (MA) leveraged on the physical spaces created around and between the dancers as a physical representation of the concept.
The intricacies within the choreography and the care taken by the dancers to articulate every movement gave these spaces a sense of physical tangibility. I watched, enthralled, as the dancers weaved in between one another, seemingly interacting without making any physical contact at all. Built upon the soulful music, the emotions portrayed by every dancer through their fluid movements were poignant and moving. It is difficult to describe the exquisiteness of Shou Yi’s piece in words, but if I had to choose a few words for it, they would be ‘tranquil’, ‘moving’, and ‘surreal’. The costumes were simple, and the lighting was not overbearing either; even the prop used — a gigantic plastic sheet — was not at all intrusive. Instead, our focus was drawn wholly to the dancers and their movements. Compared to the two items that followed, Surface: 間 (MA) seemed stripped down in terms of costumes and lighting, but the simple grace and attention paid to every movement was more than sufficient to wow.
While I found Surface: 間 (MA) to be elegant and calming, the next item choreographed by Marcus Foo was a new world altogether with the passion and intimacy portrayed. This Is How We’ll Meet/Part was a duet with movement phrases created by the dancers themselves, while Marcus provided the direction of the piece. The synopsis described the familiar process of two individuals getting to know each other for the first time, and the eventual separation that results after conflict.
This story was told through the movements of the dancers alone, and every little nudge and tilt was significant in what they represented. As a society communicates predominantly via the use of language, it can be difficult to interpret movement on its own. Yet, the conscientious way the dancers depicted their movements to tell a story was spellbinding. The way the dancers watched and responded to the movements of one another; the way they negotiated the spaces around one another; the cyclic nature of the movement phrases and the emotions they presented throughout the piece all culminated in a powerful, heart-rending item. This was aided by the thoughtful use of lighting, where the careful positioning and choice of spotlights transformed the space completely.
Breath was also used for an entrancing effect here. With music being intermittent in this piece, the dancers used breath as a complement to their movements. This helped to draw the audience in, and I constantly found myself holding my breath as the intensity built up in their movements and their breathing sped up. This Is How We’ll Meet/Part brought out the electrifying chemistry between the dancers, and this intensity was felt throughout the audience as everyone sat at the edge of their seats, entranced.
The production closes with Second Nature, choreographed by Anthea Seah. Second Nature started as a study on human culture and tackles the age-old question: what is the meaning of life? It provides a social commentary on the values and processes that we value in modern living. Through this piece, we truly witness and applaud the versatility of the dancers as they had to present the message not just through movement, but also through their speech and dramatic performance.
It was fascinating to watch how the dancers used different styles of movement and accent to present their different characters and experiences. For instance, this was evident in the off-kilter movements used by the male dancers in portraying drunk men and the exaggerated movements of a dancer trying to get people’s attention.
With the dancers taking on the caricatures of stereotypical characters in our society alongside the various allusions to key issues within our urbanised lifestyles, Second Nature stood out to me as the piece that was most relatable. It explores the human nature of curiosity and how we are innately drawn towards creation and subsequently, destruction. This was seen through the thoughtful layering in the piece, where movement and variation built in complexity was stripped down towards the end.
The diverse use of costumes, lighting, props and formations presents a scene alarmingly similar to the society we live in. Through the dramatisation by the dancers and the contemplative choreography, Second Nature invites the audience to reflect on and reconsider the values we hold in esteem and the priorities guiding our society.
The distinct style of the three items performed in liTHE 2017 goes to show the versatility of dance as an art form. Despite the differences, they were all powerful in their own way. With items of such calibre shown by the three choreographers who are just on the beginning of their three-year journey, there is much anticipation as to what they will bring to the world of dance in the near future. Personally, liTHE 2017 has made me fall in love with dance all over again. I sat through every minute of the production in rapt attention and was enchanted by the finesse and proficiency of the dancers. All three items left a deep impression on me and I found myself periodically musing over the different concepts and issues explored by the three choreographers even weeks after the show. The dancers, choreographers, and supporting crew from T.H.E. Second Company has come together and checked all the boxes of a spectacular performance with liTHE 2017, and expectations will definitely be high for upcoming productions.
T.H.E Second Company a visual treat – review
Is it possible to listen to choreography and not just watch it? In this triple bill, Goh Shou Yi attempts to investigate that. Sound and sight find parallel roads in this adventurous experiment in dance in which movement and installation meet.
In the first piece Surface 間 (MA) a plastic sheet covers the entire stage. The lighting reveals small wrinkles on the plastic which hides three dancers beneath. The initial movement is slow, and the dancers’ bodies expand the synthetic material outwards. There is a sense of something growing and swelling. At one point a dancer rises inside the plastic coat back-lit in what looks like a painting of Virgin Mary – it’s beautiful. When the dancers move on top of the plastic, they create their own soundscape. It’s visually striking and aurally intriguing. But does it totally succeed? For me, the dancing becomes secondary, the least interesting element in this installation-dance piece. Perhaps unintentionally.
Installation and cross-collaboration are the common theme for these three distinctive and visually striking new dance works. This Is How We’ll Meet/Part by Marcus Foo is a simple duet, animated with beautiful lighting design by Liu Yong Huay and featuring two dancers moving fast, and complementing every sharp movement with a breath out.
Lights blink off and straight back on again to reveal a landscape of circles on the walls and floor. It’s against this environment that the two dancers meet each other for the following fifteen minutes. The pair shares brief encounters and establish a deep connection. Breathing loudly together reveals a precise harmony, but the piece never really develops beyond the initial premise. It comes full-circle finishing as it started – with the same striking fast movement – leaving no room for surprises.
Second Nature closes the evening with elegance and a dramatic approach to dance. A cocoon of different fabrics with a dark-colored string hangs from the ceiling down to the floor. The dancers present short solos center stage, one at a time, in the process revealing their unique identities and styles of dance. Choreographer, Anthea Seah is colorful and bold in her approach. Particularly with her nine dancers dressed in evening gowns and suits.
What is striking in this work is the use of juxtaposition: the female ensemble dances in perfect harmony against a trio of male dancers. The interaction between the dancers follows a process of building and destroying support systems between each other. It’s a joy to watch these dancers own both the movement and the text, the latter offering personal revelations. They sound like themselves rather than like characters, lending the piece a sense of authenticity. It’s a humanizing touch that brings a cozy end to the evening.
liTHE 2017, a triple bill by T.H.E Second Company, 16th of November.
Three Kin (2017)
Distilling big ideas into nuanced moves
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
Straits Times, 9 December 2017
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Three Kin, a triple-bill featuring choreography by Kuik Swee Boon, Kim Jae Duk and Dimo Kirilov Milev, exemplified T.H.E Dance Company's ethos of contemporary exploration via bodies and minds that are honed to transform large ideas into nuanced performance.
Kuik revisited his 2009 interpretation of humanity's disastrous encounters with a fragile world in Water Bloom. The treatise about climate change and non-sustainable environmental practices is a plea for consciousness and activism.
The imbalance unfolded through a series of contrasts and juxtapositions that revealed complex dualities where spirituality and human foibles, man and nature coexisted and fought for ascendancy.
Engaging passages of poetic lyricism were interrupted by staccato sections while at times, a lone figure stood still for a moment of reflection as the energy of the group whirred inexorably around him.
A symbolic lamp was suspended above the stage - it was manipulated throughout the show as the dancers found dimly lit corridors of light amid the shadows to reach upwards or scuttle close to the ground like animals looking for shelter.
Inevitably, they were subsumed by the darkness in a work that resonated, but often dragged into overt introspection.
Ingenious and fresh, the lexicon of movement in the male trio by award-winning Korean choreographer Kim brought humour, wit and a current vibe to the programme.
Mark 1 - Dialogue And Dance, probed the possibility of conversational threads in different bodies that were engineered to connect, creating a shared history.
Precise and frenetic, the dancers incorporated a semaphoric gestural language to code their emotions and communicated across angular pathways that stylistically echoed a computer game. They marched forward with arms making angular shapes, creating personal iconography like an animated superhero character.
Each episode was driven by relentless music as over time, the stylisation was broken down into everyday movement and scenarios of machismo and dominance played out in this highlight of the evening.
Perhaps Someone by Milev invited attention to how people interact with others.
Well-intentioned intervention might unknowingly hurt and inflame a situation. These subtleties were addressed through montages where dancers helped, manipulated or rejected one another via points of bodily contact.
The line among voyeurism, decision and interference opened a conversation about trust and abuse.
Finally, the group came together to give ludicrous advice on how a lone dancer should stand up. The sum of the parts never added up to a fulfilling whole in this fragmented work, but overall, Three Kin was a versatile, quality performance.
Three Kin, T.H.E Dance Company – review
December 12, 2017
Subtle lighting can enhance any dance piece, but the gloom that pervades this triple bill too often leaves the fine choreography lurking in the shadows. The decision must have had an artistic impetus, but the result often leaves everyone – performers and audience – dancing in the dark.
Kuik Swee Boon, restages Water Bloom, a dance piece initially created in 2009 for NUS Arts Festival. A green bamboo cane hangs from the ceiling, parallel to a pendant lamp, providing a visual counterpoint to the athletic moving ensemble of six. According to the programme, “water bloom is a rapid increase of accumulation in the population of algae in freshwater or marine water systems.”
In washed-out green dresses, three light as feather female dancers move in perfect harmony and unison, precisely portraying this idea of mutation, expansion, and appropriation of the environment. The choreography bounces across from the female dancers to the male cast, and in each exchange and repetition, the choreography flows with a liquid-like quality. At times, they look as though they are descending in slow motion within the deep ocean, securing nutrients from the depths and swelling into gigantic, malleable dancing anemones. I know that the bottom of the sea is murky, but I wish Swee Boon would shine a light so that we could see the full potential of the dance.
This devotion to gloominess continues into the second installment of Three Kin. Choreographer Kim Jae Duk proposes a conversation in Mark1 – dialogue and dance. This trio has a central duet, but sometimes it proves uncomfortable as the third shadow performer joins in. A tug of war unfolds between Brandon Khoo and Billy Keohavong, fighting with a quality that borderlines gesture and martial arts, pulling and pushing off one another. Ng Zu You looks like the third wheel in this situation integrating either side of the team in a chain of consecutive actions and reactions. The most exciting aspect of this trio is its composition that arises from the music. Loud banging sounds introduce every new section of the dance. Jae Duk produces a liberation from the body, traditionally the principal instrument and source of dance, to focus instead on the composition of light and sound of the choreography – ultimately creating a dance piece in tune with all its elements.
Perhaps someone… by Dimo Kirilov Milev, opens with a delicate and delightful duet. Anthea Seah and Keohavong lend a helping hand to one another in a weightless exchange of movement with arms swinging in an arc-like motion. Keohaving suspends Seah from her pelvis; upside-down hovering over the stage. In each sequence there is a suspension mid-way, allowing us to witness the attachment and close connection they have, only for the connection to be broken with a fall to the floor, taking the performers back to where they started. The piece extends to a cast of six who crawl out of the shadows and start to manipulate Zu You to lift the pelvis up, drop the head down, swing the right knee up to the right, and continue to assist in his movement. These orders escalate quickly into an argument with exact staccato movement responses from Zu You.
But again the lighting makes it hard to see, and as the evening draws to a close, and I can’t help feeling that I have only been allowed glimpses of what is hiding in the shadows, denied an opportunity to enjoy the entire choreography.
Three Kin, by T.H.E Dance Company at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay 7-9 of December.
Pure at Supercell Dance Festival(2018)
Both dancers’ performances quite mesmerising.
Writer: DENISE RICHARDSON
20 Feburary 2018
"Forecast: an Australian Convergence" was also a long evening, but of four works by different artists. Expressions Dance Company gave a short but mesmerising preview of an element from Stephanie Lake’s new work, premiering in their March "Converge" season, while Singapore’s THE Dance Company presented Pure, choreographed by Swee Boon Kuik, with performers Anthea Seah and Billy Keohavong. Pure examines the complexities of living together. This duet had the fluidity of Tai Chi; the body weaving and undulating hypnotically, above firmly planted feet. There was a wonderful use of audible breath, with both dancers’ performances quite mesmerising.
Read more at http://www.danceaustralia.com.au/reviews/supercell-dance-festival#tIVVoEclQT4fuEAc.99
‘Pure’ by T.H.E Dance Company from Singapore was exquisite
Written by Luisa Ryan | Wednesday, 21 February 2018 15:23
Cut Kafka! (2018)
Powerful blend of voice and movement
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
Straits Times, 5 March 2018
Esplanade Theatre Studio
T.H.E Dance Company and Nine Years Theatre
Kafka's surreal world of metamorphosis and transformation creates a canvas that is expertly exploited in this collaboration.
Added to the mix of iconic Kafka-esque imagery, such as continual references to insects, the dance theatre choreography also delves into the artist's life and philosophy. A projected script translates a voiced narrative in Mandarin interspersed by a sound score.
The audience views the action up-close in a four-sided seating arrangement above a blood-red floor and lights suspended like a spiderweb on overhead red pipes creating an intense atmosphere of hyper-reality.
In a seamless blend of voice and movement, the performers probe the physical, emotional and spiritual state of the mind through clever cross-references to extracts of Kafka's text.
The world in reverse is the opening image. Balancing tables on their heads, the performers cluster as if bearing the weight of the mundane world on their shoulders.
Trapped within a nightmare of restrictions, they state their frustrations with not being able to transform as if this would lead to freedom, revelations of their talents, and optimism.
Writing is a key leitmotif and is referenced through gestures denoting writing on hands, bodies and available surfaces, including over-sized furniture that constantly shifts in motion and meaning.
The significance for Huayiemerges not only through the Mandarin script, but in revelations of Kafka's interest in Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, particularly the central notion of transformation.
The performers huddle together gathering energy, converse about their progress, writhe in broken, fragmented forms with body parts twisted.
Toes and elbows are bent backwards, necks and spines distorted, and fingers clawed to denote inner turmoil.
This repeated formula is over-stated and some deeper individual investigation, stillness and layering would have added a counter-point.
Episodes intrude on the larger theme, like trying to rescue a cat fallen down a drain - a metaphor for saving people and the world. In another scene, the performers move robotically in a de-humanising transformation.
The dancers also ascend a massive chair that becomes a platform for revolution and a climb to power, that is eventually crashed to the floor to return to an egalitarian landscape that blocks and constricts the protagonists.
While characters emerge from these small bursts of fantasy into reality, the show remains a thesis on an inner convolution and collision of dreams and imaginings. The final scene of white-coated surgeons clustering around the operating table is apt, resonating with a continuum of life and death.
The two companies synergise voice and movement, diminishing the differences in their theatre and dance backgrounds. This confluence created a powerful rendering of the themes.
Strong direction and a clear intention between the collaborators enabled a sophisticated, innovative work that engaged the audience.
Like a Taoist circle of life, Cut Kafka! embodies transmigration of East and West in a provocative response to the Czech writer's work.
From the lucid dream of “Cut Kafka!”, a promising new artistic path
March 5, 2018
By Bernice Lee
The Esplanade Theatre Studio is awash in red light. It feels like the set of a Marvel movie – gloomy and dystopian; a planet overtaken by villains, awaiting rescue. Red mechanical legs hang from above the stage. The audience sits in the round, beyond the reach of this alien spider robot.
It is a roomful of excitement for Cut Kafka! on opening night. This marks the first time that two prominent local companies, Nine Years Theatre (NYT) and T.H.E. Dance Company, have come together to collaborate. The production was commissioned for Huayi Chinese Festival of Arts, organised annually to coincide with the Lunar New Year festivities, but the sense of celebration seemed more to do with the gathering of two ensembles primed for their next step than with the coming of spring. It was a show of strength and a push towards new possibilities for both groups, led by their stalwart artistic directors Kuik Swee Boon (T.H.E.) and Nelson Chia (NYT), who co-directed and co-choreographed this piece.
Structurally, Cut Kafka! sometimes reminded me of a piece of musical theatre, with its densely-packed action sequences interspersed with spoken text, propelled by a tightly-rehearsed, agile cast – who sometimes also performed movement and text simultaneously. The difference being, of course, that for both ensembles this was a new experiment in form inspired by 20th-century Czech writer Franz Kafka’s body of work. The piece’s musicality comes from bodies and voices rather than from song. In other words, not a piece of musical theatre at all, but with the type of accessibility, drive and clarity familiar to that form. The work’s meticulous stagecraft created a compelling effect, from the finely-tuned performers to the careful layering of props: a giant chair, awkwardly tall tables often rearranged and reconfigured, or plastic Chinese opera headgear resembling insect antennae. Cut Kafka! was performed in Mandarin, but its English and Chinese surtitles took on a life of their own – scrolling sideways at great speed as the performers’ questions became more intense, or crowding the screen when the performers repeated the same lines over and over again.
I did miss some of the familiar, recognisable aspects of each company: the organic and hyper-athletic qualities from T.H.E.’s open-ended choreographic processes, or the richly-nuanced character play from NYT. But Cut Kafka! is the fulfilment of a distinctive, singular vision. The script by writer and performer Neo Hai Bin weaves together Kafka’s literary style, his iconic short story The Metamorphosis, his father, the Monkey God, references to Kuo Pao Kun’s work (which has been described as ‘kafkaesque’ in the way it critiques Singaporean bureaucracy), and other authoritarian father figures.
These ideas morph and transform throughout the production, as in a dream. Kafka’s iconic image of a man falling asleep and waking up an insect opens the show: this nightmare becomes the modern person’s literal need to turn into a bug in order to work and live productively in the city. This need becomes a practice of daily transformation, of getting stuck in human form or bug form – and the Monkey God’s “72 Transformations” becomes a mystical yet shunned practice because 71 out of the 72 are not allowed. One can pray to Zhou Gong, the god of dreams, but not to the cheeky monkey deity.
Throughout the production, the performers synchronise powerfully as one breath. They often inhabit the same physical state, shifting their weight slowly or twitching awkwardly, but sometimes they fall in line to perform full-body actions in unison; then becoming mirrors to each other, or leaning into one another vulnerably. The performers continue to transform, even though the script overtly suggests that society restricts transformation.
While these stage images interweave fluidly, the didacticism of the work’s political themes sometimes feels overplayed, just like the unnamed authorities it criticises:
The chair is too big
Who put me in it? Who put me on this chair?
Why don’t you come down yourself?
These questions are full of suppressed pain, but I am unconvinced that the problem is the chair and the authority it symbolises. In one particular scene, the performers take turns to leap on and off the chair. They square off two at a time, leaping to their perches – one high up on the enormous chair and the other balancing on a three-legged writer’s desk. There is the sense that these structures and positions of imbalance oppress all individuals – those seeking to create and assert their own voices, those seeking to be supportive, and those seeking to work hard and fit in quietly. But these same bodies are still capable of climbing and winding around the chair, and making their own way around these oppressive structures. Kafka wanted to “liberate the story within me” – as do the performers, as they contort themselves into unusual shapes, reach for each other, or dive through the slats of the large chair. Yet it is difficult to say if, at any point in Cut Kafka!, anyone is liberated. Everything is precisely choreographed and remains within the creators’ and the performers’ complete control. The only moment of shock comes when the enormous chair crashes to the floor – but even that is a clearly measured moment.
Cut Kafka! presents a superb ensemble coming together to tell a story for our times. Its conclusion is as deliberately dissatisfying as Kafka’s literary endings: the performers don plastic coats, and retreat from a large table – on which they were dissecting the husk of a butterfly’s wings – with their arms raised, as though with bloodied surgeons’ hands. The disembodied voice of an unseen narrator remarks: “I could only let myself be dissected”. It feels annoying and unfinished, leaving the conclusion unclear as to whether it is hopeful or not. I processed this as a statement from a repressed yet adventurous mind accepting its fate – a sense that the dissector and the dissected are one and the same.
Huayi 2018: Cut Kafka! (咔嚓卡夫卡!) by Nine Years Theatre and T.H.E. Dance Company (Review)
Nine Years Theatre and T.H.E. Dance Company take audiences on a nightmarish journey that explores the chaos within our minds.
When Nine Years Theatre and T.H.E. Dance Company come together, it’s almost certain that something incredibly out of this world will be born from the collaboration. And when you add a heavy dose of surrealism, you’d probably get something along the lines of Cut Kafka.
Joining forces for the very first time, Nelson Chia and Kuik Swee Boon head this experimental movement piece that responds to Czech writer Franz Kafka’s life and works. Kafka is best known for his haunting, surreal stories, and Adrian Tan has designed a space with lighting that would seem perfect for a Kafka adaptation, and likely, resembles the state of his mind, dark and pulsating with dim light, and even the occasional ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. With performers moving under cover of darkness and playing with shadows, the setup naturally lends itself to extraordinary transformations and strange occurrences. Nothing is quite as it seems, and even the simple prop of a table surprises when its legs are easily dismantled and transformed into a push-cart.
Cut Kafka itself is a mindbender of a performance.Loosely following the story of a writer attempting to come up with a new story, the audience is given the chance to get a glimpse into the chaotic mess that lives inside his very skull. These wild, manic thoughts manifest themselves in the form of the performers, who spend the duration of the piece attempting to undergo the fabled ’72 Transformations’ popularised by monkey king Sun Wukong.
Familiar images from Kafka’s stories frequently make appearances in the highly abstract piece – we see human bodies distorted into various shapes, some resembling beetles (referring to The Metamorphosis), and acting as a metaphor for the way we awaken and attempt to force ourselves into daily grind. Billy Keohavong was a standout here, leading the onstage movement to find order amidst the chaos of metamorphoses. There’s a wry sense of humour at hand too – in facing writer’s block, the first line that comes to mind is the hackneyed opening line using ‘Feng He Ri Li’ (风和日丽), to the laughter of the audience. In another story, Hang Qian Chou plays a man desperate to undergo the 72 transformations after witnessing the miracle of metamorphosis from a ‘butterfly’ emerging from a giant tarpaulin cocoon, leading him to incur the ire and mockery of shadowy figures around him.
The inherent meaning of these stories reveals itself in a particularly poignant, visually arresting scene. A giant chair emerges from the wings, and the performers scramble to climb atop it, representing the desperate rat race that society has somehow pressurised us all to join and obsess over. The chair itself obscures our view of all the action that’s going on, the only thing apparent being the cacophony of noise and disturbance created by the cast, further emphasising the chaotic noise in our minds as each individual thought fights for attention, preventing us from seeing the big picture at times. And perhaps, learning to accept that we are not omnipotent or omniscient is part of the Kafka-esque experience in realising our own limits.
Both Nelson Chia and Kuik Swee Boon have done well to mould and direct their cast to produce such a well-coordinated performance, a joy to watch as one seamless movement after another is produced. Neo Hai Bin and Brandon Khoo for example, perform an intense sequence body to body, and showcase an inherent trust in being able to support each other’s body as they move. In fact, the entire cast showcase feats of strength and flexibility, the sweat on their foreheads evident but the emotions on their faces raw as they channel this effort into stylised group poses, helped in part by Chong Li Chuan’s atmospheric, period-appropriate music and Loo An Ni’s costumes, which helped accentuate each performer’s characters.
By the time Cut Kafka ends, the tables are turned on us as the cast dons white lab coats, ‘dissecting’ the writer and lights shine onto the audience. Cut Kafka’s themes take on an immediacy when the question falls to us, as abstract choices flash across the screen, reminding us of the nightmare of society, just how exactly we plan on navigating these contradictions and restrictions. Do we run from society, or do we change to adapt to circumstances? Through the production’s movements, it’s thoughts like these that are activated, putting everything we know into perspective, and perhaps, helping us move that much closer to finding a kind of order within the chaos that is both within and without us.
Photos Courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Performance attended 1/3/18
2018年3月8日 星期四 03:30 AM
“The Nightmare of Changing and Conforming“
Reviewer: Isaac Tan
Performance: 1 March 2018
How does one stage a work inspired by Franz Kafka? Rather than a straight-laced adaptation of the writer’s literary works or life story, artistic directors Nelson Chia (Nine Years Theatre) and Kuik Swee Boon (T.H.E Dance Company) instead focused on immersing the audience in the Kafkaesque – a nightmarish quality that has a sense of a lingering oppression and the illogical.
With the help of writer-researcher Neo Hai Bin, a selection of Kafka’s short stories, diary entries, and letters are carefully curated to be presented in Cut Kafka!, while Chinese folktales and original scenes are infused to add a unique stamp to the Kafkaesque.
The innovativeness of this collaboration – a first for both companies – is seen from the get-go. The performers sprawl on the floor, trying to morph into something different so that they are free to go to work. Despite inverting Kafka’s Metamorphosis, it remains true to the spirit of his stories. It also sets the theme for the rest of the show: the nightmare of changing and conforming.
Later on, the performers tries to save a cat in the heavy rain, and the authorities are of no help. This brings to mind Kuo Pao Kun’s Mama Looking for Her Cat, in which the cat represents something intangible that is lost; and The Coffin is Too Big for the Hole – a critique of bureaucracy. The absurdity of Coffin is also apparent when the performers have to stop the rain or shrink the cat in order to save it.
Performance-wise, the directors clearly played to the strengths of their performers (Nine Years Theatre: Mia Chee, Hang Qian Chou, Neo Hai Bin, Jean Toh, and Timothy Wan; T.H.E: Anthea Seah, Brandon Khoo, Billy Keohavong, Lynette Lim, Ng Zu You). This is best demonstrated in a scene where the actors play the Monkey King, while the dancers complement them by physically embodying the lines being delivered.
Impressively, the ensemble has such strong synergy that one stops differentiating the actor from the dancer after a while. This is evident when the performers are clambering on the giant chair as Kafka’s letter to his father is recited. The inter-disciplinary exchange between both companies have clearly paid off.
Similarly, the design elements are meticulous. Adrian Tan and Pek Limin (lighting and spatial designers) had a red scaffolding built on top of the lighting rig, which resembles an insect’s legs. Various lights are hung on the “legs”, allowing the possibilities of carving or partially revealing the space with light. As the performers enter or exit the space from four corners of the room, the performance has a sense of infestation.
Thankfully, Cut Kafka! does not veer into excesses of existential lament, but leaves us in limbo. We have to grapple with the equally unsavoury prospects of changing and conforming in a society quick to erase memories for the sake of “progress”, and equally quick to nudge deviants back in line.
Like the beetles, we have to change to conform to a certain societal logic. What that is or how do we go about it, no one quite knows.
M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival
Skilful portrayal of contrasting worlds
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
Straits Times, 18 Jun 2018
Esplanade Theatre Studio
EARTH / FILLED WITH SADNESS, THE OLD BODY ATTACKS
T.H.E. Dance Company
Yin and yang coexisted in this double bill from T.H.E. (The Human Expression).
Earth by Rudi Cole and Julia Robert Pares, collectively known as Humanhood, explored a spiritual realm that juxtaposed Asian mysticism with grounded realities, while Filled With Sadness, The Old Body Attacks by South Korean artist-in-residence Kim Jae Duk exploded with frenetic disruption, revealing the insecurities of the current age.
These opposing themes were navigated through skilful physical versatility.
Earth began with the company assembled in a symmetrical pattern illuminated by golden light outlining the dancers' Asian-style conical farming hats.
In a hypnotic, trance-like atmosphere, they dug deep into the psyche, accentuating small introspective movements of the wrists, elbows and turned-in feet that led to larger, expanded phrases.
Incorporating taiji-like elements of rising and falling seamlessly through a vertical plane, the dancers moved in unison, occasionally breaking out, only to reform and progress again. Carving out circular pathways, the ebb and flow of bodies encapsulated the cycles of nature.
While this restless continuum made the point of spiritual connections, community spirit and harmony with nature, the choreography also became the victim of its unified structure. Containment rather than freedom prevailed.
Filled With Sadness, The Old Body Attacks oozed with Kim's signature style of jerky, idiosyncratic spasms, extended rhythm sections and relentless repetition.
With a musical score also created by him and featuring a live performance by local tenor Leslie Tay, the complex, layered choreography resonated with inner turmoil.
In contrast to the optimistic glow of Earth, it presented a bleak world of robotic puppets moving in frantic lines to nowhere as instructions were called out and obeyed.
Cynical humour pervaded much of the choreography as short scenes included commentary on art, clothing, conformity and rationalisation.
T.H.E. dancers gave powerful expression to this stamina-sapping work, with Billy Keohavong's solo sections a standout. Perhaps a ringmaster or a calculating disruptor, he found himself as an isolated victim or a catalyst.
Kim's style of flailing limbs and reverberations of movement through the body to a final point of resolution was superbly exaggerated by his long limbs and evocative presence.
Kim continues to surprise with his imaginative take on the contemporary world and he has found a willing partner in T.H.E.
Earth – the effect is visually stunning, review
M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2018: EARTH and Filled with sadness, the old body attacks by T.H.E Dance Company (Review)
A double-bill of movement heavy pieces open the 2018 M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival.
T.H.E Dance Company opened the 2018 M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival with a double bill of work. Featuring ‘EARTH’ by Humanhood and ‘Filled with sadness, the old body attacks’ by Kim Jae Duk, the festival kicked off to a strong start with both these thought-provoking, physically challenging pieces.
In ‘EARTH’, dancers Anthea Seah, Brandon Khoo, Billy Keohavong, Lynette Lim, Ng Zu You, Afiq Noorazwa and Klievert Mendoza perform Humanhood intricate choreography, paying homage to planet Earth itself as they tackle the processes and cycles of all life that inhabits it. A movement heavy piece, ‘EARTH’ takes audience members on an adventure as the group of dancers ‘journeys’ from one place to another. Bringing to mind the image of the humble farmer, the dancers don Vietnamese rice hats and grey, clay-coloured costumes while their individual identities were obscured by the dim lighting, the ensemble moving as a single unit.
In seeking to join Western and Eastern mysticism and metaphysics, choreographers Humanhood (Rudi Cole and Julia Robert Pares) make full use of the technical aspects of the show, utilising earthy, elemental music to create an evocative, atmospheric soundscape. The dancers communicate non-verbally in sharp intakes of breath and silently counted beats, synchronising their movements, almost as if they were atoms making up a larger molecule as the congregation moves in unison, clashing and united in their appearance and choreography. ‘EARTH’ is a grounded work that leaves one quaking ever so slightly with the grace and precision with which this piece has been artfully choreographed.
In ‘Filled with sadness, the old body attacks’, a multi-sensory and multi-genre performance choreographed by T.H.E Resident Choreographer Kim Jae Duk, the same dancers from ‘EARTH’ return to the stage to perform yet another physically demanding piece, and similarly is brought to the fore with an evocative soundscape and strong lighting elements. Unlike ‘EARTH’ however, dancers here are given more freedom of expression and individuality as they perform, constantly in motion as they move throughout the thirty minute piece.
‘Filled with sadness’ demands strength, poise and determination from each and every member of the ensemble, the power and effort required of the piece evident from the expressions on their face. Following a fast-paced opening movement with a focus on showcasing physical strength, the dancers shifted to more static, stationery movements, vigorous and technically demanding and leaving the dancers panting from the dynamism created from the raw, primal forces of emotion displayed in the piece.
As the dancers cleared the space for one of the highlights of the show, only Billy Keohavong and Anthea Seah are left onstage to perform a ‘duet’ with one another. A physically demanding piece, both Billy and Anthea have evidently spent plenty of time in rehearsals, from their exceptional onstage chemistry with each other. The chemistry here is so important as it is meant to depict a strong relationship, in terms of dance, with each other, proving to be key towards showcasing the intensity of their interaction and emotions displayed onstage.
In the buildup to an intense finale, opera singer Leslie Tay (tenor) performs a chant-like opera number, which with his operatic skills, elevated this segment to an enjoyable multifacted piece. A figure positioned at the back of the stage, Leslie is almost invisible as we become aware of only his voice filling the space, haunting and melodic and perfectly complementing the abstract dance piece. ‘Filled with sadness’ tries to bring the dance piece as close to the audience as possible, explorative while following unspoken rules of the show, that helped frame the entire piece very well.
As all the dancers were left sweating and panting at the end of the performance, it was evident that they had pushed each other to the very limits and boundaries of contemporary dance itself, subtly outlined by the dancers during the piece. Armed with a clear narrative, one could easily follow one movement to another, and ‘Filled with sadness, the old body attacks’ proves itself as a well-choreographed piece that successfully tells this story of change and renewal through raw, primal emotion.
Performance attended 15/6/18
EARTH and Filled with sadness, the old body attacks played from 15th – 16th June at the Esplanade Theatre Studio as part of the 2018 M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival. The 2018 M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival runs from 9th June to 5th August across various venues. Tickets and full lineup available on their website here
THE ORDINARY MAN (2014)
A Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts 2014 commission. The Ordinary Man is developed from Crosstalk, one of the triple-bill pieces presented as part of Solo/Duet at NUS Arts Festival 2012, commissioned by NUS Centre For the Arts.
“Ordinary Man shows funny side of dance”
Writer: Germaine Cheng
The Straits Times, 18 February 2014
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Contemporary dance is often thought to be dark, heavy and sombre; T.H.E Dance Company makes bold strides with its Huayi Festival commission, the unabashed laugh-out-loud funny The Ordinary Man.
Originally created in 2012 as a duet for dancers Lee Mun Wai and Zhuo Zihao, the work has grown around the pair into an ensemble piece for eight dancers.
It is evident that Lee and Zhuo best understand the crosstalk-inspired “anything you can do, I can do better” piece the best, revelling in the jabs and jibes which roll off their tongues and limbs.
The duo is markedly different – Lee is willowy and eloquent, while the more sturdily build Zhuo effuses a cheeky sense of nonchalance. In an extended sequence, they engage in wilful banter over everything, from how one’s face shape determines one’s luck to where lives (Geylang Bahru, he insists, not Geylang), in the undeniable, effortless amalgam of languages we know as Singlish.
Every dancer gets his trun in the spotlight and, over the course of the work’s 75 minutes, the cast reveal their idiosyncratic personalities. The Ordinary Man is given life by ballet convert Wu Mi, who has freams of being Romeo to an offstage Juliet; the diminutive Jessica Christina, who gets a word in when it matters; the babes Sherry Tay and Chen Ying-Chih; the Hokkien trickster Kao Hsin-yu and a coolly observant Yarra Ileto.
These are caricatures of course, ones cleverly crafted and loaded with meaning. Thus it is a shame that, in their assembly of the work, co-choreographers Kuik Swee Boon and Wu Yi-San seem overly keen to pack the stage with action. The dynamism of the ensemble, a microcosm of Singaporean society, is sometimes unfortunately negated by the unintelligible cacophony of voices it projects.
The Ordinary Man begins jovially, inducing hearty laughs from the pitch-perfect rowdy audience. The dancers are impeccable – there is not a flubbed line, evincing hours of exacting rehearsals, yet they perform with the innocent spontaneity of schoolchildren at a playground. The men, in particular, pull out all the stops, tumbling and vaulting over one another with ease.
The work loses momentum when it ceremoniously arrives at its first seemingly requisite sequence danced in unison, albeit with Lee sneaking in a wry “I am remote-controlled” before it begins. Then it almost takes a sudden plunge into darker territory, as the dancers depict what it means to be at a loss for words. Their emotions give rise to the sounds they make – groans, ticks and whistles which descend into the utterance of gibberish, a scene too reminiscent of their previous production Mr. Sign.
There seems to be a possibility of exploring how the moving body can express what spoken language cannot, but the work stops short of that save for a striking image of Kao precariously balancing a projection screen on his back and eventually buckling under its weight.
The Ordinary Man suffers from uneven pacing, where the sum of its various tableaux is greater than the work as a whole. When a vintage silent film plays, the work understandably dips and seems likely to coast to an end. Instead, the dancers return to the stage for a rousing multi-person dialogue, engaging members of the audience in the process.
The art of crosstalk draws from everyday life, and uses satire and wit to reflect popular concerns. Anti-foreigner sentiments have been making the headlines of late, so it is apt that Ileto, an Australian who has lived in Singapore for 10 years, is given an endearing monologue – her funny valentine to our island country.
She waxes lyrical about chicken rice, shares her cab-stealing strategy and reveals her growing paranoia about the man who organises the rubbish in her estate. Quirks and all, she is about as Singaporean as can be.
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
The Flying Inkpot, 16 February 2014
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Some of the greatest dances are less than 45 minutes long – Alvin Ailey’s comes in at 38 and the (Nijinsky’s, Pina Bausch’s and other versions) to Stravinsky’s music is less than 35. , created by Taiwanese choreographer Wu Yi-San, was presented by T.H.E Dance Company at the NUS Arts Festival 2012. Inspired by Chinese crosstalk, it was originally less than 25 minutes long – tightly choreographed, sharp, succinct and funny; performed wonderfully by Lee Mun Wai and Zhuo Zihao. Somehow we have arrived at an era when full-length contemporary-dance works all seem to clock in between 70 and 90 minutes. Who is driving this – the artists, theatres, producers or festivals? However, it is a formula that does not work for all ideas and performances. While it is important to restage and revisit choreography, lost its way as T.H.E Dance Company, in restaging it for this year’s Huayi Festival, tried to extend the parameters of the original to 80 minutes and extend the cast from two to eight.
Some of the greatest dances are less than 45 minutes long – Alvin Ailey’s Revelations comes in at 38 and the Rite of Spring (Nijinsky’s, Pina Bausch’s and other versions) to Stravinsky’s music is less than 35. The Ordinary Man, created by Taiwanese choreographer Wu Yi-San, was presented by T.H.E Dance Company at the NUS Arts Festival 2012. Inspired by Chinese crosstalk, it was originally less than 25 minutes long – tightly choreographed, sharp, succinct and funny; performed wonderfully by Lee Mun Wai and Zhuo Zihao. Somehow we have arrived at an era when full-length contemporary-dance works all seem to clock in between 70 and 90 minutes. Who is driving this – the artists, theatres, producers or festivals? However, it is a formula that does not work for all ideas and performances. While it is important to restage and revisit choreography, The Ordinary Man lost its way as T.H.E Dance Company, in restaging it for this year’s Huayi Festival, tried to extend the parameters of the original to 80 minutes and extend the cast from two to eight.
Yet there were entertaining, innovative moments and the company did well in everything: from acrobatic Chinese-based dance to subtle contemporary moves, talking singing, and chatting with the audience. There were dexterous moves with chairs denoting the coffee-shop atmosphere where the heart of the narrative of crosstalk was played out in comic exchanges on and off the chairs. As the men joked about shapes of their hairlines, lips, noses and eyebrows as metaphors for their masculinity, success and luck, darker overtones of loss of culture, language, heritage and traditions underscored the action.
The atmosphere shifted as a series of scenes were played out. Like the art of crosstalk, where quick-witted repartee, improvisation and spontaneity can rapidly change the topic and mood, the choreographic structure of The Ordinary Man cleverly embodied these components. Some jokes worked while others simply fell flat. There were many instances where the script could have been tightened and the dancers better supported, as they traversed an array of skills that pushed them in multiple directions.
Incorporating a local theme and bringing it into the theatre with a multi-media concept made the work right for Huayi and engaged the Singaporean audience. Dancer Yarra Ileto played an outsider commenting on the action, giving it an added artistic dimension and encompassing everyone in the audience, whether they were familiar with local traditions or not. Projected subtitles also helped guide the way. Ileto’s dialogue about the idiosyncrasies of the ‘garbage uncle’ was hilarious and her poignant singing placed her centre-stage among the men. Crosstalk is traditionally a male domain and one weakness of this work was that the women were largely left circling the periphery of the action.
Although the personalities and talents of the dancers carried the show, were several flat moments in the collage of narratives. The filming of the audience coming in to the space did not add to the work and lengthy projection towards the end, with scenes of the company chatting, diluted the previous on-stage energy. It was palpably exhausting for the audience when we thought that the projection was the final moment and then the dancers emerged with the colourful chairs to begin again – this part should have stayed on the cutting room floor. The company is a cohesive team but The Ordinary Man trod a fine line between personal stories, individual styles and indulgence, rather than a larger choreographic vision. The potential for a subtext of irony, nostalgia and bitter-sweet moments could have been further explored. Nevertheless, it was a brave move to tackle a local tradition and bring it to the stage with the aspiration of entertaining and resonating with the ordinary man.
联合早报，1 March 2014
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Premiered in DiverCity 2013 at the CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2013.
“Four on the Floor”
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
The Flying Inkpot, 7 December 2013
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Rating: 4 out of 5
Four local contemporary dance companies shared the stage at DiverCity, hosted by T.H.E Dance Company as part of this year’s CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival.
Frontier Danceland opened the show with Christina Chan’s Fat Room. The Esplanade Theatre Studio should have enhanced the staging possibilities of this work, compared to its first airing under fluorescent lighting at the company studio at Goodman Arts Centre in July; however, the effect was the opposite. Clad in pink jump suits, the dancers seemed curiously lost while they were climbing the walls, scuttling around the floor, forming and dissolving in pairs and small groups. Their sense of detachment was partly intentional but they failed to contrast this feeling with the moments of whimsy and humour that the choreography required. Alternating between onstage sound and recorded songs with literal lyrics, the humour was finally left to Bernice Lee manipulating an unwieldy box, symbolising the burdens we all bear at certain junctures of our lives, and Jereh Leong sipping coffee between creating sound bites before launching into an extremely physical solo towards the end of the dance. Chan has a wonderful instinct for movement and creating spaces where dancers evoke meaning through juxtaposition and contrast. Somehow this performance fell flat.
Maya Dance Theatre interrogates the essence of East/West choreography, through its grounding in Bharata Natyam combined with Western contemporary dance. While larger themes are articulated in many of the company’s programmes, Quicksilver V2 evolved by examining the heart of movement – the impulses, rhythms, shapes, energy and life force of the dance. In this re-working of original choreography by Australian Liz Lea, Kavitha Krishnan expanded the idea and added distinctive spatial planes and relationships between the dancers that were innovative in this fusion of styles. Overall the performance quality was mixed, with careless costuming and some sections sloppy and out of sync. Nevertheless Maya has a core of three talented dancers in Sheriden Newman, Shahrin Johry and Sufri Juwahir, who are always eminently watchable.
Bed was also let down by poor costuming that detracted from the movement and a choreographic concept that was simple yet evocative, evolving into a poetic and powerful piece. Choreographer Albert Tiong continues to make waves in the local dance scene with his relentless style of movement that is exciting and energising. The piece began with the dancers draped around the edges of a large bed, perhaps dreaming, resting or tossing in their sleep. Dapheny Chen danced a strong solo on top of the bed, mapping out movement that would form the basis of a large group section in unison on the floor. Like previous choreography by Tiong, the outstanding discipline, stamina and togetherness of the Re:Dance Theatre dancers are fast becoming hallmarks of the company and could lift it to an international force over time. Then they returned to draping themselves around the bed, truly tired after so much exertion. Playful, intense at times and poignant, Bed remained curiously innocent and did not delve into the erotic possibilities of the setting.
T.H.E continues to lead the way for contemporary dance in Singapore. The company has had an outstanding year, clocking up many milestones in its development. It has also added some real style to its work by lifting the level of costume design as an essential element of the choreography. Three guys entering a spotlight in suit jackets and hats with harem pants certainly made an impact in Dimo Kirilov’s stunning Collisions. He probed our complex, instinctive, sometimes combustive relationships with people we encounter that inexorably shift our sensibilities and change us. The men anchored the piece as each moved simply but in the style of a classic movie, through the light colliding with three women who in turn affected them. A brilliant duet between Jessica Christina and Lee Mun Wai was startling in its innovation and creativity, with wonderful performances by the dancers who hurled themselves at each other in acrobatic but seemingly everyday moves. The dynamism, athleticism and aesthetics of this section were breathtaking. All the dancers played their roles with individuality, finesse and strong technique that is now so honed and natural that we can simply sit back and enjoy the choreography unfold.
T.H.E is a truly world-class dance company that works on a global platform. Collisions was a fitting end to the CONTACT festival, which not only generously shares performance with local dance artists but has also become a litmus test for Singapore’s contemporary dance ecology.
“Multiple dance styles showcased”
Writer: Lisabel Ting
The Straits Times, 8 December 2013
Esplanade Theatre Studio
DiverCity is an annual showcase of local contemporary dance companies, presented in conjunction with the Contact Contemporary Dance Festival.
While the series is a fantastic chance to see works by multiple groups in one sitting, there was a clear difference in the standard of the pieces presented.
Of the four performances this year, the two after the intermission, by Re: Dance Theatre and T.H.E Dance Company, revived a flagging first half.
Re: Dance Theatre’s Bed was a delightfully dreamy ode to our relationship with our nightly place of rest. With seven dancers hovering around and clambering over a queen-sized bed, Albert Tiong’s choreography captured all the private symptoms of sleeping and waking, from reluctant cat-like stretching to nocturnal tossing and turning.
The all-female ensemble was also impressive, moving with powerful restraint within a small diamond of light on the mattress.
T.H.E Dance Company’s Collisions was also a fitting finale for the night, as the six dancers commanded the stage with conviction as they explored the complexity of modern human relationships.
The partnerwork was the standout element of the piece, with each duet possessing its own distinct flavour coupled with brilliant execution.
It began as a faceless trio clad in Waiting For Godot-like tramp outfits scramble in and out of a spotlight, before segueing into an electric duet between one of the trio and a young girl covered in yellow and red feathers. A drunken, hazy pas de deux followed, where light-hearted laughter quickly turned to loneliness, and the piece ended with a powerfully emotive struggle as a performer clad in blood-red fought to hold on to her partner.
Those two towering pieces over-shadowed the first two works of the night, Fat Room by Frontier Danceland and Maya Dance Theatre’s Quicksilver V2.
Frontier’s offering felt like it had all the ingredients for a quirky, fun, upbeat performance, but somehow when put into the oven, the cake did not rise.
The piece was centred on the idea of balance and weight, and the seven dancers swayed back and forth on stage as if on the deck of a ship in a storm.
However, the performers did not look convinced by what they were doing, which resulted in listless movements and expressionless faces.
Even the pink jumpsuits they were wearing and the element of live music – a dancer sat on stage tapping out a rhythm into a microphone – could not inject any life into the performance.
Quicksilver V2 suffered from the opposite problem. While the oven was hot, the components of the batter were not quite right. The choreography tried to blend the old and new – classical Indian dance form Bharatanatyam with modern dance.
Because of the contrasting nature of the styles – the groundedness and solidity of Bharatanatyam and the fluidity of contemporary dance – the choreography either flip-flopped frantically between the two or ended up being a poor shadow of either form.
While the dancers executed the choreography well, their talents could have been better showcased with more carefully curated choreography.
In all, DiverCity is a valuable addition to the contemporary dance calendar here. It is one of the rare times the companies get together for such a showcase and I am already looking forward to the next edition.
MR. SIGN (2013)
Premiered at the CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2013.
“Dancers give the right sign”
Writer: Germaine Cheng
The Straits Times, 2 December 2013
Esplanade Theatre Studio
T.H.E Dance Company has struck gold with south Korean choreographer Kim Jae Duk, and they know it.
Appointed resident choreographer this year, Kim is a precociously talented maverick who composes his own music for this high-octane dance pieces. Mr. Sign is Kim’s first full-length creation for the company and displays his signature movement vocabulary of stylized lopes, bobs and quivers spliced with detailed gestures. While certain sections feel overlong, the work is hard-hitting with a tinge of humour.
A single fluorescent tube flickers on as Lee Mun Wai combines the discreet and the expansive to begin the work. The stage seems to be enveloped in a consuming force field, sending the dancers into whirling spins and sudden drops. Their gentle power gains momentum, escalating to an apocalyptic climax of impactful hits and thrusts to Kim’s driving music. Anna Rouhu lights the stage sensitively and very suitably.
The work’s stunning sections of danced unison are a sign of solidarity, as well as a commentary on social conformity. When one dancer deviates, he or she does so out of agitation, questioning the norm and exerting the self.
As the work progresses, Kim’s animalistic movement devolves into apeish behaviour, with the dancers adopting more grounded stances and barbaric attitudes. They rise to the occasion as confident performers, impressing beyond their usually faultless dancing. Mr. Sign sees them taking on more complex stage personas, uttering gibberish and jumping on tables.
Yarra Ileto puts in a standout performance, particularly in a sequence where she recites a monologue of jumbled sentences while staggering in an awkward Chaplin-esque stance. In another scene, she shines through amid the cacophony of voices, her portrayal of insecurity laced with a gripping delirium.
There are several unforgettable images from the 70-minute long work such as the haunting anonymity the dancers assume when they don gas masks which engulf their faces. Gesticulating to the remixed strains of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, their precision is not unlike that of a taut corps de ballet.
Ultimately, Kim seems to be saying too much. Therefore, in the big reveal which concludes Mr. Sign, the enigmatic tension that has been so effectively built is deflated rather than dissipated.
He posits that most of our relationships are predicated on clever choice of words. He points fingers at a society shrouded in artifice and deception, one that is perhaps xenophobic and subtly, unknowingly abusive. He tries to use mathematics to solve the happiness equation. Kim has figured this audience out.
联合早报, 12 December 2013
Esplanade Theatre Studio
本月初登场的“触 现代舞蹈节” 开幕演出《符号先生》，平地一声雷，跳出了舞人舞团创团至今最好的作品！
当然，其他两位男舞者桌子豪、李文伟也以不安扭曲的身体释放出情绪暗流，找到暴点就一触而发的爆炸！这亦是Jessica Christina最后一次参与该团大型演出，她明年即将结婚退出，在这个刚性十足的舞团，她充分展现“巾帼不让须眉”的女舞者精神；另外一位女舞者Yarra Ileto难得表露了潜藏的戏剧天分，看“聪明人装傻”，的确是有趣的观赏点；郑明媛则宜动宜静，眼神似能勾魂摄魄。
Excerpt of article on Mr. Sign
dance journal／hk, February 2014 / March 2014 issue
Damansara Performing Arts Centre, Kuala Lumpur
“触 现代舞蹈节”的重点演出、也是我最期待的，就是舞人舞团的新作Mr Sign。香港舞蹈界的朋友对舞团大枕不陌生：舞团六位舞者中两位（李文伟及桌子豪）曾就读香港演艺学院。上一次看T.H.E的演出是两年前的事，对作品之成熟调度及舞者的强大能量印象难忘。Mr Sign由驻团韩籍编舞Kim Jae Duk创作，在艺术总监郭瑞文的带领下，作品强力控诉，却幽微诗意；舞者的汗水在白灿灿的日光灯下挥洒，舞台调子却暗黑沉郁。青年一代的韩国人，面对人民为今天全球艳羡的国家成功付出的生命代价，虽然不是作品的主题，那种忧伤却隐含其中。话虽如此，在我看来，Mr Sign是可以在不同国家上演而又能带来共鸣的超越性作品，文化痕迹只是它的柱脚而非定性。新加坡应该为有一个“舞人舞团”而骄傲。
作品始于一段约八分钟的舞段，六名舞者全穿黑色西装，不断组合成或三人或更多人的群舞，动作语汇流沥如水，线条圆浑，或张或弛 ，在重覆中累积。老实说我不能很清楚描述舞者如何进入和离开舞台，或如何由左边移到右边之类，因为这段舞的设计是如此天衣无缝、让人像看着池里悠然的锦鲤，你不会特别去想什么时候鱼群由三条变五条或者这鱼儿从左边还是右边游过来，你只会定睛欣赏，突然回过神来，未必记得细节，感觉却已渗入身体中。舞蹈，本来就是这么回事吧！特别一提是作品音乐同样由编舞Kim Jae Duk原创。它的音乐和舞蹈，是一种语言的两种表达方法，两者浑然一体。音乐旋律性不强，但当动作快速时，它的简单提供了平衡；当缓慢时，它的敲击节奏令能量凝聚。若说音乐是个无形但有个性的演出者，他不只也不应该是舞蹈的影子，那么在这次作品中，我可“亲耳”“目睹”了。
Mr Sign探讨的是“沟通”，或“不能沟通”。其中戏剧成份较多的一段是四名舞者坐在长桌子旁，每人面前有咪高峰一枝，他们轮流给“苹果”定义，其中一个努力得青筋暴现却发不出声来；舞台另一边一名站立舞者，摆弄他面前如人偶一般的一位舞者，像那些用肚皮发声的街头艺人。近年很多舞蹈作品都加入了戏剧成份，可怜舞者要在面部表情上及声线上痛下苦功，编舞有时好像忘了舞者的身体节奏感本来就能塑造戏剧性。可喜的是Kim Jae Duk并没有忘记。舞者们要念长长的台词，然而在“演出”的仍然是他们的身体——他们口中发出的与其说是语言，不如说是声音，是存在这宇宙的千万种声音之一。作为受众，我的选择是如何“感”“知”信息，或者拒绝接收。
NEW VISION (2013)
Premiered at T.H.E's fifth anniversary celebrations.
“Weaving multimedia magic”
Writer: Lisabel Ting
The Straits Times, 16 September 2013
Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore
New Vision is a tantalising glimpse of combining video, dance and music.
T.H.E Dance Company’s New Vision series was created to be an experimental platform. Its inaugural outing focused on multi-media and inter-disciplinary collaborations.
As such, the triple bill by Kuik Swee Boon, Jeffrey Tan and Zhuo Zihao relied heavily on video projections and carefully scored music, but the effectiveness of the multimedia was patchy – sometimes lazy, at other times integral to the show.
The night opened with Kuik’s On Top of White, a playful take on the importance of meaning in dance. Dancer Jessica Christina took the audience on a video tour of Singapore, twisting in front of the soon-to-be-built National Stadium, sprawled on the steps of an MRT station escalator or weaving her way through the crowds of Little India.
While the medium of video was effective at transporting the outdoors into the theatre, the absence of a living, breathing body moving on stage left the audience wanting more, and only served to whet the appetite for Tan’s Command Pattern.
His return to the stage since leaving the Singapore Dance Theatre five years ago was a cry against man’s overdependence and infatuation with technology.
In a serendipitous irony, it was technology that let him down. The projection of a jumble of letters coalescing into a silhouette was stutter and jerky, which made the dancers’ interactions with the digital element a lot less impressive than it should have been.
Technical difficulties aside though, his piece was a magnificent exercise in contrasts. The highlight of the piece was a pas de deux between Lee Mun Wai and Wu Mi – in physical, not digital form.
Clad head-to-toe in tight black, Wu’s embodiment of technology was all angles and locked elbows, precision personified. In a loose white-collared shirt and pants, Lee’s take on the human side was achingly fluid. Watching the two come together was a powerful reminder of Tan’s depth of experience.
The final piece was Zhuo’s Felt Sense, an exploration of trauma. It was the only piece in which all the elements – video, dance and music collaboration – came together to plunge the audience into the choreographer’s mind. Eight panels of white scrim lined the front of the stage and a 3-D video headlined the show. It was deftly edited, with uncomfortable close-up shots of frantic, searching eye-ball spliced with almost imperceptible flashes of corpses and bare hands scraping over rock interspersed with fleeting images of dancers.
At times, it was difficult to tell the projections from the dancers. The audience donned 3-D glasses for the show but it could have worked just as well without them. If anything, they served only to add to the discomfort.
Composer Bani Haykal rose to the occasion with a score that felt like nails on a chalkboard. The persistent siren wails and never-ending whines chewed through the eyeballs and straight into the brain, and was a great foil for Zhuo’s video.
Meanwhile, an ensemble of dancers, muted by the scrim, flitted in and out of the light like ghosts. Given the strength of the other elements of the performance, not much more was needed.
New Vision is an exciting series and Tan’s first outing with the company as an associate artist lived up to expectations.
The production was a tantalising glimpse of what multimedia can bring to the table if it is handled well.
“T.H.E New Vision – A Review”
Writer: Ah Fen
Arts Republic, 19 September 2013
Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore
New Vision marks T.H.E Dance Company’s 5th anniversary celebrations. For such a young company, it has definitely made its own footprints on both the local and overseas dance scenes. As a frequent goer for T.H.E’s events, I met with the usual faces, but as a first time reviewer for the company I went in with trepidation and a little bit of apprehension.
Alongside Kuik Swee Boon, artistic director and choreographer of the company, this evening’s works included that of Jeffrey Tan (Associate Artist) and Zhuo Zihao. It was also their Gala Opening Night, so the expectations were high.
As I scanned the stage, 10 white panels were placed in a diagonal fashion, with one of the panels jutting out of the wall, like a door. The dancer of the first item, Jessica Christina, walked in with a chair and sat down next to the door panel. It was the signal for the audience to settle down. An announcement informed the audience that the order of the items would be altered: They would start with Swee Boon’s item, followed by Jeffrey Tan’s and lastly Zhuo Zihao’s. I was wondering what brought about the change but as the lady next to me took out her pen and notepad, I was feeling the pressure to write a good review. There was a blackout and the dancer disappeared, leaving the stage empty and the projection started.
On top of white, choreographed by Kuik Swee Boon, is a dance entirely performed on video by Jessica. It started with her dancing at Stadium MRT Station, in a red dress, lying down on the escalator that was going up. The video showed different angles of her, dancing in the station and sometimes, featured her in stationary poses where her reflection could be seen on the signboards. There was a very nice window effect that played on shadowing as well.
The next scene was one where the more muted colors of the MRT station were contrasted by the vibrant colors of Little India. The dancer’s outfit has changed to a cooler hip-hop wear: high cut shoes, black tights and a sleeveless top. Jessica danced amongst the passersby as they went about their daily business, through various scenes of Singapore in the background. I liked the moment when Jessica’s jumps were in tune with the beat of the music. I received my answer to why there was a panel jutting out of the two walls. When the projection mapped exactly onto that panel, we could see Jessica spinning on top, with her hands and legs appearing and disappearing from view.
The construction site scene had me wondering if her movements were specially made to mimic those of the cranes behind, as they seemed to be moving in unison. The mechanical sound of the music further advocated this point while the cranes started moving as fluidly as Jessica did. The still moments provided a resting point for both the audience and the dancer in the video. Scenes from different places intertwined with one another. There was another projection of Jessica spinning on the extra panel and the video ended abruptly. The audience hesitated slightly before starting to clap.
Although I could see where Swee Boon wanted to take this piece to, I was wondering if there should have been more interaction between the different scenes. Maybe he could overlap the real dancer, Jessica, with the virtual dancer on the screen. Also, I would have liked for the dancer to have a change of costumes at each of the different locations.
We waited a while as the crew changed the set for the next piece. The extra panel was pushed back into the wall, such that now there were two perfectly straight and diagonal walls on each side of the stage.
Command Pattern by Jeffrey Tan started, strongly, with four dancers on stage: three were in black, and one in all white. The lights flashed two strips of thick white lines, as would a scanner. The space and projection matched very well and it abode nicely for things to come. Black pixelated letters appeared, with the dancers in black merging with them and then, disappearing.
The dancer in all white, Lee Mun Wai, was left alone in the all white space, it felt a little like a prison cell. Was he lost in translation? Or lost in a sea of information? The use of the projectors on the floor as well as onto the wall divided the space equally, whereby Mun Wai would dance on the non-projected space and try to interact with the pixels on the other side. We could see him struggling, but at the same time, curious to know what is on the projected side. It felt like he wanted to get away from all of it, but he always felt drawn back to it.
We could feel the claustrophobic nature of the letters as they closed in on the dancer and there were some moments where he seemed to be playing with the letters in his hands. The scanner effect was shone again. All the letters converged towards the wall at one spot and became a shadow of a body. Mun Wai and the shadow started to dance in sync in robotic moves. The black people came back and mimicked the shadow’s moves.
It would have been better if the moves by Mun Wai and the shadow were more in sync. But it was by no means the fault of the dancer, whose execution was flawless. Jeffrey had a very effective move that had the dancer stepping backward and forward in the first position. The broken ballet lines worked well in this piece. It represented the type setting of the pixelated letters, with the dancers having fluid movements intercepted with mechanical ones.
Black and white stripes were created using the front lights, creating a locked space for the dancers, leaving a doorway with the shadow haunting him from behind. References to Alice in Wonderland came to mind, seeing Mun Wai in white, as the rabbit trying to find the correct doorway to run to. By the end of the dance, Mun Wai found himself having to work with the letters and finally drowning himself in them.
Overall, I felt that this piece by Jeffrey was a slightly more literal take on the ‘Man versus Technology’ theme. But for the younger audience, it would be a good dance to watch and understand, coupled with the fresh movements rarely seen performed by the T.H.E dancers, who did it fantastically.
The last piece, ‘Felt’ Sense by Zhuo Zihao, required the audience to wear 3D glasses. It also warned about the use of high pitched sounds that may be slightly disturbing to the ears. I would have liked that they informed us pre-performance so that I could have worn my contact lenses. I also had to warn my friend about the music as he had an ear condition recently and was a bit apprehensive about the music.
There were now six panels positioned in one horizontal row and the projection onto these panels felt like being in a cinema. The dancers appeared in front and behind the screen creating an overlay effect. The white panels served as gauze, can be seen through when light is shone behind them.
The superimposed pictures of the dancers with the real dancers created a mixed media effect that rooted further the question of what is real? I felt a bit dizzy at times due to the 3D glasses along with the moving images, but particularly liked the part where they projected the scene from a house, near a window. The image of the dancer in the video would walk out of the scene and be live on stage. Then, he would walk back and reappear in the virtual world.
Some of the images were too blur and slightly disturbing to the eyes. Coupled with the music, it became slightly too much. There were also voices talking in the soundtrack that actually didn’t bother me because it added to the whole dance.
I really liked the part where the dancers could be seen running behind the screen while they were being projected virtually on the screen. The layering effect worked really well here. The transition of the dancers between the screen and the stage was very effective too.
The rock with all the hands running over it felt like a heart due to its shape. At times, it felt like a human face too. There was a ghostly feel to it, like something inhuman. It felt like touching a human face. The last few projections showed hands, feet and other parts of the body, ending with a zoom into the pupil of an eye.
I managed to catch Swee Boon after the show and we shared similar thought on how refreshing this show was compared to the previous ones, especially with the heavy use of projections and the focus on technology. I was also deeply humbled that such an established choreographer as Jeffrey Tan was eager to get my feedback on his piece and willing to learn from the audience. We agreed that his projections were not perfect match to his piece and the last minute changes he made to them right before the show helped to make the whole piece look much better.
All in all, it was a really enjoyable night of dance with three very distinct points of view. I could understand the last minute swap of the items as the new sequence gave the audience something to look forward to, a slow escalation to the end. What the artistic director has done here was to let the dance pieces speak for themselves while giving a frame for them with the panels. This is truly T.H.E Dance Company’s New Vision.
联合早报, 19 September 2013
Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore
Premiered at T.H.E's fifth anniversary celebrations.
“An intimate outing with Bedfellows”
Writer: Lisabel Ting
The Straits Times, 22 July 2013
Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore
Last year was a good one for T.H.E Dance Company. It toured six different countries and was invited to close the prestigious Les Hivernales dance festival in France. Watching Bedfellows, it was easy to see why.
Despite the dance company’s relatively young age – the show marked the start of its fifth anniversary celebrations – it displayed a depth of both more established contemporary dance groups here. The night opened with Lee Mun Wai’s In The End We Strive to Convey Meaning, a loquacious deliberation on creating meaning out of chaos.
It began with a voiceover of Lee talking about the impetus behind his choreography: “Chaos arranges itself. Into a routine.” At the same time, five dancers, illuminated by spotlights, provided visual punctuation at the end of each sentence with the whirl of a hand or a twist of the torso. It segued into a breathless, anarchic jumble of vignettes, from frantic hip-hop inspired shoulder dusting to dancers carrying each other across the stage like stiff, upright mannequins.
Lee’s choice of music was also uncompromisingly intimate, with most of the tracks featuring pared down human voices, a sound which is invariably alluring and hypnotic. Listening to the vocals and watching the dancers was like attending to two conversations at once. At times, they complemented each other, but at others, they were a little discordant.
Lee’s work melded seamlessly into Yarra Ileto’s StrangErs, a humourous take on first impressions and the intimacy which slowly develops among strangers. Fifteen dancers, the largest ensemble of the night, wrapped bedsheets around themselves and mingled on stage, turning the Gallery Theatre into a surreal nightclub.
Clad in clingy cotton dresses, the girls postured by the guys puffed their chests and tried to impress. N the dancefloor, the bedsheets morphed from plain linens into connections, defences and shields from prying eyes.
Ileto played up the humour of the situation with exaggerated circling of the hips and caricatured grinding. The choreographer herself also stole the limelight, as she performed solos in two of the three works. Despite a bandage on her right knee, she moved with a barely tempered ferocity and strength.
The night ended with artistic director Kuik Swee Boon’s Parallels, his thank-you note to those who journeyed with the company for the last five years. As the dancers sprawled, loose-limbed against the back wall of the Gallery Theatre’s stage, a behind-the-scenes vide began to play, showing footage of rehearsals and Kuik and his dancers linking arms and skipping into the dance.
In the end, the decision to meld all the works together was a good one – it was obvious that the dancers are a family who speak the same physical language and choreograph with a similar sense of purpose and clarity.
If this is an indication of the next five years to come, T.H.E is on its way up.
“Three in a Bed”
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
The Flying Inkpot, 19 July 2013
Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore
Rating: 3 out of 5
T.H.E Dance Company has emerged as a leading contemporary dance group in Singapore, one that is of interest internationally with overseas tours forming a major part of its programme. It has presented several full-length works about local issues and concerns that explore Singaporean identity. Its performances have been forceful, dynamic and uncompromising, with the dancers relentlessly embodying the physical, emotional and spiritual ethos of this special company. Expressive, strong and hungry for challenges and opportunities to dance, its six members certainly qualify as the bedfellows of the show's title. They have sweated together over the last five years to encapsulate the muscular yet quirky, relentless yet poignant style of their mentor and choreographer Kuik Swee Boon. The fifth-anniversary performance was an opportunity to emerge from the collective and bring their own unique voices to the stage. The programme featured works by Lee Mun Wai, Yarra Ileto and Kuik, and included dancers from T.H.E. Second Company.
Lee's In The End We Strive To Convey Meaning was the most evolved work. Utilising a screen projection, broken up words, and phrases from his own text, he sought clarity on how we understand our world through movement. "Chaos arranges itself into a routine" is a recurring line here, as the dancers sought the essence of embodied meaning. Lee asks big questions in his choreography, and this work looked at meaning not just through what appears directly before us, but also the abstract spaces in between. Boxes were moved around by the dancers to create real spaces where they could hide, sit atop and observe others voyeuristically, or use as construction models. This literal aspect was contrasted with pure dance passages where the performers connected and reflected on a text that spoke of barrenness, futility, hopelessness and how we are "burdened by the weight of meaning".
In contrast, Ileto's dancers looked comfortable and ready for bed, dragging sheets around them and burying themselves in cosy cocoons throughout her perfect strangErs. She used a large cast with dancers from both companies, and there were some great performances, particularly by many of the younger male dancers whose athleticism and emotional commitment was a feature of the work. The choreography challenged them through a series of duets requiring intimate engagements between the dancers as their bodies interconnected. The show theme came alive by playing to the affinity between the dancers and the intimacy of being in a group, who are suspended for moments in time in a dance, in a company or on tour. Ileto's choreography is often playful, ironic and wise about the human condition. However, in this piece I felt the choreography could have been tightened considerably as the many intense, engaging scenes got lost in the larger, less focused group sections.
Kuik Swee Boon's Parallels was simply an ode to the dancers and a thank-you to all who have shared their evolution. We were treated to a master class of dynamic movement, boundless energy, commitment, and the spirit of friendship.
The diversity of ideas from the three choreographers was largely resolved through the movement vocabulary that we know of the company and Kuik's style. Powerful, large phrases of fast-paced, athletic dance interspersed with smaller motifs, including little shuffling steps, sudden spasms of the arms and hands and the deconstruction of sections used to reflect on the larger choreographic theme. The young choreographers could look at developing more distinctive, individual vocabularies so that their choreography is not only distinguished through the themes of their work but is also reflected through the steps and gestures they choose. It appeared that time could have been spent teasing out thematic strands to make a more complex rendering of the subtexts through innovative movement. Finally, I felt the decision to segue the pieces into each other, incorporating material from each, muddied the choreographic waters and, to some extent, diminished the individual qualities of each piece. Although it cemented the notion of shared intimacy and reflected the show's title, it reinforced memories and past relationships rather than forging new beginnings where the dancers emerge independently from the company chrysalis to find their own voices.
“[REVIEW] THE BEDFELLOWS”
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
Writers: Miranda Chan and Chua Chiok Woon
PoachedMag, 26 July 2013
Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore
The beauty of contemporary dance lies in its ability to harness the raw quality of whatever is deep within in order to convey a message, to provoke a thought or to tell a story. All through movement of the body, or bodies, in ways you’ve never imagined possible. Each dancer is unique, yes, no two dancers will ever look the same. Yet they are all synonymous with the music, in sync with one another executing each move with precision and utmost effort, every drop of perspiration willingly shed for the captivated viewer.
Captivated viewers we were, at the first installment of T.H.E Dance Company‘s 5th anniversary celebrations, the triple bill, Bedfellows. As we expected, founder and Artistic Director Kuik Swee Boon‘s Parallels stole the show. To a regular audience, like one of us two, it was discomforting to see the three items linked together as one, likely because of the difference in the choreographic quality of each piece. This isn’t to say that any of the choreographers were worse than their counterparts, more so that they were too different for any comparison.
Perhaps the items were linked to show continuation and a disregard for the imaginary, man-made barriers of seniority. The levels of seniority range within the dance company, with the professional or most senior holding the ranks of the first company. There seemed to be an attempt to break these barriers down but the fact remains that seniority does matter for the first company seemed more compelling a unit than the second.
Then again, this continuation plays to T.H.E’s strengths, of connecting the dots seamlessly between items. Particularly so even in dead silence, making excellent use of the tiniest of movements to fill in the silence, to add noise to the blanks, as you anticipate the next beat, knock or opening bar of a lyrical arrangement of music.
The show opened with In The End We Strive To Convey Meaning by founding member Lee Mun Wai, which aimed to depict how humans struggle to find meaning in their lives, surroundings and relationships. In trademark T.H.E fashion, dancers Jessica Christina and Wu Mi filled the jarring silence that signaled the beginning of the piece with their movements in precise and exact counts. Impressive as always, to say the least. What made the piece all the more striking was the bright colours which the dancers donned, a marked difference from the usual palette of greys and browns that have unconsciously become the standard tones for contemporary dance, or at least T.H.E.
The second piece, perfect strangErs, choreographed by Yara Ileto, cleverly connected dancers in intricate pas de deux and pas de trois (a dance in pairs or in threes) with bedsheets, and there we have it, bedfellows. The movements definitely provided more than a hint or two at what goes on under the sheets, as two (or three) become one with the music, enough to trigger the imagination without overstepping the threshold of tasteful adult entertainment. It was heartening to see so many dancers on stage for a change, as the proteges of seniors like Zhuo Zihao, Ileto or Christina took the stage to keep us on the edge of our seats.
Whilst imitation is the greatest form of flattery, its double-edged blade flashes even more starkly on stage; it wouldn’t be the first time one of us leaves a T.H.E performance with the nagging sense of having seen movements executed in the exact same manner before, originally from a senior, replicated in unconscious adoration by an awe-struck junior. Given so much room for play and exploration in contemporary dance, perhaps dancers should steer away from excessive mirror-imaging.
Then again, who are we to judge, for all we know, this may be the standard that is contemporary dance, much like how every member of the corps de ballet (group of supporting dancers) in a classical piece like Swan Lake should not only look the same but move in the exact same way, right down to the angle the head is tilted. Or it could be a matter of maturity that comes when a dancer is comfortable enough in his or her own skin.
It takes years of technical practice and performance experience for dancers to develop maturity and fluidity of movement, making full use of their God-given bodily facilities to translate the choreographers’ vision to the audience. That is exactly what the third item showcased in tandem with the flawless, creative ingenuity of Kuik. Choreographed by founder and Artistic Director, Kuik, Parallels gave space and due credit to the dancers from the first company, who were breathtaking to watch – their quality of movement and intensity were nothing short of hypnotic. The intensity we felt in its entirety probably stems from the fact that “each dancer interprets instructions in their own way”, an eye-opener for new addition to the ranks of T.H.E, Anthea Seah.
“I saw first-hand how [the first company] trained for a performance, and that humanised them.”
Interesting, isn’t it, the humanisation of the first company. Perhaps it’s about time after five years of well-deserved veneration. Perhaps it’s also time for the second company to move out of the shadows to take centrestage.
Commissioned by the NUS Centre for the Arts as part of the NUS Arts Festival 2013.
“Dance dance conversation”
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
The Straits Times, 11 March 2013
University Cultural Centre Theatre, National University of Singapore
Edgy, current and fiercely independent, T.H.E danced their way into the Singapore conversation to explore some tough questions in response to the National University of Singapore Arts Festival theme of Open Questions.
Swathed in a giant, silk kimono, Yarra Ileto explored multiple identities in Hong Kong choreographer Mui Cheuk Yin’s Untitled, the first of this triple bill of works.
It began silently in a spotlight with soft, feminine hand gestures that tentatively explored the body before moving forward to embrace the cloth on the ground before her.
Although there were passages of tiny, circling flat-footed steps and some flexed feet postures from traditional Chinese dance, the choreographer took and abstract approach to the work and freed it from specific cultural connections by contrasting this with the free, exuberant runs around the stage with the cloth floating behind like a kite, and long lunges where the cloth was pulled in elongated patterns.
As the silk wrapped ingeniously in multiple configurations of deliberate folding, wrapping and twisting, it became an intimate canvas for metaphors an dual associations, like an old woman or a child , that were playful and sensual yet with overtones of vulnerability.
In the second piece, there were no surprises that artistic director Kuik Swee Boon drew the most intimate portraits in Un-form, a collaborative work that shared the journeys of the dancers, their aspirations and fears about being an artist in the Singapore context – pragmatism and idealism jostling for space. Interrogations about “home” and belonging were played out on a strip of turf, a cut-out section of this, and a circle of light underscored by a conversational mood.
Lee Mun Wai performed an eloquent solo to begin the work, then sat down, turned on a microphone and deliberated about these big questions, interspersing this with information on his fellow dancers. Meanwhile, Sherry Tay gave full range to her extraordinary leg extensions and fluidity by carving out the space with arcs of her arms and torso while her story is told. In contrast, Jessica Christina stuck to a small frame of movement with lots of hand wringing and internalised angst.
There was a fast unison group section of contemporary dance to break up the dance-theatre structure along with the humour and quirky moments that one has come to expect from this talented group.
In the final piece, Kim Jae Duk created Present for dancers William Wu and Zhuo Zihao to Ravel’s Bolero. The duo began seated at the back of the stage lit by two overhead lights like a interrogation – they are each questioning the value and the reason for existence.
With great imagination and a unique approach to this almost clichéd choice of music, in typical fashion, Kim works the dancers through a relentless series of repetitions of small, precise movements that build to a crescendo as they move towards a table at the front of the stage.
They toss it back and forth and eventually jump up on it, defiantly facing their fears, and the audience, at the end of the work. In sum: A celebration of movement, creativity and the power of dance to ask questions and tell stories.
AS IS / HEY MAN! (2012)
Double Bill premiere at the CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2012.
Writer: Germaine Cheng
The Flying Inkpot, 8 December 2012
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
It is commonplace for contemporary dance companies to be vehicles for one choreographer’s work. It’s a practice that has carried through from Martha Graham to Akram Khan.
T.H.E Dance Company began in 2008, arguably as an outlet for artistic director Kuik Swee Boon’s creativity. In the past four years, it has not only cemented itself in the local arts scene but has also shown a keen interest in collaboration. Kuik worked with resident choreographer Kim Jae Duk on Re:Ok…But! in 2011, and 2009’s Within.Without was made by Kuik and three members of the company. But this new mixed bill at T.H.E’s flagship festival presents a turning point for the group, as Kuik lets go of the reins and puts his dancers in the capable hands of two guest artists.
Xing Liang is no stranger to the Singaporean dance scene, having choreographed Nameless for Singapore Dance Theatre two years ago. His As Is for T.H.E Dance Company is beautifully subtle, and subtly beautiful. Lee Mun Wai puts in a virtuosic performance, which includes a po-faced rendition monologue about generosity, a series of hypnotising undulations while seated on a chair and ever-reliable partnering.
The piece is a constant hive of activity, with duets and trios blossoming alongside each other. A cascade of foldable chairs collapses and is rearranged. The chaos in the strewn chairs is matched by the haphazardly spaced dancers performing highly stylised squirms and tics, suggesting an underlying discomfort. But when the chairs are in line, order is restored throughout the stage. Xing’s choreography calls for a delicate attention to hands and fingers, an emphatic precision and a languorous fluidity, all of which T.H.E’s dancers display outstandingly.
Kim Jae Duk’s Hey Man! (Logical Complex) quickly brings to mind the choreography of Hofesh Shechter, the Britain-based Israeli who is renowned for his high-octane creations. Like Shechter, Kim’s work is driven by his own music – mostly percussive, with a thumping bass. Groups of dancers move in and out of fleeting clusters, with highly stylised lopes, bounces and quivers. The pace does not let up for most of the demanding piece, except for a compelling section in which a violin is suspended upstage, and the dancers become the physical embodiment of the music’s melody. Rising and falling, poking and levelling, they display a clever sense of humour and an endearing camaraderie among them. Hey Man! builds to an exhilarating climax, as the music accelerates and the performers advance and retreat and the foot of the stage, their pent-up angst given release by Zhuo Zihao’s workaday whistle.
High praise must go to the constants throughout this bill: lighting designer Anna Rouhu who manages to capture so effectively the atmosphere of each work, dressing the stage to complement the dance, and the six dancers of T.H.E Dance Company who show brilliant versatility, technique and dynamism.
“Double, No Trouble”
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
The Flying Inkpot, 7 December 2012
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Rating: 4 out of 5
Contemporary dance critiques usually focus on the choreography while classical ballet production reviews tend towards the dancers (in ballet, the choreography is usually well established and we look at how it is interpreted and executed within an historic context). However, in the two works from T.H.E’s Double Bill the dancers must be acknowledged foremost. They excelled in both their interpretation of the poetic nuances of Xing Liang’s As Is and in the crackling pace and precision required for Hey Man! (Logical Complex) by Kim Jae Duk. Their relentless, synchronised dancing in this futuristic work was exhilarating to watch.
As Is offered a palatte of emotions and expressive gestures that were combined with angular, percussive moves and a poignant text. Opening with a stack of precariously balanced chairs in a spotlight, the piece explored the theme of being on the edge. The dancers ventured into new space, then receded into familiar territory – ultimately this was a search for peace and a personal comfort zone. Surprising sequences of movement were created by bodies unfurling, using off-beat dynamics underpinned by the text.
Yarra Ileto’s solo segment, in which she moved around a chair with a text about trying to find a comfortable position rang true for dancers such as myself, but also encompassed a wider metaphor for finding a personal space where the body and mind could connect.
As Is progressed by making further inroads into the themes of fragility and existence with lines such as, “I’ll be alright” juxtaposed against signs of uncertainty – shuffling feet, finger snaps, hands waving spasmodically in the air and fingers pointing into the distance. All was redolent of anxiety, panic and compulsiveness. In this constantly shifting tapestry about the nature of existence and the search for the soul, the dancers often manipulated each other’s body parts, adjusted each other in same way, or had private moments of doubt before regrouping to move forward together.
Lee Mun Wai closed the work (and also opened it) with a text about love: “You want me to give you up?... Haven’t I given you enough?” These questions were played out by the dancers in expansive spatial configurations about the stage. Rather like the game musical chairs, they regrouped on and around chair and used these like designated safe havens. The sharp, precise movements often stopped suddenly at odd angles, rather like snapshots of a longer process. These vignettes were contrasted with a sublimely fluid solo danced by Lee in a soft, lavender spot light. Serene and romantic movement flowed through the dancer’s arms and torso, expressing vulnerability and passion. Reflective and revealing, this inspiring work showcased dancers with a quality of openness and vulnerability that has led them in a new aesthetic direction
Hey Man! (Logical Complex) could not have been a greater contrast. Futuristic, intense and aggressive, the powerful music created by the choreographer drove the dancers in a dance about obedience and submission. Costumed in business attire they represented the everyman/woman in the workaday world. Every time the theme music returned, they jumped into line like a trained army, one arm held high in a sinister salute – they then executed lengthy, high-energy synchronised sequences of rhythmic, gestural dance in symmetrical lines, an unusual device in the contemporary dance genre and more associated with MTV. The energy was both ritualistic and sadistic. The audience became part of these robotic rituals, physically pulsating to the loud, driving rhythms and engrossed by the transforming power of dance. In between these calorie burning sequences, the choreography questioned our obedience to convention, the loss of meaning in the lives we lead, and our readiness to comply with existing structures. For instance, there was a lengthy section where the dancers spun each other like tops until they were out of control; another included a violin suspended from above to which the dancers responded like players to a conductor. This was a softer, amusing moment in a piece about uncompromising, harsh realities.
Ultimately these sub-plots never matched the power of the unified dance sections that predominated. And overall this was a cold, apocalyptic work that extracted a relentless commitment and energy from the dancers. But it was very engaging to watch.
This double bill explored complex themes and emotions through diverse, innovative dance vocabularies. It required a different quality of performance than usual from the company, as well as an extraordinary level of fitness and technique. The work felt like an “arrival point” for the company now that years of dedication, experimentation and simply sticking together have synergised with palpable energy and confidence. And it is a highly fitting climax to the CONTACT international contemporary dance festival initiated by the company.
联合早报，8 January 2012
Esplanade Theatre Studio
舞人舞团在 “触·舞蹈节2012” 上个月7日的闭幕演出中，以精湛的双舞作表演为“触”画下句点。双舞作分别来自亚洲现代舞界著名编舞家邢亮，以及舞人舞团驻团韩国编导金在德。对照之下，他们的表现手法截然不同，却同时让我看到舞人舞团在尝试新风格上的用心。
第二支舞蹈《嗨！你》（Hey Man！）出自金在德，是一支充满爆炸力、极其酷炫的舞蹈。舞蹈本身容易让观众“入戏”，由舞者Jessica Christina一段独舞开场，动作凌厉、激越，一瞬间就让我冲进“亢奋”状态！华丽的画面，爆发的能量，动感的节拍，时髦的服装，相当引人入胜，巨大冲击力几度让我不由跟着节拍震颤身体。当下的那种兴奋，使我有冲上舞台一起舞动的冲动，后来不禁反思，身为舞者的我，到底有多久没体会这种“难以把持”的情绪？
ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE (2012)
Premiered in DiverCity 2012 at the CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2012.
“Similarity in DiverCity”
Writer: Germaine Cheng
The Flying Inkpot, 1 December 2012
Goodman Arts Centre Black Box
Rating: 3 out of 5
It is remarkable that despite Singapore's diminutive size and arts fraternity, T.H.E Dance Company's Contact is billed as "the only local festival that brings together Singapore's most notable dance companies". It baffles me to think that such a venture was not conceived earlier.
Kudos to T.H.E's artistic director Kuik Swee Boon for not only acknowledging the stunning diversity that permeates the industry, but also recognising the ubiquitous, uniting factors of a rich Asian heritage and a undeniable Singaporean sensibility.
Singapore Dance Theatre's contribution to the programme, Dutch choreographer Nils Christe's ZIN!, therefore looks distinctly out of place. Sure, the nation's premier professional ballet company chooses to trade their pointe shoes for soccer boots and their neatly coiffed buns for ponytails, seemingly to "fit the bill". The athletic piece is driven by Philip Glass' Serra Pelada, which brings to mind a marching band trackside at a college soccer game, playing at a rousing pace. In a telling showcase of teamwork, the dancers scurry like ants in formation, link arms to form a wave and blow on whistles to encourage each other to do more jumping jacks.
Indeed, Christe makes his theme of canon and repetition crystal-clear, and the piece is as light as a feather. I can't help but imagine these incredibly attuned bodies and graceful artists in a more sophisticated, mature piece; something from Goh Choo San certainly wouldn't go amiss here.
The Australian-born Yarra Ileto's Accidentally on Purpose is made undeniably Asian by its dancers. The five performers from T.H.E Dance Company are brilliantly understated; never exaggerating the humour or overplaying the melancholy, they allow Ileto's movement to take centre-stage.
The audience is intrigued by the piece's extra cast members – mugs, with an indeterminate amount of water in them. The dancers begin by clutching these possessively, and progress to partnering each other by proxy – by the handles of these blue mugs. One slinky duet segues into the next as the dancers swoop and glide across the stage. They prop up the mugs to their ears, and listen hopefully as though they can hear the ocean. And though they dance as a unit, the dancers' individuality shines through effortlessly. From the po-faced, long-limbed Lee Mun Wai to pixie-like Jessica Christina, the cast impress with masterful, sincere performances.
The remaining two pieces, though more explicitly Asian in flavour, don't quite hit the spot.
From its opening moments, the bharatanatyam influence in Kavitha Krishnan's In The Moment... is made apparent. A dancer bounds on stage in a lofty leap and percussively stamps his feet, etching a defined rhythm out of the silence. He is joined by three others, whose hands are sculpted into beautiful lotuses. Krishnan's movement language treads the balance of weighty contemporary dance and the fleet-footedness of Indian dance. Every detail is thoroughly addressed – a tip of the chin, a leftward glance, a flexed foot. There are short-lived, interesting moments of Bollywood theatricality and fragmented pseudo-locking, and I wish they had been explored further. The piece unfortunately coasts to a forgettable end, after its explosive start.
Low Mei Yoke's offering is an ode to the Chinese street opera of yore. A Bygone Devotion; A Present Emotion shows how, underneath the humongous headdresses with ridiculously long feelers and thick makeup, opera singers sang from the heart, about the love and loss that we still feel. A highly revealing scene is one in which Jereh Leong bursts into song, giving a sultry rendition of "I'll be waiting for your return" in Mandarin, not unlike a diva crooning on stage, while Bernice Lee writhes in agony on the floor, growling her heartfelt version of the same lyrics. It's all smoke and mirrors on stage. Apart from the parodic operatic gestures and a brief Gangnam Style cameo that provided some comic relief, the work is terpsichorean wayang that failed to move.
SILENCES WE ARE FAMILIAR WITH (2012)
Commissioned by da:ns Festival 2012.
“Collaboration For Love A Success”
Writer: Ng Yi-Sheng
The Straits Times, 22 October 2012
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Do not be fooled by the title of this show, Choreographer Kuik Swee Boon and poet-musician Bani Haykal are not interested in praising love as a divine gift of the gods. Instead, they have presented it as a desperate, messy business: a society-wide struggle for human contact.
The show begins with the six dancers sprinting urgently from one corner of the stage to another, almost colliding as they pass beneath the spotlight. The soundscape is one of silence, aside from some opening lines of poetry from Bani, who sits upstage with his instruments.
As the work progresses, they collapse, writhe and strip off their clothing. At one point, they shake as Bani’s voice fills the room in an electronically looped roar of savagery.
The mood is refreshingly unlike Kuik’s usual, slightly sentimental brand of choreographed angst, seen before in pieces such as As It Fades and O Sounds. Instead, there is a mood of discord here, more violent, perhaps more jazzy in its rhythms.
Eventually, the piece does shift into a gentler mode. Dancers Lee Mun Wai and Jessica Christina engage in tense but evocative pas de deux, while the ensemble expresses its common yearning through synchronised gestures and leaps. Even Bani comes in with a tender melody on the guitar.
But a profoundly unromantic view of love persists. The dancers remain as individuals rather than couples, making and breaking connections, never becoming one flesh. There is no eternal bliss associated with relationships – only respite from loneliness, which paralyses its subjects or drives them into head-banging frenzies.
Still, the production is not entirely cynical. In the final act, we see the stage transformed. The dancers pull lengths of red cord from the ceiling, perhaps a reference to the Chinese legend that soulmates are connected by an invisible red thread.
The cords are fastened into a web, stretching diagonally across the performance space.
The dancers bob between the lines to the sound of Bani’s drumbeats, playing with the idea of destiny. By the show’s conclusion, they seem to find peace, gazing upwards at the gradually fading light – the beautiful, if unattainable ideal of true love.
Silences We Are Familiar With marks T.H.E Dance Company’s first collaboration with a live musician. This reviewer feels that it has been quite a success. Though some of the altered spirit of the piece must be due to Kuik’s initiative, much of its power must come from Bani’s poetry, music and conceptual contributions. One would be glad to see these two working together again.
“Da:ns Fest 2012! All We Need is Love!”
Writer: Mayo Martin
TODAYOnline, 20 October 2012
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Silences We Are Familiar With — An Ode To Love. It’s a mouthful of a title, and a rather sappy one, too, methinks. And yet…. and yet…
This time around, The Human Expression sets its sights on that complicated yet oft expounded subject of love. Prior to tonight, I was wary of the group taking it on so blatantly. I mean, when did they get so, well, romantic? Did they all start reading Shakespeare sonnets this year? Silly me. It was haunting.
A collaboration between artistic director Kuik Swee Boon and sound artist/B-Quartet and The Observatory member/spoken word poet Bani Haykal, Silences (not to be confused with an early work titled Silence) veers away from the vigorous sensibilities of some of their more recent works and wanders inside somber sanctum to witness the “unfamiliar yet visible,” as Bani says.
It’s an interesting reversal when you consider that many exhortations about the notion of love has been phrased exactly the opposite—that which seems familiar and that which we cannot see.
But Silences’ views on love is far from clichéd and its honesty is derived from its admission (by way of, again, Bani’s line) that it is “the unfamiliarity that excites”. And so the piece explores Love’s different facets by way of what’s arguably the two art forms most closely related to it and yet, paradoxically, that which has always had a limited vocabulary in grasping it—music and dance.
And this very groping for meaning, this rambling sense-making that somehow also feels somewhat cynical, is a sensation that runs wonderfully throughout the work.
Yearning, passion, helplessness, anguish, wistfulness—all unfold on the bare white stage, heightened by stark lighting (It’s a set-up that’s so effective that when, during the latter part, they decided to pull out red strings that crisscrossed the stage, it struck me as unnecessary and even gimmicky.)
And in essence, that’s the entire structure of Silences—a series of moments utilising most of THE’s familiar arsenal of movements (the breathless running around, the jerky nervous gestures, a quirk here and there) and framed by Bani’s live soundscapes.
There are moments that don’t work for me, but there are those that drew me in completely. Sometimes in the most subtle of moments, as in that first part where the dancers rush back and forth the stage in contrast to the odd one who pauses in the middle, creating the uncanny, almost cinematic, sensation of life slowing down in the midst of a frenetic present.
As in his previous collaboration with The Necessary Stage, Bani shares the stage with the performers. But whereas he seemed to play a more supporting role in Crossings, his presence is completely essential in the success of Silences. Like a wizard crafting his sonic spells, Bani hunches over the mic whispering lines (I prefer my recited poetry a bit more “solid” but hey) while gesticulating emphatically; he screams (as in really screams) and loops it to provide the chaotic background noise that unveils the darker, more primal side of love as the dancers are released from their even synchronicity and start to fragment into their respective motions as if trapped in a nightmare. Elsewhere, Bani puts his amazing voice to more melodic means, and you hear traces of Jeff Buckley and that dude from Beirut.
And of course, there are his astoundingly crafted looped sounds. We heard it in Crossings, but he just ups the ante here, building layers of harmonies with his guitars, voice and other thingees, some of which approached Kid A territory.
This melding of Bani’s music and T.H.E’s dance, sometimes approached something close to the sublime. There’s one where Bani employs the bow on his guitar to create a droning sound that builds and builds and wraps itself around an extended duet by Lee Mun Wai and Jessica Christina, as Zhuo Zihao crawls away dejectedly, dressed spiffily in a jacket but without his trousers—a complete scene that’s heartrending and gave me goosebumps.
In a piece with lots of things to pick from, it’s this image of Zhuo (who recently received that well-deserved Young Artist Award) slinking away that pinned it down for me—a moment of, literally, getting caught with your pants down.
For me, this image of vulnerability encapsulates the whole piece. There’s not much bravado in Silences, it seems quieter and more fragile than their other works, but that’s what I like about it. What Kuik, Bani and gang have tapped into here is impressive, their so-called ode to love is tragically frayed at the seams.
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
The Flying Inkpot, 22 October 2012
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Commissioned works around the theme of love for this year's da:ns festival can be tricky. Perhaps classical ballet's grand pas de deux fit the bill better than an edgy, young contemporary-dance company. Collaborations push creators in new directions and poet-musician Bani Haykal drove Silences We Are Familiar With – An Ode To Love like a ringmaster. Seated on a platform on stage above the dancers, his live score of text, guitar, percussion and synthesised sounds gave the work an underground, subversive element that was echoed in Sunny Lim's asymmetric costumes: light and dark, outerwear and innerwear, shoes and bare feet, working in harmony like yin and yang. Along with lighting designer Anna Rouhu's selective spotlighting, these elements were major players in the performance created by choreographer Kuik Swee Boon.
T.H.E Dance Company has always seemed to play the middle ground in their works, and I would have liked a more committed response to the themes in this work. They were complex and invited open-ended interpretations of such lyrics as "Hi! How can I bring me to you?" Instead, the choreography remained largely within the comfort zone of the dancers – playing close to the ground, bodies curled introspectively towards a central point, repeated gestures that moved in and out of the light. It was certainly not sentimental, emphasising on escaping and running away, avoiding one another, voyeuristically looking on from the outside.
Interactions were brief, fractured and uncommitted, rather than soft or seductive. Sometimes bodies were manipulated or even left alone on the ground. The frenzied running and frenetic quirky moments by individual dancers had a familiar ring that lacked vulnerability and risk. A variation was an extended duet between Lee Mun Wai and Jessica Christina that flowed into a rhythmic connection, before it dissolved as part of a fragmented tale of this interpretation of love. Shards of movement that were concerned with the fracturing of relationships evolved before the protagonists moved onto something else. In this dense, physical work, sadness and loss were juxtaposed with compassion and hope.
Women often seem to be the losers in Kuik's work and here, some of the intense, muscular movement for the women could be contrasted with some softer and intuitive phrases. Dancer Yarra Ileto was left to find her own way out of a disconnection from the group; at one point, she lay listlessly on the floor until reasserting herself through a poignant solo. On another occasion, the magical Zhuo Zihao let loose some frenzied, manic movement, the only dancer to interact with Bani Haykal, who sat on a platform throughout the piece. While thematically Silences took a bittersweet approach to love, the negative, darker side of relationships predominated.
The final scenes involved red cords that were pulled into a web of connections, representing the ties that bind us together and ultimately create a sense of a universe beyond us. It was a lasting image that literally tied the work together. The challenge for the choreographer and the company is to imbue each choreographic opportunity with a vigour and freshness that keeps drawing audiences back for more. The collaboration and input from Bani Haykal was a positive step, pushing the company into new artistic territory. Overall, Silences was a sophisticated work with a contemporary vision about aspects of love.
Commissioned by the NUS Centre for the Arts for the NUS Arts Festival 2012
"NUS Arts Fest 2012! Solo:Duet! No to groupthink!"
Writer: Mayo Martin
TODAYOnline, 17 March 2012
NUS University Cultural Centre Theatre
With their latest show, Solo/Duet, it would appear that The Human Expression has done it again. And by “it” I mean surprising us with their willingness to push things further.
The premise behind this three-in-one production, which is part of the ongoing NUS Arts Festival (along with a rather nice portrait exhibition by longtime collaborator Matthew G Johnson, from which the photo above was taken), is simple.
Artistic director Kuik Swee Boon doesn’t want to have a “cookie cutter” group, he wants strong individuals. So members take a break from the company and work with another choreographer in another country (for the most part) and spread their wings, so to speak. It’s a strategy – a magnanimous one on the part of Kuik – that in a lot of ways diverges from the typical mindset of a dance company and informs the very essence of The Human Expression. No groupthink, thank you very much, we are here to realise potential in all its forms.
Kuik himself kickstarted it by collaborating with a Korean choreographer in last year’s amazing Re: OK… But! In Solo/Duet, he lets the others have a go, resulting in the three completely distinct pieces.
First up was Saya Bukan Saya (I Am Not Me) by Indonesian choreographer (and Boi Sakti prodigy) Davit Fitrik, performed by Jessica Christina and Yarra Ileto.
To be honest, the whole old-meets-new/Minang culture-versus-urban life theme, as Fitrik laid it out post-show, completely whizzed past me.
No worries as I felt I was watching some kind of dance equivalent of a psycho-drama, played out with pillows, a mirror, sarongs and a red dress. Opening with a scene of Ileto lying in a foetal position and Christina furiously wiping the mirror surface, it’s a slow-burn of nightmarish mystery amplified by the metronomic rhythm of a ticking clock. Extensive use of shadows gave it a slight hint of noir. At one point, they literally mirror each other’s movements with precision and by the end of the piece, you witness someone hyperventilating – a sensation unlike being trapped in a dream unable to wake up.
The final piece, ex-Singapore Dance Theatre resident choreographer Jeffrey Tan’s Remains Remain, performed by Christina and William Wu, is probably the most conventional of the three pieces, fleshing out a real-life story of a couple whose lives were turned upside down by last year’s tsunami tragedy in Japan. Literally, too, at some point, as Brian Gothong Tan’s beautiful video backdrop of a gentle sea slowly flips in reverse, leaving two tragic figures “submerged”. While it’s quite solid, it also, IMHO, provides the least interesting of duets, by virtue of expectations of its premise – essentially a “love story” – that inevitably demands a certain chemistry between the two dancers.
However, unlike the first piece, which buzzed with the energies of Ileto and Christina in equal amounts, the latter’s presence somewhat overshadowed her partner on this one. (Not to mention the fact that Wu’s rather half-baked white facial make-up and semi-white hair streaks – a reference perhaps to his “ghostly” situation — was a bit distracting and kind of overstates things.)
It’s in the second piece of the night where everything comes together. Ex-Cloud Gate/City Contemporary dancer/choreographer Wu Yi-San’s Crosstalk is the richest in terms of mining the night’s duality themes and also features a performance by Zhuo Zihao and Lee Mun Wai that simply oozes with an ease that comes from having worked together and known each other for so long.
Taking off from the Chinese comedy tradition of, well, crosstalk, the two engage in nifty physical and verbal sparring that not only showcase the skills we’ve come to expect but impeccable comedic timing we’ve previously only had glimpses of. I mean, who expects dancers to have such confident stage presence when talking?
And yet snapping at, poking fun at and engaging in word play with each other is just one part of Crosstalk. The piece itself has loads to offer – from its inventive use of the very microphone used to the hilarious Spanish guitar soundtrack to the duo’s hilarious series of movement derived from everything from kung fu to push-ups, to the almost-sensual melding of bodies in the end that jolts you from the earlier quirks of the piece, there was a lot going on.
Yeah, a cookie cutter group The Human Expression definitely isn’t.
"The World At Your Feet"
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
The Flying Inkpot, 16 March 2012
NUS University Cultural Centre Theatre
Comedy, dialogue, sensuality matched with muscular athleticism and aggressive confidence: the hallmarks of T.H.E Company were present in abundance. Refreshing in its range, Solo/Duet featured works by three regional choreographers, each of whom worked with a pair of dancers from the group. The rationale was not only to showcase the individual artistry of each dancer, but also to reflect thematically on Asia's vast cultural diversity.
This engaging triple bill began on the dark side with Indonesia choreographer Davit Fitrik's Saya Bukan Saya. In a thesis on materialism, he pushed the women through a demanding duet that was tough and aggressive, yet heartfelt. Mentored by the extraordinary Boi Sakti, he continues the line of illustrious contemporary choreographers of West Sumatra who are influenced by the ethos of choreographer Gusmiati Suid. A common theme in her work concerns the role of women in society, which Davit took up in his work as well.
Dancers Yarra Ileto and Jessica Christina kicked their legs, pounded and rolled relentlessly on the floor. They scratched their fingers down a mirror that constantly reminded them who they were as young women, constantly confronting them with the demands and expectations of the contemporary, material world. At one point they traced out each other's image across a narrow beam of light - one of the work's few poetic, reflective moments. On occasion, they wrapped themselves in sarongs to remind them of tradition in contrast to the sexy red dress representing western modernity that Ileto wore towards the end of the piece. This was an obvious cliche. I thought a crossover into their feminine side would have given this piece more contrast, made it less literal and more personal for the dancers.
Company favourites Lee Mun Wai and Zhuo Zihao showed impeccable comic timing and showed another side of their personalities as they raced through Taiwanese choreographer Wu Yi-San's joyous work, Crosstalk. They jousted verbally and physically with each other in a crowd-pleasing work full of local jokes, repartee and dazzling movement; yet this external manifestation had an intimate core that was revealing and exposing. Deceptively difficult for the performers, who had to draw on an array of skills, Crosstalk was thematically complex, underpinned by many metaphors about cultural heritage, loss of roots and perceptions of masculinity. The dancers progressed in a series of moods that culminated in a sensuous duet about communication and friendship.
Remains Remain, by Singaporean dance artist Jeffrey Tan, added a poetic touch to the evening and extended the dancers' range through sensual, slower movement as they folded and melted into each other. Inspired by an Iaan Subhan poem and framed within a projection of an ocean by videographer Brian Gothong Tan, the choreography depicted lost love: for home, friends and what once was. The movement reflected stages of grieving such as anger, frustration, despair and finally acceptance. Christina showed maturity as she conveyed these states before reconciling with William Wu in a sensual duet. Remains Remain was a moving work that bore the trademark sensuality of Tan's previous choreography for Singapore Dance Theatre, where he was resident choreographer from 2004 to 2008.
Solo/Duet gave us new perspectives on the members of T.H.E Dance Company and some insights into aspects of Asian culture and tradition. By allowing the dancers to work with different choreographers, artistic director Kuik Swee Boon continues his inspired artistic leadership and mentorship of this innovative local contemporary dance company.
VAGUE INDIVIDUAL SITUATIONS (2011)
Premiered as part of CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2011
"Motley survey of local dance"
Writer: Tara Tan
The Straits Times, 28 November 2011
Goodman Arts Centre Black Box
More than anything, Right Here: 3x3 - a triple bill featuring local arts groups Frontier Danceland, Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) and T.H.E Dance Company - was an intriguing (if somewhat motley) survey of the Singapore dance scene.
It was an apt work to kick off the first Contact dance festival. brainchild of T.H.E Dance Company founder Kuik Swee Boon, who wanted to rally local and regional dancers in a week-long event.
Kicking off with choreographer Albert Tiong's In The Light of Day, performed by Frontier Danceland, the evening got off to an impactful start. Dancers dressed in black-and-white suits moved urgently in this angry, pulsating work about the tireless chase after one's dreams and ambitions.
Spinning straight, long arms and making sharp gestures, the five dancers moved across and underneath long tables in a ceaseless search for elusive desires.
A strong work filled character, In The Light Of Day was a breakthrough and showed emerging signs of a strong choreographic signature.
It was followed by a new work by local ballet powerhouse SDT from young choreographer Daniel Roberts, whose first work premiered at SDT showcase Passages last year.
Titled Hold The Fourth, it was an ode to the alluring music of composer Max Richter, famous for his hypnotic, yearning film scores. They were powerful music choices and carried the audience away on a blanket of dulcet piano tunes poetic violin strings.
These pieces are often used by the famed Nederlands Dans Theater and their choreographic duo Lightfoot Leon, and their influence on the languid yet precise Hold The Fourth was clear in the clean, fluid lines and partnering work.
While Roberts has vision - his work was emotional and musically astute - his choreographic vocabulary was still a little rough around the edges. (Here's a trick: Shut your ears against the music for a few seconds and observe the movements on stage. It is a test of the choreography's virtuosity, if it still engages in silence.)
The night ended with a work by another young choreographer, Lee Mun Wai, a long-time dancer with T.H.E Dance Company.
He conjured up a cinematic interpretation of dance: Performers responded with words and movement amid a vibrantly coloured set of table and chairs. T.H.E dancers were strong and competent as dancers, but unfortunately, not all were born actors. Called Vague Individual Situations, the piece got off to an unusual, promising start but meandered towards the end.
Still, it made an arresting visual statement and holds much promise of a choreographic voice with clarity.
It has been a while since I have seen a festival with so much new, local work and it is a welcome and much-needed sign that the local creative scene is breeding new and organic talent.
The independent dance scene here might still be in its infancy but these first steps are strong, unwavering and hopeful.
"Contact 2011! Right Here, right now!"
Writer: Mayo Martin
TODAYOnline, November 26 2011
Goodman Arts Centre Black Box
What a great way to kick off Contact 2011. From the doom and gloom of the first piece to the life-affirming oomph of the third, the contemporary dance fest’s triple-bill opening salvo Right Here 3x3 was a satisfying way to spend a Friday night.
Sandwiching Singapore Dance Theatre’s jarringly out-of-place Hold The Fourth (performed for the umpteenth time since 2010) were Frontier Danceland’s In The Light Of Day and THE Dance Company’s Vague Individual Situations, two works in perfect dialogue with each other.
The last time I saw a piece by choreographer Albert Tiong, chairs were employed.
This time around, the tables came out as In The Light Of Day presents a pessimistic view of modern life, suggesting the daily grind, the monotonous lives of deskbound office workers (at one point, somewhat literally).
That one particular moment involving dancers and tables briefly reminded me of the opening scene in A Group Of People’s excellent A Cage Goes In Search Of A Bird, but darker in tone and without the humour.
The piece occasionally dips into menace but is primarily concerned with the poetics of tedium. To the stumbling, out-of-sync industrial techno beats (like a messed-up and slowed down Kraftwerk rhythm), the dancers transform into automatons, their faces expressionless. And in this particular environment that hinders mobility (in many senses of the word), Tiong’s propensity towards hand gestures -- the simple act of flipping pages, putting on make-up, tying a tie, and at one point, raising fists in the air in an act of defiance -- become all the more precious and significant.
In contrast to the dehumanized world of In The Light Of Day was the thoroughly human experience of Vague Individual Situations.
I have not seen any of his previous piece(s?) for THE Second Company (they really should consider simply using the more awesome The Human Expression – think of the merchandising possibilities!), but Lee Mun Wai’s first piece for the main company (of which he’s a founding member) was a revelation.
It seems like the universe is trying to tell art purists something this month. After David Lee’s Decimal Points: 0.01, Loo Zihan’s recent R.I.T.E.S. performance, and Vertical Submarine’s Dust: A Recollection, here’s another “crossover” work.
In Vague Individual Situations, Lee digs into his pre-dance career theatre background to create something refreshing.
Four performers gather around a table as monologue and movement play off each other. The vagueness of the confessions uttered mirror Lee’s choreography, which hinges on the suggestive and the incidental.
In contrast to the singular sense of claustrophobia of Tiong’s piece, Lee’s is unpredictably playful. It starts out with the dancers seemingly warming up, it spends moments relishing stillness just as it explodes into chaos. Two guys slow dance. Someone pulls his shirt over another dancer’s head. An impassioned plea for forgiveness segues into pulpit-like exhortations that segues into a Feist song.
Vague Individual Situations elicits a whole range of emotional responses – there are funny bits, the absurd ones, some dramatic helter-skelter and genuinely “aww” moments too.
And yet, even as the piece goes this way and that (and as a series of “vague situations”, could very well have gone on for much longer), the centre holds. Lee creates just enough a wonderful snapshot of something we can’t really pin down and yet, despite the uncertainties, something we willingly embrace.
I shall now use up my monthly quota of sappiness and call it Life.
Premiered as part of CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2011
"Contact 2011! Yeah but no but yeah!"
Writer: Mayo Martin
TODAYOnline, 4 December 2011
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Re: OK… But! is one of the best shows I’ve seen this year. Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor.
For one and a half hours, I sat in front mesmerised by the all-out levels of physical and emotional intensity as THE Dance Company brought to life this uber dark collaboration between choreographers Kuik Swee Boon and fest guest Kim Jae Duk.
From the very first scene of two men gasping for breath and hyperventilating as they collapse on the floor, you are dragged into this world of conflict, seething with menace and violence. Dancers Lee Mun Wai and Zhuo Zihao are seemingly locked in a heated argument, punctuated by forceful hand gestures (a flurry of sign language-like flick of fingers, Italian mobster-type posturings) culminating with Lee crouched over Zhuo and slapping him for, like, ages. But not before the sight of both seemingly slamming against the force of sound itself, flung backward at every drop of the bass accompaniment.
And that’s all just for starters, mind you. Kuik/Kim expands on this theme of antagonistic relations and evokes different sensations as Re: OK… But! alternates between cheeky, sensual and downright absurd, courtesy of the rest of the THE gang entering the fray. Jessica Christina amusingly tiptoes in place, newest member William Wu’s face contorts in silent, unadulterated laughter, and Yarra Ileto, stripped to her undies exhaling and moaning and moving about like an aimless doll until she’s put into her place. She later on embarks on a monologue about two stubborn men, neither of which gives in to the argument (while simultaneously having a “duet” with a mic stand). And as if all these weren’t enough of a mindf**k, the two choreographers enter the arena like some weird music duo – with Kim seemingly chanting gibberish (awesome voice, I should add) and Kuik looking all Lennon with a guitar(!).
Its intensity, hints of playfulness, choreographic/lighting decisions and the centrality of sound/music in keeping the piece together will undoubtedly lead to comparisons to Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother. Certainly, I was reminded of it. But I would think of that as more of a compliment than a criticism. It’s hard to pull off a high-octane performance from start to finish that constantly keeps a viewer on his or her toes. I was completely swept up by this piece and could feel it swagger confidently to the finish line. That earlier slack jaw comment? That was literal.
Re: OK… But! may be about the underlying tensions in relationships, but from where I was seated, it all came together – the perfect piece to showcase Singapore’s best dance company that, in its willingness to up the stakes, finds itself at the top of its game.
"Journey without destination"
Writer: tammy l wong
The Straits Times, 5 December 2011
Esplanade Theatre Studio
T.H.E Dance Company's premiere of RE:OK...BUT!, a collaborative effort between artistic director Kuik Swee Boon and Korean choreographer Kim Jae Duk, resonated as a pulsating, kinaesthetic adventure for all.
However, beginning with a heaving duet between male dancers Lee Mun Wai and Zhuo Zihao and concluding with the entire cast of six dancers and the two collaborators seated upstage, T.H.E Dance Company took the audience on a journey that confounded, lacking in any clear sense of arrival or destination.
Relationships established between duets and group work often suggested a sense of disconnect, of persistent violence in our contemporary world. Lee slaps Zhuo relentlessly as Zhuo is caught between Lee's legs, grovelling upstage.
William Wu Mi tugs and tosses Jessica Christina, their arms are intertwined but her face is dismissive, distant. Yarra Ileto is stripped of her red dress, falling and writhing like a broken doll.
After a while, the persistent fury and flurry of movement paints a landscape devoid of dramatic highs and lows. The collaborators myriad movement choices range from flips and powerful jumps to heavy gestural work and some beautiful partnering.
The dancers rise to every challenge thrown their way. But in such choreographic decisions, the work then hovers and slides into a cacophony of too many ideas that lack a sense of clear aesthetic identity and vision. Perhaps more thought could have been given to really fleshing out a few great ideas rather than attempting every obvious possibility in familiar dance vocabulary.
The highlight of the evening for this reviewer was simply watching a home-grown company made up entirely of former dance students fearlessly dancing. Christina was every inch the femme fatale - sensuous, earthy and womanly - daring the audience to plunge with her headlong into some private abyss.
Zhuo prowled and pranced, leapt and spun with unabashed authority and then he stayed, for a moment, adrift on his belly, limbs splayed, an aborted foetus without a home.
联合早报, 17 December 2011
Esplanade Theatre Studio
艺术史学家苏珊朗格 (Suzan Longe) 曾说过：“看舞的时候，你并不是看到肢体在你面前的呈现－表演者不只是在奔跑或扭动他们的身躯，你所看到的是内在力量的一种呈现！”
其他三位舞者Jessica Christina， Yarra Ileto 和吴觅也逐渐加入，五名舞者们整体水准划一，大家合作无间，动作配合的天衣无缝，肢体对高难度动作的处理技巧令人惊叹，成熟度很高！舞者们以身体完成了双方，三方甚至多方的对话和互动。这出舞段的动作难度很大，以身体为发声渠道，要在舞蹈中传达出的不仅仅是情感，还有语感！让人印象深刻的是其中一位舞者吴觅，刚从新加坡舞蹈剧场“单飞”的他肢体灵活，不被芭蕾舞风锁定，很快的融入这个现代舞的大家庭里，表现可圈可点。
AS IT FADES (2011 & 2014)
Commissioned by the Singapore Arts Festival 2011, and restaged at SOTA Drama Theatre in May 2014.
"As It Fades conveys the power of splintered memories"
Writer: Germaine Cheng
The Straits Times, 9 May 2014
SOTA Drama Theatre
With his seminal production of As It Fades, choreographer Kuik Swee Boon seeks to take his audience through the looking glass. In an ever-changing world marked by jagged mountains of glass shards, he sends his cast of 15 racing, rippling and roiling with thrilling exactitude.
Originally choreographed in 2011 for the Singapore Arts Festival, As It Fades stems from the festival’s theme, I Want To Remember. Revived in a new production which opened on Thursday at the Schools of the Arts Drama Theatre, the work expounds the inexorable erosion of tradition and heritage in our fast-paced cosmopolitan society, and draws upon the fragments of memory that still remain.
Zhuo Zihao sets a vinyl record in motion on its player, and a scratchy Hainanese folk song rings out. The dancers’ spectacular physicality is not only seen but heard – a foot brushing against the floor, a measured intake of breath – and consequently highlighted. The comforting lilt of the song is juxtaposed with forceful dancing, in sharp contrast to its pastoral lyrics.
Kuik’s signature movement vocabulary is writ large in As It Fades. The choreography is minute yet expansive, pointed yet luscious and undeniably demanding. Jessica Christina, Kuik’s clear muse for this work and his subsequent creative output, puts in a stunning performance, displaying complete command of her instrument. Whether vaulting over Zhuo’s shoulder or crouched, muttering by a chair, she evinces a fragility-laced delirium that beckons the eye.
The whirlwind of constant movement occasionally lets up, and spirals into quieter, powerful moments. Zhuo pulses his hands towards the ground, as though exhorting our lost heritage into being again. A pair of dancers is encircled by the towers of frosted shards, and is compelled to look into the crevices of each others’ forms.
Later, the towers are arranged like a fortress against us, the audience. The cast, which includes seven dancers from T.H.E Second Company, stretch their arms as if awakening from a coma of oblivion to accelerate in fierce defence. Seemingly desperate to grasp what is slipping away, they spread, bend and reach to protect the slivers of their splintered memory.
As is now expected of T.H.E Dance Company, the dancing throughout is precise and assertive. However, which As It Fades transfixes, it does not always transport. There are discernible, overlong segments where the work dips into mandatory exposition and distracting ambiguity.
Bani Haykal’s evocative whirring soundscape and Adrian Tan’s modest lights allow the dancers’ physicality to take centerstage. As such, one is left with a sense of admiration rather than a clarion call.
Perhaps when the shards of the set – triggers of our memories – pierce through our hearts with the purity of the Chinese operatic ode towards the end of the piece, then will we find the cracks in which they lie and will remain.
"Scene in Singapore: May 2014"
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
CriticalDance UK Online, 21 May 2014
SOTA Drama Theatre
May 8. As It Fades saw T.H.E Dance Company artistic director/choreographer Kuik Swee Boon work with composer/arranger Bani Haykal and music collaborator Natalie Tse to create one of the most complex, aesthetically coherent contemporary dance works staged in Singapore in recent years. It was a towering treatise on culture, memory and loss expressed through dance that seamlessly united the language of the body with intense emotion and storytelling. The kinetic energy of the dancers touched a chord with the audience in an immediate, visceral way with the duality of movement and story interconnected and reinforced by lucid interactions between them.
It opened with a gramophone on a chair upstage playing a vinyl record of an old Hainanese folk song. Dancer Zhuo Zihao listened while a large group of black clad figures began what became a relentless vortex of movement that powered on in an exhausting flow. Flung yet contained and carefully controlled, these symbolic black ‘shadows of memory’ were like stylised puppets trying to break free of restrictions while the extremities of their bodies seemed to be spatially fixed in an aerial cube that was anchored to the ground.
The innovative vocabulary had distinctive Chinese features such as turned in ankles and wrists, deeply bent knees and occasional flat footed shuffles forwards and backwards. Heavy, deconstructed phases that moved outwards from the centre of the body initiated by an audible breath deep in the centre were deliberate and often surprising. The groups of dancers became like hybrid, animistic forms capturing the sense of a surreal world where we skim the surface rather than digging deep into our roots and connecting with it. At times, the abstract dance sharply contrasted with literal realities, such as a dancer emerging from the pack to tell a story. Often someone leapt up to perch on another’s shoulders to survey the scene. There were suspended lifts that echoed people passing by each other and through life in a transient, impermanent progression; dancers touched their thighs, stomachs and radiated their fingers across their bodies in fluttering motions… but heads down, hair covering their faces they powered on in an introspective journey. This individualism was portrayed as a stark contrast to the spirit of community on a previous generation whose heritage is fading in a rapidly changing world. There were many jagged edges reflected in the bodies, the set and the music creating a discordant atmosphere.
The second section was less intense and coherent than the first section. Amongst myriad ideas some simply worked better than others. Clad in street clothes like young people in an urban landscape, the dancers’ sense of isolation and disconnection from cultural roots led to some aimless episodes of soul searching by individuals that were juxtaposed against the larger group – like faceless people in the street rushing on while someone comes forward to tell their story. There were funny parts such a line up in a corridor of light downstage where T.H.E revealed something quirky about themselves through spoken words and movement phrases. It released pent-up tension for the dancers while offering a chance for the audience to get to know them. Other intimate touches occurred in several love duets – some were carefree like Wu Mi and Sherry Tay who flirted and joked. Another was heart-wrenching and poignant. Zhuo Zihao and Yarra Ileto portrayed an old couple supporting each other as they make their way slowly forward. Ileto’s stooped posture whereby she could barely walk on the sides of her feet suggested the old Chinese foot binding tradition while Zhuo, also bent forward, supported her as best as he was able with an arm around her shoulder.
Kuik hits hard and to the point in As it Fades. It was both nostalgic and immediate, leaving little room for sentimentality. The collaborators reinforced this with a soundscape ranging from soft spoken words by dancer Lee Mun Wai in Cantonese and phonograph records of folk songs and Chinese opera to blaring electronic music of our time. Bani Haykal’s high frequency contemporary sounds gave no space for reflection reinforcing life lived at a frenetic pace. The volume throughtout the choreography fluctuated between this and very soft, fading sounds, cleverly suggesting loss as time passes.
Stylised triangular frames on wheels with fractured shards of glass denoting window panes were at once buildings, cityscapes and playgrounds, safe corners to hide in or for lovers to woo. These moving fames re-imagined a city where there is constant flux of changing certainties – the known disappears and the new is unfamiliar. The other prop that became a symbolic player in the dance was a single chair that was integral to the narrative. At one point it was placed downstage, again with the gramophone, to play a Chinese opera record before being rudely pushed aside and added to a moving frame like a piece of discarded junk. Finally it resumed its place at the heart of the dance when dancer Jessica Christina gave an emotional performance of superb artistry in the closing moments. The company physically stopped Christina’s relentless search for self and sat her in the chair. In fading light the company moved the chair backwards into gradual darkness overtly echoing the themes of the choreographer.
As It Fades was a milestone for contemporary dance in Singapore for its innovation, creativity and local resonance. Every moment of dance, piece of prose or music, and the unfolding synergy of set, lighting and dance told a story in a narrative that weaves between abstraction and literal translation that confronted our senses and demanded reflection. It was also an ‘Everyman’ metaphor of current times – where are we going as a society and why? The choreography asked many questions and left the answers open ended for the audience to fathom and reflect. As It Fades will be performed in Kolkata India on September 14, 2014, as part of the INTERFACE Festival, organised by Sapphire Creations Dance Workshop.
"Review: As It Fades"
Writer: Katherine Arteche
Timeout Singapore Online, 10 May 2014
SOTA Drama Theatre
Back for the second time following its widely-acclaimed pioneer performance three years ago, As It Fades strikes a chord with its message of the struggle between modern man and traditional culture for Katherine Arteche.
Artistic, powerful and emotional all rolled into one, As It Fades captures hearts with stricken grief, and yet also provides immediate soothing comfort. First produced by T.H.E Dance Company's artistic director, Kuik Swee Boon, As It Fades made its debut at the Singapore Arts Festival in 2011. Critics hailed it as one of the top performances in Singapore that year and the contemporary piece has since been performed in various countries including Malaysia, China, Italy and Denmark. Three years on, Kuik brings back the landmark production with a restaged focus between traditional and contemporary parallels. The piece reminisces about forgotten roots that become overshadowed by the emphasis of the modern lifestyle. Various representations of both the past and present are depicted, including Hainanese folk tunes that are broadcasted from an old gramophone under a loud clamour screeching over the sound system, as well as the transit from a homely, warm lighting to harsh fluorescent.
As It Fades successfully captures the frustration and emotions executed in the fast rhythmic choreography and body expressions. The piece no doubt triggers thought-provoking moments in one's own relations with modern society and upbringing, eventually analysing the individual in various environments. Dancer Lee Mun Wai recites a two-part monologue in Cantonese during sections of the show, recounting his personal childhood in the language that he struggled to be fluent in just to be able to communicate with his elders. On top of the captivating choreography, the freestyle expressions that varied among the individual dancers are an array of daily human tendencies paired with expressive hollers and sniffling that are also easily relatable to the audience.
The unique stage setup is versatile and minimalistic, with frosted acrylic structures that are constantly shifting, as though part of the choreography. Meanwhile, the different placements of the towering scaffolds emphasises the evident changes in moods of the dancers, which reset the tone of the theatre each time: the resulting interaction between the dancers and their props allows room for interpretation and reflection, encouraging the viewer to build on their own perspective.
A raw contemporary piece that encompasses both personal and collective memory with a message of heritage, As It Fades is definitely a must-watch.
"As It Fades - A Review"
Writer: Ah Fen
Arts Republic Online, 18 May 2014
SOTA Drama Theatre
Watching the beginning of As It Fades somehow reminds me of Water Bloom, the first performance I watched by T.H.E Dance Company, which was also choreographed by Kuik Swee Boon in 2009. I remember being seated quite far away and in a much bigger theatre at University Cultural Centre. But this time round, I am seated much closer to the stage and in a medium-sized theatre of the School of the Arts. Rationally, this feeling of similarity seems rather out of place, yet the impression it gives is in conformity with the first experience I had with T.H.E.
Dancer Zihao opens the show simply by walking onto the stage, behind a row of tall metal structures with triangles attached. He places a vinyl onto the gramophone and switches it on. The record starts spinning, making the iconic scratchy noise that one would expect to hear from such a devise. Right away, the mood is set even before the song itself starts. Although I could not understand a single word of the Hainanese song, it gives me a sense of richness and authenticity of that period.
Jessica, obviously one of the lead characters in tonight's performance, dances fluidly across the stage - typical of Swee Boon's scope of movements. As the rest of the company dancers swoop in one by one, we suddenly have the entire second company dancers running across the stage - that is quite impactful in itself. One thing I notice about T.H.E dancers is their ability to catch on different phrases of the music or lyrics to move in synchrony. Despite moments where they have no music to use as a guide, dancers could just depend on each other's mutual understanding to control their timing.
As the lights grow brighter, we could discern the transparent vinyl sheets on the black metal structures. Together with the dancers dressed conservatively in black, the scene gives a monochromatic look, reminiscent of scenes from the past. At first I thought the metal structures looked like mountains with the dancers dancing in a village of sorts. But as the piece progresses, the song fades, giving way to a fast-paced techno-esque beat. It is as if the structures become buildings with the dancers roaming the city and getting trapped in between them. The music changes again, now with the sounds of wind and water clearly heard. The dancers move the structures again in a slow manner, with their counterparts hanging onto the structures, not unlike sails and boats on the sea. I feel that this reflects a journey they are taking down a memory lane and are unwilling to let go. The triangular shapes look more and more like fragments of their memories that have become distorted, which they are constantly trying to organise or retrieve at a certain point in life.
I especially like the pair work done in groups by most of the cast. For example how Jessica and Yarra quietly walk towards and stare at each other's reflection, peering through the structures since they are on either side of it. On the dark side as Yarra is struggling, a bright spark is introduced in the form of Sherry and Wu Mi in colourful clothings. They do a light-hearted pas de deux, giggling and playing with each other. The rest of the dancers start appearing in bright and less conservative costumes, and start to enclose the metal structures, surrounding the couple, Yarra and Zihao, forming an intimate space for them. We could see the couple trying to escape from this memory as they try to break out from behind the structures but to no avail.
I also like that after a while, I could not differentiate the main company dancers from the second company dancers. I have to consciously search for them onstage to make out who is where. The latter are just as expressive with their bodies and faces as the main company dancers. But of course, the main company dancers did the bulk of the dancing for the night.
Part of the music for the night have an Asian element that I have not heard previously from T.H.E. Discerning an obvious tinkering of a Chinese instrument from the ominous sound track gives a layer of depth to the performance.
I would also like to highlight Mun Wai who does an excellent job delivering his Cantonese dialogue while Jessica expresses in a dance next to him. Although not everyone in the audience understands what he says, this segment gives us time to breathe, and also converges the Asian influences in the show, as well as cementing together the diverse nationalities of the cast.
At last, the gramophone is brought to the centre of the stage, on a chair, by the dancers. They surround it and stare at it, as if it were something so old, yet so important for them to remember. They dance around it as if it were one of them. As the gramophone starts playing the old song again, Jessica sits down on the chair, taking its place. And as she reaches out for her fragments of memories and pieces of life that have gone by, the rest of the dancers drag her away silently into the darkness as the light fades, as memories fade, as it fades...
"Review: As It Fades"
Writer: Jamie Koh
PoachedMag Online, 15 May 2014
SOTA Drama Theatre
The Human Expression (T.H.E) Dance Company brought its 2011 hit production As It Fades back to the stage. The production features a cast of 15 dancers from T.H.E and T.H.E's second company, original music by Bani Haykal, and the choreography of T.H.E's artistic director, Kuik Swee Boon.
A production conceptualised through the personal experiences of Kuik, As It Fades is highly personal. While this makes the production effortlessly authentic, it also inevitably alienates some audience members (which was perhaps the intention since the concept of the piece revolves around the loss of connection to times and people past.)
The production's set was quite minimalist and very purposeful, such that coupled with the use of clever lighting to illuminate what the audience should pay attention to, the single most significant piece of prop, and old-fashioned radio, was a clear centrepiece to the show. The radio played songs in dialect, something some members of the audience might remember and something that no longer holds as much significance in Singaporean culture today. The static in the "radio's broadcast" further enhanced the sense of nostalgia as it made was playing even more inaccessible - it was time, language, communication of decades past and a connection to those times.
The use of dialect for communication was also taken on by dancers. One dancer sang in dialect to the radio (though this was not clear since he had his back to the audience) as though longing for connectedness to his cultural roots. Despite the fact that we did not understand what he was singing, this segment was a powerful one as it forced us to think about culture lost with time, the dwindling use of dialects and those who communicated through them. In another segment, the dancer spoke in dialect. The lengthiness of this monologue was rather inaccessible and alienating to most of us younger folk; nonetheless, it could have had an impact on those who understood the language. Personally, it crossed the line between making the point about being alienated from our roots and making the segment short of necessary.
The choreography was an excellent reflection of the concept of the performance. The movements, especially when dancers moved between floor work and jumps - the dichotomy between tension and being free of it - were seamlessly put together. It might have been more cohesive on the whole if the dancing was woven into the narrative segments less abruptly but the choreography - contemporary with hints of Asian flavour - propelled and accentuated the intention of As It Fades.
For the most part, the dancers executed Kuik's intricate choreography very competently. There was however, room for improvement - imperfect synchronicity stood in the way of group segments achieving maximum impact, as accents were not hit at the same time. Some movements could have been further refined to add to collective synchrony. Such nuances would have made a lot of difference. The two male leads, Lee Mun Wai and 2012 NAC Young Artist Award winner Zhuo Zihao did an amazing job anchoring the performance, but the star of the show has to be Indonesian-born Jessica Christina, who stood out head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. Her technical and performance qualities made it seem as though the piece was put together for her - kudos!
Despite its few shortcomings, this production was a definite success. It speaks to everyone - we are all susceptible to nostalgia - especially for us Singaporeans who question our cultural roots. Thought-provoking and memorable, As It Fades scores a point for the arts.
"Moving Ode To Loss"
Writer: Tara Tan
The Straits Times, 23 May 2011
Kuik Swee Boon’s intense homage to traditions speaks volumes in his strong Asian voice.
Choreographer Kuik Swee Boon has a deep obsession with lost tongues – the fading presence of Chinese dialects such as Teochew, Hainanese and Cantonese – in people’s lives.
A recurring theme in many of his works since his dance group started in 2007, the obsession has finally alchemised into As It Fades, which premiered at the Singapore Arts Festival last weekend. Anyone who knows Kuik, a former dancer with Singapore and Spanish national companies, knows he is a man of few words. But when he speaks, what he says is usually urgent, intense and profound.
Like the man, the work was a compact and masterful ode, a poetic homage to traditions and the erosions wrought by time.
As It Fades marked a breakthrough for the Singapore group since the last time I saw them on the Esplanade Theatre stage for Silence in 2009. Eschewing heaving droning soundscapes in favour of rousing melancholic melodies by Max Richter, Kuik sculpted dramatic solos and quiet duets, tapping on a vast vocabulary of long-limbed, languid sweeps and frenetic knee jerks.
His choreographic voice has matured most distinctly, and with much more clarity, in As It Fades – it was strong, articulate and, unmistakably, Asian. Comprising complex floorwork and powerful lunges, the movements were symbiotic and tightly woven, the ebb and flow between steps reminiscent of taiji.
Moveable sculptures, which looked like cascading glass shards in mid-air, formed the eloquent and beautiful backdrop of the piece. At times, they turned into sails as the dancers migrated them from one side of the stage to the other then moved into a circle like a tornado force.
As It Fades painted a sorrowful but slow acceptance of people’s cultural loss: A sole female voice crooned a Hainanese folk song. A rambling young male Cantonese voice revisited childhood memories. Five elderly men and women emerged from the back of the stage to dance a slow waltz with the dancers.
The work spoke to me deeply as a Singaporean and as an Asian.
And it touched many more in the post-show dialogue, and elderly woman said that the work and the folk songs spoke to her, even though she came to the show worried that she “didn’t know much about contemporary dance”.
To which Kuik said: “People think contemporary dance is only for young people, but T.H.E believes in connecting with our past before we move on.”
The troupe’s lyrical works are often built on Singapore stories. With As It fades, it captured the poignant sentiments of a half-forgotten heritage.
T.H.E is no longer a young company with plenty of promise. It has clearly delivered and its dancers, under the patient and demanding hand of their artistic direction have grown from strength to strength with each show.
Certainly it has emerged to be one of the strongest contemporary dance groups in Asia.
"S'pore Arts Fest 2011! As It Fades! Bursting with ideas?!"
Writer: Mayo Martin
TODAYOnline, 22 May 2011
Like 2008/2010’s O(ld) Sounds, T.H.E. Dance Company’s latest, As It Fades, was born out of choreographer/artistic director Kuik Swee Boon’s current preoccupation with slowly disappearing dialects in contemporary Singapore culture.
Here, it’s played out on a grander scale than its predecessor, its scope more expansive as he frames the dialect issue on generational terms, as evidenced from the very first scene’s contemporary dance-meets-traditional song.
It starts off with dancers assembling onstage performing to a series of Hainanese folk songs sung live by Madame Han Tok Ngan behind a “screen” of towering tree/Cubist-rendered/teepee-like structures (that for some reason also reminded me of the crystal-like structures in Superman’s Krypton planet).
As lights fade in and out, As It Fades unfolds as a series of impressions – performers hover around a recorder on a table, a group of senior citizens emerge from the shadows at the far end of the stage to sit among the audience, the moveable “towers” come alive in different configurations, culminating in what’s seemingly a subtle reversal of roles as the audience find themselves watching the performers from behind the aforementioned “screen”.
As It Fades is yet another sombre, brooding offering, aided in no small part by the lighting, which, although gorgeous at times has seemingly enhanced the mood at the unfortunate expense of clarity and detail – many of the parts were wrapped in shadows.
It’s also for the most part what has come to be a typical piece by the three-year-old company. But I wonder if Kuik’s sweeping, bounding and extremely busy choreographic vocabulary has crossed over from “signature” or “trademark” to something else.
Even as an admirer of the group, my experience of the piece was tempered by a sense of familiarity. This was a n exciting group that burst into the dance scene with an ambition that was like a whiff of fresh air. Was it now on the verge of repeating itself?
The nagging thought was underscored by my favourite segment that seemed so out of place in the whole piece that it caught me by surprise – dancer Lee Mun Wai, fidgeting and convulsing, began rambling in Cantonese, kickstarting a series of convulsions, sneezing and gagging by the rest of the group standing in a line.
But maybe it’s not the choreography but the fact that Kuik tries to stuff As It Fades with so much ideas that, even as it engages me here and there, never really translates to a single point, even emotionally.
The busy traffic of ideas onstage is also compounded, I thought, by the traffic of bodies – it’s a gutsy decision to have both the first and second companies perform together, but I’m not sure if the festival was an appropriate platform for such a debut, after Kuik himself admitted during the post-show the difficulties in bringing the latter up to par with his first team during rehearsals.
There’s a reason why there are two companies and to give a boost to the “juniors” by offering them a bigger stage may have been a bit too hasty. (I’m not disparaging the latter, I’m just saying there’s a time for everything. Former T.H.E. Second Company member Jessica Christina, who “graduated” to the main group only recently, proved to be a gem of a find -- grace, power and precision packed in a pixie frame.)
One final thing: for a work that incorporates Hainanese folk songs and Cantonese spoken word, why was there no surtitles? Would have loved to find out what the songs in particular were all about.
"Fragments netted from the rushing river"
Writer: Bilqis Hijjas
KL Dance Watch (online), 31 May 2011
Kuik Swee Boon is a dancer’s choreographer. His recent work, As It Fades, is less about concept and plot, being clever or deep, as it is about movement — a gorgeous, layered, inventive river of movement which sweeps the viewer away.
The work begins with a single black-clad dancer moving on a white stage. The dancer’s changes of direction and play with dynamics — a sudden jump, a quick forced run in a circle — set the stage for what is to come. Suddenly, the entire company of dancers rushes on, then halts headlong, the bodies arrested in a strong sideways suspension. The mass of bodies breaks apart into small groups which coalesce again, here and there leaving an odd dancer out. The movement is mercurial in its pace and levels, impossible to pin down, with dancers spinning, dropping to the floor and rising again as if they are being sucked off the ground, legs flicking out at the edge of vision.
Upstage, behind an armada of steel and perspex constructions, Han Tok Ngan, a singer of Hainanese folk songs, stands in near darkness. The dancers move to the rhythm of her song. For a moment, the group launches into a movement phrase that looks vaguely like tai chi, but before this moment can cement itself the song fades and the dancers move on, leaving an aching sense of possibility sketched in the ether.
Kuik Swee Boon’s movement style might be described as Western contemporary dance, but it is a language that he speaks so natively that it’s a shame to to label it so narrowly. As It Fades is about reconnecting with memory, things that are “lost, forgotten and buried deep within our bodies”, and for Swee Boon the vocabulary of movement he honed when he worked with many of the leading lights of European contemporary dance at Compania Nacional de Danza in Spain is as much a part of his embodied heritage as the Hainanese folk songs that inspire this work.
Swee Boon’s movement style devotes enormous attention to detail, and the dancers need all their physical and technical strength to do it justice. Every position is clearly delineated. The interraction with the music is very exact, whether with atonal electronic drone or the expressive strain of a single cello. Even the movements that look throwaway — the unstretched legs, the floppy feet — are all deliberate and careful. Now and again, the dancers luxuriate into a fully pointed leg or slice up into a huge extension, but these are used sparingly. The unrelenting changes of level look exhausting and breathless (the word that dancers use is ‘puffy’ ) but in the silences you can hear how the dancers are using their breaths as the root of their movements. Again and again, they launch themselves on the strength of their exhalations, and the audience feels an answering tug at the base of the diaphragm.
Upon the work’s river of movement, a watcher can either float — viewing the dancers as an undifferentiated mass — or dive, zooming in upon a single body, sliding along the clear trajectory that every dancer constructs for his or her self through the movement. Perhaps because of the use of breath and the textured pace, there is a quality of silence and stillness in the midst of speed, like the empty eye of a whirlpool at the centre of a spinning mass.
Bodies are flung together in As It Fades, but these moments of contact are fleeting, breaking apart as quickly as they form. Men pull women towards them, or women fall backwards into the hands of men. The man is often braced in the centre, the girl spinning and leaning around him, or being dragging around in a circle, splayed outwards by centrifugal force. The transient duets display the women’s feet beautifully, either pointed at the end of elegant attitudes, or in forced arches on the ground as the woman leans in. A man lifts a woman by the waist in front of him, and in a moment of calculated abandon she relaxes back into him, legs and arms pulled up loosely in front of her. Later, in a variation on Pina Bausch’s signature duets between one woman and multiple men, a woman is tossed and spun from man to man so fluidly and fast that it’s over before you know it.
The staging of As It Fades, with its dependence on chic black costumes and a monochrome palette, also reminds me of the style of European companies like Nederlands Dans Theater (which, incidentally, will be coming to the Esplanade Theatre in July). The strong and changeable lighting states are an integral part of this formalist construction. Created by Finnish designer Anna Maria Rouhu, the lighting is dominated by long diagonals and clear squares of light in the glacial colours of the far north. The abstract set that dominates and defines the space is also very Kylian, but in this context it seems more like a tribute rather than merely derivative. The black steel-framed ships with their triangular clouded perspex sails are wheeled around by the dancers, creating changing environments in which to dance. At one point each ship floats in its own diagonal spotlight, and on every ship a woman lounges as if dreaming, or slowly balances along the the metal perimeter. As the music builds, the movement does too, until the women fling their ships away from themselves, letting them spin out randomly into the space.
Towards the end of the work, the ships are arranged in a circle. In its centre a man and woman carry out a duet, their slow intimate movements vaguely sensed. The circle slowly rotates, like a spinning gothic cathedral made of crystal. Later the ships make a line behind which the dancers move furiously but almost unseen to the sound of symphonic violins. On the audience side a few dancers in black silhouette walk and peer through the screen, waiting for the hidden dancers to emerge, to rush out into stillness.
There are some moments in As It Fades when the dominant aesthetic is unexpectedly lost. These scenes seem to be trying too hard to add meaning, and their literalness intrudes upon the cool clear flow of the movement. In one scene, the dancers assemble in a line in a warm block of light downstage. Standing in one place, they cycle through a range of gesticulations and sound effects: sneezing, coughing, shaking, scratching their bellies, running on the spot. The almost comic theatricality feels out of context. It is a relief when the block of light starts to dissolve and the dancers are sucked back into the movement.
There is another jarring section towards the end of the work, in which one of the dancers is speaking, barely heard over the music. According to the program notes, he is describing the cultural dislocation of not being able to speak Cantonese natively as a child. Meanwhile other dancers carry out disconnected solos in contrasting styles, which they may have choreographed themselves. As a nod to the dancers’ individual experiences of losing touch with the past and their embodied expression of this, this scene makes sense, but its qualities do not sit well with the cohesion and subtlety of the work as a whole.
This is not to say that the other parts of As It Fades do not say anything. Some scenes have an impact both visceral and cerebral. For most of the work, a group of the dancers’ parents sit in a line at the back of the stage. Slightly out of the light, the presence of these elders can be sensed, rather than seen, as a static solid weight counterracting the movement of the dancers. In one prominent scene, a pre-war Chinese aria plays, tinged with shades of nationalism and nursery rhyme. A group of female dancers runs into a white block of light in the downstage right corner. Slowly, swaying a little from side to side, they walk upstage towards the line of seated elders. As the song gentles, Alice Tan starts to dance as she walks, her arms moving through huge swooping curves. The other dancers pick up her movements, as the elders rise from their seats to walk down between them. Just as the elders pass through them, the dancers pause briefly in a pose, their chests lifted towards the sky, left arm extended diagonally upwards, the wrist pushing up and out and the hand splayed, and the right arm bent with the right hand pressed on the lifted sternum. It’s a moment of tribute, but also of self-assertion, of vindication and of gratitude. Other dancers enter the white square to face the elders, taking both their gently hands in theirs. The group of women dancers runs downstage to repeat their walk upstage and to repeat the iconic pose: an oath-taking, an assertion of faith, a swearing of allegiance, an act of remembrance, an avowal. As the elders walk off the stage, down the steps and into the audience, the dancers continue to move slowly upstage, the aria climaxing.
In the end, it’s about the dancing, and the inarticulable impact of this. Every movement phrase in As It Fades is weighed and balanced like a sentence, and can be savoured like poetry. Yet as the continually inventive recombination of lyrical phrases pushes on and on, the river of movement sweeps away any landmarks. The watching mind has to abandon itself to the torrent. Occasionally something lodges itself in the mind, like flotsam knocking repeatedly against a snag. But the elusive quality of much of the movement in As It Fades, the manner in which it washes over the mind and then disappears, is itself an expression of the theme of the work, and the way in which something in which we are deeply immersed, either a performance or a culture, can disappear, leaving us only with traces and fragments.
"Gone But Not Forgotten"
Writer: Bilqis Hijjas
Just Dance Magazine (Kuala Lumpur), 17 April 2012
Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre
Kuik Swee Boon, artistic director and choreographer of Singapore’s T.H.E Dance Company, is not afraid to tinker with his work after opening night. His full-Iength piece, As It Fades, premiered at the Singapore Arts Festival 2011, with 25 performers. In September last year, an excerpt with only five dancers and a limited set appeared in Kuala Lumpur’s MyDance Festival. In February this year, the High Commission of Singapore presented yet another full-length version of the work at Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre. This “touring cut”, performed by only seven dancers yet featuring the full set, is a tighter, streamlined version of the original, retaining the spectacular speed and immediacy of the dancing while shaping a clearer dramatic arc.
As It Fades explores the crisis common in quickly modernising Malaysia as well as Singapore: the attempt to grasp the vestiges of traditional cultures as they slip through our fingers.
In the centre of the stage, a voice recorder sits on
a chair. The dancers defer to it, as if it is an ancient idol or a museum artifact. They gently lift it, move it around and tell it their secrets – what it is like, for example, to be a Chinese person who does not speak Chinese. But if the chair and its voice recorder represent home or the past, then it is a home to which they cannot return. The voice that comes out of the recorder, singing nostalgic Hainanese folk songs, is only a faint reproduction, not
the real thing.
Despite the theatrical potency of these symbols, the strength of As It Fades lies not in its staging but in its movement style, as interpreted by T.H.E's seven superb dancers. Swee Boon's intention is to show “the visceral impact of the body in motion, its ability to capture nuances not easily expressed in words”, and at this he is a master.
For dancers, Swee Boon is a dream choreographer. His movement style is fast, exact
and varied, and you can see his dancers eat up the challenge. The dynamic range – from super speed
to slow motion, standing still to fast again – is almost exhausting to watch, as is the kaleidoscopic shifting
of groups. Trios morph into solos; suddenly a duet emerges, and just as suddenly it is replaced by the whole group in synchrony. Fast-footed runs slide to sudden stops, bodies corkscrew down into the floor or pop off the ground in barrel turns. A hunched curl of the upper body is a repeated motif, as are the palms reaching out to carve the space. Flapping hands and jittery feet indicate the franticness of life in the small island nation; sudden pauses where the dancers look around slowly suggest the faint remembrance of a calmer existence.
From this schizophrenic whirlwind emerge
quiet Iyrical images. The stage set of tall ship-like
steel scaffolds on wheels, hung with cloudy perspex shapes like sails, is used to frame delicious moments. The female dancers, one in each “ship”, lit by amber
down-lights, move dreamily to a Chinese aria. With the singer’s last climactic high note, the dancers suddenly abandon their ships and set them spinning, the Perspex sails reflecting the light like revolving crystal shards.
In another moment, two dancers are hemmed in by a circle of ships. In their little bubble of light, they can only be vaguely seen through the perspex. Their hands move around each other’s bodies, not touching, as if separated by a force field. lt is a quiet moment suggesting two individuals almost, but not quite, connecting.
The final section so beautifully translates the orchestral score by Max Richter into lush movement that the heart soars. In a stark white space, the dancers perform in double time to the music. As it builds, so they pull out all the stops. Just when it seems it cannot grow any more, the music adds another dimension, and so do the dancers, twisting, jerking, reaching and falling. In the moment of greatest emotional force, all but one of the dancers move in furious synchrony upstage, half-hidden by a diagonal line of ships.
Then the ending comes as an arresting shock. With the last swelling notes, the group rushes downstage and slams the chair down behind the soloist. She drops into it. The group drags her slowly backwards, still sitting tensely in a chair. Then, in a square of white light, they freeze, gazing out to the audience.
The end gives a fully rounded sense to this version of As It Fades. It suggests that our old sense of home is gone; as frantic, clutching citizens of modernity, we cannot find comfort from the certainty of the
past. A new sense of home is not only earned again through struggle but, as the desperate but compelling movements of the dancers will tell you, the struggle itself is our new home, when everything else has faded away.
"Memory In Motion"
Writer: Aref Omar
New Straits Times Press, 25 February 2012
Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre
Strong movements, bold and precise, combined with swaying turns of the body to signify the various routines in daily life and the struggle to recall and reconnect with a half-forgotten heritage were part of the showcase in As It Fades.
The dance production by T.H.E. (The Human Expression) Dance Company was specially commissioned for the Singapore Arts Festival 2011. In its dynamic movements, it sought to convey a generational separation of traditional dialects and their diminishing presence in contemporary times.
Local dance lovers got to watch an excerpt of the piece last year during the MyDance Festival. But the recent performance at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) was a satisfying full production.
Choreographed by the troupe’s founder and artistic director, Kuik Swee Boon, the dance kicked off with an ensemble of seven performers gathering around a small tape recorder on a chair onstage. As it played a series of Hainanese folk songs, the dancers began to move with vigour.
In the background were a few towering structures which featured shards of geometric glass plates, that were moved around to form various arrangements during the hour long dance piece. At one point, each of the towers had a dancer gracefully and gently negotiating around and through the imposing structure.
There were also two sections during the dance where one performer would speak in Cantonese.
The first part had the dancer recalling an innocent childhood memory of taking the bus to school.
The second was the more complicated issue of communication and of not being able to speak one’s mother tongue.
At other times the music used to accompany the dance were instrumental classical pieces with various violins stirring up dark emotions.
One segment had the dancers standing in line across the stage going through a series of choreographed convulsions, gagging, sneezing and falling to the ground.
Foreboding and solemn, As It Fades was busy and complicated at times but tightly woven throughout. The young dancers – Jessica Christina, Yarra Ileto, Sherry Tay, Hazel Tng, Lee Mun Wai, Zhuo Zihao and William Wu- captured the feelings of distraction, yearning, estrangement and loss with ease.
T.H.E. Dance Company was founded in 2008 and has since become one of Singapore’s leading contemporary dance troupes. The group is currently on tour and will perform As It Fades in other countries including France, Poland, China, Spain and Denmark later this year.
The one night performance of As It Fades at KLPac was part of the Singapore Arts Night.
The event also featured an improvisational performance by Singaporean guitarist Randolf Arriola, who utilised the live looping technique of layering melodies to create textured and meditative sounding music.
Hosted by the Singapore High Commission, the Singapore Arts Night was aimed at strengthening ties between Singapore and Malaysia, as well as encouraging cultural exchanges between artistes of the two countries.
BOHEMIAN PARODY / EDGE (2010)
Premiered at the CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2010.
"Contact 2010! Edge! Gangsters! Hiphop! Down with comfort zones!"
Writer: Mayo Martin
TODAYOnline, 18 December 2010
NUS University Cultural Centre Theatre
I think people should take a leaf out of THE Dance Company Guidebook. In particular, from that chapter on Being Adventurous.
Their performances of three pieces in tonight’s Edge is testament to just how willing this young company is to get out of their comfort zones and simply try something new, occasional awkward hiphop moves be damned.
The night kicked off with a restaging of Water Bloom. One of their earlier pieces choreographed by company artistic director Kuik Swee Boon, it bears the mark of much that we’ve come to know and appreciate from this tight unit of dancers, here giving life to a patchwork series of movements that are at turns poetic and delirious, haunting and sombre. (A bit of eerie X-Files mood in there somewhere too).
They follow it up with a 10-minute teaser of Kuik’s next piece, As It Fades, which we’ll see at next year’s Arts Fest. And it doesn’t seem at all like a “typical” THE piece. It begins with the group standing in a line, each one by turns enacting a series of disjointed actions by turns. Granted, it’s just a snippet of the full show, but I didn’t sense any kind of overarching “big theme” as in say, O Sounds or Silence, just a series of individual or dual expositions, almost fragmented. And it was done very nonchalantly, I thought, as the dancers did manic, did flirtatious, without any seeming connection.
Plus, they’ve discovered humour: Lee Mun Wai mumbling something in Cantonese as he dances, Zhou Zihao channelling Chaplinesque and strongman gestures (complete with mock wheezing). There may have been some hints of these quirks in previous pieces, but it seems like they’re exploring it further in this new one.
Oh, and the final duet between Yarra Ileto and Zhou – without touching each other – was just beautiful.
And then, in Bohemian Parody, they do hiphop and channel their inner Kung Fu Hustle gangster selves.
The group has shown a keen interest in collaborating with other choreographers and this one’s a new work by Kim Jae Duk, whose company Modern Table churns out pieces that are, well, un-THE. (He also presented the fantastic, super-tight dude duet Clocker. Can we see more of his works at The Esplanade’s Studio Season or da:ns Fest please?)
Which is why you’ve got the entire gang (including Kuik) all dressed in white, doing their best B-boy (and girl) attempts.
It’s not a natural thing for most of them (with the notable exception of the night’s most excellent performer, Zhou – sorry dude, slipped my mind but you should’ve at least been the runner-up for best newcomer this year, not that you’re actually new in the biz…) but they’re serious about making it right, and that’s mega plus points, IMHO.
But it’s not only the fact that they ventured into hiphop territory (not completely, of course, since it’s still a contemporary dance piece) but also that Bohemian Parody is one weird piece for them to do.
A commentary on, as the liner notes say, “the pretentions of faux-bohemian life”, you had gestures that vaguely suggest snorting coke (at least that’s how I saw it), scenes of someone breaking people’s necks, legs and arms (complete with sound effects), someone dancing with a bunch of sneakers tied to his waist, and at some point, someone coming out doing the sangmo thing (you know that Korean headgear with the long tassel that they twirl around with their heads?)
Great job, guys!
PS, that token blog post photo probably has nothing to do with the show, but that’s the only photo I’ve got. Heh.
THE MAN IN THE CENTRE (2010)
Commissioned by the National Heritage Board of Singapore.
"Made for dancers"
Writer: Tara Tan
The Straits Times, 16 August 2010
National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre
Kuik Swee Boon's original work succeeds in melding movement with his dancers' personalities
A brooding, melancholic piece, The Man In The Centre, marked choreographer Kuik Swee Boon's return to making original work for his group, T.H.E Dance Company, after nine months.
The break proved to be a well-timed one for its result was choreography which was more organic, less structured and less predictable than his previous work.
The Man In The Centre, about the things that keep one grounded, was by no means a perfect work, but it was clearly a small but important breakthrough for Kuik and his company. There were seeds of immense potential in the piece that yielded clues to the future work and a signature vocabulary that the group will be embarking on. In short, they were definitely on to something here.
The choreography still bore flairs and flourishes that are recognisably Kuik's. There were the long, languorous limbs, for instance, the swift sweeps and short dynamic hops that mark his choreography. But his dancer - who work strong and well as a team - also melded to his organic choreography in a remarkably natural way. The moved with an enviable flow and an easy dynamism to the choreography, which he stated in the programme was created with their individual quirks in mind.
He was successful here, for the six dancers' personalities formed a dynamic fabric of movement and expression.
Local sound artists Darren Ng outdid himself in this piece. He sculpted eloquent soundscapes that, in one scene, reminded one of mournful whale calls across an ocean. In another, we wove playful melodies with bicycle bells, street chatter and traffic rumbles.
Brazilian film-maker Gabriela Tropia, who worked with T.H.E previously on O Sounds, added an interesting texture to the piece with her documentary-style dance film. It featured a series of interviews with the dancers about daily habits or objects - an old origami book, for example, or picking out the "golden pillow" crackers from a bag of mixed nuts - projected simultaneously across five white panels.
It was an intriguing decision, and certainly one that is unusual for T.H.E, although I wished the motif echoed in more sections of the work to strengthen its coherence. The video art in the second section worked better than the projection of domestic rooms and busy streets in the first half, which formed the backdrop for a duet between Zhuo Zihao and Yarra Ileto.
The video art in that section needed to work more collaboratively with the choreography; otherwise, it would add little to the scene.
I had quibbles, as well, with the attempts at humour that were not delivered with quite enough panache or irony. The motif of a person drearily mopping around dancers or props, for example, did not quite work.
But the second half was mesmerising and promising. The six dancers veered between moving as random individualistic narratives and as a unified whole. Glimpses of order in the chaos, and chaos in the seeming order, were an interesting premise.
Like the brooding quiet in the eye of a storm, The Man In The Centre had the energy and pace of a work that is gathering speed. Judging from the packed audience on a Saturday night, T.H.E has amassed a dedicated following who are eager to support its ascent.
"Choreography that's hard to pin down"
Writer: Lynn Kan
Business Times, 20 August 2010
National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre
Choreography is a slippery routine, changing during rehearsals and production in a way that is supposed to lead to a final state of completion.
Symptoms of this shape-shifting peeked through in Kuik Swee Boon's new work The Man In The Centre, which ended its three-day run last weekend.
In the programme, Kuik wrote, "It is difficult to critique the work at this stage and I will leave this task to the audience. I hope the work will eventually take on its own identity and character as it is performed over time."
Kuik's creation benefitted from his free hand in choreographing and deciding his subject matter, which grew out of his own questions about human existence - the ability to know others and one's self despite the noise and distractions of daily life. The result is the free yet intimate composition of his company, The Human Expression (THE).
It was a refreshing change to see Kuik develop his dancers as characters replete with their own stories, rather than as messengers in a larger abstract production as in Silence. Each of the six dancers had their "say" in the second half of the performance, when film snippets of their lives showed each confessing when they felt most at piece with themselves - making origami, picking out prawn crackers from a kacang puteh mix, or simply being simply alone.
The stories of the individual dancers were kept honest by the documentary, honed by Brazilian video artist Gabriela Tropia. It was "very slick", in the words of one audience member in the post-performance talk.
But as enjoyable - and as rare - as it was to get a glimpse in to the hearts of the THE dancers, Man In The Centre was sometimes ragged at the edges. In the post-performance talk, Kuik let on that the last section of the dance went through four or five different versions, and the constant re-working of the piece was felt.
Domestic props - like a mop and a pillow - made cameos into the dancers' pas de deux and pas de trois, to illustrate the distractions and mundanity of everyday chores that intrude into a person's space. However, the interjections were sometimes half-formed, and the effect could be exaggerated by frequent appearances or the use of more household or office items.
The dream-like first half and last third of the dance were the most unforgettable - but not without some problems. At first, the dancers were spread far apart from one another, and coupled with the slow swell of music, this made it difficult at first for the audience to trace the thread of Kuik's thought.
However, once the dancers coalesced from their atomised singular solos into distinctive narrative groups, Man In The Centre become more cogent. Especially strong was the duet in the first half, danced by Zhuo Zihao and Yarra Ileto, portraying an ambiguously intimate yet estranged couple. Zhuo's isolation was near palpable which, paired with Ileto's subtly commanding presence, made for a solid pairing.
The ensemble piece, when the company danced as people swept up in the motions of everyday life, could not quite convey how hapless being caught up is. The soundtrack of reality - a clever cacophony of bicycle bells and whispers, akin to the eerie hyper fast-forwarded murmurs heard in the jungles of TV series Lost, mixed by music artist Darren Ng - was the perfect backdrop to the hustle and bustle.
The transition out of the busy ensemble back to the last third was similarly bumpy, and could have done with more fine-tuning.
In a way, the rawness and open-endedness of Man In The Centre worked - because of the elusive character of its subject matter. Answers to questions about human existence change, and are impossible to pin down. Still, the work could have grown even richer if Kuik had had the time to take a step back and critique the piece.
"The Centre Cannot Hold"
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
The Flying Inkpot, 13 August 2010
National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre
Rating: 3 out of 5
In The Man in the Centre, the dancers of T.H.E Dance Company live in the half light like nocturnal animals, emerging from darkness into pockets of light to explore their surroundings before retreating to the safety of a dark hiding place – or the inner world of a personal comfort zone. These forays reveal fragments of their inner thoughts, but overall were not interesting enough to sustain this latest full-evening creation by company artistic director Kuik Swee Boon.
Sombre, introspective works seem to be a company trademark. Though the piece was constructed organically by building on the dancers' contributions, a surprisingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded the work. Perhaps everyone in the company is full of angst but with such fresh, young talent on stage this seems unlikely.
Dancers love to move, but in much of the work they seemed restricted, and the small passages of movement were mainly linked by walking pedantically from place to place and, later, running aimlessly about the space. Staying close to the ground and rarely shifting gear, the dance phrases were familiar rather than inventive and gave few clues to the individuality of the performers or their personas.
The search for the 'man in the centre', one's soul and identity, was revealed sparingly through quirks in the overall concept. We got to know the dancers a little better later in the work through a series of video projections by Gabriela Tropia on small screens, where we looked into their homes and lives while they spoke. It was fascinating to listen and watch the normally hyper-active dancer Zhuo Zihao meditate on the construction of intricate origami swans as he gently folded paper into birds; other stories about mundane things, such as selecting the orange golden-pillow crackers from a jar, were less interesting.
Ultimately the work was anchored by a fine duet between company-founding dancers Yarra Ileto and Zhuo, who were superb in their tentative modelling of a relationship in the contemporary world. Imaginatively supported by Tropia's projected interior of a sofa, bathroom, a bed and then a street in Singapore, the two dancers found creativity and expression in dancing in the restricted space in front of the projection. They gave mature performances and showed a growth in emotional commitment and understanding of the intention of the movement. This high point, however, was diffused by what seemed to be a senseless moving around of screens, mopping of the floor and dancers performing small phrases of uninventive movement about the stage.
Although the piece was about interiors and reflection, it needed stronger threads to draw its parts together and connect the audience to the dancers. More contrast and contradiction, dynamic shifts, light and shade in both a literal and metaphoric sense would make us want to follow the dancers and find out more about them as they focus on their own identities.
Once again, the dancers showed their commitment to each other, the choreographic concept and their artistic director – they are a strong, cohesive cohort. However, their talent needs to be nurtured and extended in new directions, enabling them to grow technically and emotionally as dancers so that in a work such as this, they have something forthright to say through a movement language based on strong technique and gleaned through diverse dance experiences over many years. At present, the episodes look naive and undeveloped, the dancing is a blur of indecision and the overall concept is only skin deep.
VOID -JENDELA PERADABAN (2009)
Commissioned by the Esplanade da:ns Festival 2009
"Tentacles of globalisation"
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
The Straits Times, 26 October 2009
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Like a social-realist visual artist, Indonesian choreographer Boi Sakti painted a bleak, pessimistic picture of globalisation.
In an unapologetic treatise on a world that has descended into a state of moral decay, materialism, loss of culture and spirituality, his stark dehumanising images served to warn the audience of the consequence of this emptiness. A thumping soundtrack interspersed with recorded sounds, for example from the Mass Rapid Transit, added to the pace and pressure.
There was no subtlety in this work, which premiered at the Esplanade's da:ns festival.
The onslaught of violent and violating images was stacked together with no respite for any of the protagonists or the audience. The dancers were caged, trapped, chained, provoked and humiliated through a number of devices - the most disturbing being a museum exhibition-like glass case that was eventually inhabited by seven dancers.
This was a scary and confronting image for the audience who became genuinely concerned for their safety as the glass steamed up. Other disquieting moments saw a dancer wielding a sharp knife that she used to slash a melon and dancer Zhuo Zihao was suspended upside down in a harness for a length of time.
At one point the dancers entered wearing a token piece of traditional dance costume from Java - a gold headdress, wrist cuffs, a necklace and a dance collar. These references to a passing world where humanity is anchored by responsibility, ritual and belief were immediately crushed as they proceeded to place surgical masks over their mouths in reference to the current H1N1 flu pandemic.
The blackness was lifted slightly in some comic moments such as when the dancers raced around like dogs with megaphones tied to their backs. The owners barked orders through these but eventually the roles were reversed. The dancers donning colourful wigs and dancing freely was another lighter scene.
Singapore's T.H.E Company was superb in holding its focus and intensity in this dark, alienating work. The dancers brought their youthful energy and strong technique to the dance floor but really had to dig deep emotionally to deal with many of the scenes.
It was a piece for dancers of the Generation Y and possibly their audiences. The maelstrom of images took the audience into a void with a dynamic centrifugal force that did not open a window for escape.
A strong piece for the da:ns festival and an important development for this dynamic local company.
"Defining images on the hypocrisy of modern living"
Writer: Melissa Quek
Business Times, 30 October 2009
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Through Void - Jendela Peradaban, Boi Sakti and T.H.E Dance Company had the lofty ambition of revealing the hypocrisy of modernism, where the comforting facade of labels blinds people to the truth of their situations.
With such a highly charged theme, the piece ran the risk of falling into the category of pieces that promise much but say nothing. However with the strong use of visual images and the incorporating of animation, set design and props, the piece managed to cover the diverse topics.
Initially the sections felt disjointed, a collage of symbols representing Sakti's perceptions of what is wrong with the world today. However - as one of the Olsen twins have said of their fashion sense - with layering, if you put on enough pieces, eventually everything goes together. These pieces were held together by Darren Ng's strong sound design and Chen Kunyi's well-paced animation. One particularly effective sequence was of a man running up a continuous flight of stairs that led nowhere.
Another defining image was of dancers being walked like dogs, barking while strapped to megaphones. The megaphones evoked the chaos of riots where people fight to be heard, but whose protests come off as gibberish. Alternately their inability to stray far from those controlling the loud hailers could be constructed as demonstrating the power wielded by those who control communication. So while highly symbolic, the piece still left room for various strata of interpretations.
The movement vocabulary and dynamic, based on the martial art traditions of the Minangkabau community, used firm weight and resistance. This made a refreshing change from T.H.E Artistic Director Kuik Swee Boon's fluid style. However, due to this, the dancers had difficulty capturing the power and depth of movement, with a few exceptions. Guest artist Davit from Gumarang Sakti Dance Company, had a strong presence and stood out as a dynamo with energy held in check ready to be released at will.
The choreographic style employed in Void was a departure for Sakti as well. Although not new for him, over the years the force of circumstances having steered him towards the exploration of the traditional, this piece was a return to the type of work he was producing twenty years ago. It was clear that he felt free to forcefully express his anger in this tightly-paced piece.
"Uncompromising visions of modern nightmare"
Writer: Bilqis Hijjas
KL Dance Watch (online), 25 October 2009
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Boi Sakti’s new work in collaboration with Singapore’s T.H.E. Dance Company gives us a sequence of powerful vignettes condemning our modern lives under capitalism and globalism as slavery without self-awareness, primitivism without sensitivity, a dehumanised world in which lives are once again nasty, brutish and short. In its best scenes, VOID has the feeling of good science fiction, akin to the written works of the recently deceased J.G. Ballard, whose horror derives from our recognition of their familiarity, the knowledge that the author or choreographer has merely observed existing themes and followed them to their logical and appalling conclusions.*
Coming from Indonesia, and giving, as the Singaporean dancers mention in the program notes, “a Southeast Asian angle”, Boi’s work is also infused with the preoccupations of our collective recent independence – ideas of neo-imperialism and exploitation. These he weaves into strong visual effects that lodge in the memory and return with nightmarish flashes of clarity. As the lights rose, some of the audience gasped involuntarily and a group of schoolchildren rose into hubbub and had to be shushed. Where before there had been darkness, suddenly the dancers stood crowded in a lit window on a little raised stage, higher than we expected and far, far too close, looking at us and past us with sightless eyes.
After this jolting opening, the visual metaphors raced by thick and fast in scenes roughly corresponding to a sequence given in the program notes: a man wrapped in chains galloping around the circle on all fours with an impossibly animal gait (‘sick civilisations’); dancers in muzzles with megaphones attached to their backs being walked by other dancers holding the microphones like leads and going into frenzy at the sound of their own feedback (‘democratisation’); dancers gradually donning individual costume decorations from traditional Indonesian dance – mirrored collars, bobbing tiaras, clinking arm bands – but with no recognition of their purpose or beauty (‘new internationalism’); a man hanging upside down behind steel bars having bar-coded tags attached to him haphazardly by a blindfolded woman, next to a hinged mirror daubed with graffiti (‘capitalism’).
The most disturbing theatrical motif illustrated urbanisation, and brought to mind ‘Billennium’, Ballard’s heart-squeezing story of systematic overcrowding. One by one the dancers laid their sweating exhausted bodies in a clear perspex box, piling onto one another like genocide murders tumbling into a mass grave. One dancer gently but irresistibly helped another onto the pile, but when she herself baulked she had to force her own body, her own hand pushing herself on her lower back, to complete the freezer full of bodies. As the perspex box was wheeled across the stage by stocking-masked undertakers, I heard the woman sitting next to me whisper, “That’s horrible.” The box circled. Suddenly the accumulated heat and sweat of the dancers fogged the plastic surface, and their little remaining movements made small clear patches through which we watched them, like the dying twitches of Auschwitz victims scratching on the ceiling of their gas chamber with their fingernails.
Sandwiched in between such powerful visual elements, I sometimes felt that the sections of ‘pure’ dance lost their impact. The movement itself was strong and well-directed – featuring recurring frustrated rocking movements on the hands and knees like an insect about to attack, an impossibly fast spin on the ground, and fast-twitch convulsive scratching of their bodies – but it was frequently performed by the whole group in synchrony, which gave it a repetitiveness that may have been robotic and symbolic of lack of individual agency, but was less compelling as a result. The dancers, however, were completely physically committed to the work, audibly breathing together in their group sections. Yarra Ileto’s muscular build was particularly well-suited to the power of the movement, where some of the smaller women seemed occasionally too delicate.
I was also a little put off when the dancers being walked like dogs began to bark – it seemed too predictable, too pat. Those who have dogs know that a bark is a very expressive sound, and when a person does it, unless they have voice coaching or lots of practice, it sounds childish and flat. The point may have been that humans have lost the ability to make sense with speech, that we make noise for the very sake of it, but I felt that the combination of croaks, gasps and gulps that the dancers used elsewhere were more effective.
There was also something about beating a dead horse in all this Luddite horror. Modernity is not without its detractors. Humanity is not unaware of its problems. But, like Ballard’s, this work of Boi’s came across as blindly accusative in its lack of compromise. At its base, it is negative and unredemptive. So at the end of the work we are left with nothing to say, when the hinged mirror swings (as we knew it would) towards the audience to reveal us to ourselves.
*This observation is by Anthony Burgess, in his 1978 introduction to The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard, Picador New York, 1995.
WHERE THE WIND BLOWS / WATER BLOOM (2009)
Commissioned by the NUS Arts Festival 2009, as a double bill titled "Variance", and restaged at the CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2010
Writer: Daniel Kok
Theatrex Asia online, 29 February 2009
NUS University Cultural Centre Theatre
T.H.E Company made history last night. Variance, their latest and largest production to-date, was a full-length contemporary spectacle of virtuosic choreography and performance. There is simply nothing quite like it thus far that is made-in-Singapore and I applaud the company for their vision and dedication.
On the outset, it is important to highlight that this is a fairly new professional dance company; one created despite a lack of resources. But the company was not lacking in vim and vigor, its members pulled all the stops in a show that went beyond expectations. It was hard to be cool and critically objective. I felt a sense of pride on their behalf. ‘Wow’ was a very apt word!
In my response to the work, I shall attempt to think with two hats on, perform a ‘variance’ of my own. I begin by trying to ‘suspend disbelief’ and enjoy Variance for what ‘it was’. By saying that, I preoccupy myself with the actual presentation of the work. In contrast, my response towards the end would place more emphasis on the content, attempt to see the work as a critical work of art. That is when I briefly highlight where Variance was not quite satisfying.
The mise en scene of ‘Variance’ was particularly breathtaking. Kuik Swee Boon opted for a minimal, asymmetric stage for the first half of the work. A thick green pole – resembling a bamboo pole, signifying nature – connects floor to ceiling on the left half of the stage. Lamps with small metallic shades and white bulbs extended downwards around this pole, gradually creating a vague reminder of a forest and a star-lit sky. This meant that most of the dancing was done on the right with occasional forays into this ‘forest’. The resulting tableau hinted at a dichotomous relationship between man and environment; hence the title of the work.
Muted colours provided by the lights and costumes painted a visual space that was immense but intimate, melancholy but beautiful. The sound compositions of Darren Ng enhanced the poetry of this setting, endowing the dance with a gentle but unsettling harmony of strings and digital noise. I thought of Hiroshige’s floating world, where human figures running from the rain do not denote a fear but states, albeit poetically, the fact of their mutual existence.
Figure and Ground featured quite strongly in Variance. The dancers, even in pas-de-deuxs, did not so much illustrate their relationships with each other – which is usually the case – as underpin their collective relationship with the space. Spaciousness drowned the dynamic figures in Variance. The stage was made as large and wide as possible, especially in the second half of the work.
After the intermission, Variance moved the dancers from nature, into an urban environ. Rain returned as a poetic motif but to convey a different sensibility. This time, the intimacy of figures was more closely explored (more pas de deux choreography). The otherwise drifting, solitary subjects encounter each other in the harsh environment of the city and by a need for intimacy when the city is drenched by rain.
Here, Variance is more successful than Old Sounds, T.H.E's first full-length work, where the modern landscape was contrasted against the past with naive nostalgia. In Variance, Kuik Swee Boon has paid some guarded attention against the trappings of clichés. Human relationships and social spaces are rendered with more nuanced complexity in Variance.
Of course, the dancing itself warrants much discussion. Yet, I have chosen to look less at it as I suspect that the movement motifs of Variance were not as idiosyncratic or intricate as that of Old Sounds. But is this my own problem in that I was limited by foreknowledge and have too specific an expectation this time? Or could it be because since in Old Sounds, dancers sometimes got a little caught up by the technicalities of complex choreography that in Variance, Swee Boon generally went for something more conventional the better to allow the dancers to fully commit to their performance?
In any case, the dancing of Kuik Swee Boon himself (he performed in the second half of Variance), together with Silvia Yong’s, was highly laudable for their maturity and presence.
In the second half of the double-bill, a solitary male voiceover comes on intermittently to recite private thoughts about the rain and relationships. The use of Mandarin here jarred with me not because it was alternative to the use of English as status quo in international theatre but that it was written and delivered in a particular mode, one that is reminiscent of cheesy mando-pop. The danger of incorporating such cloying lyricism that Chinese pop culture is particularly fond of is that it became hard for me to engage with the text with any seriousness. The economy of means that held clichés at bay in the first half of Variance had given way to an unnecessarily flowery sentimentality in the second half. If the work was critical in its engagement with issues, I was not so sure anymore.
And this brings me back to my perennial problem with performance spectacles. The exuberance of T.H.E's work, like that of large-scale dance productions in general, continues to have the ability to charge our senses; but when it comes to engaging with any issue meaningfully, dance is often found in wanting. At the end of Variance, I want to know if I have learnt anything through its ‘different interpretations of Man’s relationship (not just natural environment but also the man-made environment).’ Here, I am troubled by the handicap that characterises dance works like Variance. The work reinforces stereotypical notions about Man and Environment and does not shed new light on the issue or begin to unpack any of its assumptions. Is the city just tenacious construction noises and strangers alienated by each other? Is nature all trees and stars and benign beauty? In that sense, contemporary dance becomes much-ado-about-not-very-much.
Of course, there are no easy answers to this problem. So here, I humbly invite all the artists at T.H.E. to ponder with me…
Commissioned by the M1 Fringe Festival 2009, and restaged in 2012 at the Goodman Arts Centre Black Box
Writer: Tara Tan
The Straits Times, 9 January 2009
Esplanade Theatre Studio
T.H.E Dance Company's piece on family relationships is easy to like, imperfections and all
Within.Without was build on an unusual family structure: It had four parents. Choreographed by T.H.E Dance Company artistic director Kuik Swee Boon, Zhuo Zihao, Lee Mun Wai and Yarra Ileto, the collaboration yielded plenty of fodder for this sprawling piece about family relationships.
The four creators had distinctly different styles. There was the more quirky and theatrical, such as a scene where the dancers mimed a family meal, as well as more intense and melancholic solos and duets.
At other times, the piece veered into starker, darker territory. In one section, Kuik glided across the floor smoking a cigarette, while Ileto and Zhuo grappled with each other in a battle of martial arts, leaping up and bouncing off the walls.
It was a treat to see Kuik perform. He moved like poetry. Dominating the stage with his presence, he collapsed with wild abandon, then swerved with quiet restraint.
The gems of the night belonged to the duets between Kuik and his wife Silvia Yong. The choreography was intricate and poignant, and spoke of the balance between dependency and self-assertion in a relationship.
After she snuggled her body into the curve of Kuik's torso, he flung her onto the floor, spinning her in dizzying circles. Later, she climbed onto his back but, deliberately eschewing the reliance of a piggyback ride, she chose to stand erect, balancing tall.
Within.Without is not without blemishes.
The choreography was inconsistent and some parts, especially the first section, were underdeveloped. The transitions between the different music segments, from the more baroque classical to experimental instrumental, sometimes jarred.
The lighting by Finnish designer Anna Rouhu was subtle but evocative, creating different worlds for the dancers across the bare, white stage.
Although this experiment yielded interesting results and gave exposure to new choreographers, it could have been more cohesive.
What was definitely noticeable, however, was that this young company is growing stronger. The dancers have improved by leaps and bounds since the group's first performance, Old Sounds, in September last year.
Zhuo, for one, stood out. He moved with a primal ferocity, his strength seemed to stem from an inner, wild calling.
Within.Without did not have as intricate or mature choreography as the work Kuik composes by himself. But like family, one loves it for its imperfections. I look forward to watching this company grow.
"On the threshold"
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
The Flying Inkpot, 7 January 2009
Esplanade Theatre Studio
3 out of 5
In its latest production, Within.Without, T.H.E Dance Company mixed some tried-and-true, familiar contemporary-dance phrases with some real risk-taking. Using a collaborative approach, four dancer-choreographers explored what family means to them, and while each had a distinctive voice, the work melded effectively together as it evolved.
It was a bumpy ride in places, though, and this was not helped by the choice of music, ranging as it did from melodramatic baroque refrains to a soundscape of flushing toilets and water sounds. Still, the performance was testament to the strong sense of cohesion in this young group. All the dancers are strong but more importantly, they can delve beneath the steps to create characters and truthful interpretations. This comes from trust, working together and building an understanding of the intention of the choreography.
Within.Without began with a simple greeting as two of the dancers piled on each other playfully. Throughout the work the seven dancers interacted, folded into themselves and on to each other, as they explored the essence of family bonds and the common dilemma between commitment to the family and to the self.
There were tender moments, episodes that included violent spasms of movement, manipulation, aggression and joy. Feelings were explored through abstract movement rather than sticking to a structured, episodic narrative... each character was able to develop as the scenes unfolded. Father and son, mother and child, married couples, naughty children and rebellious teens all appeared at some point.
While all of these sections pulled people together, they also tore them apart, physically and psychologically: a metaphor for the power of the family unit and each member's struggle within it to find their own individuality. There were light and dark moments and a good mix of graphic descriptions (such as the family miming eating together) and stark symbolism.
For instance, Kuik Swee Boon, cigarette in hand, manipulated his partner by effortlessly swinging her about the stage with careless abandon. However, there was an overall gentleness and serenity in the spirit of the work despite the fragmentation within the family and the fracturing of individual emotions. The dancers, as families do, seemed to regroup and reunite to go forward again. In the end, individual phobias and eccentricities were accommodated by the group.
A challenge for contemporary choreographers is to find original movement that can express their ideas and feelings. While there were some stellar solo performances from the likes of Kuik and Zhuo Zihao, often the endless chain of falling softly onto the floor became repetitive and much of the partnering looked as if it originated in a contact improvisation class.
Despite these shortcomings, the depth of individual expression from each dancer made the piece work. There were insightful performances that demonstrated the wisdom of allowing dancers to explore their own creativity and movement styles. The lighting design by Anna Rouhu supported the work and complemented the floor design, creating an optical illusion of multiple levels and ramps from a flat surface.
The quality of Within.Without was high with even performances by well-trained contemporary dancers. They are interesting to watch as their individuality is allowed to prevail and their understanding of the choreography emerges in each section of the work. It will be interesting to watch the journey of this company as it makes its way in the Singapore dance scene.
Within.Without, T.H.E Dance Company, M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2009 | A Review
Theatrex Asia online，9 January 2009
Esplanade Theatre Studio
人舞团－新加坡中生代舞者郭瑞文所创办－是新加坡舞蹈界的新生命。虽然目前只有六名全职舞者，舞团已呈献好几个优质作品，可是新加坡舞蹈界一股新势力。日前，该舞团在本地剧团必要剧场所举办的M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2009（译为M1新加坡艺穗节2009）里呈现了另一支以家庭作为主题的优良舞作，名为Within.Without。
12 段独、双人以及众舞都自成一格，不管是将舞蹈依段观看或是总体欣赏，都是脑筋激荡，让观众眼前浮现不同的幻想，不同的画面，对家庭之概念进行深思。当中，舞蹈4段，在「Michael Nyman」音乐「Time will Pronouce」激烈音乐的映照下，让舞码产生了一股强劲的生命焕发力，其中身体与身体的重叠行动，让观众感受到家庭成员之间的政治纠葛，不管是妈妈与孩子或是兄弟姐妹之间，都让人对家庭生活改观。另外，舞码总体上也流露了一种潜伏于内在的大气，一种大师的风范。舞团尚未成熟，年轻舞者正在学习新技巧，加上艺术总监郭瑞文也正在研究如何治团，舞蹈技术上的一些瑕疵不在话下，除了年轻舞者得对身体在舞台上敏感度加以注意（不要在舞台上作出没有内容的动作）外，更重要的是舞者眼前的内在风景。在许多段落中，稍微年轻的舞者们眼中，除了卓子豪之外，似乎没有任何的内在情绪和叙述风景可言。舞蹈动作固然重要，但表现角色的内在情感也是不容忽视的。其中，两者兼顾齐佳的，莫过于资深舞者杨秋怡了。
:Review: Within.Without by T.H.E Dance Company
Writer: Chan Sze-Wei
ArtZine online, 11 January 2009
Esplanade Theatre Studio
For several of this year’s M1 Singapore Fringe Festival performances, “family” is interpreted as an enforced relationship; individuals with whom we do not choose our intimacy but to which we nevertheless have to adapt.
T.H.E. Dance Company artistic director Kuik Swee Boon took the festival theme literally and picked out three new choreographers from among his company members (Lee Mun Wai, Yarra Ileto and Zhuo Zihao) and set them on a collision course – to merge differing ideas, movement and music choices into into one related whole.
Four choreographers? It sounded impossible to me. Swee Boon himself admitted that at times even he came close to abandoning the project. But like a close-knit family, they persevered. The dancers allowed Swee Boon to be “uncle” instead of “boss” and submitted themselves to some ruthless curation. The result was comic, abstract and wonderful.
This was a family that many of us would easily recognise: a cacophony of personalities, with idiosyncrasies of movement and musical tastes. Crammed into the confines of a flat drawn in haphazard white marley panels on a black floor, was the human furniture of youthful exuberance, frustration, support and repose, played to a mishmash of Bach, opera, tango, toilet flushes.
The family members scrambled around as a mobile dining table, cleaned the floor, split into couples, trios and some fine solos (notably those by Zihao and Yarra). At times the family seemed too close for privacy, at others, isolated by careful lighting, they listened to someone who wasn’t there.
It isn’t easy to stand, let along dance onstage next to Kuik Swee Boon. He is smouldering and magnificent, and if he wants to dance his own irritated uncle solo while puffing a cigarette upstage, thankfully, not even the Esplanade theatre rules are going to stop him (respectfully, they warned audience members of a “smoking scene”). But his company members hold their own, and hold together. There was fine control of the pacing and compound action, including some unexpected and beautifully executed partnering (Swee Boon/Silvia Yong, Mun Wai/Yarra). This is very fine homegrown dance.
OLD SOUNDS (2008) / O SOUNDS (2010)
Commissioned by the National Heritage Board of Singapore
Writer: Tara Tan
The Straits Times, 31 May 2010
This excellent rebirth of Old Sounds shows how the dance company has really grown
This is a darker, more menacing and more refined reincarnation of Old Sounds, T.H.E Dance Company's debut performance in 2008. But it was also stretched slightly too long, despite a hard-hitting and stormy first half.
An attempt to capture the elusive, escaping presence of dialect and traditions in contemporary culture, O Sounds was choreographed by Kuik Swee Boon and his troupe of fine, local dancers.
Abstract and languid, the piece about the loss of traditions and the impact of environmental changes was flooded with a busy soundscape by local composer Darren Ng.
He created ghostly reverberations, echoes and distorted tracks of dialect songs, and seemed to have been given free rein. While the sounds were masterful on their own, they sometimes overpowered, distracted from and dominated the dance piece.
In the explosive, pulsating start, the dancers twisted with wretched bodies and flung themselves across the stage in spins and spirals. The intense, careening choreography grappled and mesmerised in stunning duets interjected with fine solos, as well as powerful company work.
I have been following the promising troupe's developments closely since its debut and O Sounds was a stellar display of how the company's dancers have grown in technical virtuosity and expressiveness. Demonstrating a tight cohesiveness, they moved like a fervent ball of energy, and carried out Kuik's distinctive choreographic language more fully and competently than previously. It was heartening to see their growth - a testament to the evolution of the contemporary dance scene in Singapore.
Several of the dancers, such as Zhuo Zihao, who moved with violent grace and primal strength, have also started to emerge with distinctive stage charisma and body language.
The others include Silvia Yong, Yarra Ileto, Charlyn Lin, Gao Yu Wen, Foo Yun Ying and Lee Mun Wai. Kuik did not perform in this piece and was sorely missed.
For O Sounds, he retained elements of the 2008 performance, like how the dancers flitted beneath shadows across the stage, but trimmed some of the previous excesses to make it a more cohesive piece.
The multimedia, for instance, which featured dancers "falling" down grey walls and a video of them racing around in a dilapidated house, had a more elegant synergy with the stage performance this time around. It gave an interesting texture and layer to the piece, which grappled with the fading and abandonment of traditions which were once important in everyday life.
Other scenes, such as the tearing off of a long strip of paper, were streamlined from the previous performance, but still came across as rather gimmicky.
Still, this was excellent work from the dance company. While Kuik's choreographic language has sharpened and become more distinct, some dramaturgical or directional support would go a long way in shaping the thematic coherence of this piece.
Still, sit up and take notice, Singapore. T.H.E Dance Company is a home-grown force to be reckoned with.
"Moving the audience with fluid movement"
Writer: Melissa Quek
Business Times, 1 June 2010
Splashing across the stage in sequenced spurts of fluid movement, T.H.E Dance Company wowed the audience with their high level of performance and contemporary dance techniques in their Saturday performance.
In the two years that have passed since the first edition of the piece, the company has clearly settled into artistic director Kuik Swee Boon's style, performing it with assured control of their bodies.
It was only in the duet between Lee Mun Wai and Gao Yu Wen that any hesitation was felt. Technically, the two executed the steps precisely, but there was a stiltedness to the performance that may have been caused by the fact that an old back injury of Lee's had flared up that afternoon. Apart from this minor aberration, Lee's injury was undetectable.
In fact, each individual element of O Sounds - lighting, video projection, sound and choreographic language - was well designed and executed. Unfortunately, in this case the sum of the whole was less than the parts. Because the overall piece lacked punch, coming slightly undefined and incoherent.
Certain symbolically charged motifs made an under-developed appearance. In a short segment, the dancers held onto rags, one in each hand, using them like tattered traditional water-sleeves, and in another, they rolled out a long piece of paper like a pathway, tore at it and danced with the scraps. The objects they danced with could have held great significance but were used more for visual effect than emotional impact.
There were some pleasant surprises in the creative use of space and lighting design by Anna Rouhu. The large panels of giant bamboo blinds hung like ragged scrolls on the stage and the lighting was skillfully manipulated to make rips and tears fade in and out of sight as needed.
In one section, Silvia Yong lay curled on the floor singing a Chinese song, the speed of delivery increasing as the dancers disappeared behind a curtain of black chiffon, lit to create a private space, further distancing the dancers from the audience and highlighting the sense of helpless urgency.
All this was well supported by the soundscore of natural and indsutrial sounds alternating with remixed Chinese dialect songs that set the tone of the various sections. Occasionally, the music became heavily rhythmic, making sense of the rebounding energy and effective use of repetition in the choreographed sequences.
Mid-way through the piece, a film by Gabriela Tropia set to a haunting melody showed the company dancing in an abandoned house. If the film were taken in isolation, the soundtrack would carry dramatic resonance, but in the context of the entire soundscore, the music for the film became a trifle sentimental. Towards the end of the piece, as buildings took shape on the screen, Zhuo Zihao effectively embodied a growing despondency in a solo that fretted over the encroachment of modern civilisation, shifting to an angry explosion of movement that connected with the audience on a visceral level. He was soon joined by the rest of the cast, providing the catharsis that only motion can give.
Kuik's strength lies in the use of movement to create an emotional connection and release for the audience, however he is still grappling with fully developing and capitalising on the conceptual aspects of his piece.
All in all, this version of O Sounds is an improvement on the last one and perhaps by the third edition, it will be perfect.
"Singapore Arts Fest! O Sounds! Sorry but I still can't hear you!"
Writer: Mayo Martin
There’s no group in the local dance scene right now that’s as hungry and ambitious as Kuik Swee Boon’s THE Dance Company. (I still can’t figure out if I should just call them THE full stop.)
But even as I admire Swee Boon’s insistence on restaging and revising their repertoire, I’m really not too sure what O Sounds is trying to say, even on the second go.
It’s been heavily revamped and the most prominent change is the title itself.
Releasing the piece from the tangible weight of its previous title of Old Sounds (from its 2008 premiere as a commissioned piece for the National Museum) and replacing it with something more abstract-ish and poetic (er, as in O Captain, My Captain?) can be seen as Swee Boon’s way of opening the piece to more interpretations. Even as he’s tweaked it to have more of a narrative grounding, that is.
I am still trying to digest the piece and am now questioning some of my initial reactions (Okay lah, I’m reconsidering the possibility of a narrative arc somewhere).
But I'll bring up those initial reactions anyway lah.
First, my amazement at how much the company continues and continues to improved as a cohesive dance unit since that 2008 run, moving with almost clockwork precision (although I’ve seen them perform with more zest).
In particular one of the latter moments when the lights were finally turned up (more on that later) to reveal their technical virtuosity, in particular Zhou Zihao, who is turning out to be, IMHO, the strongest dancer in the pack.
Second, it delivered some nice moments. I still liked the video projection of bodies falling in slow motion as a real-life dancer walked across the screen.
Ditto that part where they were dancing inside the abandoned house in the video before transitioning to one where they're now (voila!) sitting onstage watching the now-empty house as the video slowly flickered to oblivion.
As you can see I’m picking out my fave parts.
It’s because I’m not quite convinced it holds up as a whole.
It’s a commentary on the loss of a society’s heritage. But because of its emphasis on the idea of “sound” by way of the issue of disappearing dialects, it was doubly hard for me to see that rendered/translated into (or supplemented by) movement and imagery.
Particularly when O Sounds for the most part seemed intent on keeping us at a distance.
Very little of the “old sounds”, which is the piece's conceptual fulcrum, was identifiable. Darren Ng has done a lot of commendable stuff in stage productions, but I really thought he should have gone the less-is-more route on this one.
Instead, the recorded chanting and singing and talking were sampled and tweaked and buried in effects that you can’t distinguish them as such. For most of the show, they were simply SFX.
The only time things became a bit clearer to me was, ironically, at that point midway through the piece when the dancers actually stopped dancing and, like us, listened to one of the recorded songs.
(Traditional? In what language? Halp! No speakee dialectee!)
And later as well, when one of them literally brought to life O Sounds-as-in-the-title-as-enunciation by singing that (same?) song.
(Traditional? In what language? Halp! No speakee dialectee!).
Although this she does in the dark.
Which is my other issue. Aside from not being able to “hear” anything, I couldn’t see a darn thing as O Sounds was in shadows most of the time.
When you’re in a big a space as Victoria Theatre, the dim, unfocused lights make it even harder to zoom in on movement and silhouette. So I was grappling not only with ill-defined sounds but ill-defined bodies as well.
There is ambition here, that much I can sense. And Swee Boon has articulated, in theory at least, what the piece’s Grand Idea is supposed to be.
It’s just a matter of hearing again what, if there are future plans of restaging it, O Sounds had been wanting to say since 2008 above the din it's buried underneath.
"The sound of movement to multimedia"
Writer: Cheah Ui-Hoon
Business Times, 19 September 2008
National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre
Movement meshed beautifully with the multimedia in Old Sounds, the debut performance of newly formed T.H.E Dance Company. In the national theatre last week, choreographers Kuik Swee Boon demonstrated how collaboration of two different art forms can be done seamlessly and poetically.
Old Sounds might have been inspired by things old such as derelict buildings and dialects that are slowly being lost here, but the execution of it was ultra contemporary with modern dance and sophisticated geography techniques.
Its a good thing that the video work stood up to the standards set by the recent Olympic feat which was the opening ceremony in Beijing that gave us stunning computer visuals which were immaculately choreographers with movement.
In Old Sounds, videographic images danced hauntingly on the vertical and horizontal scrolls on the wall and floor, with a film of the sanders taking centrestage. Around the images shot beautifully by Brazilian video artist Gabriela Tropia Gomes, Kuik had crafted a dance that was both fluid and fast paced, with intricate pairings and engaging ensemble work.
Live movement on stage segued well into the movement on screen, as the middle section of the dance saw dancers filmed in a derelict building.
Another notable segment was the digital effect of the dancers free-falling on screen. Here, the visual, filmic poetry worked well on the overall work, which was largely sombre, as it provided a moment where one can simply appreciate the multimedia effects and emphasis on movement.
Vernacular speech and old folk songs were stitched and looped together by Darren Ng, along with electronic static, so that there was a drone-like soundscape. It was the monotonous soundscape that proved to be too overwhelming, in fact, dragging down the whole production which should have seem different intensities of emotion and rhythm.
If there was a narrative, and there seemed like there should be one, it could have been sharpened. And the work would have benefited from more light-hearted segments as well. Generally, Old Sounds was too serious a work, bordering on melodrama towards the end and one had a sense that Kuik had trouble with the ending.
But it’s a promising work, and one that heralds more new dimensions of dance to come from this one choreographer.
SILENCE (2007 & 2009)
Commissioned by the Esplanade da:ns Festival 2007, and restaged for T.H.E's first anniversary celebrations in 2009
"Silence speaks volumes"
Writer: Tara Tan
The Straits Times, 24 August 2009
Kuik Swee Boon's first full-length work is one of skill and ambition
It was a bleak, poignant and sprawling landscape of the human condition that choreographer Kuik Swee Boon revealed in Silence, his first full-length work with his one-year-old troupe, T.H.E Dance Company.
First staged in 2007, the dark, brooding 70-minute piece was set to music from progressive rock band Sigur Ros and composer Philip Glass.
Silence was an expansive experience about the chaotic, terror-filled world we live in. The 12 dancers, who included some of strongest young dancers in Singapore, told a tale of isolation. They stood stock-still or tunnelled across the stage, desperate, desolate and alone.
With its broad sweeping strokes and ferocious spins, Kuik's choreography was intricate and intimate, a spiraling force of unspeakable pain and loneliness.
Especially evocative was his duet with Luisa Maria Arias, a principal dancer with the renowned Spanish dance company Compania Nacional de Danza.
Achingly beautiful, the two bodies curved around each other in a delicate pas de deux, which mused on love lost. Protective one moment, but abandoning each other the next, they were tow spiders in a dance of death, weaving a tangled web.
Strands of influence from European contemporary dance masters such as Jiri Kylian and Nacho Duato were heavily present in this work, which was created after Kuik's five years at the Compania Nacional de Danza, where he performed in their works.
He has picked up deft skills from the master choreographers, and it would be interesting to keep an eye on the expansion of his rich and deep dance language.
Silence also featured some of the best and most promising dancers here. Especially noteworthy was Zhuo Zihao, who commanded a huge presence on stage. His feral energy was brutal and tender all at once, and both his control and abandon of control were mesmerising.
Kuik, with his deft, emotive and precise movements, was poetry in motion. He has an unforgettable stage presence, his body filled with longing one moment, and exerting the cold strength of power the next.
The evening deepened into a gritty, seedy world, which spoke of mutual violence and desperation. It told of those who were left behind, abandoned and in shock, while life went on.
Mature and complex, Silence was a delicate, intimate experience which was magnified in the cavernous hall of the Esplanade Theatre.
However, there were quibbles with the piece. For one, the sound design was questionable, with several intrusions and abrupt transitions which marred the evening slightly.
A 70-minute-long piece was also quite hard to sustain. While the stamina to develop and grapple with a long work was admirable, perhaps breaking it up or injecting new momentum into intermittent parts of the work could have aided it along.
There was, however, no question about the ambition behind this work. Apart from marking a milestone in the local dance scene by being only the second Singapore contemporary dance troupe to grace the Esplanade Theatre stage, the group also ventured into an expansive artistic exploration of the human soul.
The one-night only performance was a proud moment for the local dance scene, one witnessed by about 1,500 people, who filled most of the 2,000-seat theatre.
It must surely be a sign that the love for dance here is alive and kicking.
"Celebrating an eventful year with Silence"
Writer: Melissa Quek
Business Times, 28 August 2009
The buzz on the scene when word spread that THE Dance Company was presenting a full-length piece in the Esplanade Theatre's 2,000-seat theatre was that it was too soon. However, using this large space was a natural progression for this company, as its repertoire tends to involve extensive travelling.
Although it is only the second local company to present work on this stage, the past one year has been effectively used to solidify its image as a company with strong technical delivery and a visually exciting repertoire. Its reception last Saturday gives hope that the Singapore audience is not wholly unresponsive to local contemporary dance.
In the previous incarnation of Silence, held at the Esplanade Theatre Studio, the energy of the dancers practically spilled off the stage area and overwhelmed the audience. Artistic director/choreographer/dancer Kuik Swee Boon's solo - danced in the vast emptiness of the foggy theatre stage to a haunting melody sung by Zhuo Zihao - also made more sense than its previous version when it seemed out of place and purely about movement.
In addition to Kuik and Zhuo, Lee Mun Wai completes the male cast who stole the show with their lighting-charged liquid movements and strong stage presence. Of note was Zhuo's performance in a solo where the athletic and dangerous edge produced the same adrenaline rush one gets from watching urban jumpers. His agility in leaping, bouncing and darting across the stage explains why his fellow dancers call him a monkey.
However, the true triumph of the night was the cohesiveness of the company. This large group of nine dancers performed the rhythmically complex movement that required an idiosyncratically nuanced execution with seamless harmony.
Unfortunately, while guest artist Luisa Maria Arias (who Kuik met at the Compania Nacional de Danza in Spain) is an undoubtedly beautiful dancer, her presence in only two duets set her apart in movement and style.
The duets by themselves were ethereal as the delicate symmetry of shapes formed between Arias and Kuik and the interplay of caution and abandon in their approach was reminiscent of the sinister rituals of mating spiders. Yet, the first duet especially caused a break in the organic progression of the piece, and Arias' presence as an "outsider" here marred the unity of expression and execution from the rest of the cast.
Re-staging Silence for THE's anniversary was an excellent choice, because the themes covered in this piece espouse the human expression that THE stands for. Set to music by a variety of genres ranging from Radiohead to Philip Glass, this dance explored the idea of finding the unseen side of human nature. In particular, it presented the dark side of the moon as an analogy for deeply hidden facets of humanity, as the dancers climbed and jumped, appearing and disappearing around a darkly shaded three-storey well.
In addition, the progress of the piece reflected Kuik's own development as a choreographer. While his unique style and movement quality remain throughout, in the latter portions of the piece Kuik demonstrated a greater comfort with his movement vocabulary and confidence in his choreographic choices. The first section we watched was also the first to be choreographed and staged in Beijing in 2006. This section was packed with movement and driven to the point of creating a frenetic pace that left the heart pounding. In contrast, we find that in the last section, newly choreographed for this staging, Kuik's composition contains more space - space for the audience to breathe and reflect.
"Silence! Goats! Goosebumps!"
Writer: Mayo Martin
TODAYOnline, August 2009
Have you ever heard of the Goosebump Method of Art Criticism?
It’s when you measure the impact of a particular work – a painting, a movie, a play – by the frequency and intensity of your goosebumps.
It’s a lesser known method compared to say, the Gag Method or the Walkout Method, which while fairly common in France, is non-existent in Singapore.
But Goosebumpism is a pretty cool way of gauging a play. Instead of saying it was good or bad, you just go “I had goosebumps!”
Your critics can’t really say anything after that because, well, how can you contest that? That they didn't have goosebumps?
I’ve had my fair share of these while watching plays. Like Finger Players’ Poop. But your Resident Art-Throb didn’t have a blog then, so I didn’t have a chance to scientifically assess it.
Today, however, I’ve just come back from two wonderful productions (yes, Noor Effendy Ibrahim, my sadistic streak continues) so I thought I’d try it out on them.
The Goosebump Review of T.H.E. Dance Company’s Silence
At least four instances. Two of which were pretty intense, lasting somewhere between 5 and 10 seconds.
Particularly, during the scene where they were dancing to Radiohead’s Pulk/Pull and the eerily beautiful scene Winds, from the far side of the moon, where the dancers were slowly weaving in and around this massive centerpiece. A minor one during the Philip Glass piece sequence.
Seriously though, you should try and go catch it (Sat, Aug 22, 8pm at the Esplanade Theatre). It’s an ambitious and beautiful work that’s matched by the super-committed and intense performances by the dancers. Good decision to stage it at the Theatre. The lighting design was fantastic, swathing the stage in blinding light one moment and enveloping it in shadows the next.
Overall, the piece breathed. As did the pores on both my arms.
And now for something completely different.
The Lord of the Rings Review of T.H.E. Dance Company’s Silence
They were wearing green ponchos at some point, which made them look like hobbits.
The 10m-high tower prop was, as every Tolkien fan would recognize, a metaphor for Barad-dur.
Swee Boon’s unique choreography saw them crawling around a lot, making awkward animal-like movements, which allowed the dancers to unleash the Gollum within.
Very precioussssss work. Now can someone else aside from the Esplanade sponsor them please?
Okay, back to goosebumps.
The Goosebump Review of Cake’s The Comedy of the Tragic Goats
One instance. Not mine though, but my girlfriend’s.
Me? Nada. But I was still completely enthralled by their new production, which is also on as the same time as Silence.
And guess what, no dialogue!
In RAT-speak, it’s two Mr. Beans doing extremely black comedy and extremely physical theatre to tell the story of two detainees suspected of killing a dictator.
Admiration goes out to the two actors (Rizman Putra and Najib Soiman) who went all out, and to visual artist and first-time director Mohd Fared Jainal who found the right vehicle for his debut.
It’s hilarious, it’s brutal, it’s politically loaded, it’s humanising. I’m putting this down as one of my favourite plays this year.
Writer: Stephanie Burridge
The Flying Inkpot, 21 August 2009
4 out of 5
Although Silence is a dark and sombre work, which has evolved over three years to the current version, it is elegant and sophisticated in its execution, and its themes of alienation are complex and intelligently realised. In a seemingly post-holocaust world, Man finds himself dominated by the technology of a new age and becomes increasingly isolated and unable to communicate with fellow beings.
The set piece of a rock-climbing wall symbolises the struggle to overcome this sense of isolation - it is beautifully, if dimly, lit by Anna Maria Rouhu, who gives the dancers' bodies a wonderful golden glow and cleverly splits the vast stage into focused spaces. The sculptured forms of bodies grasping the wall in various poses left a strong impact. The dancers of T.H.E Dance Company are stylish and perform with assured contemporary technique.
The choreography, however, is relentless and lacks an emotional range. Over-busy dancers tossing themselves continuously around the space with faces hidden by hair were like monotones in the narrative of the dance. Although the theme underpinning the dance was the loss of the soul in a modern world, the lack of time for reflection overshadowed the purpose for both the audience and the dancers. At present this young cast seems to be dancing with an intention that remains somewhat obscured in the mind of their mentor and choreographer, and they need some breathing space to unlock their own sensuality and add expression to the choreography.
Talented performer Zhuo Zihao had a brief moment of contemplation in a searching solo, a welcome change of pace that let us observe the face and personality of one of the dancers. Such moments were far too few. The selection of music was also problematic, particularly the over-used piece by Phillip Glass that made Silence reminiscent of a contemporary-dance class, especially with phrases incorporating lots of repetition and well-worn choreographic devices.
True meaning came through with the soulful dancing of artistic director and choreographer Kuik Swee Boon and his strangely erotic partnering with Luisa Maria Arias. They found the deepest purpose within the dance, and an emotional space that was missing in other scenes. The relative simplicity of the movement, and the confidence to take it slow and focus on each other's needs, only comes with years of performing and a mature understanding of the complexity of the themes.
Silence is an absorbing but ponderous work that needs more contrast in form and content. It is poetic and there were some poignant moments of people trying to connect only to be inevitably thrown apart to continue their relentless movement. Gloomy and pessimistic, the choreography worked through an exploration of how communication can break down between people in a technologically advanced world.
Nevertheless, in 70 minutes of dance, there was originality and a creative exploration of the narrative underpinning the movement. The dancers all gave quality, committed performances setting a benchmark for contemporary dance in Singapore. T.H.E Dance Company is a welcome addition to the local dance scene, and each season shows increasing maturity and refinement. They are young and willing but need to be given moments to shine, taking emotional risks and revealing themselves as performers rather than dancers who simply move well. This will be the challenge for the company as it progresses and takes a giant leap in its ambitions to be a contemporary-dance group of an international standard.
"A Silence too loud to be enjoyed fully"
Writer: Cheah Ui-Hoon
Business Times, 19 October 2007
Esplanade Theatre Studio
There is an interviewing technique based on the notion that people are not comfortable with silence. So, if an interviewer doesn't pelt an interviewee with continuous questions and allows some "awkward" silence to set in, the interviewee might just go ahead to say more than he should, just to fill it.
That was basically the feeling that one got from Kuik Swee Boon's Silence, a dance that just had too much happening for the audience to enjoy its intent to the fullest.
The evocation of silence - in between the flow from a dance to another, for instance - could have been stretched and maximised for better effect. Having said that, the former Singapore Dance Theatre dancer's re-entry into the Singapore dance scene - after five years with a top European dance company - shows strong choreographic potential with this new work, with a distinctive European flavour, that Singapore hasn't seen for a long time.
Kuik's highly commendable hour-long choreographic effort enough elements in it to pique the contemporary dance fan: a strong visual illustration of the abstract theme underpinning for the dances, fresh and arresting dance moves, dance sequences that flowed smoothly and were well-matched to music, and a nicely rounded structure.
All which indicates like wine, his choreography will mature to become more unique, and more full-bodied, in time to come. Silence didn't try to portray a storyline, but was more like a sequence of different movements, all crafted to evoke the awareness of various forms of communication between people.
When one is silent, that's when you can observe all the different forms of communication, hence the title, explains Kuik.
The dance moods swung from sinister to sweet, from contemplative to carefree in sections that showcased the fluid, Rubik cube-like interlocking duet between Spanish dancers Jonatan de Luis Mazagatos and Cristina Garcia Fonseca, the frenzied, acrobatic energy of local dancer Ix Wong, and then Kuik's own graceful, mesmerising solo.
Kuik's solo was one of the highlights of Silence, one which allowed for some breathing space, as he performed almost freestyle, it felt like, to a plaintive, broken-voiced singing of a fellow dancer.
That section gave the whole piece a sense of rawness, to counter-balance an otherwise polished piece.
Another thing to note was the sense of uniform and matching energy that the dancers embodied, so they danced well as a whole, without one or two individuals standing out too obviously.
Partnering moves were done smoothly, while props like the raincoats and the walls were also cleverly incorporated into the dance.
Kuik's piece spoke volumes, most of all, and gave a glimmer of hope for the local choreographic scene.
SOMEWHERE... WE HEAR (2006 & 2012)
Commissioned by the Singapore Arts Festival 2006, as part of the "Forward Moves" quadruple bill. Restaged by T.H.E Second Company at the CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2012
"Young dancers' poignant pieces"
Writer: Germaine Cheng
The Straits Times, 6 December 2012
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Established alongside T.H.E Dance Company in 2008, its semi-professional youth wing, T.H.E Second Company, grooms young dancers by providing them with adequate training and regular performance opportunities. Their showcase is a regular, well-received fixture at T.H.E's annual Contact contemporary dance festival.
This year, they have programmed two premieres with a perennial Company favourite.
The show sees the revival of artistic director Kuik Swee Boon's 2006 Somewhere... We Hear. He addresses issues of migration and identity by portraying his four dancers as strangers in a strange land. They wield their suitcases like shields, sit on them like stools and drape over them like friends. They are defined by their foreignness and united in a nobler pursuit. Swivelling turns unravel into resolute walks towards the light. Beneath the graceful attitudinising, there is a pious cry for paradise.
Liz Fong's That Which Remains... displays the transparent influence of Kuik and a long-standing involvement with the Company. The dancers' limbs unfurl to form classical lines, then break into delicate contortions.
However, Fong's work lacks the mystery by which Kuik's engages. Taking inspiration from the haunting account of a motor accident's sole survivor, she leaves no room for guesses by using a wrecked car frame and enacting sequences from the harrowing event on two strewn car seats.
Bookended by poignant pieces of a similar strand, French choreographer Sebastien Ledig's The Butterfly Effect is an unexpected jolt.
The performers seem comparatively ill at ease with the convulsive tremors of Ledig's movement vocabulary. Anna Rouhu bathes the stage in a stark shade of grey, on which the ensemble writhes and bobs to an unrelenting throbbing bass. The men's unflinching performance is laudable, but they are let down by the women, who do not show the same verve or abandon.
"Movers and shakers"
Writer: June Cheong
The Straits Times, 12 June 2006
Esplanade Theatre Studio
This show nudged the dance scene here in the right direction.
By pitching Forward Moves as the creation of four home-grown choreographers, rather than the dance companies the represent – namely, Odyssey Dance Theatre, Arts Fission, Compania Nacional de Danza and Ah Hock and Peng You- the attention of the audience was drawn to their individual strengths.
Freed from such tagging tyrannies, the four – Danny Tan, Elysa Wendi, Kuik Swee Boon and Aaron Khek – gave free rein to their imagination and expressed their personal obsessions.
In telling reflection of the minor status of dance as an art form here, the mixed bill of contemporary works featured few props and even fewer performers in each dance.
Instead, the choreographers told simple stories of loves and battles lost, making for a night which was accessible as it was affecting.
The first half was a heavy with mood, showcasing Providence by Tan and Touch-Me-Not by Wendi.
Using as his props watersleeves- long, trailing sleeves used in Chinese classical dance to accentuate a performer’s femininity – Tan weaved a metaphor of the burden and yet necessity of tradition in modern society.
As Tan put on watersleeves, his body became subservient to the undulations of the soft, billowing curves of the cloth as his arms waved and slashed about in the air.
When he threw off the watersleeves finally, his body regained its freedom. Like a snake shedding skin, he heaved a sigh of relief before launching into a dizzying round of spins while he gestured limply with his hands.
Next up was Wendi who, with her work Touch-Me-Not, created a paean to those abandoned in love.
Accompanied by a haunting remix of Cyndi Lauper’s If You Go Away by artist Roslina Yusoff, dancers Scarlett Yu and Bobbi Chen echoed each other in their spins, tumbles and convulsions.
While the performances in the first half were evocative of single ideas, those in the second half were layered more densely.
Exploring the issue of migration, Kuik earned brownie points for finding humor in a serious topic, but he was ultimately unable to reconcile the weightier, introspective second segment with the first.
Kuik’s first segment had four dancers cavorting about with four suitcases to an increasingly frenzied rhythm, reflecting the excitement and hopes of new migrants.
The pace built to a punishing intensity and was abruptly broken off to phasing a graceful series of balletic leaps to express a migrant’s anxiety and loneliness.
Meanwhile Khek’s piece - more physical theatre than dance - was a droll observation on the ways in which real life silences one’s inner child.
It had him and dancer Ix Wong engaging in a series of petty competitions such as leaping over each other or walking faster than each other.
Most poignant of all was the scene in which Wong struggled to put on a shirt, jacket and a pair of trousers as Khek tugged at them desperately, as if he were hanging for dear life.
The four choreographers showed amply that they have what it takes to reach out to, and sustain, the interest of the audience.
The next move for them would be to keep creating and delivering on that latent talent.
T.H.E SECOND CO: 2014 - 2015
T.H.E SECOND CO: 2012 - 2013
T.H.E SECOND CO: 2010 - 2011