“起风了 Rising Winds” by well-loved local choreographer Albert Tiong for T.H.E. Second Company opens Asian Festivals Exchange (AFX). Eight chairs are suspended in the air, above eight chairs arranged in a row. There is a sense of claustrophobia, the chairs squashing space between them. Unisons and repeated motifs of falling planks and wiping hands are built and broken quickly in a tightly-controlled composition. Rhythmic pattern and spatial pathways anchor the piece, alongside Tiong’s familiar vocabulary of lush spirals, deep lunges and expansive sweeps.
If there is a political or philosophical statement, it lies in moments like a woman standing still on a chair for a very very long time. Or it could be something about the two men and two red chairs, the eight suspended chairs which, frustratingly, never go anywhere.
“Ode to youth” is performed and created by hardworking Korean duo Seon Jeongchan and Lee Younghun. Two men doing all they can to draw a laugh, quoting moves from locking to contact partnering. After spending a long time showing off acrobatic skill and non-stop action, one dancer finally breaks. He comes close to the front row, and gasps/proclaims his name and his exhaustion. This true moment draws the most laughs. The audience, already restless with their super high energy entertainment, enjoys their honesty instead.
“Dialogue on the green way” by Japan’s Kubota Mai is delicately crafted, a work that needs to be seen. Formalist in nature, looking purely at dance through sculpting time and space. It hints enigmatically at other references and meanings, creates anticipation with unusual pauses. It is an intriguing sound selection; with “Ghana” by up-and-coming Tokyo band D.A.N. quoting Allen Ginsberg’s “Kral Majales”, and an old jazz record by Tadaharu Nakano. Mai’s chemistry with male dancer Uchida Tokio carries the conversation between male and female, acrobatic moves and precise gestures, storytelling and abstraction. We travel a satisfying journey with them.
In the second part of AFX, two works-in-progress are shared. A collaboration of Zhuo Zihao and the comic Korean duo results in goofy dark comedy wearing singlets and shorts. They ended in a cliffhanger, to which the cry is “more!” The second is a collaboration of Goh Shou Yi and Mai. An introspective piece framed by a large cube, its plastic sheets a suffocation hazard. The opening scene reminds me of Sadako. In a beautiful ending sequence, the box is finally tilted and Mai is freed, the release of air like a release of self.
AFX makes room for new collaborations. This means room for miscommunication and difficulty, but also for growth and possibility. The audience is invited into the challenge. Watching two hours of dance can be exhausting business, even in the face of incredible athleticism and heartfelt artistry.
In witnessing an explosion of ideas, sometimes barely held together by a singular intent, what one feels is the bursting passion for making and sharing dance, a desire to connect and communicate in a divided world.