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Bernice Lee

Bernice Lee

© Photo by Tan Ngiap Heng

Bernice Lee stumbles through life and occasionally gets things done. Bernice recognises that this bumbling probably serves best in children’s books, but the wonderment that results seems too important to do otherwise. Therefore she toggles between cautious, academic research, and nonsensical, experimental play.

Bernice Lee starts falling into a rabbit hole of her thoughts because she doesn’t believe in duality. Thinking herself into tangled knots is one of her best talents. This is part of what attracts her to dance, improvisation and performance – the acts of thinking, doing and making, un-knot into a precise moment.
She is grateful to the dance department at The Ohio State University and three months at Trinity Laban, for pushing this mode of thinking.

As a performer, one of her favourite things to research is to watch and re-watch gifted television performers make micro-movements with their faces. She adores the meticulous detail in any given moment. In watching and re-watching these moments, she gets to savour the actors’ artistry in revealing the characters’ Unspoken journey. This interest in the facial movement began when she devised a role as “The Wanderer” in Loop Theory (The Substation, 2011). While a dancer at Frontier Danceland (2012-2014) she focused more on bodily physicality and performance states, then shifted again to developing performative expression during the projects “Retrospective” by Xavier Le Roy, and “Indulgence” by Eng Kai Er (both 72-13Theatreworks, 2015).

Studying screen performances has deepened into an obsession upon joining Maya Dance Theatre in 2014. She is in the process of figuring out if/how these efforts translate for live performances, where proximity and immediacy are completely different. Meanwhile, these exercises in training her eye to pick up detail have been very helpful not just for the work of performance, but for the work of being politically aware. The two are often intertwined.

From 2016, her interests brought her to working and playing more with children. Her ongoing project Baby Baby Mama Bear enjoys growing organically with a performing toddler and his mother while thinking through issues of womanhood. Her works to date — “Living National Creatures” (Frontier Danceland, 2013), “I Am Unentitled” (Maya Dance Theatre, 2015) and “We The People” (Dance Nucleus, 2016) have always been playful and driven by humour. But her next projects will build more overtly upon her curiosity in childhood and children. Not just because they are our future, but because we were all there once.

Right now, writing about performance is one of the ways in which she attempts to undo knots. In commenting and verbalising, she creates new strands of thinking, untangling confusion and making new ones. She has faith new conversations and possibilities will result.

Bernice Lee is the new arts correspondent for FiveLives – A Contemporary Dance Initiative.