In How To Be Alone, choreographer Chen Jiexiao willingly reveals personal vulnerability as he, in fact, shows us how he is alone. Four dancers in black form a chorus while he is dressed in white, a lone figure seeing things, feeling lost in a crowd, also expressing his inner noise through the chorus.
Perhaps inspired by maximalism, or just accepting the reality of our cluttered, screen-filled world, he deals not only with the body dancing in space but also with the body of the pre-recorded film, live feed, music, props, handheld lights, stage lights, everyday lights. In juggling these elements, his primary focus seems to be thematic – expository more than formal or structural. The result is work full of compelling imagery and immersive performances from his cast. His dance films, spliced between live scenes, are particularly outstanding. A roller coaster ride. The camera carries us swerving and flying as different dancers turn on an invisible faucet, lie on some stairs, crash into the sea.
The entire performance is full of similarly disparate images, tied together only by the sheer emotional power of five people being alone together, while the audience observes from two sides.
Generally, with dance pieces, the lack of narrative logic can be understood as compositional arrangement creating emotional impact or abstract states. “How To Be Alone” seems to take this abstraction a step further by bombarding us with imagery, drawing us in with its dark humour sometimes, confronting us as dancers stand and stare, cutting us adrift as lights switch on and off. The arc of the piece is as discomfiting as the angles of the film shots. Sometimes it gets tedious as dancers perform dance phrases together, at times it gets exciting when they wrestle in the most bizarre positions. This is the sense of time when we are alone – sometimes it is an absorbing state of being, other times it simply goes on for way too long and the ticking clock can drive you mad.
The work reflects the conditions under which it was created – as dance artists juggling several roles, the output can often feel like the parts were more than the whole. Authentic and personal, drawing inspiration from several sources, desiring more resource to plough its fertile grounds. Jiexiao seems determined to refine his broader choreographic purposes; ExxonMobil Campus Concerts and NUS Centre for the Arts have given him a step forward.
How To Be Alone by Chen Jiexiao at NUS Centre for the Arts 5th of September 2017.