Skin Tight is a work that feels hard to place.
It has some elements familiar now to contemporary dance works – singing, movement composition, tableaus – but as a whole, it reads like a tightly measured emotional drama, exposed through narratives that come from the subconscious. There is an air of alienation throughout the piece, an atmosphere that keeps the piece feeling consistent in spite of its multiple scene changes. Sound design by Zai Tang sensitively transports the work through its landscape, carries our bodies into another world.
Dressed in corporate attire, Ah Hock/Aaron Khek shifts his weight as if running on the moon, Ix Wong clasps his hands above his head, weaving and unweaving his fingers together, and Joey Chua lays on the floor, her back to us. They are performing on a red circle that spans most of the stage, the “little red dot”.
In the next scene, they stand in a tight circle as they shift their weight front and back, opening up as they walk and run – a physical task of coordination and concentration, people finding harmony in moving together. When they break out into synchronised dance phrases that look like what school students learn, it is a bit of a shock. There is humour, but not of the sort that invites laughter. The performers seem at ease with their states of being, even though they look like they are making a statement on conformity, and I feel uncomfortable watching grown men and women performing classroom movement with such conviction. At one point, Ix is left alone on stage, playing a virtuosic solo that uses breath and emotion, a controlled explosion of self-expression.
The performers later appear in a series of beautiful zentai suits custom made by Ix – even when they perform with sensuality and flirtation, it is with an air of loneliness. In an actual moment of intimacy in Skin Tight, when one undresses another, they suggest desire but avoid forcing us into voyeurism, brilliantly saying that true affection cannot be shared. They pass through tableaus representing sexual debauchery, all slightly awkward and a little obvious, not evoking any desire but showing aloof distance within intimacy. Even when Khek sings Cantonese karaoke-style it is both exhibitionistic and shy, a wanton act of self-indulgence that teases us with the question of why we are fearful and limit ourselves daily. In the film by Russell Morton, we see the performers in an array of colourful zentai suits traipsing through the streets in Singapore, joyously anonymously free.
Something lurks just beneath the surface of the work.
It is dance, a choreography of moods and images, rather than the bodies which carry those. I left the theatre unsure of how I felt, and unsure of myself on my skin.
Bernice Lee with FiveLines.
SKIN TIGHT Ah Hock and Peng Yu (Singapore) an M1 Singapore Fringe Festival Commission, 13-14 January 2017 at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.