© Photos by Jeff Low, Courtesy of Style Revisited.
Gui or 归, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Studio Theatre, 26 of November by Bernice Lee. Initiated by Max Chen and led by several generations of NAFA graduates, ___ is a new platform bringing together dedicated dance artists and the alumni of NAFA, one of only two tertiary institutes offering a dance program.
Designed as a support system for dance practitioners out in the field, the production had a friendly neighbourhood coffee shop vibe, with most choreographic works featuring playful gestures and naturalistic interactions.
There was also plenty of ambition, as choreographers are sometimes proposing too many dance ideas, and used impressive high flying kicks and virtuosic lifts, almost to prove they got their money’s worth in college.
Aesthetically, what resulted was a constant tension between the casual (“bochap” / heck-care) and the superlative, as if I had passed through the back entrance of a super fancy hotel with former service attendants on a smoke break.
When I entered the theatre, it was hazy, and performer/improviser Seow Yi Qing was lying in a corner, dressed in cosy baby pink sweats.
Her smallness in the largeness of the space was striking, she was like a baby. The work itself seemed to have that same desire to return to a piece of innocence before social conditioning, before a dance career of injury and heartache, before all the years of being asked to prove her worth on stage. She deals with the formality of the theatre by drawing us into her personal experience of it, sometimes a reflex that reduces the impact of her questions.
On a complete political contrast, the closing piece “The Human Cage” embraces the cliches of contemporary dance choreography – cotton tunics, music by Olafur Arnalds and Ezio Bosso, walking with intense focus, athletic movement.
The performers move with their bodies pulled in multiple directions, impressively matching the music’s intensity. Choreographer Elizabeth Lee dances with fantastic conviction, but I wish she would push for more choreographic nuance.
It feels like a work that would suit student dancers very well, with its well-paced arc and overt symbolism.
Similarly, Kenneth Tan’s “When I Ate The Sun” made use of contemporary dance trends – a shirtless man in lounge pants, and plenty of lounging, swooping and spiralling.
The most earnestly heartfelt piece of the evening, helped by Max Richter’s music and the fact that it’s a self-made solo. Kenneth, makes excellent choreographic use of stage lights, with lighting design by Albert Wileo: laying pensively in a window of light.
Dancing with his own shadow ― playing with a simple butterfly gesture, at first awfully cliched, then made beautifully transporting by a square of light casting a giant shadow puppet ― finally abstract-dance-showering in a circle of light that looked like a tinted glass window. He projects text asking “Why me?”, and his silent dancing body, vulnerable next to the words on the wall, underscore a deeply personal struggle.
Goh Jiayin’s “We Leave Our Mark In Space” is a trio of three women, a flurry of movement and activity, sparked off by a dancer running on the spot. There are awkward cuts between each piece of music, as the choreographer tries to suggest a cinematic scene change, an erudite choice that needs a more deft hand.
There are great details like a dance for toes or a dance of catching a slippery fish or even warming their hands by the fire pretending to “magick” each other. However, the piece needs more editing.
The pop choreography of the night is Wiing Liu’s “Triumph and Disaster”, with its head-banging hair-flinging dance-partying, and twerk jokes. The work seems light and easygoing, a scroll through Instagram, but is, in fact, pierce through with acute observation and a pained tone of bitterness.
The work ends with Felicia Lim in a corner with her head and hair down, hiding in plain sight as she rocks to unheard music.
Fionna Kwok enthusiastically demands that we learn some dance steps (“right up, left up, fold your arms”) and do it with her.
Nobody gets as into it as she does, the group activity mostly falls flat, but Fionna pushes through, sturdily commanding with her microphone.
She keeps gleefully shouting, on tempo, at us, “up, and up, and down, and down, punch your arms in different directions, punch your neighbours” and finally as the lights fade, “punch everyone!”
Wing’s work is truly a millennial’s perspective – gutsy and knowing, cheeky and fiercely passionate about dance, but also sensitive to the fact that violence and derision come from all corners.
To put on a show and make a work of art takes a community, and this platform successfully builds that. I want for there to be more bravery, interrogation and innovation in each work because being beautiful and cute in our adult world simply isn’t enough.