Binary – International Artists Showcase featured two absolutely refreshing pieces in Singapore’s landscape of dance. Stigma by Kitt Johnson showed us how a dance solo with imaginative costuming can be extremely captivating while Dan-su by Shintaro Oue showed us how it is possible for audiences to laugh from beginning to end.
A haunting figure emerges from the back of the audience. Dressed in an oversized black trench coat, black head cover and with a hair net covering her face, Kitt Johnson looked like an otherworldly creature that has a face covered in scales. She eerily locked eyes with audience members as she floated down the stairs, hobbled across the front row and zigzagged diagonally across the stage.
Accompanied by a rumbling soundscape with high pitch noises, the world of Stigma is peculiar but stunning. Audiences were treated to a visual feast where we follow this strange creature as it shape-shifts from scene to scene. In one image, exposing only her face, the coat swallowed the creature’s head and its arms in the oversized coat were outstretched and floated about. In another instance, the coat was brought up beside her face and it slowly peeled open to reveal a human body but it oddly felt more like a mystical creature. The creature then retreated into the darkness.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Stigma’s brilliance is in its ingenious use of the costume to give life to the different personalities of the mysterious creature. At times, the coat is rolled up and seated on its back like a shell. The world was silently still and the creature, with a warm orange glow on its skin, was on all fours, crawling. In another moment, the coat became a tail. With her back facing the audience, the coat hung around the waist like a long skirt. An alien sight is formed as she flapped her elbows back and forth, the muscles and skin of her bare back twisting and contorting.
As I observed the foreign creature and its unfamiliar world, I sat there with a sense of wide-eyed curiosity and genuine amazement. And perhaps it is this curious lens without preconceptions or prejudice that Stigma encourages us to approach the other. Despite being 20 years old Stigma still feels fresh and avant-grade.
In stark contrast, to the dark world of Stigma, Dan-su is Shintaro Oue’s light-hearted and playful attempt at pulling out all the stops in breaking theatre conventions. Mirai Moriyama first appeared on stage with the audience still chatting and the house lights still turned on. As if in some sort of pain, he winced, groaned and his face contorted. He then began to go into a squat and tensed every muscle in his body. The audience laughed. As if experiencing constipation, he held onto his stomach and continued groaning loudly. And eventually, a small object came out of his mouth! He walked to the GoPro placed on the stage; the live projection showed that it is a tiny toy human figure wearing only a black thong.
But his groaning did not stop. All of a sudden, we heard an even louder groan from the side of the stage. Moriyama stopped. Daisuke Omiya appeared from the side, clutching his thigh and in great agony continued to scream and limp his way towards the center of the stage. He would then suddenly stop, let go of it (clearly breaking the performative act), walk back to the side and start the whole groaning routine again. Omiya later placed another tong-clad but more muscular toy figurine in front of the GoPro.
Dan-su is a delightful play with expectations, contradictions and wonderful use of comedy that kept audiences constantly laughing. It was almost as if when Oue tried to violate expectations at every corner, hilarity ensued. In one instance, Omiya screamed “My knee! My knee!” repeatedly in agony while executing virtuosic movements that clearly demonstrated his knee was more than fine. The amount of laughter throughout the show was more akin to stand-up comedy rather than a usual contemporary dance performance.
The literal translation of the Japanese title “dan-su” is “dialogues”, which definitely encapsulates the work. Although highly structured and choreographed, it feels as if the piece is open and free enough to allow for jokes to be made up on the spot or for performers to make a “mistake” but turn it into a golden moment. When the trio appeared to make a mistake (which I thought was planned), they said “again” and then go on to try to do the move a second time.
At one point, Oue, exhausted from a tiring sequence, delivered a monologue that implored the audience to imagine in their minds, him dancing a special “never seen before” dance “just for you”.
The sublime mix of live filming and projection combined with live performance made Dan-su an intriguing multi-dimensional piece that allowed audiences to watch from different perspectives. None of it felt superfluous and the eye was constantly fed. In one episode, chalk all scattered all over the floor and a performer began drawing. With the GoPro then suspended from above, audiences could clearly see the sketches. The other two performers then brought the audience on an “organ tour”, following the drawings on the floor of our digestive system from the mouth all to the way to the other end – reminding us of the wet sensations in the mouth, the vibrations in our throats and long length of our intestines.
Even when you thought the show was over, Oue still had surprises up his sleeve. After the performers took their bow, Oue offered his awfully sweaty top as a gift to anyone in the audience. Laughter ensued and no one took up the offer. He left the top in front anyway if anyone changed their minds. He also invited audiences to take as much chalk as they would like. While not many took home the post-show gifts, I am certain many walked away with aching stomachs and a broader sense of what dance can be.