Blunt Knife is a confessional performance I was not ready to watch but it is now a performance I surely will never forget.
Eng Kai Er offers me a medal as I walk into the performance space – Skate Singapore 2001. This makes me think I never really cared for awards and medals myself, but there is a traumatic story underneath this shiny golden circle of pride.
Once upon a time, Kai was an ice-skater, I understand that by the old evidence around the room: skating costumes, skates, and old beige tights. Initially, I thought this was a low budget performance, but I was wrong. It is intimate instead as if we were in Kai’s bedroom. She takes off woolen gloves to confess that ‘a real skater doesn’t wear gloves’ and finds her hands naked, cold and exposed. She adds ‘skate didn’t love me back.’
Kai passes around the audience a pair of old and worn-out skates for our inspection after which she begins tracing the muscles on her leg sliding the skate’s blade over the skin. Underneath the knee, she applies extra pressure exposing the strong calf muscle only a trained athlete has. I am not here to watch a beautiful contemporary dance show, I think. The tracing finishes by dragging-out the right corner of her mouth and I get chills up my spine. She wouldn’t cut herself on stage? And thankfully she didn’t.
Lights off, the performance continues with a video of young Kai skating on ice, these are relics from the past pre-HD video and we can see her doing the real thing: upright spins and axel jumps, I am impressed and concerned to what’s beneath all this. On stage, Kai starts skating with rollerblades, the classical music behind dramatises the practice but she looks increasingly uptight and upset. The confessional performance takes a deep dive in Kai’s life when she admits to having had a relationship with her coach as a teenager from the youthful age of 14 years old. We are confronted with the facts: she consented to this relationship of love, she even saw him off at the airport ’to move to a better country’, she admits with disappointment. It’s terrifying when Kai reaches out to the audience with personal questions. She is happy to share her trauma, but I, on the other hand, refuse to answer any of her personal and provocative questions. I listen attentively however to the others responding if they have suffered sexual abuse as teenagers, as adults, with consent or in the absence of it imagining innocent teenage love.
Each medal initially placed on our necks has a date and comes with a story, Kai goes back to everyone asking what we were doing in that year, always adding to our answers the painful circumstances of her past life. When did she first fell in love with her coach? When did the sexual abuse start? Why did she tattoo his name on her body at the tender age of 16 years old?
The abuse lasted for years and Kai asks the audience to decide if it was love or cruel abuse from an adult? The questions linger in the air. She sounds like she was really in love with him once upon a time and we, the audience, are put in the uncomfortable position of judging the situation. I won’t spoil you with the results on the night I attended, but I imagined the results will be different every night.
Blunt Knife is a heartbroken story of an athlete who once upon a time believed in love, but it was love that squashed her first passion, skating. In Blunt Knife, the audience takes the role of judge and prosecutor. Isn’t it wonderful when performances make you think about your values on the spot?
Kai’s performance will make you assess your values as well as the personal stories you have stored away in the depths of your mind. Blunt Knife is not to be missed.