‘People’ is at the heart of the three works that make up Co.Lab.Asians, and it is done rightly so.
An opening show of the 10th edition of the M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival, the programme previously titled Asian Festivals Exchange (AFX) take on a new name, signifying it’s focus on Asians and collaborations. Incubated over 6 weeks, three groups of artists explore the human condition amidst familiar city life and landscape, resulting in three dance pieces that remind us that we are not born perfect, and that is okay.
First of the three acts, Hanging in the Balance by Isabella Giustina from Italy, performed by members of T.H.E Second Company. The dancers first appear in earth tone attire, moving through space as strangers who deny each other’s presence, as they reach out to stand out from the crowd. Against an upbeat percussion soundtrack, they weave within one another, each movement and action intentional and purposeful, releasing a sense of hope amidst the competition.
It is midway through that when the dancers put on white shirts and black trousers, that the narrative takes a turn towards the dark. Floorwork dominates the second half, as the system markedly slows down almost to a dread. The movements are repetitive, cyclical and recurrent. Almost like monologues, everyone takes turn displaying their vulnerable self on stage, as they negotiate their beliefs and convictions against their insecurities and weaknesses. They push and pull each other, in a constant struggle between dependency and independence. Hanging questions human’s race between opposing fractions and values, and pronouncedly life’s fragility.
The theatre studio’s side curtains are retracted to bare the walls of the space, and every sound made within the studio is more pronounced as ever. Lee Ren Xin (Malaysia) and Miwa Okuno (Japan) duets in all ears, their second joint creation since meeting at AFX in 2014. Ears, sounds, and hearing is the focus of this piece, as the audience journeys through a city with the two, and perhaps a tour of an ear canal as a sound particle. The theatre space is in utter silence as the two performers bounce around the space, but their movement reminds us of a cacophony of sounds, that busy streets and malls, living neighbourhoods and homes, and the familiar trains and stations we encounter each day. The duo lets their ears lead their body, and in turn, they use their bodies to lead the audience imagination. Nature clash with urban living, constructed space inhibits our freedom and movement. The choreography is assured, a proof of Lee and Okuno’s friendship and understanding through the years. All ears become both a meditative and poetic piece about the complexities of city life. It serves to remind us to cut out the noise in life at times, to dig deep into our thoughts, and maybe find the solution to our problems.
Playing Stone, by Korean choreographer Ji Kyungmin in collaboration with a group of 5 performers from T.H.E Second Company, continues the exploration of the city system through the lens of ‘natural’. To Ji, he feels that what is ‘natural’ in the eyes of city-dwellers have become somewhat artificial. Playing appears to be a journey of a group of stones, trailing through it’s ‘life’. The dancers’ movements are aligned, synchronized sequences are suddenly disturbed by random pauses and out-of-sync movements. The percussions in the soundtrack clashes with the scene on stage, cluttered with unspoken angst. The members of the crew continually find pockets to break away from the ‘norm’. At times, one’s audacious act of rebellion is applauded by another, showing more of sarcasm than encouragement. Individuals, assuming the roles of trees, rocks and leaves, are constantly trying to stand out and be seen. They sometimes fall out unknowingly but are always quick to regain their footsteps. It is not unsimilar to the survey of city life presented in Hanging. However, the proposition tossed up in the second half of Playing questions if we are all too caught up in seeking perfection in an imperfect world. ‘Can natural stones roll like a soccer ball?’ The dancers slowly come together to form geometric shapes with their bodies, moving in uncomfortable directions. Five bodies come together to form a star, a symbol of perfection, before breaking out into fragments. They gather again and attempt to travel in a straight line. More often than not, hiccups happen along the way, and one or two may be left out, fall down, or gets pulled away. Perhaps, through the analogy of stones, we should not set ourselves in unrealistic and unnatural mould, and learn to be free.
The three performances at Co.Lab.Asians share the common threads of humanity, urbanism and our life’s constant chase for perfection. This showcase is a prime result of the collaborative efforts put in by the choreographers and dance performers. The diverse group of artists worked together for just 6 weeks before this polished presentation, each bringing with them their unique cultures and believes, to make an exciting show well worth watching.