As with so many productions in this period of ongoing uncertainty caused by the pandemic, Co.Lab.Asians, initially planned as an in-venue production, underwent a shift to a video-on-demand format instead.
The performance opens with H A S E R, choreographed by Syimah Sabtu and performed by Jonit On, Stephanie Rae Yoong and Syarifuddin Sahari. The lights go up to reveal Syarifuddin counting out loud in Malay – this counting goes on for a good five minutes while he crouches and moves along the ground near the back of the stage, as the lights (by Liu Yong Huay Faith) fade in very gradually.
The relationship between the three bodies on stage changes as the piece progresses. Sometimes each is in their own separate part of the stage, sometimes we see a duet plus solo configuration. The movement is slow and deliberate most of the time, each seeming to negotiate their own path. Until a brief point where all three performers meet and move in unison, before breaking away again into their separate trajectories. It reminds me of human relationships; complete agreement may not be possible or only partly achievable, but we can always still coexist.
I appreciate the close-ups on individual performers that the camera affords in this piece. However, something about it feels wanting, like watching it on a recorded platform does not do the piece justice. Perhaps the black costumes and generally dark stage lighting emphasise the barrier of the screen, making me feel distanced from the action, intense though the movements are.
A Time within Time, by Adele Goh and Kwon Hyuk (South Korea), opens beautifully with the recorded footage of Hyuk projected on the back wall and Goh performing in the venue. What we see in the projection and on the stage are an almost perfect mirror-image, with a deliberately focused corridor of light on stage appearing to “continue” into the projected image.
I struggle to find the words to describe the experience of this work properly – throughout the piece, Hyuk’s pre-recorded video plays on the back wall, while Goh performs on the stage, and all this has been recorded for us, the audience watching on our own screens. There are three layers of mediation, something that my mind has difficulty grappling with. Nevertheless, thought has clearly been put into the re-working of the performance for a recorded version, which makes the work particularly enjoyable.
It feels like the two performers are really in the same space, and the screen is merely an extension of the stage space occupied by Goh. The camera angles play no small part in achieving this. For example, at times we see a view from a high angle, likely taken from the balcony of the Esplanade Annexe, which gives the Escher-esque effect of blurring the line between the projection and the stage.
Both performers move almost continuously throughout the piece, in flowing, curvy sweeps and twists, to tinkling piano music. I leave with a sense of optimism and journeying – a very pleasant, energising 20 minutes spent with the work.
Co.Lab.Asians was presented digitally on SISTIC Live from 18 – 31 Jul 2021. Due to tightened safe management measures announced on 4 May, the live performances of Co.Lab.Asians on 3 & 4 Jul were cancelled.