Complexnya feels like Norhaizad Adam’s poetic movement love letter to Singapore. Dance in Situ transforms the way we see the city; audiences can no longer view Hong Lim Complex the same way they had before attending the performance walk.
Complexnya began on the fifth-floor rooftop of Hong Lim Complex that overlooked the city skyline – a mix of futuristic skyscrapers, old HDB buildings, a temple and Chinatown’s shophouses. Audiences were greeted with a sight of performers already in the space, most of whom were seated on the floor, eating and drinking. This casual state of simply ‘being‘ lasted for at least twenty minutes. During this period, some members of the audience felt free to roam around, approach the performers and strike up casual conversations. Others simply took up the offer of soaking in the atmosphere and enjoyed the changing colours of the sky and sunset views of the city.
As the sky turned dark and the city began to light up, a performer began crawling on all fours, backwards. Slowly, each performer joined in, as if they were slipping backwards in the crawling motion while following down a pathway that led to a congregation in stillness around a pillar. Palms-to-palms, the performers gingerly circled around the pillar as a group. Zunnur Zhafirah started weaving through the bodies, her body sometimes emerging sideways from the closely knitted circle.
A sudden dispersal of the group was coincidentally accompanied by a sudden bark of a dog from one of the upper floors. It is such timely coincidences that make site-specific performances magical. These unplanned but brilliant serendipitous moments forces audiences to question and reconsider the fine line between performance and the everyday. In one part of the performance walk, the audience’s attention was directed towards the floor below – before any dancers appeared, the only movement that occurred was from an old man who was closing and locking the old rusty metal gates of a shop. Somehow, that ordinary everyday activity became mesmerising to watch.
Complexnya is a radical invitation to experience the city unmediated by filters and to see the beauty in the mundane.
Perhaps the strength of Complexnya is its ability to highlight the beauty in the every day and of Hong Lim Complex, a space that one would normally not take a second glance. Particular scenes in the show felt like staged sets: a duet that occurred on a metal stairway and an ensemble domino walking scene that occurred on gridded tiled floors with the audience watching from a floor above –which felt very much like circle seats. The dancing bodies and the music injected the seemingly ordinary space with energy, vibrancy and character – but the every day was never far off. A turn of the head towards the sky or towards the passing traffic and one would be immediately reminded of this juxtaposition between performance and the everyday. And for those brief moments, the lined blurred and the beauty of the moon shone brighter and become very much a part of the piece.
Dance in Situ stands out in its attempt to situate dance in public spaces and challenge traditional notions that dance belongs in the theatre. Instead, the stage is set in public spaces, allowing pockets of ‘accidental’ performances to occur and inviting spectators to view dance, everyday spaces and activities in a different light. Complexnya is one of the rare site-sensitive performances that reach people like the elderly in Chinatown – many of whom are not the typical art-goer. Not only do the residents of Hong Lim Complex chance upon the performance and become incidental audiences but they also become unwitting performers.
As I walked away from the performance, I could not help but feel that buildings in Singapore seem as ephemeral as dance. Some of the old iconic landmarks in Chinatown that filled the skyline at the beginning of the performance like the Pearl Bank Apartments are set to be demolished. While Hong Lim Complex is spared from redevelopment (for now).
Complexnya is a timely call to cherish Singapore’s architectural heritage and a reminder that Singapore is more than shiny new towers but also has a charming old architecture that gives it heart and soul, with P7:1SMA.