T.H.E Dance Company has decided to bring dance and performance to wherever the audience is. As part of the M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival, the company has chosen to adapt to our time of isolation by engaging with technology as a new performative medium.
In Singapore, where theatres and most spaces that focus on creation are still unallowed to reopen, various art forms have been left adrift. This is a time of uncertainty and challenges, because how do the arts move forward without contact? If the social distancing measures are to continue for the long run, what does that mean for audiences who consume art? What about the performers themselves, who now have limited choices to articulate their artistic expressions?
Performance arts, especially, have always been a place to gather, connect, and feel altogether. It is a space of togetherness, and shared experiences.
With these thoughts in mind, can it really adapt to digital forms and make-do with what the world needs right now—individual space and physical disconnection?
Purⓔ《纯ⓔ》: An Experimental Virtual Performance by T.H.E Dance Company is a refreshing and apt response to the rules and regulations Singapore has taken on to counter the Covid-19 global pandemic.
It tackles the changing ways of communication. With a new normal where we are mostly reliant on phone calls and video calls to connect, where does the non-verbal communication and the “dance-body” come in?
Presented as part of #SGCultureAnywhere, with the support of the Digital Presentation Grant by the National Arts Council, it was a 45-minute dance performance done over the Zoom Webinar platform.
I find it an interesting but practical choice.
Zoom, after all, has become almost a necessity for many working adults over this period of Work From Home. From conference calls to daily check-ins, it has been undeniably necessary for the corporate culture of many companies to still function.
For a dance performance to use the exact same platform to share an artistic endeavour, I am interested in how the same functions of screen sharing and overlaying of backgrounds will be used for creative expression.
I also find myself wondering how the choice of a digital platform will change the nature of dance. What new experiences or sensations will I encounter over such a medium that I may not get from a live dance performance?
Two living rooms appear on screen, and are each so different in personality. In one of them, I spot a burnt brown sofa and a painting hung up on the wall, with a balcony full of potted plants right at the back. The other had a clock hung above a door, with assorted cables against the wall, and a big potted plant that stood out from the white surfaces all around.
In an instant, both environments give me the sense of intimacy and personality. These are lived in spaces, personal spaces, of the dancers Anthea Seah and Brandon Khoo. It already serves as an introduction to who they are, and goes on to inform their dance—of two individuals connecting from two very different spaces.
Their moves are choreographed and virtually directed by Festival Director and Artistic Director of T.H.E Dance Company, Kuik Swee Boon. Despite the inability to visit the physical performance spaces himself, which I find a pity since even more usage of the curious physical environments may have added a new layer to the performance, I appreciate the constant usage of technological framing.
From going up close to the screen to revealing their full body in the camera frame, the choreography plays around with distance. Certain moments are punctuated with just the palms covering up the cameras, while others show both dancers executing their movements in mirror-images.
New patterns emerge, and more elements of consideration come up for the dancers to note. What do they want the audience to see, or not see? There is more power and autonomy on their part on what the audience experiences, and that changes the performance dynamic between dancers and audience.
It naturally changes the idea of what may constitute presence and backstage.
Together with the creative team that created the music, visual effects on screen, and aided the curation of the entire dance performance, Purⓔ《纯ⓔ》: An Experimental Virtual Performance is a good exploration of dance and technology.
Although I do feel that certain moments of stillness and poetry are overshadowed by the eagerness to use technological tools, I believe the performance leans a new voice to what it means to perform in such a time of isolation and technological reliance. It is a strong attempt at adaptation to the current times, and still trying their best to give what dance does best—sense of unity, beauty and a way of looking forward.
I look forward to even more explorations, and I am excited to see what else can be achieved through the melding of technology and dance. Perhaps embracing such a change might bring about even more possibilities for dance, and bring us a step closer to what dance really is about at its very core.