There’s a sense of excitement in the air as the Esplanade Annexe Studio filled up for the sold-out run of DiverCity at this 10th edition of M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival.
Different from previous years, this show is now a standalone showcase of Singaporean works (it used to be paired with M1 Open Stage), featuring three fresh pieces from local independent dance artists. The trio of works that explored different facets of ‘being human’ managed to charm the evening’s audience with their fresh perspectives, despite being lean performances (two solos and a duet in between).
Starting with Amelia Chong’s NAMUH, a one-woman dance that showed the evolution of the human body and movements. The animalistic qualities of the dancer/choreographer came across right from the start, as Amelia emerged from a large black tarpaulin sheet, revealing her legs stretching out into the air. She appears as a newborn, learning how to move and communicate with the world around her.
This reviewer can’t help but imagine the body on stage as narrating the tale of evolution of the world’s longest surviving creature, the cockroach, one that eventually becomes man. Against a soundtrack of deep thumping percussion beats, she switches between fluid, continuous movements and rigid, almost twitch-like actions, showcasing the body’s strangeness amidst familiarity. At times, Amelia allows her hands to do the talking, with hand-signing and gesturing that carried hints of Indian dance. The body eventually hides back under the tarpaulin sheet, like a return into a cocoon.
NAMUH felt like a more complete work amongst the three pieces, in terms of storyline and development of choreography. A previous iteration was presented at the Festival’s Off Stage platform in 2018 and was further developed and presented in Brisbane, Australia earlier this year before this showing. That said, the following two dance pieces that met an audience for the first time were equally confident and exciting.
DBL.TAP, a co-choreography and joint-performance by Edwin Wee and Rachel Lum, delved into the complex world of social media, in a bid to question millennials’ relationship within and outside of the realm of cyberspace. The duo both appeared in a white one-piece costume with hollowed back, resembling a doctor’s gown. The performance starts with a close, intimate hug between the two before they struggled to separate from each other. White fluorescent light comes on, and when paired with their all-white costumes, gives the space a harsh, clinical feel.
At times moving in synchronicity, at times dancing as two individuals, the pair take on different relationships throughout the piece. Strangers who are trying to strike up a conversation gives way to a pair of lovers who cannot be honest with each other. The male-female pairing throws up interesting questions, such as an apparent hierarchy between the two bodies. As the work progress, the bodies become more cyborg-like, and the female gradually gains control over the male by taking the lead.
The conversation takes a turn to the dark in the second half. As the cyber-world gets too complex for the pair, they run around in circles, while the fluorescent light begins to flicker. Perhaps symbolizing that social media will take over our lives and consume us all together, the duo falls to the ground with a loud thump as the lights go out.
DBL.TAP attempts to cover too broad a range of topics and results in being a little too draggy. What makes it tolerable to watch is the pair’s chemistry, that results in sort of an online love story the audience will root for.
The evening’s third work is a solo choreography by Adele Goh, who devised it with Germaine Cheng as dramaturg. Titled Disappearing Act, the piece plays with spatial occupancy, investigating the relationship of the body with virtual and physical spaces. A dark coloured skirt hangs from above, and as the light comes on, Adele takes her place behind the piece of costume, giving an impassioned speech sans her voice. She appears animated, probably also because her face and upper body are covered by pale streaks of body paint, making her look like a wooden puppet. Her movements are mechanical and exaggerated. As she steps into the skirt, she transforms into a storyteller, moving slightly more naturally and comfortably.
If Amelia’s NAMUH was about the evolution of animal into man, Adele’s Disappearing Act will be about the progression of an inanimate object into a man (or regression of man into a lifeless body). Making good use of the stage and working closely with lighting designer Liu Yong Huay, Adele switches between different spaces, at times giving the audience the illusion of watching her on a flat screen, and at others letting us sense her physical, 3D presence with hypnotizing ballet twirls done against orchestral music. However, the work was strangely dissected by pregnant pauses marked by at least two full blackouts in the latter half, possibly to allow for transitions between scenes. These were jarring and affected the continuity of the narrative. It would have made Disappearing Act more of a magical act if the transitions were better worked out, to fit the illusion of the different spaces created.
It was revealed during the post-show discussion that during this performance, Adele had put on the skirt wrongly, and wore it in reverse. While that could have tweaked the intended visuals of the piece (the skirt was to be blue and of luxurious quality, but inverted to show its black and matte material beneath), it didn’t affect this reviewer much. It instead became an interesting juxtapose against Amelia’s NAMUH, where she too donned a black skirt. Both pieces used clothing and costumes as tools to humanize the characters, and at this performance, both were black skirts.
This edition of DiverCity managed to showcase some exciting new works from young, independent choreographers, making this platform worthy of a standalone show. And as the title suggests, Singapore’s contemporary dance scene offers incredible diversity and has lots to offer to fellow enthusiasts.