Part of M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival, M1 Open Stage is the annual festival’s platform that selects applications from across the world to showcase contemporary dance choreographic talents in the intimate space of a black-box. Programme A featured four diverse works by choreographers from Israel, Canada, Singapore, Germany and Taiwan.
Tennis – Now or Never, choreographed by Nimrod Freed and performed by Noa Shavit opened the show. A large piece of carpet grass covered the stage. Shavit appeared dressed in white. Her movement language felt like a distinctively Israeli contemporary dance style – think Batsheva Dance Company and the likes.
As if possessed by a free spirit, she danced and morphed into contorted shapes with unencumbered ease and freedom. One such repeated shape was her leg in her face and an outstretched index finger – perhaps signalling her desire to win. Having only read the synopsis after the performance, I must say I did not see the obsession for victory but rather a carefree soul and the pleasure of the struggle. The movements felt authentic and honest and were brilliantly executed. However, choreographically, it left me wanting more and puzzled by the reference to tennis.
The second item for the night, Leftovers, performed and choreographed by Josh Martin, took audiences on a trippy wild ride. Trained in diverse styles, his incredible movement vocabulary during the show ranged from moving like a robot to movements that flowed to rocking motions to isolations. The movement language used was reminiscent of the dance genre of ‘animation’ but at the same time also felt like contemporary dance.
The entire piece contained many cinematic qualities that it felt like the unfolding of a three-dimensional film with a live body. Loud screeching music hits the audience in the dark. Martin took still, then moved in staccato fashion, like a buffering YouTube video that pauses every split second then continues playing. In another scene, Martin flowed from one movement to the next but in glitching fashion: the flowing movements repeatedly retrograded and then moved forward in time. When the glitch happens, it also seemed like Martin was using the dance style of “popping”. Four movements forward in time. Two Movements back. Repeat. It felt like cinematic effect where the film editor took us on a psychedelic journey but Martin was doing it all with his live body. No filters. No edits.
Honey Bee and the Dandelion, a duet choreographed and performed by Hong Guofeng and Chua Chiok Woonwas a playful and light-hearted exploration of interdependence in any given relationship. Like a honey bee and a dandelion, they constantly revolve around each other – pulling and propelled past and circling each other, then catching into the pull again. Recurring motifs included counterbalances, pulling, falling and catching. In perhaps the only instance where they are spatially far apart, Hong stepped to the side of the stage to a vinyl player that churned out old tunes with gramophone effects. A cheerful and quirky world was created; he took her foot and put it to his ear as if listening to it. At the end of the piece, they repeated the revolving sequence but this time they both fall to the floor.
The grand finale of the night, The Man, performed and choreographed by Jan Möllmer and Tien Tsai-Wei, definitely felt like the most refined work of the line-up. The piece began with Möllmer’s jerky freeze-frame movements (very much like that of Martin’s) of him reaching into his pocket, taking out one cigarette from the box, and putting it into his mouth. Meanwhile, Tien stood in the shadows, wearing a black oversized trench coat. As Möllmer dropped the cigarette to the floor, all the movements transited to real-time. Manipulating the coat, Möllmer pulled, tugged and twist it, directly affecting the how Tien moved. It seemed as if the coat controlled her. At one point, he tried to remove the coat, only to reveal that she was actually wearing two coats.
Through a series of striking images and the ingenious use of costuming and props such as the two oversized coats, two irons and a corded rotary dial telephone placed on a table, The Man captured the imaginations of the audience. One such image that drew laughter was when they both draped the coats around their shoulders, and while facing each other, they placed their hands on their backs in the coats, flapping their hands furiously from side to side as if having a conversation with each other through their “tails” behind their backs. At other times, Möllmer lifted Tien off the ground, both of them in a somewhat conjoined position as Tien disappeared into the coat, exposing only her head.
The piece they showed which an excerpt of their full-length version, ended with the same opening sequence but this time with the stunning image of both of them in one coat. The stop-motion action is repeated – each of them pulling out a cigarette from the same packet.
Perhaps M1 Open Stage does indeed open up audiences in Singapore to the different possibilities of what contemporary dance can be. And in our current landscape of dance, the more variety we see, perhaps the wider our conceptions of dance will become.