Selected by an international panel from an open call of close to 200 works, this year’s M1 Open Stage proves to be rightfully a highlight of M1 CONTACT contemporary dance festival.
The 12 works from a mix of international choreographers performed over three shows are a prime sampling of the diversity and virtuosity of today’s young contemporary dance artists. It is understandable then, why the platform has been repackaged, separating from DiverCity, to be a standalone show.
The opening night of M1 Open Stage served up Programme A, with two solos that explored the body as a tool for storage and of performance, along with two duets that were theatrically intriguing. The variety of works presented was a good display of the possibilities in contemporary dance performance, the varying styles and energy, some playful and reflective, some more profound and visceral.
Tennis – Now or Never by Nimrod Freed (Israel)
A lone woman enters, and at the side of the artificial turf, she makes a silent prayer. She stands onto the turf and it is ‘game on’. Tennis – Now or Never is a 20-odd minutes cliffhanger, and more so serves as an analogy of the many challenges we have to face in the game of life. Performer-collaborator Noa Shavit is a delight to watch throughout the piece. Lean and toned, her body on stage is continuously moving and gesturing. Against a soundtrack that contains shouting of ‘game set’ and ‘match’, we see Noa shifting her arms, shoulders, torso and legs along with the music. The music sends energy through her, and she allows the energy to dictate her movements. At match points, her movements tense up and every action appears more forceful. There is nary a moment where she drops the ball.
More than just a player in a game, Noa’s moving body at times resemble the movements of a racquet, sometimes the ball being served, at others the referee, coach or even the spectators at the stands. She points at the sky to thank the Gods. She shakes off a bad service with irritation and disappointment. Towards the end, she relaxes her body, and enters the showers, washing off the sweat and dirt accumulated, marking a good game well played.
Leftovers by Josh Martin of Company 605 (Canada)
There is something mechanical and robotic about the way Josh moves on stage. He takes a few steps backwards, falls to the ground, then picks himself up again and continues to walk towards the bright light at the corner of the stage. Every movement fits the beat of the soundtrack. He then repeats the act, with his eyes closed this time.
Leftovers started as the choreographer-performer’s investigation into the idea that the body holds a separate memory bank from the brain. With the belief that one’s muscle tissues, bones and organs all store information of past events and activities, Josh leads his body in exploring bits and pieces of history that he’s experienced. He lets different parts of his body lead the way, swinging and swerving to find the right momentum and strength to proceed forward. In a scene that he repeats several times, he appears to be drawn by a force in the lights, and walks towards it, but is pushed away. It later becomes evident that this could also be his attempt at seeking a ‘savior’ in the lights, and the rejection that comes with it. Josh is incredibly flexible, and his body probably stores many more memories and stories, waiting to be told.
Honey Bee And The Dandelion by Hong Guofeng and Chua Chiok Woon (Singapore)
Choreographers-Performers Guofeng and Chiok Woon brought a new iteration of this delightful work to the M1 Open Stage this year, after showing it at the festival’s Off Stage platform in 2018. They also experimented with an outdoor showcase of this piece previously at the Marina Barrage.
Starting off with a series of lifts and partnering practice, the couple shows how they are completely comfortable with each other, executing the right amount of strength to pull or tug at one another, easily lifting each other off and twirling with good control. Guofeng then puts on a jazzy track on the turntable, and the couple leads into the main narrative of the act, exploring the intricate relationship between a hardworking honey bee and a floaty dandelion.
The dandelion needs the bee to stand, while the bee enjoys the company of the dandelion. There is a certain playfulness and carefreeness in their movements. Unlike the version seen at Off Stage last year, the couple seems more natural, cutting down on the cheeky ‘acting’ as an insect and a plant. Through the interactions, the piece attempts to highlight the inevitable unequal distribution of power in any relationship. From dependency on each other and finding familiarity in the company to making use of the other for survival, the problems in a relationship surface through the choreography, and provides food for thought. The theatricality of the performance, paired with the couple’s camaraderie, makes Honey Bee And The Dandelion a complete joy to watch.
The Man by Jan Möllmer and Tien Tsai-Wei of Peculiar Man (Germany/Taiwan)
Shifting between reality and fiction, The Man is a beautiful and rightfully peculiar dance-theatre piece about a man and a woman’s tumultuous relationship. Like a series of stills on a film strip, the story unravels from frame to frame, along with the beats of the music. It is a dark comedy that investigates power relations between a couple, although there could possibly be no romantic link between them.
The man, Jan, attempts to control the petite-sized woman, Tsai-Wei, through the long coat she has on. The woman appears to be manipulated, physically, in this story. Her head disappears, while her legs are shortened. She is contorted into strange objects, at one point being an ironing board for the man to iron his tie. However, it didn’t take long before the woman realises she too can retaliate and gain control over the man. The man becomes soft and lethargic when he loses the coat.
Other than the coat being one symbol of power, a classic rotary dial telephone is also used to question authority. Only the man can successfully answer the phone. But he appears to be no match to whoever is on the other side of the line, his body weakening as the speaks unintelligibly to the phone. The work cleverly makes use of simple props to tell the story, mostly in unexpected ways. When the man faints and falls to the ground the woman comes to his rescue, using the phone and iron to resuscitate him. Hilarity ensues.
So, who has the ultimate power the another? In the end, both man and woman fit into a single coat, and collaboratively, they manage to ‘lit a cigarette’ each and take a couple of puffs, perhaps to suggest that despite differences, we are one and all the same, especially when we work together.