Making dance, seeing dance. Last weekend, I spent more than 6 hours attending public showings of dance works-in-progress. If you work in the arts, this may be fairly typical; as a member of the public, however, this could be a seriously fun proposition for your weekend.
The first two programs I attended were for HATCH run by the people at Dance Nucleus.
The third program was my personal (biased) favourite, The Roundest Circle by TheatreWorks associate artist Eng Kai Er and fellow dancers Faye Lim and Felicia Lim. At least several hundred man-hours went into the events, from conceptualization to presentation.
Making dance is labour-intensive a ridiculous business. How unproductive! How inefficient!
You don’t have to be a dance geek to enjoy the process. After sitting through the pieces, everyone is invited to stay, ask questions, give comments. Your opinions matter to the creators. They listen attentively and thoughtfully. They ask follow-up questions. Everyone is welcome to share how they feel, without apology. As the outstanding Yvonne Rainer would say, ‘feelings are facts, too’.
It’s a great exercise in civic engagement. I get to figure out where people are coming from when they speak. If I have no time/interest in the feedback sessions, I can leave. If I hated everything I saw, I could always reinvent the works in my head.
These critical platforms help us practice open-mindedness — a piece that may seem to belong best in church because of its message (not its craft) can sit comfortably and thought-provokingly beside a piece which some may say has homoerotic images. In our world of (false?) dichotomies, dance presents bodies and people with diverse tastes, philosophies, beliefs. The arts stretch our capacity for critical thought and empathy.
Work-in-progress platforms are a great place to learn about the possibilities in dance, and spot trends and divergences in the local dance scene. What are preferred approaches to movement? The physicality of the body? What movement knowledge is embedded, what images are created, what stories are told? Some creators, like Wayne Ong and Leia Ang, work purely from a narrative, using imagery and symbolism. Jereh Leong and Chen Jiexiao tell no story but invert the “male gaze” by posturing for us, hilariously. Lee Mun Wai and Lee Ren Xin throw themselves around in a structured improvisation, gently, passively, aggressively. An entirely different structured improvisation, The Roundest Circle creates weight-sharing forms possible for three particular women, nods at fairy-tales (and comments on female stereotypes) told through dance.
Collaboration abounds. Only two works have one main creator. Jiexiao’s quirky dance film deals with rhythm and disorienting angles. Tang Sook Kuan’s piece about the Changi tree features movement rooted and gnarly. We have a fantastic discussion about the significance of Changi the place versus Changi the tree. After the first day’s feedback, Sook Kuan may already have edited her piece for the second day, removing some text and multimedia. How exciting — choreographers gain confidence and clarity in the strength of their ideas, and anyone can have a direct hand in the process.
In our hyper-connected contemporary world, stories and images ping from place to place more speedily than lightning. (Even our idioms and metaphors need to catch up.) The sense of hyper-speed and intensity is visible in the dancers’ bodies; even if they move gently or passively, nerve impulses are very quick to come and go. This frenetic atomic bouncing of data can knit us together or push us apart.
Cause and consequence become harder to trace. Relationships become more complicated, authorship and artistic control grow more entwined with the communal.
By opening their works-in-progress up to critique from the general public, artists are asking, transparently and democratically, for a range of opinions that can impact upon their work. They are becoming vulnerable, saying their ideas are malleable, adaptable. Even if finally they choose to reject all opinions and follow their original instincts, the process of refinement will have a significant impact on their approach and aesthetic.