The spirit of this year’s edition of Esplanade’s da:ns festival is a resolutely optimistic one: its theme of “Finding new ways to dance” serves as an invigorating call to imagination and action for dance-makers and audiences alike. Emerging from a protracted period of restricted movement and industry-wide uncertainty, local and international dance practitioners are adapting in resourceful and innovative ways to explore as-yet uncharted dramaturgical and choreographic possibilities of the future. da:ns festival 2021 pays tribute to this ongoing process of growth and development.
This year’s festival features 80 productions programmed for in-person and online viewing, including four festival commissions from Singapore and Taiwan. Leading Asian choreographers are a highlight of this edition, as it showcases 35 new creations from dancemakers across the continent. The festival programme is segmented into four streams: Go Local, which spotlights productions from homegrown artists and companies; Through a New Lens, a series which alludes to the use of screens as a medium or intermediary in its featured productions – including livestreams and dance documentaries; Dance Revolution, which features programmes revolving around pertinent social issues, empowering underrepresented communities in dance; and Participate, a participatory platform which includes workshops and public dance-off sessions to engage both dance professionals and curious beginners from the wider public.
Among works by established dance companies — such as Forces of Dance by Singapore Dance Theatre and In Good Company featuring five prominent dance groups — one of the exciting commissions in the Go Local set is FULL OUT! by ScRach MarcS. Audiences take on the role of judges as award-winning street dance couple Rachel and Marc engage in a battle of styles, form and wordplay at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre. ScRach MarcS’s work straddles various configurations of street dance, including experimental and classic forms, choreographed sets and freestyle moves, and cypher and showcase formats. Considering the duo sees street dance as an art form that defies categorisation, this project promises to push the imaginative possibilities of street dance as an artistic and expressive medium.
Manila Zoo, featured in the festival’s Through a New Lens programme, sees the return of prolific and provocative choreographer Eisa Joscon from the Philippines. Eisa Jocson has performed at the festival in several previous editions. Her latest pandemic creation explores how the orchestrated and performative aspects of Disney film and amusement park franchises relate to issues of labour and isolation. These issues are not only faced by the human performers working within such franchises, but also the anthropomorphised animal roles they play, whose characterisation is entrenched in American imperialist values. Manila Zoo is a collaboration with German-based musician Charlotte Trucs and four Filipino dancers, and is set to take place at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. An inventive hybrid performance that incorporates Zoom footage screened to an in-house live audience, Manila Zoo is the concluding instalment of Jocson’s HAPPYLAND series of three productions that have premiered at Esplanade’s da:ns festival, since Princess in 2019.
In the vein of filmed performances, the festival also features an entirely live-streamed commission, 14 by Taiwanese dancer Chen Wu-Kang and director Sun Ruey Horng in collaboration with 19 international artists. The live performance whisks audiences off (cinematically) to wide-ranging locales from Bangkok suburbs to monuments in Italy as the artists express, through 14-minute solo works, their present situations and current hopes and anxieties from our stricken world. Further examples of international dance pieces on screen are found in the da:ns festival’s film showcase Cineda:ns. It returns this year with a spate of acclaimed dance films such as Being Jérôme Bel and Body-Buildings, as well as a roundtable discussion with some of the featured filmmakers, on the interplay between cinema and choreography.
The festival’s Dance Revolution programme features two groundbreaking productions. The specially commissioned and so we dance is by migrant workers in Singapore and performance-makers Dapheny Chen and Serena Ho, showcasing the stories and dialogues of the migrant community through song and dance. Incorporating deeply personal sharings on the experience of the pandemic as well as introspective reflections on music, the performance promises to be a poignant yet playful unearthing of the lesser-publicised lived experiences of migrant residents living and working among us. Also engaging the wider Singapore public in a different way is Dissemination Everywhere! by German company LIGNA, the second project within the Dance Revolution programme. It’s a silent disco soundscape experience in which participants are invited to follow guided prompts and auditory choreography constructed by 15 international dance-makers. Serving as a kind of balm from the deep isolation and disconnection of the pandemic, Dissemination Everywhere! is an opportunity to connect and immerse oneself within one’s surroundings in a novel way.
The festival features more opportunities for in-person and online interactivity, especially for the family and for casual dance enthusiasts, through its Participate programme. The mass dance workshop What’s Your Move returns to the Esplanade Forecourt Gardens after taking a year-long hiatus and takes place across both weekends of this year’s festival. Led by professional instructors and in a safe environment, the free public workshops invite you, your friends and family to try your moves at 10 culturally diverse styles of dance, from K-pop to bhangra to classical Spanish.
After a year and a half of quarantine blues, and the largely indoor and sedentary lifestyle that most of us have become accustomed to, this year’s da:ns festival welcomes the public out to shake it all off – and just maybe travel the world while you’re at it (virtually). With a range of productions and activities on live and digital platforms, the festival promises novelty, communal fun and a zest to find new ways to get moving. More information about the programme and ticketing options can be found here.
da:ns festival 2021 takes place from 8 – 17 October 2021 both online and live at various venues within Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.
This post is sponsored by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.