M1 Fringe Festival 2017: Skin Tight by Ah Hock and Peng Yu

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Have you ever felt constricted in your shirt and blazer and then imagined the need to peel away those layers and freestyle in a zentai suit? Skin Tight answers that question, and the exquisite choreography of Ah Hock and Peng Yu will give you a glimpse into what those escapist desires could signal for you, and more.
I was reminded of the recent dance sensation World Order as I walked into the Esplanade Theatre Studio last night. Much like the Japanese dance troupe and their highly stylized presentations of Japanese salarymen, dance duo Ah Hock and Peng Yu were moving meditatively in office attire whereas a recumbent Joey Chua – their female counterpart and collaborator, writhed in the extremities. In many senses, the performance had already begun before showtime, and the bubbly excitement of the after-work audience and after-school crowd was a juxtaposed part it. The slow motion opening sequence seemed to reference the heightened perspective simulated by ‘bullet time’ which The Matrix popularized, alerting our senses to the idiosyncratic movements of the office workers and subjecting them to our scrutiny.
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Once most of the audience was seated, the dancers then slid into a clockwork-like pacing around the space, a caricature of corporate life. In the flurry of motion that ensued, the ambiguous stillness of the dancers transforms into mundanity. There isn’t much to be admired about mindless repetition, the choreography seems to suggest. A voice over is introduced, preaching over the company P.A. system a handy motto designed to fuel capitalist efficiency “Healthy, Happy, Heart, Productive”. Happy? Ix Wong in a strenuous half squat looks anything but. And let’s not get started on deciding who defines productivity. Even recreation is regulated in this tightly-bound universe of automatons, much like how P.E. classes are a nightmare for some of us.
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Adrian Tan’s lighting makes beautiful work of the many sensual and haunting moments which trace the transformation of the automaton of an office worker into something free-er and more human. I found the deconstruction of corporate life to be one such metamorphosis. At one point, the invisible cubicle walls fall away and Aaron Khek Ah Hock, the office worker karaokes to a Cantonese song while Ix Wong and Joey Chua, his co-workers play out a troubled love affair in the background, one in which their bodies continually lean into each other lifelessly. Suddenly, and surprisingly, Ah Hock almost accidentally lapses into intense moments of exhibitionist sensuality, a foreshadowing of what is unfold.

 

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The brilliance of Ah Hock and Peng Yu’s choreography and Andrew Ng’s direction lies in its nuanced treatment of notions of freedom and identity. I was more than ready to expect that the peeling away of the corporate worker’s uniform would signal freedom for the anonymous dancer in a skin-colored zentai suit. Yet this process of unveiling was gradual and unexpectedly wide-ranging in its commentary. The moving sequence in which the zentai-clad Ah Hock and Ix Wong danced in a maze of conjoined shirts, for example, brought out the complexities of expressing love for the same-sex oriented. The skin-colored zentai appearance was also exchanged for a more colorful and patterned one in a later segments whereby primal desires and the sexually fetishistic side of the zentai was explored and represented. With the two male dancers leashed by lacy material however, the image seemed also to gesture towards the darker implications of anonymous expression and the limitations of an escapist pursuit of freedom. The slight twist at the end, I will leave to your own appreciation and imagination.

 

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In sum, I would say that it was a great pleasure to encounter the beautiful and inventive work of Ah Hock and Peng Yu. Having started out in Singapore in the early 2000s, Skin Tight is a welcome return from their hiatus and I would definitely keep an eye out for their future productions. Shoutout to to Zai Tang for the imaginative sound design and Dapheny Chen who, in Ah Hock’s words, is “bao1-gao4-liao4” (can-do-all) production manager.
And as a bonus note: the costumes were all handmade by Ix! All in all, Skin Tight is both playful and profound in its exploration of identity and its relation to the skins we don in our daily lives, and is a great way to round off this season’s M1 Fringe Festival.
By Nigel Choo for Bakchormeeboy.com.

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