Artist Spotlight: Eng Kai Er, Theatreworks Associate Artist

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Eng Kai Er has always been a bit of a free spirit. Raising more than few eyebrows in the past from various controversial events, the infamous A* scholar turned dance artist has been continually honing her craft over the years, and returns with an all new show next week. The Roundest Circle (27th and 28th July) marks Kai’s third full production with Theatreworks, and sees her collaborating with fellow artists Faye Lim and Felicia Lim, as they explore the outcome of a dance with no leader, working together to create new unexpected movements and forms.

We grabbed some words with Kai, speaking about her past and her future as an artist where straying from the norm, is the norm. Check out the full interview below:

In an interview with TODAY in 2015, you were still tussling with your split personality between your scholar-scientist life and your artist life. Would you say that with this work, you’ve finally decided to charge full speed ahead into your artistry, leaving science behind? Or will you continue to tussle between the two lives?

It’s very clear to me: I’m not a scientist and never will be. There is no tussle inside me about whether I should do art or do science, I already made my choice long ago.

What you are referring to is not a tussle about what I should do, as if I haven’t decided on that yet. What you are referring to, is the fact of the bond. Regarding the bond, basically I’m just waiting for it to be over.

You’ve raised some eyebrows in the past, from walking naked through Holland Village to running the No Star Arts Grant, and the notoriety that followed has stuck to your public image. Would you prefer to move away from these associations when you embark on new artistic works, or do you think that they’re a key part of your identity as an artist? 

They form part of my identity as a person, in the sense that those events and their aftermath are so significant that it wouldn’t be easy to pretend they didn’t somehow affect my life. So yes they are a part of my life and yes I am the person that did those things. But I don’t know about identity as an artist. I hope as an artist, I can just do whatever I feel like doing, creatively, without thinking about what my artist identity is.

Creatively speaking, each and every one of your works have broken new ground with their unique concepts. Although you’ve taken dance lessons while studying abroad in Sweden, would you consider furthering your dance training in order to produce technically stronger works? Would it help you enjoy dance even more? 

Would I consider furthering my dance training – yes for sure, and I’m always training in some way or other. Currently I train by doing different types of movement practices, as well as by putting myself in small artistic collaborations where I can learn from my peers. The movement practices are more about physicality, while the collaboration practices are more about expanding my thought. So my training helps me with all kinds of technique: bodily techniques, as well as techniques for performance-making, techniques for collaboration. Would the training help me enjoy dance more – yes for sure – knowing more about something certainly helps me enjoy the thing better!

Your works have always dealt with the expression and exploration of the self. During the process of creating The Roundest Circle, what do you think is the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about yourself? 

 

Hmm. I discovered I am quite bad at articulating why I make compositional choices the way I do. I’ve also previously subconsciously taken for granted that it’s something that can’t be articulated, but, now I think there is a possibility I could try and articulate it better.

To stray from the norm takes a certain amount of courage, particularly in Singapore where the norm can sometimes feel like the only path. What is your advice to people who find themselves in a similar position to how you once were, trapped in ‘a paid job that is not aligned with one’s interest’?

For bonded people with artistic bent: I’d say keep making art. It helps a lot. And maybe do some activism for universal basic income so that humanity can get out of wage slavery and finally be truly productive, doing things based on intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation. I think political interest, activism, art… all these things will help. Just thinking, reading, and dreaming already helps a bit, and if you have time to organise, participate, write, talk, that helps even more. Understand when you’re playing with reality through art, and when you’re using art to escape from reality, because both are useful at different times and will heal different wounds. And most of all don’t give up. Don’t go and end your life because if you die, you can’t make the change you want to see. Choose your friends, surround yourself with people that don’t condemn your ideas. It can be arranged – just stop talking to those people who don’t understand, but don’t stop talking altogether. Change your audiences, talk with different people, go to different situations and try your luck there. Don’t give up, that’s the most important thing.

The Roundest Circle plays from 27th-28th July at 72-13. To book your tickets, email theroundestcircle@theatreworks.org.sg or call 6737-7213.

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