The Roundest Circle is a performance created by TheatreWorks Associate Artist Eng Kai Er, in collaboration with fellow dance artists Faye Lim and Felicia Lim. The piece is process-driven and fuelled by the concept of “turn-taking”; the artists have broken away from the conventional structure of having a leader curate, choreograph and direct the process of performance making. Instead, Kai, Faye, and Felicia take turns to lead rehearsals and, as a result, they are all leaders and followers at the same time, sharing and giving up physical and creative space. After 7 months of preparation, The Roundest Circle is a culmination of their experiment in decision-making.
The performance begins with Kai, Faye, and Felicia taking their seat amidst the audience. As the music and projection come on, they move off and start walking around a clearly demarcated white performance space. In this first section, the three artists dance on their own, intersecting and crossing paths periodically but never fully interacting with each other. They take turns to rise and fall, twirl and turn, stomp their feet, and crease their bodies; this contrast in height, dynamics, and intensity of movement creates an interesting visual representation when viewed as a whole. The energy shifts fluidly between the trio and their individual personalities gradually emerge as their movements are juxtaposed against each other; Kai’s are mostly clean-cut and strong, Felicia’s are softer and gentler, while Faye’s consist mostly of playful teetering across the dance floor.
The three dancers gradually converge towards and collapse on each other. Suddenly, their heads are glued together with their long, straight hair pulled over their faces to mask their individuality as they merge into a single large organism. It steps out of the performance boundary (for the first time in the whole performance), interacts with the audience, grabs a comb, waves it, stomps about playfully, and starts purring. A soulful piece of music with warm female vocals starts playing as the creature dances and sways gently. In contrast to the first section’s emphasis on individuality, the second section focuses on the collaborative efforts and processes between the three dancers.
Much of the third section is driven by the trio’s shared interest in contact improvisation, a dance technique where points of physical contact provide a starting point for explorations and improvisations in movement. The dancers perform movements in a canon and when one takes the lead and breaks away from a formation, the other two follow. The role of the “leader” is immediately obscured; each small movement by one person has a direct impact on the group and all three dancers share the responsibility of shaping the direction and development of the performance. This section is particularly enjoyable because it not only highlights the chemistry and rapport between the dancers, but also brings their “turn-taking” methods to the foreground, thus transforming process into performance.
After a sudden black out, Kai, Faye, and Felicia take their seats in the audience again and have conversations about their monkeys and teeth, even revealing some personal details along the way. This raised some interesting questions: must the artists always be moving for it to be considered a dance performance? How might theatrical elements such as monologues and dialogues change our perception of what constitutes a dance performance? The dancers then move off to the dance floor and continue talking to each other, all while dancing on their own. This is quickly interrupted by the ring of a bell and a projection of a white rectangle onto the dance floor as the performance moves into its last section – a playful game where the trio try to push each other of the boundaries of the rectangle. Every time a dancer “wins”, the game starts over. After the 3 dancers have won one round each, they take a seat outside the performance area as a song begins playing. As the music reaches its quiet finish, they take a bow, signalling the end of the performance.
Praise must be given to two technical aspects of the performance: the costumes and the lighting. Kai, Faye, and Felicia were dressed in grey jumpers and track pants – simple yet functional as it not only focuses the audience’s attention on their movements, but also homogenises the 3 dancers, reinforcing the performance’s central idea that there is no leader. Stella Cheung’s lighting design was also effective in bridging the different sections and conveying the changes in mood.
The Roundest Circle is a playful piece that emerges from an exploration of the power dynamics between three dance artists who have agreed to regard each other as equals. Its success lies in its ability to strike a balance between presenting a unified work of art whilst allowing the dancers to express their individual personalities in an organic way. By blurring the boundaries between process and performance, the performance also challenges the conventions of dance and performance-making, thus rendering it a truly inter-disciplinary, contemporary form of artistic expression.
By Alicia Chong for Bakchormeeboy
Performance attended 27/7/17