Review: X & Y by RAW Moves
Ricky Sim and Matthew Goh tackle intergenerational conflict and tension in an original and surprisingly humorous performance.
RAW Moves will never fail to surprise us with how much they’re constantly pushing the very definition of dance, and in their latest production, ascends to even greater heights. Spinning off of RAW Moves’ 2018 theme of Competition, the episodic X & Y sees 48-year old artistic director Ricky Sim square off against 25-year old company dancer Matthew Goh as the two lay clear the differences in their generations, but learn to channel that potential for conflict into cooperation instead of competition.
Subverting the usual seating arrangements by seating the audience on the floor of the Aliwal Arts Centre Multipurpose Hall, Ricky and Matthew allow audiences to fully immerse themselves in this darkened, liminal space as they control our viewing experience, utilising all of our surroundings as a stage as opposed to a single, focused performance space, at times even weaving in and out of the audience. X & Y begins by introducing us to both dancers, seemingly ‘identical’ as they’re dressed in the same blue jumpsuit and sporting similar bowl cuts. But these similarities are quickly dispelled as they engage us in a mock Q&A session, revealing facts about their lives that only serve to show how different each of them are. Both Ricky and Matthew take on stereotypes of their generation – Ricky as a stereotypical stern, curt older man, while Matthew is lively, self-assured and social media obsessed. As the gulf between the two widens, these suspicions and tensions eventually rise to a fever pitch when Matthew suggests eventually succeeding Ricky and leaving him obsolete, leaving a distinct discomfort in the air as their feud hangs unresolved.
The performers then move to the opposite end of the hall, this time donning giant masks depicting their own faces and wearing noise-cancelling headphones, completely obscuring their vision and hearing, each in their own world as they dance and occasionally (badly) sing lyrics to hit songs that define their era, such as Single Ladies for Matthew, and Purple Rain for Ricky. In donning these incredibly unnerving, dead-eyed masks, Ricky and Matthew seem to suggest a refusal to see or hear each other, to the extent that they’re so caught up in putting on an act that they themselves cannot sense the world around them, or even the awareness that they themselves are putting on a mask. Things take a turn for the weird when their masks are swapped, and they switch to listening to the other’s music, their movements becoming increasingly uncomfortable and awkward as they struggle to connect with it, highlighting how even something like music can prove incredibly divisive between generations.
But instead of serving as fuel for conflict, Ricky and Matthew choose the alternative, and attempt to make peace with each other, facing each other head on, stripped of their jumpsuits to running attire. The two begin to run laps around the hall in opposite directions, occasionally meeting but never in sync, and display a failure of communication as Ricky epically fails to decipher modern day abbreviations Matthew throws at him, from FOMO to IMHO. Even if this attempt to bridge their communication gaps has ended in failure, it’s certainly a valiant effort, and the two exhaustedly collapse into chairs beside each other, less antagonistic than before and knowing that each are trying their best to forge a connection with the other.
It is at this point that with their energy at its lowest, both performers are able to finally be real with each other and the audience, as they begin to confess the truth behind their answers in the beginning of the – in reality, Ricky hates attending funerals, Matthew does not have an Instagram account, and their favourite colours aren’t yellow and fuchsia respectively, metaphorically taking off the masks that they’ve been donning the entire time. Here, Lee Kong-Shen’s lighting is especially effective, allowing darkness to slowly consume both performers and encapsulate a deep sense of isolation. Combined with the performers’ admissions of truth, one feels the sincerity emanating from their voices, a moment of seriousness amidst the previous playfulness of the performance and perhaps finally, a kind of common understanding has been reached in this bare all sharing session.
What this results in then is a fascinating amalgamation of the two subjects, as they fuse into a single, majestic, maned being. Inspired by lion dancers, both dancers have the spotlight thrust upon them as they reveal that they have become a chimeric, two-faced, four-legged beast, sharing a single jumpsuit and body. Although it isn’t the image of perfection, as they still struggle to coordinate and balance each action, the attempt to continuously communicate and cooperate with each other suggests a strong counter-alternative to competition – that of collaboration and even combination, as they eventually succeed in their task of snatching up an orange beanie and emerge triumphant.
Fiercely innovative, boldly defying genre and ultimately, uplifting in its message that we are not doomed to segregation from different generations, X & Y is a narratively cohesive performance that will have you nervously laughing before wowing you with its unexpectedly powerful conclusion. X & Y confirms RAW Moves’ position as one of the most exciting and hopeful experimental dance companies around, and more than ever, leaves us with the belief that the future is born not of competition, but of collaboration.
X & Y plays at Aliwal Arts Centre from 11th – 13th April. Tickets available from Peatix