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Preview: Ghost Call by RAW Moves

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A call with no one on the other line. 
An accidental call you didn’t mean to make. 
Wrongly addressed letters. 

With the conclusion of their 2018/19 season themed around ‘Competition’, contemporary dance company RAW Moves breaks new ground for their 2019/20 season with a full year of artistic enquiry into the theme of ‘System’. For their latest production, they’ve teamed up with playwright Nabilah Said to bring their artistry to greater heights still, this time tackling the rather modern phenomenon of accidental messages, missed calls and essentially, one-sided communication, broken connections, and its effects on a person.

Playwright Nabilah has been on the rise this year, with not one but three productions to her name already since January, (ANGKAT and yesterday it rained salt at the 2019 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, and Inside Voices at London’s VAULT Festival 2019). Titling the production Ghost Call, the term specifically refers to a call you get with no one on the other line, and takes inspiration from Nabilah’s own experiences with a “missed text for help” in the dead of the night. Says Nabilah: “For me, the starting point was of course, the theme of ‘System’. But I’m not a very systematic person even, so I initially found it a bit hard to connect to. I thought about how every day, we practically have a computer in our hands, the modern day smart phone, and in discussions with Ricky (RAW Moves’ artistic director), we hit upon the common topic of the SMS, once upon a time the one and only way to communicate with friends at one point in life. It was so important and precious, and with the cost and character limit, you had to type in short form to be more efficient! Then all of a sudden, it was no long in fashion, and we moved on to messaging apps. One day, I’m pretty sure it’ll evolve into something else.

“So because of this,” she continues. “I fixated on the idea of communication, as mediated through social media and our relationship with our phone. How do we create a form of communication that remains valuable, present, and mindful even today, something that keeps us connected as human beings? We sometimes talk to the same person across multiple apps, and they’re such a constant in our lives, but how many of those conversations are actually meaningful?”

As a dance company, words rarely factor in as a primary focal point for RAW Moves, something that Ghost Call performers and company dancers Matthew Goh and Stephanie Yoong were initially apprehensive about during the rehearsal process. Says Nabilah: “I was wondering how I’d somehow work in the words and make sure that my collaborators weren’t scared of the words, rather, see them as a texture to work with. I had to give them more time to work with the words since it’s a form they weren’t familiar with, and that additional time really gave them the space to give my words the attention I wanted them to.”

She elaborates: “We eventually co-created a kind of theatrical dialogue to be used in the performance itself, even creating characters as I sort of workshopped some playwriting exercises, how to craft a backstory to their performance that they would be able to know exactly how the character would react in a given situation. Then, we made it a little more theatrical, worked on it with some improv exercises, found the conflict and the structure of each performer’s journey, and smoothed it out from there!”

Says dancer Matthew Goh: “I used to see poems as just these fancy, romantic words, but Nabilah’s helped me see the subtext in them, with the multiple layers between the lines and the sarcasm present in some of them. It’s really opened me up to what lies beneath the surface and how to read beyond the text itself. Of course, it helped once we started crafting the dialogue and really figure out how to escalate it from just an everyday conversation to something more dramatic and explosive.”

The performance itself will happen across two separate rooms, with one dancer in each carrying out their performance. Audience members are free to transit between the two at any point, however, will sacrifice being able to see one side for the other if they do. Says Nabilah: “The performance is aimed to depict a conversation between 2 characters, while the voiceover kind of dictating the rules of the world they’re in. It’s not always going to be a straightforward world, and eventually, their actions begin to come out of sync with what is being said. Even if audiences do visually miss certain things, the voiceover can help fill in those gaps and leave things to the imagination, a kind of ‘unified world’ that it creates. There is a deliberate sense of FOMO we create with the show, and there are also times where you’ll be able to get a sense of what’s happening on both sides. And if ever there’s an empty room with just the performer in it, well, that just contributes to the meaning of the work, and the idea of ghosting someone!”

“It’s my first time working with a dance company,” she adds. “And for me as a playwright, it’s more often that my words simply lay down the framework then I leave it in the hands of the director. But with this work, as a ‘conceptualiser’, Ricky has given me new space and opportunities to figure out how to make rehearsals go, with more say in even things like the costumes. It’s a little scary and daunting to be given so much responsibility, but I’m above all, excited to present this work about connection, not just between people, but even between movement and text.”

Adds RAW Moves artistic director Ricky Sim: “The work should come from an honest place and speak for itself. The other day, I met another artist who asked me ‘what is it that grounds your company?’ I responded that it was the non-singular aesthetic. He then said ‘if that’s the case, then there is no branding or style.’ But it’s precisely this – I want to break away from a ‘style’, and that’s the uniqueness of RAW Moves. I don’t have to create one for the sake of it to push the company forwards – I just need the work to pull its own weight with the artists I engage and the dancers I train. The work we produce never fails to surprise me, and I find that more fruitful and meaningful than sticking to a specific style.”

He concludes: “As a non-conforming dance company, our work reflects that philosophy as we explore different ways to transform movement and dance with our collaborators. Dance has no fixed purpose and so much potential, in cross cultural, cross discipline, and even in its ability to understand a different community with different perspectives. Dance is an outlet for different creativities of expression, and RAW wants to express the different voices from the community of contemporary dance, not just within our own audiences, but even beyond that on a national, maybe even international level. My ultimate wish then is for lots of people to continue experimenting with dance as a form, opening up rather than looking inwards or sticking to what people necessarily demand of us.”

One is left curious as to what will result from this creative exploration into the unfamiliar realm of words, meshed with the keen training Ricky has given to his dancers. How will we find connection in the modern world, amidst the advent of technology and empty conversations? Only one way to find out, and that’s through RAW Moves’ Ghost Call this May.

Photo Credit: RAW Moves

Ghost Call plays from 16th to 18th May 2019 at Goodman Arts Centre Multipurpose Studio 1 & 2. Tickets available from Peatix

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