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★★★☆☆ Review: No Corners by Decadance Co.

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Decadance’s new work explores space and comfort in the heart of Orchard Road

Considering how distracting and noisy the surroundings are, performing a dance in the middle of Orchard Road seems counterproductive. Yet with Decadance Co’s No Corners, the site-specific work makes full use of its unique performance area, and allows the surrounding chaos to further inform its message of comfort and discomfort.

A collaboration between choreographer Rachel Lum and filmmaker Khairulhakim, and performed by Rachel Lim, Jeryl Lee and Valerie Lim, No Corners has audience members seated at the roof of Design Orchard, while being surrounded by brightly lit advertising billboards, and birds chirp noisily in the trees. We feel discomforted, unable to fully be at ease as we watch the performance before us, as it drives home the point of how hard it is to find peace in a world filled with anxieties and distractions.

The performance opens with Jeryl and Rachel seated on white sofas, staring at each other and seemingly frustrated. There is a distinct unease in the air as they face each other down, a disparity in the way they feel about each other as they go into a slow-motion ‘fight’ sequence. They are joined by Valerie, holding an ordinary mug. The fight escalates as they come together to perform synchronised movements. Thanks to the landscape and sounds, it almost feels like a medieval battle, bringing us into the doldrums as we hit an emotional low. Meanwhile, the dancers continue to engage in a push and pull over the course of their long and arduous battle.

One of them now picks up the mug, and as she steps back, another peers into it, as if it holds some kind of divine significance. We think of it as a legendary chalice, elevated to hold more importance than it appears. The dancers then go into a qigong stance, and with qigong primarily being about harnessing the strength of the inner body and bringing out one’s power, grace and finesse, it feels as if they are finally coming together in harmony, as their breaths settle and they show immense control. We feel this as Valerie lifts Rachel off the ground, almost effortlessly by putting her strength in all the right places.

As they sync up their movements, it seems that they are finally approaching a state of peace and comfort with each other. Rachel now holds the mug, and another dancer mimics her, almost as if she too wants to reach this holy grail and find peace. She then embraces Rachel, and we feel relaxed after the initial rigour and energy displayed by them.

Yet just as we think everything’s finally calmed down, Rachel drops the mug onto the ground, breaking the silence as it shatters. One sees it as a metaphor for letting go, and we think of the little things in life we hold on to that weigh us down, along with the deep-seated desires that prevent us from moving forward. Valerie attempts to guide Rachel away, an emotional moment as she acts as a form of support for her. It seems almost as if they lack familiarity with each other at this point as they display their emotions, and with this new space and new people, a prime opportunity to let go and move on.

With the next soundscape, we hear a mysterious tango playing as the dancers arrange the two white sofas side by side. The change in ‘scene’ makes us wonder about the need to adjust and what we do or give up in the lead up to that. A film by Khairulhakim is then projected onto the back of the sofas, showcasing scenes about the dancers stuck in a state of ennui at work or at home, with a sense of loss and hysteria bubbling up. Right after, all three begin to walk slowly to face us, gathering and using their actions to portray what they feel and say as individuals. It feels as if we’ve entered their subconscious, and seeing each of them for who they really are.

We hear the ticking of the clock, and the dancers’ movements begin to become repetitive. A green light shining down on them makes them look almost alien, and they become defamiliarised and strangers to us. They enter a ‘dance-off’ with each other using the same dance moves, almost showing us their different ways of communication. We see red and blue lights shining down on them, and it feels as if they’re in an arthouse film. The lights turn red and green, and we are reminded of traffic lights, unsure whether to stop or to go, the dancers caught in a limbo and unsure how to proceed.

Conceptually interesting and daring, No Corners pushes its dancers in new directions both artistically and physically, but is still clearly the work of a company just starting out. While each one is certainly skilled in their own right, it will still take a few more performances and time together for them to develop their chemistry and familiarise their relationship with each other.

As we approach the end of the show, the performance reaches a high point as we watch one of No Corners’ most poignant scenes. Now left in a confused state, the dancers seem to be on the brink of a fight, before the visuals shift to show them sitting under a flyover. Watching them look into the distance, there is a quiet acceptance, as if they have seen into the future and learnt to be ok with it. As they come together to embrace each other, it seems that they’ve also finally accepted each other, coming to terms with their inner demons and desires.

Set against the backdrop of Orchard Road, with plenty of noise from our surroundings and the lights of the billboards, we are reminded that as much as they’ve created this fascinating world, we’re constantly jolted back to the real one, creating a surreal feeling. In the heart of consumerism itself, we are left to wonder if we can somehow find peace amidst the call to constantly improve our quality of life with the next big thing, and become comfortable with our own state of mind and being.

Photo Credit: @dancealittleeveryday

No Corners played from 20th to 21st March 2020 at Design Orchard (250 Orchard Road). 

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