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Review: SAME-SAME by Jeffrey Tan, No Strings Attached and Diverse Abilities Dance Collective

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Finding points of connection thousands of miles apart.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has made travel more or less impossible, our physical distance from people in other countries can feel further than ever. But perhaps in some ways, with the increased use of digital platforms like Zoom, there are times we find ourselves even closer than before. That is the experiment at the heart of collaborators Jeffrey Tan (Singapore), Diverse Abilities Dance Collective (Singapore) and No Strings Attached (Australia) in their project SAME-SAME, where differently-abled performers from Singapore and Australia attempt to find their similarities with each other, in this simple but tender act of connecting online.

Streamed over Zoom, both groups of performers are housed in a single space in their respective countries, as facilitated by Jeffrey Tan and Emma Beech in Singapore and Australia respectively. Each performer is provided with a personal laptop to access Zoom, while another camera streams video footage of the respective venues where we can see all the performers at once. This allows us both an overall view of both venues, as well as the intimacy afforded from seeing each performer’s face close-up when they speak.

Subastian Tan (from Maya Dance Company) opens by leading a simple warmup for everyone, including viewers, to feel more relaxed. As with all first meetings, the performance then begins with an introduction, with each of the performers and facilitators telling us their name, where they’re from, and a fun fact about themselves. As the discussion gets deeper, we go from letting the performers explain things to do in their home country, to more personal details, such as the performers explaining the origins of their names, or even Kobi sharing about the debilitating accident she had when she was younger.

While framed as a performance, SAME-SAME is really more of an opportunity for these differently-abled performers to showcase what they’ve learnt and practiced over the last few months with Jeffrey, Emma and Subastian, and the environment always feels inclusive and encouraging. Even when performers struggle to remember certain lines or find the words to express themselves, the facilitators are patient, giving them time to think with little hints along the way to guide them to their intended answer. While a little nervous at first, it was evident that the performers warmed up and opened up more as the show went on, and they became excited and more willing to share and contribute to the discussion.

Perhaps most poignant of all is when they begin to share their experiences of what the pandemic has done to their lives, whether it’s disrupting their regular hobbies, or the fear that they would not be able to return to work in future, or simply how they’ve been coping in the new normal. From time to time, the performers even share about their faith and religion, and how it’s helped them through these difficult times – Arassi, for example, recites a prayer for good health and protection, while others share their wishes for what they’ll be doing once COVID-19 eases up.

Partly a dance piece, the performers on occasion break into their own solo numbers, or even a group number, such as an interpretive dance inspired by the constant hand washing they’ve been doing to represent the new normal. There’s evidently been some time spent on rehearsing together, as they’re able to remember and perform all the steps in time with the music, together despite being physically apart. This idea of closing the distance and connecting is cemented by a collective poem they recite as a company, before the piece ends on a hopeful note, now closer to each other than before, with viewers feeling like they may have made a few new friends too. SAME-SAME is essentially a heartwarming experiment of a production, enabling these performers to present their skills to a live audience, and that they too, are capable of producing art from a unique perspective.

SAME-SAME played from 13th to 14th November 2020 at the Quartet Bar, Adelaide Festival Centre and was streamed on Zoom. For more information on the other projects funded by the Singapore International Foundation, visit their website here

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