RAW Moves opens 2021 with a much anticipated ‘live’ performance, and original work XITY by Matthew Goh under the Research & Development platform. Working with RAW Moves’ overarching theme of Reference, Matthew references two subjects: the city – the place – and the people in that environment, in other words the inhabitants, questioning the relationship between them.

“My research was inspired by the different cities I have encountered in Asia, and each visit was a unique experience. I felt different and behaved differently. This got me intrigued by this phenomenon so I took this platform to delve deeper; exploring questions like why we feel an emotional response to certain infrastructure and how society shapes the urban landscape,” says Matthew.

In the earlier phases of rehearsals, Matthew was working with Chok Si Xuan, a Kinetic Sculptor. They toyed with the idea of how to merge the two elements – body movements and kinetic sculptures, together. Prototypes were created and movement collaborators Han Kyongsu and Kwek Yixuan were tasked to experiment and probe on the embodied and subliminal experiences they have shared of living in different cities in different parts of the world.

Working with these prototypes also allowed Matthew to push the understanding or definition of movement beyond the organic bodies (the human body) and the fabricated bodies (kinetic sculpture). This creative process is intricately documented by Dramaturg Dominic Nah as part of the archival presentation under XITY’s Research Guide.

Watching a preview of the show, we spoke to Matthew and his collaborators. As Matthew explains of the process: “It was about navigation in the city, and this relationship happening between the two of them, morphing in different ways. Our start point was in relating this to our everyday environment, whether walking to the MRT or different areas in a city, be it in Singapore or other countries.”

Having conceptualised the work for six months already, working through the COVID-19 restrictions has been tough on Matthew and his team. “Yixuan brought in different materials for us to explore, from plastic to lycra to acrylic, and to see how our bodies respond to these materials. It was definitely challenging to do our explorations via Zoom,” he explains.

“Every scene in the show will have its own ‘investigation’, which act almost like this navigation of a city,” he continues. “The dancers have their own input, adding their own personal experiences they bring into the box, constantly transforming. It could be Korea, it could be Bangkok, and it could be Singapore. A lot of the time, they’ll be navigating how they feel and their own responses. There’s a lot of free rein to explore what they want to, such as the idea of balancing being on the fringes of a city, and trying not to fall off as we find our centre, as we explore the relationship between the city and its inhabitants.”

“My movements have always been more staccato, and while I do change up my movements from time to time, it tends to end with me ripping up the box,” says collaborator Kyongsu. “We thought a lot about the history a country goes through that defines its people, culture and landscape. Matthew tends to ask a lot of questions, and creates many openings to enter the work, but ultimately, we’re always very selective and clear about what qualities we’re going for, particularly with how COVID-19 led us to consider the tension between personal and private space. But mostly, I let the box take me somewhere that evokes a certain memory, and it’s a different one every time.”

“Because of the improvisational nature of the show, the performance itself does change, even between an afternoon and night show on the same day,” says Matthew. “They have the freedom to draw on whatever they want to, as long as they end up exploring the city’s collective identity, and how bodies come together to form that. That itself also changes over time; perhaps the performers don’t like each other and end up segregating themselves, or they could link up and join forces. What you see is this dialogue between two people, two cities, two organisations, and how to plan a city.”

“My training is in acting, and what struck me about dance is how it wasn’t scripted, and how it made me feel nervous when I kept trying to lock things down,” says Kyongsu. “But Matthew is very good at catching little details, like how he sees some detail that’s good, and if I don’t do it the next time, he’ll let me know it. I think that’s the beauty of it, pushing our boundaries as performers onstage, and learning to be in tune with ourselves, to get out of my training focused on technique, to create a work that comes from a genuine, organic place.”

Considering the limited audience numbers live performances have these days, Matthew is surprisingly relaxed about it. “I’m actually not the type of person who needs a big audience or space, and appreciate these private settings a lot,” he says. “In the preparation phase, we were very wary about possible restrictions that might prevent us from doing what we wanted to, and we kept these concerns at the back of our head. But somehow, what we ended up doing was still within safety measures, almost a happy coincidence, and I believe that life still needs to go on in a pandemic, where we continue to make art and do what we can to the best of our abilities. I’m excited to show this at last, and hope to keep this momentum going.”

RAW Moves’ Artistic Director Ricky Sim explains: “XITY can be a reflective thought on COVID-19 since this pandemic has certain influences. During Matthew’s exploration process during this pandemic, artists had a longer homestay which allowed them to generate deeper reflection while being alone at home. The bigger picture of the city they live in, now becomes a small room. That in turn, affected how they think, act and channel their energy in making their art. It all came down to a very metaphysical state.”

As such, through XITY, Matthew invites us to intimately reflect on our relationship with the space we live in. “Hopefully we will be able to gain new perspective and new questions about our living environments after watching this performance,” he says. “And I hope that through XITY, on a bigger level, it will make us wonder how we would want to shape our cities because in turn, it would shape who we are.”

Photo Credit: RAW Moves

XITY runs from 29th to 31st January 2021 at Goodman Arts Centre, Block O, Multi-Purpose Studio 1 & 2. Tickets available from Peatix

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