A closer look at the relationship we share with the city we live in.
Amidst our bustling lives in a metropolitan city, perhaps we spend far too little time thinking about our relationship with it. Dancer Matthew Goh however, has taken inspiration from this idea, not only as reflection, but as an entire project where he transforms our responses to our urban environment into movement.
Conceptualised and directed by Matthew, XITY takes the form of an ‘artistic laboratory’, where dancers Han Kyongsu and Kwek Yixuan create a space for us to consider the impact of city life. As we enter the multipurpose studio, we see that the space is bathed in white, signifying how it all starts from a clean slate. The dancers lay a sheet of plastic on the floor, looking at each other to decide who goes first. Kyongsu begins, and outlines herself on the plastic sheet to form contours and markings, like a mini-map. The two look at each other, and seem to acknowledge they’re good to go with a subtle nod.
One could hear the excited chatter from the audience, as they pondered over what was happening. It felt as if these outlines were the footprints left behind by humans on the landscape. And as they find space to fill up the “grid”, they fill it up with contour lines and roads and hills and crossings, crafting a map, while also seeming to be having fun with this process.
As the stagehands open up the panels, the entire space is lit up, and it feels as if it’s expanded from the small area we were focused on at the start. In a way, it made me think of the world as a playground, and cities as massive urban wonderlands. With boxes and structures arranged onstage, the dancers almost seem to provoke us to think about our relation with our physical space, considering the chaos and order that these ‘buildings’ and plans that seem to contain us with.
With these thoughts in mind, we segued into the next part of the performance, as the dancers got into the box-like structure. With white lines resembling roads, it seemed that these dancers were now in danger of being ‘stepped on’. The dancers have become the ‘humans’ that now embody these, and I began to sense the claustrophobia of the city, and how subconsciously, it even begins to change and influence our behaviour.
No two spaces are alike, and that divergence is further emphasised by how both dancers each present a different interpretation of the space, reacting differently based on their own life experiences and personalities. The soundscape evokes images of pedestrian crossings, as we hear the beeping of traffic lights, along with noisy roads and cars. We think about how these “spaces” were fixed, yet based on how the dancers personally interpreted the sounds and space, allowed them to navigate and perform their movements in unique ways. We are left to wonder how much of our actions are our own, or controlled by the urban landscape we live in.
The crew then puts up three plastic sheets with different drawings of maps, while the dancers continue writing their stories, almost showing us that they are setting it in stone, reflecting on how their feelings will be forever etched in their hearts. As Kyongsu writes down her thoughts, Yixuan begins to confront the ever-changing landscape.
The lights shine down on the plastic, and we see an image projected on the wall across from its light source. While at first, one only sees the projected image of the map on the wall, I also noticed how the light reflecting off the plastic reminded me of a view through a microscope. I considered how we often zoom in on the little things, so focused on the details that our lives become harder than they already are. At the same time, perhaps we ourselves are put under the microscope, and always pressured by the scrutiny of others. That sense of distortion of space, along with the sounds of crunching plastic made it seem as if the ‘humans’ were trying to break free. And as she stood still, it felt as if time itself was standing still with her.
While we couldn’t read what Kyongsu was writing on the floor, we heard its shrill screech with the force of her writing, amplifying how urgent the message was to her, and to take a step back and see how our own actions and identities are being shaped by our surroundings. All this happens while Yixuan is still performing at the back, going through her own story and struggle, as Kyongsu is going through hers.
With XITY, Matthew Goh’s directorial debut, his ideas are clear in their execution and their urgency to be told. Well-performed by the committed dancers and evocative in its presentation, XITY opened our eyes to the hidden bonds we shared with the space we live in, and a successful dance experiment revealing the stories present all around us.
Photo Credit: RAW Moves
XITY runs from 29th to 31st January 2021 at Goodman Arts Centre, Block O, Multi-Purpose Studio 1 & 2. Tickets are sold out.