Arts Dance with Me Esplanade Theatre Studio Review Singapore

Review: Reawakening Cultural Memories by T.H.E Dance Company

Screenshot 2021-02-21 at 10.57.41 AM

Bringing contemporary dance to the Eastern heartlands. 

Thanks to its reputation of being ‘hard to understand’, contemporary dance isn’t exactly the easiest thing to bring to the masses. But one company has dared to try, as T.H.E Dance Company presented Reawakening Cultural Memories at Our Tampines Hub last week.

Playing at the Festive Arts Theatre, Reawakening Cultural Memories is primarily aimed at exposing the heartlands to the T.H.E’s dance experience, as well as marking the Company’s first live performance on an external stage since the COVID-19 pandemic. The show presented two excerpts from T.H.E’s repertoire – As It Fades (2011) and CrossTalk (2012), each themed after elements of Chinese culture.

Taking inspiration from the traditional Chinese comedic performance of the same name, Wu Yi-San’s CrossTalk (2021 Pandemic Version) features a duet between Brandon Khoo and Ng Zu You, representing a dialogue between the contemporary and traditional, as set to the rhyme and rhythm of crosstalk.

Opening with a live video feed of the changing room, we watch as Brandon makes his way from there to the main stage. T.H.E artistic director Kuik Swee Boon films Brandon’s actions, and in the footage onscreen, he seems to make it his own, and we think about how integral the movements are as a part of the performance.

In a buoyant cheer to celebrate the Lunar New Year, we feel enthusiastic energy filling up the theatre, an interesting take on how to bring dance to the community, with plenty of banter and conversation to make it that much more accessible. What is dance anyway, but a way of expressing one’s self in any way we want?

Zu You arrives on stage, and begins to play a game of catching while conversing with Brandon, with the two opening up to each other, communicating through words and movements. Dancing to siesta music, the two showcase what they’re made of, and capture the liveliness, light-heartedness, and precision of crosstalk.

In Kuik Sween Boon’s As It Fades, the work pays homage to Asian traditions, and touches on how they have begun to fade from our modern lives, incorporating the use of Hainanese and folk tunes, alongside personal stories and life experiences from the performers (Brandon Khoo, Chang En, Fiona Thng, Haruka Leilani Chan, Klievert Mendoza, Nah Jieying, and Ng Zu You).

The performance opens with a Walkman on the chair, playing what sounds like our ancestors chanting in dialect, before it segues into Hainanese folk songs. Dressed in all black, the dancers seem like they’re attending a funeral, mourning the loss of these dialects. Dancing and singing along to the songs, the spotlight is cast on the Walkman, highlighting how integral these songs are to the performance, and how the nuances in these sounds provide the inspiration for the choreography.

The music crackles, and the dancers gather around the chair, straining to hear the last few words from it. There is a distinctly dystopian atmosphere, as the sound reverberates around the space. It reaches the point of discomfort, yet is effective at delivering the impact that this loss of culture and language has on us, not what we want, but inevitably happening. The performers are affected, disturbed by the ongoing conversation of the piece, and respond to it through dance.

Showcasing balance, strength, perseverance and finesse, the ensemble’s movements are synchronised, and reminiscent of Chinese martial arts like Wushu. As an air of quietude falls over the theatre, Brandon begins to speak in Cantonese, voicing his inner thoughts, while another dancer interprets them through dance, lost and suffocating. As they now run away from it all, it is clear how there is only despondence on one side, and happiness on the other. We wonder when will we look beyond what is what, and simply focus on what is in front of us.

With no one left in the chair, the dancers are now dressed in their own clothes, seemingly representing the ordinary everyman. It seems that as we all go about our own lives, we have somehow forgotten our history. The dancers look at each other, wondering what to do next, as the one dancer wearing the clothes of our forefathers sits back on the chair. How do we hold on to our heritage, and what will we do to preserve it? Will we just allow these traditions and dialects to fade away? This is the final question we are left with as the show draws to a close, wondering if we can find it in us to reconnect with these cultural memories long forgotten, or leave the fragments of the past to disappear.

Reawakening Cultural Memories played at Our Tampines Hub on 20th February 2021. Watch the livestream recording on Facebook here

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