Choose your own Spanish dance class.
Despite its status as a corporate meeting platform, Zoom has offered up a surprising number of possibilities and potential as a medium for theatre. For performer Qotn. Van Su Yun, director Adeeb Fazah, and writer Nah Dominic, it’s become a prime means of experimentation when it comes to storytelling in the pandemic season, as seen in their new work Broken Turns.
Taking the form of a performance-lecture, Su Yun is the only performer as she teaches audience members about the surprisingly diverse nature of Spanish dance, going beyond flamenco to introduce a range of other forms to us. Streamed live from a dance studio, naturally, she also demonstrates these dances for us, complete with traditional costumes and accompanying music.
The twist to all of this is that she only has time to perform a select number of dances, something the audience has to vote on (via polling) to decide how exactly the show will progress. It’s not particularly complicated, as it’s really just making a choice between two options at various stages of the performance, and earlier decisions do not affect later options. However, the experience does differ slightly based on which choice you make – including the story each dance is followed up by.
Broken Turns, you see, doesn’t just refer to a type of move that Spanish dances use in choreography, but also literally refers to the physical and psychological breakages and damage Su Yun has gone through in life. On the surface, she’s confident, well-spoken, and knowledgeable in her craft. But as she reveals between demonstrations, the sum of parts that makes up Su Yun includes plenty of pain.
There are literally moments she expresses bodily pain from the physical demands of dancing, where she places an ice pack on her knee at one point. At others, she delves into her own history, and how she’s faced her own issues with sexism, particularly to do with misinterpretations of her personality. Other moments include discussing her Spanish dance teacher and the Spanish dance community, to aid audiences in understanding not just the dance types themselves, but also the context in which they were brought to Singapore.
Dramaturgically speaking, while the anecdotes and stories Su Yun shares are deeply personal, the links between the lesson and the stories are ultimately tangential. and could exist independently of each other. The dances then, as accomplished as they are, simply serve to provide a visual element to the performance to break up the monotony of a monologue. In a similar manner, the idea of audience choice isn’t explored or tied in as strongly to the narrative itself, where we never really feel our choices have that much of an impact on the performance itself. We feel for her at times, but are rarely given space to process her pain – she tends to brush it aside and move on to the next segment as quickly as she opens up about herself.
Nonetheless, as an experiment in form, Broken Turns shows us the possibilities Zoom offers as a medium for theatre. It is of note that the production uses not one but two cameras when Su Yun is performing, allowing us to experience two views of her to better appreciate the dance. By its end we are certainly left more learned about the varieties of Spanish dance there are, our interest piqued. Art and pain are intrinsically linked, but Broken Turns seems to just scratch at the surface of this idea, and we wonder if this was the right show to bring out Su Yun’s story.
Broken Turns played from 26th to 28th March 2021 on Zoom.