Using dance to present the converging of cultures and our shared beliefs.
Pan, or ‘盤’ is a word that appears across various Asian cultures and vocabularies, from Mandarin to Korean, Japanese to Vietnamese. While its Mandarin character takes inspiration from the Chinese creation myth of the giant ‘Pangu’, the romanized ‘pán’ also holds a variety of meanings, from a serving bowl, to the crouched intensity of a giant feline, or even just the sound of hammering on wood.
This then, forms the basis for T.H.E Dance Company’s Pán 盤. Choreographed by Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Kuik Swee Boon and Resident Choreographer Kim Jae Duk, and starring T.H.E. dancers Brandon Khoo, Fiona Thng, Klievert Jon Mendoza, Nah Jieying, Ng Zu You and Haruka Leilani Chan, the performance aims to present ideas of transculturation and positionality, inclusion and diversity.
While Pan was initially meant for a live performance, due to the ongoing pandemic restrictions, T.H.E. and the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre instead opted to livestream it online instead, pivoting fast to ensure it could still be presented. The performance begins with a mysterious hooded figure onstage, before they are joined by more of the same. They are ninja-like, their movements poetic as they shift and lurk in the shadows. We wonder about their identities, before the lights come on, and they are illuminated by the white background. Adrian Tan’s lighting draws our attention to all six dancers onstage, and allows us to see the performance in ‘a different light’.
No longer bathed in darkness, the mood shifts as the tempo of the music picks up, and the dancers repeat their movements over and over, playing with shapes and movement underscored by the light. There is a sense of unbridled freedom as they let loose and express themselves, letting their bodies speak for them.
But after this introduction, it seems the dancers are now preparing for the journey ahead, as they remove their hoods, sit down on stage, and begin to meditate and pray, with their palms together. They seem to be at one, united in their shared journey, before they remove their coats and hang them up, preparing for what lies ahead.
Before embarking on this journey begins however, one must train for the task. The theatre goes silent save for the sound of their stamping, the sound of their breaths as they perform martial arts-like choreography, as if engaged in a training montage. We feel their determination emanate from them, and as the music begins again, we know that they are ready.
No one said that this was going to be easy, and there comes a point where they seem ready to give up, looking up at the heavens in the hopes of divine intervention. Their exhaustion is clear when they collapse and lie down, while we hear the sounds of a beating heart in the background. Whether it’s recovering from the effort or just taking a break, it seemed that they had begun to lose hope to carry on, and I wondered how they would persevere in their journey.
It is this exhaustion that puts them in an almost delusional dream state, such that even their footing seems unsteady when they finally stand up. Yet amongst them, Ng Zu You begins to dance fervently, as if motivating them to keep going. Reinvigorated by this sight, it’s almost as if they regain some of that lost energy, reverting to their former selves, and maintaining their form and discipline by supporting each other. This support is further emphasised as Klievert Jon Mendoza and Nah Jie Ying perform a duet, their movements and bodies close, the transitions smooth. We’re seeing the ensemble drawing strength from their bonds, as they all begin to get up and dance again.
Still, there are hints of tension still present, as Fiona Thng breaks free from the group, and runs to the front, seemingly lost and afraid yet determined. Meanwhile, Brandon Khoo begins to dance furiously, expending all his energy and putting it all out onstage. This leads to the rest of the dancers becoming akin to clashing atoms, pushing and pulling via invisible forces across the stage, each wanting to find the space to move, to stand out. As if transferring those forces to them, as Brandon stands alone amidst the mayhem.
All chaos must end eventually, and suddenly, the soundscape shifts to the eerie and uncertain, as the group slows down and comes together again. Emcees and guest performers Tung Ka Wai and Wheelsmith (Daniel Bawthan) arrive onstage while the dancers ‘float’ around them. They come to a stop, curling up as the music ticks down to the performance’s end, and begin to reach out and touch one another, just to feel that human connection once more. Pán then ends on this poignant reminder – that amidst these moments of isolation, we need to find the shared connection, re-learn to coexist amidst our differences, and pull through adversity as one.
Photo Credit: Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre
Pan was livestreamed from the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre on 22nd and 23rd May 2021.