Review: Seeds by Diverse Abilities Dance Collective

You’ll never know how a seed turns out if you don’t give it the chance to grow.

Where dancers of the past were often required to look a certain way or follow strict traditions, as time goes by, dance has become increasingly inclusive as an art form, celebrating diversity in body and the fusion of styles.

Under their Diverse Abilities Dance Collective (DADC) community initiative, Maya Dance Company has championed that belief for some time now, taking on dancers of diverse backgrounds, and providing them with the resources and professional training they need to stage a show. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic going on, DADC managed to push past the challenges, and return with their third production this June, with the premiere of Seeds online.

Featuring six dancers with disability from DADC, alongside international guest artists, Seeds presents a series of seven works, dealing with the themes of ‘care’, ‘connect’ and ‘collaborate’. Working with original music scores and choreographers over four months to help conceptualise and produce each work, Seeds then gives these dances with disability a chance to shine on the digital stage.

Hosted by Judith Teo, who introduced each work, Seeds opened with Eva Tey and Jaspreet Kaur’s Dusk Till Dawn. Featuring music by Kim Jae Duk. Dusk Till Dawn brings to mind the saying ‘it’s darkest before the dawn’, and sees performer June Lin surrounded by folding chairs in the darkness. These chairs seem to represent absent people and audiences, reminding us of the current predicament the arts scene is in, with limited audience members under COVID-19 restrictions.

Donning a red dress, her movements are fluid and expressive, as she moves across the stage, Alberta Wileo’s lighting spotlighting her, as if she’s caught in a storm. She seems panicked at times, like swimming in a dark void, but finds a means to calm herself as she performs bharatanatyam-inspired dance moves. Eventually, though, her hands form the shape of a flower, growing upwards into the light. All it takes is to tide over these dark times and keep hope in our hearts, and we too will see the light once again.

In Australian choreographer Liz Lea’s That Extra ‘Some, with the film directed by Rose Sivam, performer Katie Senior introduces herself to us, and explains how she has 47 chromosomes instead of the usual 46. She begins to tell us about her likes and dislikes, her hobbies and skills, all while moving her hands, as if performing some kind of sign language. It is hard to deny her claims of being beautiful and fabulous, as we cut to a scene of her standing in an idyllic countryside setting, allowing her clothes to billow in the wind while relaxing music plays, and we are left momentarily in awe of the majestic scene.

In Subastian Tan’s Chrysalis, performer Chen Wanyi mimics the act of metamorphosis to showcase growth as an artist and person. With a backing track of Wanyi responding to questions about herself during an interview, we watch as she struggles to shed a tight denim jacket, as if constricted by society to fit in and behave a certain way. Positioned in the middle of 3 mirrors, she is constantly reminded how she looks, made self-conscious of her body again and again.

Freedom then, is a choice, as she eventually dives behind a rattan changing screen, and emerges from her ‘chrysalis’ in a colourful Hawaiian print shirt. While she may not be a social butterfly just yet, her movements are now more free and less constricted, and she seems more at ease with herself, assured of her identity and transformed for the better by her decision.

From Indonesia, G-STAR Gigi Art of Dance presented Karina Syahna and Cedric Tanamas’ Re:Imagine Home. Featuring nine dancers, the lockdown-inspired piece resolutely stands against a mind-numbingly boring lockdown, instead, featuring the dancers partying it up like no one’s watching. Filmed in a large house, much of the film sees dancers letting loose, and making full use of the various rooms to just have fun. While there isn’t necessarily a story behind it, it is hard to deny the simple, unadulterated joy that emanates from them all, almost like a music video as they move in sync with each other in front of neon lights, enjoying their time together as a found family.

Swagatam Krishna was still a work in progress, but showcased choreographer and performer Babli Ramachandran’s dedication to the piece, a means of welcoming Lord Krishna into the space and performing his various feats. Performed at the virtual Awards Ceremony organized by the Down Syndrome Federation of India in December 2020, Babli is completely focused on the task as she dances alone, carnatic music playing as she performs, and completely immersed in the moment.

Meanwhile, Shaun Lim’s In Tandem II featured dancers Arassi Rajkumar and Hee Yuan Sheng. This was the piece in particular that focused on the idea of connection, and about the need to bridge distances between individuals. With music by Govin Tan, the performance begins with Arassi and Yuan Sheng under a blue and red spotlight respectively. Each performing their own movements, they curiously observe each other from afar, before they come together, the two spotlights merging into one. Now in the same space, they merge into a single spotlight, creating experiences together as they forget their differences. Working in tandem, their movements become more vibrant, more energetic, and leave us with the reminder that no man is an island, and that things are always better when we’re not alone.

In the final piece of the evening, Flamenco Sin Fronteras’ artistic director Antonio Vargas collaborated with Megan Tang, as they performed flamenco number Gypsy Love. Seated on a cajon drum, Antonio began a steady beat while Megan, outfitted in a traditional flamenco dress, begins to dance. Telling the tale of a young woman’s love, Megan seemed completely at ease onstage, comfortable as she allowed herself to completely immerse in the moment. Antonio has taught her well, as she focuses on getting both the gestures and the emotions just right, resulting in a performance that feels genuine, and one that both performers evidently enjoyed being a part of.

Ending off with the various choreographers thanking their collaborators, Seeds is proof that dance can and should be an accessible art form to just about anyone. All it takes is a little nurturing from a willing teacher, and these seeds of passion are likely to take the first step towards blossoming.

Photo Credit: Maya Dance Theatre

SEEDs played from 17th to 19th June 2021 on SISTIC Live.

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