Finding new ways of interaction and performance in a post-COVID world.
While some may bemoan the new normal, others have found ways to adapt to the new rules and use it as a way to reimagine the way we interact with others. In InterBeing, T.H.E Dance Company meditates on these new means of co-existence, with a double bill of new works by choreographers Jos Baker (UK/Belgium) and Dimo Kirilov Milev (Netherlands/Bulgaria), each exploring what it means to live in the new normal, whether in our interpersonal relations, or how arts companies continue to create work in spite of the new challenges.
In Contactless, Jos Baker addresses the pandemic by exploring how we maintain communication, even when social distance becomes the norm. Bells form the basis for this piece, as it begins with Zu You watching a bell suspended from the ceiling. This bell seems to act as a metaphor for how change is the only constant, as Zu You fails to catch it time and again. What we have to do then, is to change our perspective and reposition ourselves if we are to face the challenges ahead, just as how he learns to ponder its movements and try to understand the bell’s movements, adapting to these changes before finally succeeding.
But this is just the calm before the storm, as strong winds whip up in the background, suggesting dark times ahead. It’s a dangerous world ahead, as dancers scurry out onstage one by one, before quickly retreating to the darkness again. All that’s left is the sound of bells, each chime unique, slowly luring the dancers back out again, as they move in tandem to the rhythm, as if controlling them.
These bells perhaps, double as a way to calm the dancers down, lulling us into a dreamscape, as Zu You and Nah Jieying emerge to perform a duet, exploring ideas of their existence, and seeking answers, all while showing off strong chemistry with each other that grows stronger with each passing moment. The bells quieten down, and all we hear is the dancers’ breathing, sensing their emotions emanating forth, and watch as they learn to understand each other in this space. It feels almost sacred to watch this happening live before our eyes, this process of re-learning how to connect in the new normal.
In a similar vein, Brendon and Fiona Thng too find connection with each other, as they attempt to balance the bells around their bodies. As they shift, change pose and move about, they seem to be working together to push their own boundaries, becoming increasingly fluid as they get used to each other. But before they can perfect it, the clock strikes several times, and it seems that time is up. Contactless then suggests that this process of communication and learning to live with each other is a constant, ongoing process, as we keep trying to find the light, even in our darkest hour, always hoping that things will improve, and that one day, we will get though it all.
In the second show of the double bill, Desidium sees Dimo Kirilov Milev exploring the use of tech, and how it can help add to live performances. Playing with the idea of hybrid performances, the performance opens with the dancers gathering around a camera, while one of the dancers looks directly at the lens. While we may not be able to see the details in their movements with our naked eye, that’s where the camera comes in, magnifying it on the big screen, and a reminder of how technology can enhance the arts. No detail is lost, and as the camera follows her around, we notice the time gap between her movements onstage and onscreen, reminding us of the delayed experience of watching shows online.
But the delay is not a limitation, but an opportunity for dancers to capitalise on. Amplified against an atmospheric soundscape, we watch as the dancers react to their own movements onscreen. They become aware of how their movements show up on screen, and begin to dance, layering it with increasingly complicated movements. Every movement has been calculated to produce maximum effect, and reminds us of all the hard work that goes into an online production, how there is no room for error, further emphasised when the delay is reduced, and the onscreen image is almost entirely synced to what’s happening in real time.
The remainder of Desidium continues to delve into the quirks of online performances; from time to time, the dancers stop mid-movement, as if replicating the way we pause a stream online, showcasing how much more liberating an online performance can be for audiences. On the other hand, with how cameras usually limit our field of vision, the performance chooses to remedy that problem, as the camera instead zooms out, giving us a view of the entire theatre such that we get the ‘full’ experience onscreen.
Perhaps then, Desidium shows us what dance performances may look like in future, as we continue to dive deeper into the possibilities the digital sphere offers, both online and in hybrid works. But even with the proliferation of the digital, we are reminded that it is merely a medium, and it is ultimately, the dancers, choreographers, cameramen and crew that make it the success that it is.
InterBeing is a work that’s testament to T.H.E.’s commitment to produce quality productions and their resilience as a dance company, making sure that live performances return where possible, to better tell these stories of the way we live and interact with each other in these strange times.
Photo Credit: Kuang Jingkai
InterBeing played on 25th and 26th June 2021 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio and online. More information available here