In the middle of the pandemic, it’s all too easy to come to a complete standstill. But for dancers – movement is eternal, and the one thing that will keep them going, as exemplified and celebrated each year at the Esplanade’s da:ns festival. This year, the 16th edition of the festival will take place from 8th to 17th October, and in line with the way the pandemic has shaped live performance, goes all in on the notion of finding new ways to dance.
This year’s festival zeroes in on how dance has evolved in this period, with over 10 new works and 280 diverse local dance artists, propelled to finding new ways to present performance on virtual stages and digital realms, engaging with important social issues of our times and can empower individuals and communities through dance projects which initiate conversations on diversity, inclusivity, social engagement and culture. And most of all – that dance isn’t just for professionals, but everyone from experts to novices as they dance together and participate in the various programmes.
Highlights of the festival include commissioned work 14. Available to watch for free (with pre-registration), the performance takes its title from how quarantine typically lasts fourteen days, and expands that idea into how theatres too have found themselves in isolation during this pandemic. Conceptualised by Chen Wu-Kang and Sun Ruey Horng (Taiwan), 14 then is a dance marathon livestreamed from around the world, with 19 independent artists attempting to reflect on their experiences in isolation, each one presenting a 14-minute solo in a vast empty theatre, devoid of crew or live audience.
Further adding to the live viewing experience is guest commentators providing insightful perspectives to the solos, mimicking sports commentary. Available for viewing until 31st October, be prepared to be transported around the world as each dancer explores the new normal, new possibilities and new performance perspectives as our collective experiences of time and isolation shift in this pandemic-stricken world.
Shining the spotlight on the local front, In Good Company features five of Singapore’s foremost contemporary dance companies, namely CHOWK Productions, Frontier Danceland, P7:1SMA, RAW Moves and T.H.E Dance Company. Having supported these companies for years through various festivals and commissions, this production marks the first time these companies will gather in one space at the Esplanade Theatre, each one given an open invitation to create new works that represent their identity and artistic direction for the near future over two weekends in October.
Over the first weekend, P7:1SMA will explore gestures used in Malay nuptial blessing rituals in Selamat Pengantin Baru (Happy Newlyweds), and while T.H.E Dance Company will highlight the silver linings of living in the midst of a pandemic with A Beautiful Day. The second weekend will feature the remaining companies, with CHOWK Productions experimenting with odissi footwork, rhythm and tempo in Variations on a Theme; Frontier Danceland looking at proximity and personal space in The Span of Us; and RAW Moves exploring new causalities of expression and the relationship between movement, sound and space in Overlap.
Yet another highlight that plays with the livestream experience is Filipino dancer Eisa Jocson. Having previously performed Princess at da:ns 2019, her new work Manila Zoo continues to explore themes of happiness by way of Disney, and the almost sinister, machine-like way it is churned out. In this work, Jocson is joined by four Filipino performers and German-based musician Charlotte Simon (Les Trucs), as they hijack the Disney experience by embodying the intersections and politics of humans and animals, of spectacle, labour and isolation.
Unusually, Manila Zoo will featured a Zoom performance designed intentionally to be screened to a live theatre audience attending in person. Watch as Jocson and co reject established entertainment routines, tackle the mental effects of isolation shared by man and beast, and express a collective desire for change in this bizarro zoo, where private and public, real and virtual, happiness and horror collide.
Dance doesn’t have to happen in the theatre, and da:ns will also be presenting four short films as part of Cine:dans, namely -Dance Nucleus’ Dancing in the Metaverse: A Hackathon showcasing the results of a hackathon where dance artists and other practitioners in Singapore were invited to prototype strategies for digitalisation for the performing arts over three days.; Body-Buildings which sees choreography inspired by architecture; Being Jerome Bel, which takes a closer look at celebrated artist/choreographer Jérôme Bel, known for being an ‘anti-director’; and Hybrid Motion, a series of creative encounters and collaborations between dance artists and filmmakers from Singapore and Hong Kong.
Dance isn’t just for those affiliated with companies; as da:ns proves in and so we dance, a social project by migrant workers in Singapore, Dapheny Chen and Serena Ho. After some of their most pressing issues came to light over the course of the pandemic and they entered the public consciousness, these migrant workers will now have the stage to share their conversations and stories through song and dance, navigating the impact the pandemic has on them, their strengths and vulnerabilities as migrant workers and their outlooks on life.
At the Outdoor Theatre, award-winning dance couple Rachel and Marcus settle their differences on stage in an epic showdown at FULL OUT! ScRach vs MarcS, where they battle it out across genres and styles, while Singapore Dance Theatre’s Forces of Dance sees the prestigious company performing on the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre stage for the first time in a showcase of delicate duets and spirited ensemble pieces.
Showcasing the work of the next generation of dance artists, dance students from LASALLE College of the Arts will have the spotlight in Civic Bodies, while students from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts will do likewise in The Third Space. Families interested in dipping their feet into the world of dance can get involved in the Footwork 2021 series, or get involved directly with da:ns as a volunteer with the Esplanade’s da:ns kaki programme. Whichever way you choose, know that dance is for everyone, regardless of age or experience, and certainly, an art form that remains thriving in surprising, unexpected ways in the new normal.
da:ns festival 2021 runs from 8th to 17th October 2021 at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. Tickets and full programme details available here