New works explore the idea of carrying on and finding meaning.
Now in its 10th edition, liTHE has been a mainstay of T.H.E Second Company’s programme for a long time now, showcasing the efforts of young, semi-professional dance artists. In the latest edition, four choreographers have crafted three brand new works for the dancers after a 2 year incubation period, inspired in part of the experience of being in a pandemic, while also influenced by themes of nature, and our relationship to it.
liTHE 2021 opened with Nah Jieying’s The Remains of Being, exploring the notion of holding on and letting go, and how going through such experiences strips a person down to their true self. Performed by dancers Chang En, Joanna Oh, Koh Zong Qi, Marina Edana Idris, Vera Chiew, Stefanie Teo and Jason Chia, they begin. by standing before the light, their silhouettes clear while their faces barely visible. Turning their faces towards the light, they open themselves up to the space, and move to the front.
With the piano-driven soundtrack, the dancers seem to be filled with hope as they dance to the beat. But they suddenly take a step back, hesitant and looking for some form of inspiration. As they gracefully move around, the space seems to ebb and flow along with their movements, widening and narrowing. With two dancers left onstage, they seem to be figuring out what is happening. They lay hands on each other, a moment of personal touch that seems to bring them peace, before the performance delves into a kind of organised chaos. Control is essential to this piece, as they stand in the corner, while a seated gentleman in a suit switches on the lamp.
The dancers respond to this, as the lights and sound dramatised the scene, and evoked a sensory response in the audience, changing the scene each time. Even as the five dancers appear uncertain, the only way is forward, as they keep moving. We wonder if these dancers are a figment of the man’s imagination, as these dancers are almost ‘dragged’ out of his head. The man comes alive, gets up from his seat, and joins them in a soiree. Perhaps meaning then comes from taking the time to understand ourselves and our surroundings, with the dancers so reactive to the soundtracks, executing movements that fit well with the music, and in so doing, find their own raison d’être.
Choreographed by Goh Jia Yin and Maybelle Lek, When Five Encounter takes inspiration from how the pandemic has redefined the notion of space. Presented by Jack Ng, Maybelle Lek, Zeng Yu, Brandon Tang, and Kwek Yixuan, the performance opens with a single dancer arriving onstage and unravelling a yoga mat. Back facing us, he stretches, displaying strength, poise and control, and emphasising the need to relax and unwind in these times.
We turn our attention to one of the female dancers, at the desk, pondering her next movement. She begins to spread the yoga mat further, and we notice the different lifestyles each of them have. Monotonous lifestyles yes, yet all on the same path. We are prompted to wonder the age-old question – do we work to live, or live to work? The synergy between the two male dancers is powerful, almost showing us the strength they both possess, telling a story of masculinity, and going through the trials and tribulations of life.
As the five dancers gather on stage, this final movement is somewhat terrifying. Since the beginning, two of the female dancers have been mimicking each other, like mirror images, representing the need to match the others in society. We see their fear and uncertainty, as the space compresses, the mats are rolled up, and we are left to see the reality of it all, and what life really is.
In the final piece of the evening, we watched Klievert Jon Junia Mendoza’s Kawayan (which means ‘bamboo’ in Tagalog). Translating to “bamboo” in Tagalog, the work draws inspiration from the plant, and how in the human experience, despite the many struggles it goes through, it still remains, standing strong. Performed by Chang En, Elaine Chai, Lee Say Hua, Maybelle Lek, Natasha Neo, and Irwin Tan, with an original score by Kent Lee, it begins as the dancers move, with a certain weariness in their eyes, almost as if straining to achieve something, yet finding it out of reach.
Their movements are disciplined and measured, firm like a bamboo as they slowly discover the meaning of life. White light consumes the space and momentarily blinds us. Suddenly, there is a shriek, and the audience is left discomforted and uncertain. The dancers turn to look at each other, and as we hear drumbeats, they all come together, while the lights mimic the sun setting in the distance.
Wind chimes sound in the distance, and the dancers seem to no longer recognise each other. As these final layers of the dance unfold, they push themselves in a last ditch effort to do things better. They step forward, and we finally see their faces better, churning out a weary smile, peaceful amidst the struggles and pain.
In that sense then, all three works share a common thread of the struggle for meaning, each piece showcasing a journey of exploration, each dancer attempting to break past the monotony of space and routine to find peace. In this 10th anniversary of liTHE, the dancers are not bowed by the pandemic in the least, and have instead, harnessed it as a way to rethink and re-evaluate our attitudes towards life.
Photo Credit: Crispian Chan
liTHE 2021 played from 16th to 18th September 2021 at Goodman Arts Centre Black Box.