Nothing lasts forever.
With how often we experience change in our life, you’d think that we’d have gotten used to it by now. But no matter how many iterations of change we’ve been through, be it moving from place to place, or simply breaking from day to day routines, we remain resistant to change. In T.H.E Dance Company’s year-end production, Seeing ______Through The Eyes of Impermanence, the double bill presents new works by Anthea Seah and Albert Tiong, as they examine humanity’s constant struggle with change.
Taking inspiration from works of art and the myth of Sisyphus, where a man is cursed to roll a heavy boulder up a hill for all eternity, Anthea Seah’s An Impression attempts to find snatches of beauty amidst the absurdity of life. Central to the piece is a massive, literal slope, represent the hill in the myth of Sisyphus. Adrian Tan’s lighting is minimal, a single source that illuminates the slope that the dancers (Ng Zu You, Klievert jon Mendoza, Fiona Thng, Nah Jiaying and Haruka Leilani Chan) continually slide down for the bulk of the performance.
But what is impressive about this is how much control the dancers display as they slide down the slope, deliberately twisting their bodies into shapes while controlling the speed of their fall. Representing the cycle of life, from falling in love to the slog of work, it feels almost absurd how the dancers climb up the slope again each time they reach the bottom, only to repeat the process, over and over. Together, they seem to act as paint on a canvas, representing how human life itself is repetitive, yet despite how hopeless our fall is, we can’t help but continue to strive against all odds.
Midway through the piece, dancers begin to resist the fall, half standing and pushing back against gravity, reversing their fall and attempting to pull themselves up the slope. It seems foolhardy, yet, watching a single dancer make the attempt while the others fill the floor, seemingly at odds with each other as they grapple and battle it out, it makes sense that one would try as hard as she can to escape the rat race.
Throughout the performance, Jevon Chandra’s sound design is hypnotic, as if we ourselves are in a state of dreaming, a single unbroken track that catches both ourselves and the dancers in the endless flow, again speaking of how unending this Sisyphean curse is. Starkly beautiful, the performance end with an eruption of chaos as the desperation to escape the cycle fills them all, moving together in agony once realising the futility of their actions. As silly as it all seems, one can’t help but admire their perseverance, and recall how the human spirit itself attempts to find agency again amidst impossible odds, the same spirit that will keep us going and fighting for our survival and right to exist forevermore.
The team at the Esplanade and T.H.E have been trained well to do such a quick set change, taking apart the massive slope from An Impression and transforming it into a solid series of walls in less than 20 minutes (designed by Huang Xiangbin). It is here that Albert Tiong’s Us《我们》 happens, as he considers the idea of city living, and the countless lives and strangers we come into contact with each day. While for the most part, we will never meet or know most of these people, there are times a chance encounter might just leave a surprisingly deep impression, and Us considers the wistful regret that comes with loss.
Unlike how An Impression feels like a full ensemble piece, Us instead offers more opportunity for the dancers (Ng Zu You, Klievert Jon Mendoza, Fiona Thng and Haruka Leilani Chan) to perform duets and solo numbers and put the spotlight on their individual skillsets. Because of how the walls of the set are higher than each dancer, it allows the dancers to slip behind them between scenes, disappearing completely as a new dancer comes on, just losing sight of the previous dancer as they vanish into thin air. Each time this happens, we are left to wonder about how much emphasis we place on the sanctity of connections, and how it becomes all too easy to lose them in our modern age.
With shadows cast on the white walls as they dance, it seems almost as if the people we come into contact with are all eventually reduced to mere shadows. Still, as they dance, they seem to give it their all, moving in sync with each other, perfectly aligned for a moment before they part ways. Amidst the performers, it is Klievert’s scene that is most dramatic, a solo number where he expresses deep longing for a missing connection, an intensity to his movements and force to his performance that results in him jumping atop a wall, as if wanting to make a scene to catch the attention of those he’s lost.
In the final scene, Zu You and Haruka finish strong, with the two of them performing a choreography that moves faster and faster. The two are moving in harmony, yet Haruka constantly seems to want to escape, to walk away, yet is always dragged back into the fold by Zu You. The sheer desperation of their actions to keep it going is enough to provoke an emotional reaction, and when they finally, at long last separate, we are left to feel the pain left behind, bringing Us to a close.
Seeing _____ Through The Eyes of Impermanence then, leaves us on an intense sense of loss – painful, yet sobering in realising how difficult it can be to accept that nothing lasts forever. As much as we know how impossible it is to reverse change, it is all we can do to try, with the beauty of perseverance and pure emotion coming through in both pieces.
Seeing _____ Through The Eyes of Impermanence ran from 3rd to 5th December 2021 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio.