Arts Dance with Me Review Singapore Theatre

Review: Open Stage 2022 (cont·act Contemporary Dance Festival 2022)

Diverse line-up of international work join local artists for Open Stage 2022.

One of the highlights and mainstays of every edition of T.H.E Dance Company’s cont·act Contemporary Dance Festival is Open Stage, where local and international artists are curated from a global open call, and only the best and most exciting work is chosen to perform. With seven works spread over two programmes performed over three days, this year’s edition of Open Stage featured work that reflects on the individual’s relation and reaction to the self, the environment, and society.

Programme A

★★★☆☆ Standard Practice (Excerpt) by Eng Kai Er

In reflecting on the idea of practice making perfect, Singaporean artist Eng Kai Er lays bare the work that goes in preparing for a performance, starting off with an almost absurd ‘warm-up’. The petite Eng throws herself against a ZORB ball, attempting to sit on it, and even do a twirl before landing on it. Clearly exhausted by the time this is done, none of these attempts actually succeed, before she takes a 1 minute break.,

When she returns, she now dons an almost ridiculous inflatable T-rex costume, completely obscuring her identity. Yet, the ‘hard work’ from before seems to have paid off – assisted by flashing lights and evocative tracks by Ennio Morricone, the ‘true’ performances sees the dinosaur with comically tiny arms begin by struggling, pushing its entire body through the hole in the middle of the ball, in a miraculous act of contortion and transformation.

While there are no visible physical changes, it seems to grow more confident thereafter, having refined primal instinct into an elegant art as it dances about the space. It is by no means perfect, yet, there is beauty in the imperfection and effort of performing something its own body never seemed designed to do in the first place, perhaps pre-empting a form of evolution that will one day, allow it to find success.

To primal instinct 

To elegance and a thing of beauty

Conceptually I get it but

★★★☆☆ The Other Half by Puri Senjani Apriliani

With vague voices edited and mutated into indecipherable sounds, causing the Annexe Studio to vibrate and throb with their volume, Puri Senjani Apriliani begins the process of facing trauma in memory, manifesting it through her tense movements. Described as ‘an attempt to reread the body’s journey by disassembling and recalling the memory’, Puri takes her time to establish control over her body, allowing it to get used to these past traumas and representing the pain they have caused her as she wrenches and twists her body to the beat.

In terms of skill, Putri has it in spades, with immense control over each individual part of her body, in particular her arms, hands and fingers, with so much precision and discipline in every movement. As the music changes, ebbs and flows, it feels as if she goes from a broken individual at the mercy of her memories, to one that has found comfort in her self again, and by its end, fully grasping her own identity and leaving behind the pain of the past.

It’s about trauma? It’s a bit too abstract for my liking personally 

Composer: I Wayan M. Dhamma N.

★★★★☆ ORGARHYTHM by Kenji Shinohe

Perhaps our favourite work across both programmes, ORGARHYTHM is based on the issue of the technological evolution of mankind, and how we as humans continue to find fascination with it and how it has affected our lives. Performed by Baptiste Berosux, Djamila Polo, Narumi Saso, and choreographer Kenji Shinohe himself, the performance charts technology’s humble beginnings in black and white silent film, as Djamila Polo, in an avant garde white outfit, complete with cotton-like headpiece, stands upon a black sheet lain out across the floor. As she turns slowly and jerkily, as if taking time to render, the sheet begins to spiral along with her, and reveal the other three dancers underneath, dressed in colour – blue for Baptiste, yellow for Narumi, and green for Kenji.

From here, ORGARHYTHM seems to suggest a hint of something darker, with the idea that technology itself promotes a form of all-encompassing consumption – Narumi literally begins to eat Djamila’s headpiece, much to her shock, before she reveals a red outfit underneath, reminiscent of a TV colour bar, as she joins the group in a row facing the audience. Moving in sync with each other, all seems to be stable, before Kenji breaks from the norm and begins performing his own manic movements, once again seemingly symbolising another jump in development.

As the four gather, they face each other, and strip off their mono-coloured clothes to reveal underwear patterned in a swathe of colours mixed together. Their movements become more flustered, more chaotic, as they leap together, letting loose completely. Perhaps this indicates a shift to the overwhelming nature of the information age, and how as consumers, there is simply too much to take in at any point.

But just as quickly as they came, in the final ‘act’ of ORGARHYTHM, the four performers throw the black sheet over them once more, the consumer becoming the consumed, as if a black hole of tech has swallowed them whole. In a final bid to escape this, Kenji attempts to pull his body out, but fails, and is pulled back under once more by this singularity the future promises. Equal parts humorous and horrifying, ORGARHYTHM encapsulates the messy nature of technology, and how there are times we could afford to take a break from it all, before we too become consumed by it – or perhaps, the future is indeed in giving up our fleshy bodies, and becoming terminally online.

Programme B

★★★☆☆ Limbo by Chloe Chua

Originally on film for Off Stage, as part of M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2021, Limbo sees Chloe Chua investigating the idea of a cycle, and how humans find innate familiarity and comfort in repetition. Set to Max Richter’s On Reflection, in terms of choreography, Limbo is somewhat puzzling in its intent, and isn’t always clear of what it wants to achieve, with its blank set undermining Chloe’s choice to shift herself around the stage, making it unclear what she hopes to achieve each time she repositions herself. However, Limbo is also a good opportunity for Chloe to show off her technical prowess, with smooth, precise movements and emotive expressions that are always arresting to watch, her sheer talent alone suggesting a bright future for this young dancer, if her overarching ideas tend towards a bolder, clearer direction.

★★★★☆ There was no room for food by Seo Jeong Bin

Korean dancer Seo Jeong Bin tackles pollution and the climate crisis with There was no room for food, imagining herself as a sea creature ingesting plastic bags and straws in the ocean. Seo intentionally makes her body seem more awkward and inhuman, stretching out her long limbs and moving, crawling, animal-like across the stage with stools strewn all over. The world she inhabits is in a mess, and she tries to build and rebuild what it once was, stacking up the stools into a strange sculpture.

But as a long shadow is cast by the sculpture, the performance progresses, and she seems to lose steam, almost giving up as she sits down. From her mouth, a white balloon of gum emerges, inflating and deflating, as if indicating a lack of air, all going to this symbol of permanence in the pit of her stomach, doomed by humanity.

★★☆☆☆ I have nothing to do with explosions by art naming 奇能 and Caroline Chin

Inspired by how persons, planets, and the stars all revolve around one another regardless of their (in) significance, art naming 奇能 and Caroline Chin’s I have nothing to do with explosions is perhaps the simplest of the seven performances. The work focuses on a central prop – a light fixture, as they each swing it around each other’s heads, reacting to its allure. Visually, the idea is interesting at first, but quickly loses steam after repeated usage, and cannot sustain the length of the performance.

Between them, it is also difficult to feel the idea of connection, as it often feels more a case of each artist being attracted to the light rather than each other, unless what we’re meant to take away is that they are each other’s light, and therefore drawn to each other. In all, while possessing an interesting premise, needed more expansion, refinement, and narrative thrust to be further elevated.

★★★☆☆ Soliloquy In Sweat by Katrina E. Bastian

Ending off Programme B on a provocative but high note was Soliloquy in Sweat, where Katrina E. Bastian gives herself just 20 minutes to accumulate 500ml of sweat. Dressed in a shiny silver tracksuit while high energy rave music plays, Katrina embarks on a series of high-intensity exercises to collect said sweat. The result is an almost hypnotic experience, as she pushes herself to her physical limits.

Midway through, she calls for the music to be toned down, and begins to repeat the aforementioned soliloquy over and over, like a mantra, as she explains how she got started in dance, her mother taking out a second credit card to afford it, later on clearly explaining how much it cost and how much a full time dancer earns after years of training. The irony of how imbalanced the numbers sound is not lost on us, and we begin to wonder if we truly value artists enough in our society. As a result, while the dance elements are present, Soliloquy in Sweat is more politically-charged, performance art than pure choreography.

As the timer runs out, and Katrina squeezes every ounce of liquid from her clothing into a tiny cup, so little of it comes out that it becomes clear that Katrina has not generated enough. It feels like an attempt that was doomed from the start, but there is no sadness, only breath and exhaustion as she stands before us, completely naked and vulnerable, her bare body an object of entertainment and voyeurism we as the audience have partaken in after watching her.

How much is the cost of a dancer’s sweat? As we exit the theatre, we are handed a card that promises free cleaning services from Katrina, having been unable to fulfil her promise of accumulating half a litre of sweat. But how many of us will actually hound her for what we are ‘owed’? Can we move towards a less transactional relationship with artists and even other people in such a capitalist society? The answer is one we are left to ponder over, forced to reckon with these ugly truths of the world we live in.

After two years without international artists joining in, 2022’s edition of Open Stage is a welcome return for the programme as global perspectives from international artists are introduced to the local scene, adding to the diverse line-up of performances and ideas already present. As always, even with hits and misses, Open Stage remains a fascinating showcase of the possibilities of dance, as the form continues to evolve and change, and if these seven works are anything to go by, will only continue to surprise as time goes by.

Open Stage played from 17th to 19th June 2022 at the Esplanade Annexe Studio as part of the cont·act Contemporary Dance Festival 2022.

cont·act Contemporary Dance Festival 2022 runs from 17th June to 1st July 2022 across various locations. More information and tickets available here

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