T.H.E shows off the capabilities of the new Singtel Waterfront Theatre with this new show melding tech and art.
Coinciding with the ongoing da:ns Festival, the newly opened Singtel Waterfront Theatre begins its journey with a bang, with the latest work from The Human Expression (T.H.E) Dance Company. Choreographed by T.H.E artistic director Kuik Swee Boon in conjunction with the performers (Brandon Khoo, Ng Zu You, Klievert Jon Mendoza, Fiona Thng, Haruka Leilani Chan and Chang En), the company presents Infinitely Closer, a new, original dance piece combining holograms, 3D sound and Kuik’s signature HollowBody methodology to explore ideas of freedom and constraint in the world we live in.
Entering the Singtel Waterfront Theatre, the set up feels cavernous, with several screens in the middle of the space dividing it into three ‘zones’. These zones are mostly identical, save for the performers situated in each one, and in the dim light, move slowly or remain posed. Infinitely Closer lives up to its name, and while audience members can choose to sit around the performance space, we are also invited to freely walk around, determining how close or far they get to the performers and set at any point in time. How much we close the distance is wholly dependent on us, and watching as audience members explore this newfound closeness, it becomes apparent that the line between audience and dancer, stage and seating becomes blurred.
That divide and closeness is what seems to characterise the first part of the performance. Onscreen, we see an increasingly-zoomed in image of skin, to the point it reaches even the cellular level, while the dancers, animal-like, stare back at us in curiosity as they crawl on all fours. We begin to wonder if there exists a limit to our closeness, to nature, to each other, or even the possibility that no matter how close we get to each other, we will always be separated by a thin veil, never fully understanding what another is thinking or going through.
When the performance shifts into the main segment, the dancers begin wandering, running, breathing, searching across the space, perhaps feeling trapped as they go on the hunt for freedom. Donning denim patchwork pants and long-sleeved tops (designed by Choi In Sook), they feel restricted even in their appearance. Guest artist Billy Keohavong is the point of focus for much of this performance, as the screen presents us with images of his agonised, screaming face (with projections designed by SEESAW), while the dancer himself, bare-bodied and vulnerable, is caught between the screens, trapped in a translucent triangular cell.
In the programme notes, Kuik Swee Boon explains that Infinitely Closer is an ‘artistic response to the impact that apathy and increasingly complex and opaque systems have on human expression and freedoms’. Through the performance then, we watch as these dancers begin to shed their restrictions and find true freedom in all that they do. To achieve that freedom, the dancers seem to regress into a primal state, leaving behind societal expectations of normalcy. We hear what sounds like throat singing and humming in the background, all around us thanks to the multi-speaker set-up by Guo Ningru creating 3D sound, and watch as the dancers begin performing tribalistic-looking rituals, repeating the same movements in sync. Their physicality is stretched to extremes, every leap showing off an extended reach or new shapes.
Billy Keohavong in particular is given special attention, as he receives an entire scene to himself, seemingly undergoing a process of liberation and emancipation of the mind, seen through how his body seems almost possessed by newfound energy, allowing himself to explore its limits. Pulling the screens away from its original configuration, Billy is now freed and dancing away in a massive empty space, showcasing even spatial freedom. Yet, in spite of this, there are forces that seek to restrain him once again, as female dancers leap onto him while he fends them off, a series of complex, delicate movements that ensures they are always in touch with one another even as he pushes them off again and again. At times, we see other dancers sitting and staring at the blank screen, as if hoping to find meaning emerge from the seemingly pointless struggle.
In this process, there is a savage beauty to such resistance and struggle, seeing the body as raw and vulnerable. The other dancers begin shedding their costumes to reveal skin-tone body suits underneath, showing off their bare bodies as well as featuring exaggerated keloid-like structures, perhaps suggesting scars left behind from repression. The music shifts yet again, reminiscent of post-rock (all composed by Kent Lee), and the dancers are no longer against each other, but working together, engaging in a form of synchronised training that feels more controlled and directed. Rather than unbridled energy, that determination has now been channeled into something focused, as they plan their movements as a single group, while the screens display distorted waveforms, as if their choice to come together to rebel has created a disturbance in the universe.
There is a sudden moment of quietude, as the camera is turned back on the audience, and we see our faces projected onscreen as a dancer slowly pans the camera around the audience, reminding us that we too are not separate from this struggle, and that there is far less distance between what is happening onstage and in our minds. The audience is surprised and amused, some smiling, some hiding, while the sound itself seems to be travelling in a circle all around us. It feels as if we are all momentarily connected, recognising this great chain of being in which we are all a part of.
In the final emotional scene, the screens are rearranged to form a cell, with dancers within that space coming together to form a pyramid-like structure, ascending and reaching towards the heavens themselves. Onscreen, we see silhouettes of dancers’ bodies, and as time goes by, they begin to disintegrate. Perhaps it is an acknowledgement of the idea of dissociation as the only way to truly escape from the shackles of society, turning towards belief and faith to reach a higher plane. The dancers remaining on the outside invite audience members into the space, and in these final moments, even if there remains a minuscule barrier between them, this is as close as they can get, gathered within the screens, as the lights darken once and for all, and we see what could be snow, ash or dust falling onscreen, a single moment that connects everyone in its abstract beauty.
In showing off the Singtel Waterfront Theatre’s capabilities, Infinitely Closer is a remarkable showcase that brings together art and tech in harmony to both impress and evoke emotional reactions. At no point does the technological exploration ever overshadow the choreography, instead working in tandem to bring out T.H.E’s desire to show the human struggle against the systems we’re born into, and the need for connection. As a reflection on the solitude experienced during the pandemic, Infinitely Closer is a hopeful prayer that we emerge into a stronger, more resilient future, choosing to work together and be together rather than apart, and marks a promising start to the series of connections the Singtel Waterfront Theatre will play host to, as more audience members experience the plethora of programmes to come.
Infinitely Closer played at the Singtel Waterfront Theatre @ Esplanade from 14th to 16th October 2022. More information available here
In New Light – A Season of Commissions runs from 13th October to 31st December 2022 at the Esplanade. Full programme and more information available here