Arts Dance with Me Preview

Preview: cont·act Contemporary Dance Festival 2023

This June, The Human Expression (T.H.E) Dance Company is going back to basics with the annual cont·act Contemporary Dance Festival. Now in its 13th edition, the annual contemporary dance festival takes on a stripped down, but fully live approach, in the first edition since the pandemic that celebrates and explores our relationship with our body and each other.

Festival Director and T.H.E’s founding Artistic Director Kuik Swee Boon shares: “The pandemic was a crucial reminder of the importance of maintaining our bodies’ physical and emotional health through honing our connection to our selves. This embodied awareness is all the more important as the pandemic recedes, and as we get absorbed in our everyday busyness.”

Image from Kawayan by Klievert Jon Mendoza (Philippines/Singapore) at Dance at Dusk 2022. Photo by Poey YT

This year, the festival features 4 performance platforms. Mainstay programme Dance at Dusk returns with 6 performances by T.H.E Second Company at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre. Playing from 9th to 11th June, the completely free, family-oriented programme features repertoire excerpts from both T.H.E’s main and second companies — Gear by Mikiko Kawamura (Japan), Playing Stone by Ji Kyungmin (South Korea), and As It Fades by Kuik Swee Boon (Singapore/Malaysia). Offering varied takes on the human psyche and diversity in performance styles, Dance at Dusk will also feature an emcee and a Singapore Sign Language (SgSL) interpreter to help audiences better experience the programme. The excerpt of As It Fades will also be accompanied by live audio description, a first for the festival, compared to past years where the audio description was only available via a mobile application. To achieve this, the audio description was also carefully woven into the work and soundtrack of As It Fades, incorporating it as part of the work rather than an add-on.

Image from T.H.E Dance Company’s 2019 premiere of PheNoumenon by Kuik Swee Boon at Esplanade Theatre Studio. Photo by Crispian Chan

T.H.E Dance Company will be presenting PheNoumenon, with 4 performances from 15th to 18th June at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. Marking the work’s first return to the local stage since its 2019 premiere, the unique, immersive performance sees audiences seated on the floor, while dancers perform around them, as it explores the relationship between the modern being and their world, told through an intrinsic movement web steeped in T.H.E’s signature HollowBody methodology, and an immersive 3D soundscape.

In between 2019 and now, PheNoumenon was also adapted for virtual reality (VR), and toured to London in 2022 for its UK premiere, garnering critical acclaim for its presentation on a dystopian microcosm of chaos and decay. Come 2023, the work has continued to evolve and achieve greater refinement, a renewed invitation to audiences to ponder the socio-spatial, political, technological and environmental dynamics of our times amidst a post-pandemic landscape.

songs for friends: a vinyl (selected tracks) by Ashley Ho (Singapore/Netherlands) & Domenik Naue (Germany/Netherlands). Photo by Paul Sixta

Open Stage, the Festival’s platform for short works, follows with 2 distinct programmes performed over three days from 23rd to 25th June at the Esplanade Annexe Studio. Aimed at increasing the longevity of artistic works and reducing the pressure for constant production, Open Stage features works selected for their enduring relevance, connecting local audiences to international artists, and offering a platform for local artists to hopefully leapfrog towards other international festivals.

This year’s lineup includes 3 Singaporean artists: Dapheny Chen (Singapore) with a new iteration of her expanding study on practice, perfection, and the body as an object; Nah Jieying (Singapore) with a reworked solo on the ephemeral and illusive; Ashley Ho (Singapore/Netherlands) who works with collaborator Domenik Naue (Germany/Netherlands) in an ode to friendship, camaraderie, and home(s).

Image from 2022’s work-in-progress showing of Jap/Vanese by Reisa Shimojima (Japan) & Moh. Hariyanto (Indonesia). Photo by Crispian Chan

Returning artists Reisa Shimojima (Japan) and Moh. Hariyanto (Indonesia) will also revisit their collaborative work-in-progress from the previous Festival edition in a 2-part residency in Akita, Japan, and in Singapore (with support from local supporting partner Dance Nucleus), before presenting their redeveloped work at Open Stage. Invited artists Megan Doheny (United States) and Ilya Nikurov (Russia/Israel) present a darkly uncanny, yet virtuosic duet, while works selected from partner festivals include Wong Tan-ki’s (Hong Kong) grotesque yet tender solo selected from Hong Kong Dance Exchange, and Annabelle Dvir’s (Israel) fantastical trio selected from Machol Shalem Dance House’s Jerusalem International Dance Week.

Faith Tan, Head of Dance and International Development at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay shares, “T.H.E has dedicated itself to not only building a strong dance company in Singapore but also towards the positive development and presence of contemporary dance in Singapore through the cont·act Contemporary Dance Festival. Esplanade is pleased to support and collaborate with T.H.E to ensure they can continue this important platform which enables local and Asian dancemakers to present work as well as grow local audience’s appreciation for dance.”

Beryl Tay (Singapore). Photo by Crispian Chan

Back at Goodman Arts Centre, local independent artist Chew Shaw En also returns to offer artistic facilitation for Off Stage, an intimate works-in-progress studio showcase taking place from 26th to 27th June at T.H.E’s home studio. Culminating from months of developing and refining choreographic ideas and voices, artists test their ideas on a small group of audience who are in turn invited to dialogue with the artists and share their feedback. This year’s Off Stage features Singaporean dance practitioners and emerging artists Beryl Tay (Singapore) and Zoe Jumabhoy (Singapore/United Kingdom).

Zoe Jumabhoy (Singapore/United Kingdom). Photo by Merv Kwok

Alongside the Festival’s live performances is a bumper crop of 28 masterclasses and workshops curated to complement the performance programmes, while catering to festival-goers of various dance backgrounds and levels. These sessions offer a wealth of content from technique and improvisational methods to choreographic devices and processes, and allow participants to gain insight into the movement practices of the Festival’s array of artists.

Also programmed is the annual staple T.H.E Mid-Year Intensive that delves into the HollowBody methodology signature to T.H.E Dance Company. Taking place over 3 days, participants will get an all-encompassing experience of technique classes, workshops on HollowBody, and an exclusive chance to learn excerpts from Kuik’s most recent commissioned work, Infinitely Closer. All masterclasses and workshops, as well as the intensive will take place at T.H.E’s dance studio; masterclasses and workshops run from 8th to 25th June at various timings, while the T.H.E Mid-Year Intensive will happen from 20th to 22nd June, 10am—4pm.

“I am excited to be bringing a Festival edition that really focuses on this irreplaceability of our bodies, be it in movement and performance or in our regular lives,” says Festival Director Kuik Swee Boon. “Through the range of artists, performances and classes that we are bringing, I hope that audiences can glean the value of the body as profound tools of expression, and also find a renewed sense of strength in their own physicality.”

cont·act Contemporary Dance Festival 2023 runs from 9th to 27th June 2023 across various venues. More information and full programme lineup available here

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