Kuik Swee Boon, Silvia Yong, Jeffrey Tan & Albert Tiong
Esplanade Theatre Studio/Saturday
Turning 40 seems like the first step to middle-aged doom and gloom, especially in a society and workforce that prizes youth and vitality. But a famous Confucian saying suggests that being 40 is when one attains clarity in their ways.
This is the Chinese title of Above 40, a deeply honest meditation on love, life and dance by four of Singapore's beloved second-generation dancer-choreographers Kuik Swee Boon, Silvia Yong, Jeffrey Tan and Albert Tiong.
Throughout, the show's various sections are met with applause, roars of laughter or hushed silences. The audience, made up of mentors, counterparts and students, is familiar with the backstories, quirks and prowess of these artists and holds tightly onto every shred of this rare comeback.
The shelf life of a dancer is undeniably short, it is dictated by the body and the increasing demands of the profession. When the frustration of a maturing mind paired with a body in decline is too much to bear, the stage is too revered to be trod on. Yet the flame that was lit never gets extinguished, and as evidenced by the performances of Kuik, Yong, Tan and Tiong, it is still burning strongly.
The quartet are dressed quintessentially, as they are now - directors, educators and choreographers. A ceiling fan rotates overhead, its shadow looming large a constant reminder of the passage of time. In the spare void of the Esplanade Theatre Studio, the artists begin to carve out space with their limbs and their presence.
Tiong pushes the air like a taichi master, Yong manifests her emotions through circular pathways, Tan's stylised articulation reveals his balletic roots, and Kuik's minute pauses evince a contemplative mind. They are vastly different, yet these artists are united by their experiences of the ecstasy and agony dance has brought them.
Engaging in stunning physical banter, they take turns to bear and give weight. There are some surprises - Kuik smiles as Yong falls towards him, Tiong misses a hand. But these are uncertainties the mere body faces, their beings still stand firm. Despite criticism, doubt and weariness, they persevered and continue to do so. One hill might be behind them, but they keep building new ones to climb.
While the pacing of the hour-long show is uneven and some sections feel too long, Above 40 is a success because of the genuine performances by its creators. There is no need for the illusion of effortlessness as Chong Li-Chuan's soundscape is punctuated by panting and outcries of fatigue.
As Kuik grabs a chair and repeatedly hits its back legs on the ground, the force he exerts causes the front legs to rebound off the floor. This dual sound reverberates through the space and in his rippling frame, like a heartbeat pumps blood through the body.
Kuik is visibly spent by the end, his efforts paralleling his sacrifices for dance. The art form takes a lifetime of dedication, but as evidenced by the sentiments of these artists, it gives them life.