Blurring boundaries and celebrating differences

The sparse lighting by designer Adrian Tan enhanced the otherworldly mood and highlighted the sinewy muscles of the dancers in Borderline - By T.H.E Dance Company & Muscle Mouth.
The sparse lighting by designer Adrian Tan enhanced the otherworldly mood and highlighted the sinewy muscles of the dancers in Borderline - By T.H.E Dance Company & Muscle Mouth.PHOTO: BERNIE NG

REVIEW / DANCE

BORDERLINE - BY T.H.E DANCE COMPANY & MUSCLE MOUTH

M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival

Esplanade Theatre Studio Thursday night

In theory, borderlines are something clear cut - neatly demarcating one region from another.

But as real-life cross-border disputes have shown, borderlines are sometimes hard to pin down. At times, they even become sites of danger.

Borderline - By T.H.E Dance Company & Muscle Mouth, which is part of the annual M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival, is a double-bill which similarly blurs boundaries.

Despite being choreographed by two different people - Ross McCormack from New Zealand dance company Muscle Mouth and Singapore's Kuik Swee Boon from T.H.E Dance Company - the works blend together perfectly.

The result is a dark, trippy picture of dystopia, where citizens clamour for power, sometimes to the extent of violence, yet at the same time also long for a personal sense of redemption and inner peace.

Ostensibly, Borderline comprises two dance items.

Area² by McCormack is a surrealist, conceptual piece about the fight for control and territory, represented by a rock in the middle of the stage that the dancers seemed to revere and fear in equal measure.

Kuik's Vessel explores the notion of the dancers' personal boundaries and limitations.

Kudos to all six dancers from T.H.E - Wu Mi, Kei Ushiroda, Anthea Seah, Brandon Khoo, Billy Keohavong and Lee Seulyi - for pushing themselves to punishing lengths throughout the 70 minutes of the show.

The sparse lighting (by designer Adrian Tan) was very effective, not only in enhancing the otherworldly mood, but also in highlighting every sinewy muscle on the dancers' bodies, showing the audience just how hard they were working.

The lighting also helped to create beautiful tableaux vivants - living pictures that hark back to Muscle Mouth's theatrical style.

One haunting image was the female dancers hanging upside down from the shoulders of the male dancers, creating a kind of sub-human, almost bestial creature on stage.

Equally powerful was the sound design by Muscle Mouth's Jason Wright.

Acting like the seventh character onstage, the sound not only created feelings of terror and eeriness, it also added an element of wonder for the audience.

In some segments, a dancer would hold on to a small box that seemed to emit sound responding to his or her movements.

The dizzying array of sounds were controlled by sound artist Wright.

This resulted in a magical mix of audio wizardry by Wright, who worked closely with T.H.E on this production, and perfectly timed movement.

It was a treat to see how a collaboration between two companies can create such a living, breathing work built upon a bedrock of trust.

Judging by the shouts of "bravo" at the end of the show, the audience in the packed theatre lapped up the powerful performance.

Other borders may divide, but in Borderline, differences are a thing to celebrate and be proud of.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Blurring boundaries and celebrating differences'. Print Edition | Subscribe