Brave attempt to marry dance with theatre and text

Melyn Chow and Jeryl Lee (foreground) performing 1:8 as part of RawGround.
Melyn Chow and Jeryl Lee (foreground) performing 1:8 as part of RawGround.PHOTO: BERNIE NG

REVIEW / DANCE

RAWGROUND/Raw Moves

Raw Moves Studio/ Goodman Arts Centre/Last Friday

RawGround sees local contemporary dance company Raw Moves continuing its engagement with cross-discipline practices to find expanded ways of approaching dance. The performance featured four works by the company's artists, each responding to a specific home-grown play.

There were several brave attempts to move away from responding with the superficiality of conventional dance vocabulary.

Wong Xin Ping's Unsteady used film to explore schizophrenia, a major theme in Haresh Sharma's Off Centre. Attempting to play with ideas of the imagined and the real, a single hand would constantly appear from the corner of the frame and reach out, as if wanting to interact with banal street scenes of cars passing and fences on pavements.

These were interspersed with lengthy close-ups of tree branches and ceiling fans, which emphasised the idea of fixation, another pertinent trait of mental illness. In one close-up, a furry black landscape rose and fell hypnotically. Was it a carpet manipulated by hand or the back of a cat? One could not quite tell as the close-up angle cleverly suspended context.

Also responding to Off Centre was Matthew Goh's A Swee Way To Fly. Although he is known for being a powerful dancer, Goh chose instead to deliver a campy monologue that suggested a mockery of Singapore's obsession with all things shiny and new.

It was obvious that he was influenced by the style of social commentary that Sharma's plays are known for.

But this was also where their works got a bit problematic. In their responses, Goh and Wong ended up mirroring the themes of the original play quite directly. This offered little insight that the play has not already provided.

Chiew Peishan's work in response to Chong Tze Chien's Poop also faced similar issues, as she attempted to discuss the enormous theme of death. After a solo of fragmented, energetic jolts, she sat plainly on a chair and broached the philosophical topic of herself eventually dying in a tone that was casual and conversational.

What could have been an opportunity to make the audience confront a taboo topic ended up becoming sentimental musings about such things as the choice of her dress colour at death. Such thoughts might be amusing, but they were of little consequence to the discussion of such a harrowing topic.

Melyn Chow and Jeryl Lee's work, 1:8, in response to Ovidia Yu's Breast Issues, presented a relatively more substantial process than the other three. The simple act of breast cancer self-examination became a movement motif that anchored the work. The highly specific gestures of checking for abnormal lumps in the armpits and breasts put the formalism of dance movement in dialogue with the issues surrounding cancer.

Seeing Lee's and Chow's pensive gazes towards the mirror as they pressed and surveyed themselves and then developed these movements into urgent movement phrases that burst forth from their torsos made visible the emotional states of those dealing with cancer.

Other times, partner work was used to express support and the constant use of tissue paper to pad out their busts was a poignant reminder of survivors who have had to suffer violent interventions to their bodies to live.

In this first attempt to dialogue with theatre and dramatic text, it was clear that the gaps the artists were trying to bridge were very wide. But it was a valiant and valuable attempt nonetheless. Raw Moves should try to make this a long-term effort to allow more in-depth development. It is part of a group of home-grown dance practitioners who are beginning to dialogue with other art disciplines. Singapore's contemporary dance has been insular for too long.

• The Sept 15 to 17 shows for RawGround are all sold out.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2016, with the headline 'Brave attempt to marry dance with theatre and text'. Print Edition | Subscribe