Dance review: Cristian Duarte's liberating, up-close look at the purity of dance

Brazilian dancer and choreographer Cristian Duarte.
Brazilian dancer and choreographer Cristian Duarte.PHOTO: CAROL MENDONCA

With Biomashup, the second of two performances that Brazilian dance artist Cristian Duarte presented at the Singapore International Festival of Arts' pre-festival season The O.P.E.N, he has proven himself to be a master of bodily investigation.

Biomashup, like his other work, The Hot One Hundred Choreographers, was a study of the workings of the body. But unlike Hot One Hundred which related the body directly to the politics of memory, Biomashup was an exercise of visceral purity, framing the body for what it plainly was - a physical entity.

Upon entering the performance space at 72-13 on Friday, the audience was greeted with sparsely arranged rows of chairs grouped in twos and threes. It was one of the few times that watching a performance did not entail the audience being crammed like cattle.

This sense of space started to make sense as the group of dancers huddled tightly around sound artist Tom Monteiro and his theremin (a sci-fi looking music instrument that can be played by waving one's hands around its sensors) dispersed in all directions the moment sound was generated. Immediately, the boundary of audience and performer was broken down as a series of very simple leg extensions resembling ballet tendus carried the dancers into the spaces in between the audience members.

Duarte's penchant for ceaseless movement was also apparent in this work. From the get go, the bodies were set into perpetual motion. As time passed, the complexity and volume of the movement increased incrementally. It was always interesting when the dancers would introduce a new dynamic into the movement repertoire. All of a sudden, one of them would leap high into the air creating a wonderful moment of weightless suspension. Other times, someone else might address the floor suddenly by tucking and rolling.

At one point, the work reminded me of American choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also concerned with investigating how a moving body could exist as an independent entity while having a detached relationship with its surrounding environment.

The beauty of Biomashup lay in its purity. Choreographically, most, if not all, of the steps did not have upper body and arm movement, therefore drawing focus to the strength and power of the legs. Allowing the dancers to constantly weave around the audience at very close range provided an intimate experience. One could hear them breathing, see the sweaty bits of hair stuck onto napes of necks and see the effort of the dancers as they pushed on through the relentless choreography. At one point, the dancers grouped around me and danced so close I could feel the heat emanating from their bodies.

Visual perspective from my eye level changed as they became an intriguing landscape of moving limbs, skin and hair. A quirky moment was when they dipped their forearms into a pot of glue and blue glitter and then proceeded to do small hand gestures, the glitter providing an interesting highlight to a body part.

In a final attempt to connect with the audience, the dancers chose several people and rolled their bodies against the legs of these chosen few, visibly jolting the senses of these people when actual physical contact was made at a time when one least expects it.

These up-close moments were so precious because in modern urban life, our bodies are in close range but we rarely notice let alone connect physically with one another. Social decorum dictates that we give "personal space" to others. Step on someone's toes or brush against a shoulder accidentally and one immediately gets an angry stare from the other. In Biomashup, the audience had free reign to look at any part of the body as much as they wanted to. I found this liberating.

stlife@sph.com.sg

Biomashup

Where: 72-13, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road

When: Saturday, 8pm

Tickets: $35 from Sistic (tel: 6348-5555, www.sistic.com.sg)

Info: sifa.sg/theopen/