Magic of nooks and crannies behind stage

In Impulse, T.H.E Dance Company’s dancers transform the Esplanade’s gritty backstage area into their playground.
In Impulse, T.H.E Dance Company’s dancers transform the Esplanade’s gritty backstage area into their playground. PHOTO: BERNIE NG, COURTESY OF ESPLANADE – THEATRES ON THE BAY

REVIEW / DANCE

IMPULSE

Kim Jae Duk & T.H.E Dance Company

Esplanade Backstage/Sunday


Even for performers at the Esplanade theatres, much of the backstage area is off limits. Beyond the starry lights which frame the mirrors in their dressing rooms, these performers do not see anything else.

Yet, behind, above and beneath the hallowed stages of Singapore's premier performing arts venue lies a realm of obscurity and mystique.

Impulse, da:ns festival's commission and residency this year, is therefore unprecedented as it lets audiences in on the secrets of the trade. This novelty imbues audiences with a child-like wonder and excitement, leading to wandering eyes, curious spirits and an exceptional hyper-awareness.

Kim Jae Duk, T.H.E Dance Company's resident choreographer, heightens this by depicting the nooks and crannies of the backstage area as a cross between a thrill ride through a crumbling, haunted mansion and the dark lair of the Palais Garnier in Phantom Of The Opera.

His choreography, featuring eight dancers, literally bounces off the space as it combines his signature vocabulary of hard- hitting quivers, pulses and lopes with expansive spreads and leaps. Verticality intersects his trademark horizontality as the dancers suspend from ledges and ricochet off walls.

Former ballet dancer Wu Mi seems to set the immovable in motion in his extended solo, loosening the cogs and bolts which used to hold his upright posture, splayed feet and symmetrically curved arms.

Kim's soundscape of ominous chimes and crackles, matched with the squeaking of the dancers' sneakers on concrete, is both grinding and gripping.

His aesthetics and sly humour are clearly suited to the industrial grittiness of the various sites he chooses to work - in a ramp in front of a shady security counter, a cargo lift beeping from having its doors unnaturally held open, a cavernous workshop which spells danger and a caged-in storage area.

The audience is rapt, partially because its curiosity is held at bay. It watches the ebb and flow of the dancers while being confined to a designated seating or standing area. This configuration is one way of filtering the space through Kim's eyes, but one wonders if the audience could wander freely through this new world with the performers as its guide. Would this make for a more immersive experience, or would it reveal too much?

After all, the magic of the stage is sustained by the mystery of what lies behind it. The glimpse Impulse provides makes an impact while obstructing some of the vision with the dark potency of Kim's imagination.

And perhaps for its audience, the inner workings of a theatre are even more of an irresistible enigma than before.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'Magic of nooks and crannies behind stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe