The audience as participant, judge and voyeur

REVIEW / DANCE

RAWGROUND: CLUTTER

Raw Moves

Raw Moves Studio/Last Friday


Unlike traditional performances where audience members can sit back and switch off, experimental showcase RawGround had them become an active participant, judge and voyeur.

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The evening comprised three presentations of research ideas around the theme of "clutter", led by company dancers Jeryl Lee and Matthew Goh and company manager Ebelle Chong.

As with last year's inaugural edition, Raw Moves' artistic director Ricky Sim gave the artists the freedom to explore any form of expression, and not just dance. There were also discussions after each presentation.

Lee's piece, Wind Water, took the form of a game. The name is a literal translation of "fengshui", which her parents believe in and which she feels causes more clutter in their home than not. Audience members had to arrange furniture on a table, which had the layout of Lee's room transposed on it, according to fengshui rules which were prominently displayed.

While fun and challenging (the result was a room with multicoloured walls and an out-of-place bedside table), not everyone could get involved in the game due to the size of the group.

During the feedback session, Lee revealed that while she felt fengshui made her daily life cumbersome, she could not reject it outright in respect for her parents.

This nugget of truth felt more interesting than the game that preceded it and is worth exploring, should she choose to develop this piece further.

In PerforME by Goh, audience members were asked to submit questions on a wide range of topics, from food and movies to the past, present and future. He then had anonymous voices ("Participant A" and "Participant B", sitting in another room) answer the questions.

With Participant B, the audience had to move from one end of the room to another, depending on whether they felt that the answers were clear or unclear, or if they agreed or disagreed with them.

The exercise was interesting, but did not seem to achieve Goh's intention of getting the audience to experience what he called "a cluttering of the mind".

Instead, it felt like an unfair exercise of judging a powerless stranger, as each "um" and "can you repeat the question?" caused the audience to inch closer towards the "clear" or "unclear" zones in the room.

That mass movement, however, played out like an accidental dance of sorts - another unintended result Goh can potentially leverage on for further exploration.

Closing out the evening was collaborative work Man Man Zou - Walk Slowly (Phase I) by Chong, along with theatre-maker Pat Toh and dancer Neo Hong Chin. It is the first phase of a performance slated for October.

The most "performative" piece of the lot, Man Man Zou looked at the natural choreography of everyday life. The three women performed ordinary actions, such as boiling water and turning on a lamp, occasionally adding a slight twist to transform them into visual poetry.

Some bits of dialogue and action dragged on for too long, but with polishing, it has the potential to be a powerful commentary about domestic life and the drama that can bubble beneath the surface.

As a showcase of research ideas, RawGround was expectedly uneven, but a worthwhile endeavour at encouraging exploration.

Raw Moves should be applauded for giving its artists the space to play and ruminate, and for allowing the audience the rare opportunity to be part of that learning process.

By taking away the spectacle of performance, RawGround succeeds in removing clutter - taking its artists and the audience closer to what truth could possibly be.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2017, with the headline 'The audience as participant, judge and voyeur'. Print Edition | Subscribe