Dance choreographer Dapheny Chen draws inspiration from unexpected place

Dancers in Adeline Ee’s What’s Behind, which is about the overwhelming amount of food in supermarkets. -- PHOTO: RE:DANCE THEATRE
Dancers in Adeline Ee’s What’s Behind, which is about the overwhelming amount of food in supermarkets. -- PHOTO: RE:DANCE THEATRE

Choreographer Dapheny Chen's work at Co:Lab 2015 draws inspiration from the strangest of sources: "Looking through your new girlfriend's underwear drawer". A picture of a moustachioed man, with rosettes blooming from the left side of his face. The Orion constellation.

These stimuli were not derived randomly but furnished by theatre practitioner Edith Podesta, who is collaborating with Chen on her work, Inadvertently Housed Together.

Chen says that when she first saw Podesta's "script", which provided detailed instructions for the text/stage directions, quality, spacing and choreography of the work, she was surprised.

"She warned me, and told me to be prepared. But when I saw it, I still went 'Whoa!' Usually as dancers, we just have music, choreography and spacing. That's it, we don't have things like these," says Chen, gesturing to the pictures and diagrams which accompanied Podesta's instructions.

The 30-minute work is one of three pieces in Co:Lab 2015, an annual platform by Re:Dance Theatre, which encourages its dancer-choreographers to work with practitioners from other disciplines.

The other two works are Rachel Lum's No Corners, which features music composed by Lasalle College of the Arts graduate Vick Low, and Adeline Ee's What's Behind, a collaboration with film artist Khairul Hakim.

The triple-bill will run on June 26 and 27 at the Goodman Arts Centre.

Aside from Co:Lab 2015, Re:Dance Theatre will be presenting another performance in the middle of this month, Chen's Seeing Through The Corridor. It will be restaged in August as part of the Singapore Night Festival.

This month will be a busy one for many of the dancers, such as Lum, who will also be performing in Seeing Through The Corridor.

Her Co:Lab work No Corners, which features a pair of bright yellow two-seater sofas, is about thinking inside, not outside, the box.

"Every time, you keep hearing about going outside your comfort zone, about thinking out of the box," she says.

"But I thought to myself, why can't I stay within it? Manipulate something which is inside my comfort zone, but turn it into something different."

So Lum uses two sofas - a piece of furniture most people all comfortable with - and turns them into something else.

Instead of remaining as stationary seats, they are pushed around and turned on end as dancers leap over them.

What's Behind, which features six metal supermarket trolleys, is inspired by the glut of food in supermarkets, and how this food is produced, bought and sold.

Ee says: "One day, I went to the supermarket and I thought to myself, how can there be so much food in this supermarket, but people around the world are still starving? What have we not done?"

As for Seeing Through The Corridor, Chen says that this work is the follow-up to last year's A Box Full Of This, which was a response to the tightly packed, evershrinking blueprint of Housing Board flats.

This year's piece is about the common corridor and what happens in this shared space. The stories in the dance are drawn from the personal experiences of the dancers, by turns mundane and poignant.

"For example, one dancer used to play along the corridors with her sister, while another had an elderly grandmother that lived two doors away. She used to see her occasionally, but she doesn't see her anymore."

Chen says that while discussing the work with her dancers, she learnt more about how everyone approached the common space.

"For me, I realised that nowadays, when I go home, I don't see my neighbours anymore, I don't know who they are," she says.

"I wanted to address the idea of being strangers with our neighbours and recollecting the memories that we had along these common corridors."

lting@sph.com.sg