Dance review: Connecting with the Silences of T.H.E's work

This restaging of Kuik Swee Boon's Silences We Are Familiar With, which was first commissioned for the Esplanade's da:ns festival in 2012, was swathed in isolation, unveiling love as a prickly creature with as many lows as there are highs.

Love is a "desperate, messy business: a society-wide struggle for human contact", Life!'s freelance reviewer Ng Yi-Sheng wrote when he watched the first iteration of this piece by T.H.E Dance Company three years ago.

And he was right. Silences We Are Familiar With is imbued with near-misses, dancers who are always, almost, on the verge of touching but who frustratingly never quite make that connection.

They barely make eye contact with each other or with the audience, their gazes always cast down to the floor or fixed firmly beyond each other, wrapped thickly in their own impenetrable worlds.

Instead of ensemble work, Kuik grouped the dancers mostly in scattered twos or threes. These groups were like cars driving silently on an expressway, sometimes in canon, sometimes in sync, but sooner or later fragmenting or breaking up without colliding.

The performance began with Zhuo Zihao clasping a red cord, being pulled inexorably towards the stage before being swallowed up by the heavy curtains and flung into this bleak world.

This world, where a tiny, blazing spotlight illuminates two hands that yearn to touch, but instead dance lightly and swirl around each other without ever making contact.

This world, where the feelings poured into a crackly Skype conversation are one-sided, and where there is a raw yearning and hurt that the technology can never convey.

This world, whose soundtrack is embodied by Bani Haykal, who sits with his instruments in the orchestra pit, and is magnetic enough to be a performance on his own.

Haykal is mesmerising, a revelation. On stage, his eyes are rarely open, and his hands dance in tandem with his voice. When he speaks, the words are sculpted from emotion and delivered like a gust of wind.

Whether he is playing the bass, delivering a spoken word performance or singing, he is so consumed in what he is doing that it is impossible not to be drawn to him.

Haykal provided the perfect backdrop for the seven T.H.E dancers. Three of them - Zhuo, Lee Mun Wai and Wu Mi - are more established, having been with the company since 2011 at least, and were clearly more at ease with Kuik's choreography.

The 2012 show, which I did not have the pleasure of watching, featured dancer Jessica Christina, who has since left the company. Christina was a strong, grounded performer, and losing her was definitely a blow.

But T.H.E has now found something else in young dancer Evelyn Toh, who joined the company last year as an apprentice dancer and who has since been promoted to dance artist.

While Toh does not yet possess Christina's self-assured expressiveness, she is a technically firm and confident dancer who I am sure will have much more opportunity to grow with the company.

A pas de deux she danced with Lee was one of the only tender notes of the evening, as the pair drew strength from and braced their bodies against each other.

And that was what drew me to this work. Despite the sense of loneliness and the yearning, it has gentler moments, where love is expressed quietly, though subtle moments and silent, unwavering support.

In the end, despite Silences We Are Familiar With being about the sense of disconnect, it ended up being one of T.H.E's pieces that I connected with the most.

Silences We Are Familiar With

Where: School of the Arts Drama Theatre

When: Until May 30, 8pm

Admission: $28 and $38 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)