Dance review: Raw Moves' Free is an experiment that worked

Free by contemporary dance company Raw Moves was billed as a movement research project, pulling together the heads of 12 dancers and artistic director Ricky Sim to pin down the nebulous, elusive notion of being free.

What began as a simple exploration turned into a magical, daring experiment that succeeded. It took a risk with the audience, and the audience responded in kind.

The setup was simple. The Goodman Arts Centre Black Box was stripped of any seating, and before the show, audience members chatted among themselves, scattered around the space in groups of two and threes.

Almost unnoticed, dancers began to emerge one by one from backstage, walked the perimeter of the space, and returned. Then they emerged faster, in larger groups, chalking up five, ten rounds. Ever the reserved Singaporean audience, most of us sat there, watching them quietly.

And then slowly, something strange started to happen. Members of the audience - granted, they were mostly members of the dance community - began to interrupt the performers.

Some began lying down on the path of the dancers, others began to lift their legs to block them as they walked past. Some of the dancers were stoic, some broke character, and the other onlookers began to laugh, joining in the fun.

Soon, the crowd grew more daring - standing up, joining the conga line of dancers, even following them backstage - exercising their own freedom to participate in the performance.

This interaction between the audience and the dancers continued for the rest of the night. When the performers took off their shoes and heaped them in a pile in the middle of the room, some added their own shoes to the jumble, while others cheekily moved the dancers' sneakers around.

The dancers were clearly prepared for the intrusions and handled them well, sidestepping bodies and going in search of lost shoes. It can be hard to maintain a performative attitude when the audience is within touching distance, but the ensemble was focused and cohesive.

As an exploration of the concept of freedom, Free worked, but its strength lay more in its experiential opportunity than in its storytelling - the audience becoming part of the performance, and exercising their own freedom in how to move, interrupt and react.

Some of the stories which were presented did not quite seem to gel with the rest of the performance. Lian Sutton, a fresh acting graduate from Lasalle College of the Arts, re-enacted a heartbreaking rejection from the football team. Although Sutton was compelling, his story seemed to be a standalone piece.

As a performance though, Free was engaging, immersive and a very welcome change from the usual proscenium or black box staging.

Choreographer Sim also weaved in his own comment on freedom: A subtle jibe at the Media Development Authority's term licensing scheme, under which arts groups can self-classify their performances according to the authority's guidelines.

At the end of the performance, each dancer appeared with a sticker reading "5K" - the maximum fine for wrongly classifying a performance - and then taped one of their own to the wall, plastering her with tape and stickers. While the reference may have flown over most peoples' heads, it was still a powerful image of restriction.

Let us hope that Sim and his company remain free to continue doing such works.


Where: Goodman Arts Centre Black Box

When: July 4 and 5, 8pm

Admission: $30 from