An unsettling disconnect

The high point of the production was a dancer performing in a crinoline structure.
The high point of the production was a dancer performing in a crinoline structure.PHOTO: KOH BENG CHYE

Arts Fission's new work explores uprootedness and life in new spaces

REVIEW / DANCE

MIRROR OF CLANDESTINE BLOOMS

Presented by: Arts Fission as part of the ArtScience Late series

ArtScience Museum/Thursday

Mirror Of Clandestine Blooms, presented as part of the ArtScience Museum's ArtScience Late series, was a signature site-specific work by Arts Fission that attempted to juxtapose the soulful fragility of the human spirit against the harshness of urban space.

Arts Fission is one of Singapore's longest-running contemporary dance companies and artistic director Angela Liong's choreography, in collaboration with her company dancers, showed her penchant for personal reflection and the power of simple gestures.

Always one to insert myth, lore and legend into urban realities, Liong foregrounds familiar issues of memory erasure, nostalgia and an unsettling sense of disconnect that arises when a group is constantly uprooted and made to settle in new spaces.

The fact that this performance drew inspiration from renowned artist M.C. Escher's works to highlight the opening of an exhibition about him at the museum emphasised these ideas of disorientation even more. With Escher, one immediately thinks of his drawings of buildings with stairs that lead back to where they began and spaces with impossible perspectives.

The musuem's disproportionately large space provided the perfect setting for this play on scale and perspective.

Performing in the cavernous Rain Oculus space on the basement level of the museum, the dwarfed dancers ran circles around the still pool of water, occasionally glancing at their own reflections in the water. Boots, white T-shirts and dark coloured pants made reference to urban style and utility. Movements were simple and pedestrian with basic leaps, twirls and swift changes in direction around the circular pool underpinned by a purposeful, rhythmic stride. It was the temperament of the city played out.

In clear contrast, the rich music of Bach as well as tiny gestures such as flowers pinned on T-shirts and the fluttering motion of fingers suggested a softer touch, almost like forgotten memories revealing themselves through the cracks of this behemoth of steel and glass.

The work reached its peak with a rather beautiful solo performed by a female dancer wearing a crinoline structure that outlined the skeletal architecture of a resplendent gown.

The crinoline's dual meaning played out to good effect as she waltzed around with an inward gaze while contemplating her surroundings. The crinoline was at once her unrealised feminine fantasies, a gorgeous dress yet to be constructed, and a cage that trapped her.

The entrapment was made clear when she attempts to undress herself from its clunky confines, but never quite succeeds.

But unfortunately, this solo was to be the only high point of the work. Like the crinoline that thwarted the female dancer's freedom of movement, Liong's design of the site-specific experience was clumsy and prescriptive.

Instead of enabling connections to be made to the rather unique performance spaces, it tried to enforce an experience.

For a start, the work began at the Rain Oculus. Soon after, the audience was carted up in batches to the fourth-level multi-purpose performance space.

Here, the contemplative rhythm created in the basement was abruptly curtailed by a smoky, club vibe that featured dancers punching their fists in the air amid a flurry of hectic movement to a bizarre heavy metal version of Bach's Toccata And Fugue In D Minor.

Following this, the audience returned to the basement once more to see dancers waving the same LED light sticks that were twirled like marching band batons. It was an experience that was hard to make sense of.

Very clear demarcations between the audience and performer were also made throughout the performance. Assistants constantly reminded those watching to ensure space for the performers.

I found this problematic. If one of the primary aims of site-specific work is to move away from these stuffy demarcations and to feed off the unique energies of the space being utilised, then the need for these reminders is definitely debatable.

In a way, the work's clumsy structure mirrored the ideas of disconnect caused by constant shifts in Singaporean society. The audience was herded off constantly to another space just as the situation unfolding before them seemed to be developing into something more significant.

Recently, there has been so much talk about Singapore society needing to slow down. Perhaps, if we stay put in a place for just a little longer, more discoveries will be made.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2016, with the headline 'An unsettling disconnect'. Print Edition | Subscribe