Dance review: Contact festival goes Contactless with projections

The main company's performance InterBeing was a double bill by two guest choreographers.
The main company's performance InterBeing was a double bill by two guest choreographers.PHOTO: BERNIE NG

InterBeing

T.H.E Dance Company
M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival
Esplanade Theatre Studio, Friday (June 25)

Amid shifting safety restrictions for performance and travel, T.H.E Dance Company's M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival soldiers ahead.

The main company's performance InterBeing was a double bill by two guest choreographers, Netherlands-based Bulgarian Dimo Kirilov Milev and Brussels-based Briton Jos Baker.

What would have been a creation process with the choreographers and dancers together in the studio ended up as remote rehearsals via Zoom. Plans for a larger live audience were adapted to a hybrid of live and online viewing.

The company made the best of the circumstances. Integrating live-feed camera and carefully designed projections, Baker's Contactless was a moving portrait of isolated lives.

The dancers began unconventionally, gathered on a downstage platform behind a camera and videographer.

Dancer Fiona Thng's face appeared enlarged on the theatre wall behind her, her subtle shifts of expression framed in the aspect ratio of a Zoom meeting. On screen, her face was caressed by the disembodied hands of other dancers.

I am told this was beautiful online - and it was an even greater treat in the theatre to see both the projection and the dancers' bodies creating the scenes live.

Slowly, the projected headshot multiplied, such that it was like looking into an infinity mirror. This effect was employed beautifully in a wider frame, as the company lined up onstage and performed movements in canon.

Carefully calibrated video delays created a mesmerising infinity of bodies in canon. Who would have thought that one could reference Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite's The Seasons' Canon with just six bodies instead of 54?

In later scenes, dancers partnered life-size projections for poignant duets, evoking distance and a hankering for physical intimacy.

In contrast, Desidium seemed to have been hobbled by the lack of in-person studio rehearsals with Milev.

In a promising start, a male duet fluidly dodged a golden bell swinging from a long pendulum.

Subsequent scenes introduced increasing numbers of bells, but did not develop this thematically or narratively, leading to a puzzling climax with Thng backed up against a wall like a deer in the headlights.

There were, however, two notable solos featuring Nah Jieying flowing in and out of barrelling turns and spirals, and Klievert Mendoza seemingly driven by electric impulses as he grasped jerkily for a bell.

While many companies have rued the lost time and dancers were forced to train and rehearse with limited physical contact and space, it appears that the training choices made at T.H.E have allowed for a more focused physicality, with greater groundedness and nuance.

One hopes this will help the company flow through these challenging times.