Sifa 2021: In dance and music, The Rhythm Of Us yearns for connection

Meditation by Janek Schergen in The Rhythm Of Us at Singapore International Festival of Arts.
Meditation by Janek Schergen in The Rhythm Of Us at Singapore International Festival of Arts.PHOTO: CHLOEI HEW

Dance/Concert

The Rhythm Of Us
Singapore Dance Theatre and Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Singapore International Festival of Arts On Demand

This landmark collaboration between the Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) and Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) was to have been a highly anticipated return to the theatre for both companies.

Unfortunately, the increased restrictions of phase two (heightened alert), announced just two weeks before this Singapore International Festival of Arts (Sifa) commission was scheduled to take place, meant the live show had to be cancelled.

Instead, The Rhythm Of Us became a fully online performance.

It is heartening to see the professional video work that supported this effort. Appropriately for a dance work, camera angles are mostly from the front with minimal and seamless cuts, giving a close approximation of the view one might have if one were watching in the theatre.

The programme consists of three pieces, opening with Meditation, choreographed by SDT artistic director Janek Schergen.

A piece for solo cello and solo dancer, this restrained choice of opening sets a reflective mood for the whole performance, befitting the current circumstances.

On a stark stage, cellist Ng Pei-Sian and dancer Chihiro Uchida occupy their own dim spot.

Uchida's long flowing white dress and cardigan contrast sharply with the dark background. Her fluid movements, especially her arms, and the gliding cello music keep the piece constantly moving.

In the online format, it is the only piece in which one can visually experience the collaborative performance of dancer and musician on the same stage.

In the next two pieces, which are performed by larger ensembles, the musicians in the orchestra pit are shown for only a few seconds at the start of each piece, after which the camera focuses on the dancers on stage.

This is a downside to the filmed work, as seeing musicians and dancers interacting live can be an important, visually arresting part of the performance.

The second piece, Variations From A Distance by American choreographer Pam Tanowitz, is a fun, colourful play on the traditional vocabulary of ballet steps.

It is performed by three pairs of dancers, all wearing leotards and tights in unusual colour combinations, such as a red leotard and light blue tights.

Throughout the piece, which is in several movements, the dancers perform repeated sequences of recognisable ballet steps such as petit allegro, small jumps with quick footwork that will be familiar to anyone who has spent time in a ballet class. These are combined at times with movements that seem more pedestrian or outside of ballet vocabulary.

At the end, a solo dancer travels off the stage while the lights go down on him, an arresting final image that could signal perseverance and continuity in today's trying times.

What is instantly noticeable about the final piece, Singaporean choreographer Christina Chan's The Light Behind Us, is that the dancers appear in masks, despite the performance being a filmed one. It is clearly a work for these times.

To a pulsating score by Chok Kerong, the number of dancers gradually increases from two to four and then to 11.

They sometimes huddle in very close proximity. At other times, they hold hands and move in one long chain - actions that have been mostly prohibited in daily life for over a year in the interest of public health.

It feels almost unfamiliar to see these movements performed on stage, and leaves one yearning for a future where closer connection will again be possible.

Not being able to perform in the theatre to a live audience must have come as a blow to the spirits of all involved. But if anything, the past year has amply demonstrated the resilience and adaptability of the arts. The Rhythm Of Us is no different.

  • The Rhythm Of Us is available online at Sifa on-demand till June 20. Go to Sifa's website or call 6348-5555.