B-boy Dominic Nah tells his story in dance-theatre performance

Clockwise from far left) Edward Eng, Michael Ng, Mohamad Shaifulbahri and Dominic Nah are the creators behind the performance, dead was the body till i taught it how to move, a play about b-boys.
(Clockwise from far left) Edward Eng, Michael Ng, Mohamad Shaifulbahri and Dominic Nah are the creators behind the performance, dead was the body till i taught it how to move, a play about b-boys. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

One-man dance-theatre show uses street dance and spoken words to bring out the dancer's relationship with his late father

Novice b-boy Dominic Nah found dance a safe space to express his grief and anger after his father died. Now, he and his friends have adapted his personal story into a one-man dance-theatre show titled dead was the body till i taught it how to move.

Produced by Bhumi Collective, it runs at Aliwal Arts Centre's multi-purpose hall from tomorrow to Saturday.

The performance, directed by Adeeb Fazah, uses Nah's street-dance skills as well as spoken words to bring out the dancer's complicated relationship with his late father.

The older man, a self-employed businessman, was in his 50s when he died of a heart attack. This was soon after Nah, 26, started "breaking" in 2013 at the University of Warwick in England, where he did his bachelor's and master's degrees in English literature.

"Our relationship had deteriorated over the years," he says. "It was great when I was young, but then it got worse."

A fellow Singaporean student at the university, Edward Eng, noticed his friend's depression and reached out.

Eventually, they began working on a performance based on Nah's experiences, including his trip last year to New York, where he tried to meet some of the icons of breaking and b-boy culture in the Bronx.

  • BOOK IT / DEAD WAS THE BODY TILL I TAUGHT IT HOW TO MOVE

  • WHERE: Aliwal Arts Centre Multi-purpose Hall, 28 Aliwal Street

  • WHEN: Tomorrow to Friday, 8pm; Saturday, 3 and 8pm

  • ADMISSION: $35 from www.bhumicollective.com/deadwasthebody

"I was digging for role models and father figures," Nah says. "But it was anti-climactic. Maybe I met them too early."

Eng, 24, tried at first to turn Nah's story into a fictional script. "But it was a no-go," he says.

Nah nods. "It was hard for me when I went through the drafts because some parts were real and some were not."

Producer Mohamad Shaifulbahri, who co-founded the Bhumi Collective, came on board next, intrigued by the idea of a dance-theatre performance starring street dance.

"It was two forms coming together, this sub-culture and the theatre. We don't see a lot of that happening on stage," he says.

Promoting lesser-heard voices and genres is part of the collective's mission and its offerings include last year's well-received one-man show about depression, Every Brilliant Thing, performed by Andrew Marko.

Dead was the body till i taught it how to move was a new challenge for the 32-year-old producer.

B-boy culture goes beyond dance and music to influence clothing style and mindset. It has rules that he was unfamiliar with. For example, even rehearsal spaces have to have "spiritual history" for the b-boys. They prefer the underground space on the way to Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay rather than a traditional rehearsal studio at the arts centre.

Five months ago, b-boy Michael Ng came on board as dramaturg and movement director, helping Nah to find the best way to tell his story.

The 25-year-old has a decade of experience in the dance form and immediately understood what his fellow b-boy was aiming for.

He says: "There is dance to impress and dance to express. For Dominic, b-boying is a safe space to express himself."

Both Nah and Ng as b-boys are also excited to share the dance they love with a new audience - legitimising it in a way.

Their families will be in the audience and Ng says: "I'm excited to show my mum that breaking is not just about breaking bones. A b-boy's story can hopefully finally be appreciated by people who don't know how important b-boying is to us."

Nah smiles. Apart from working on this show, he is looking for a job to help out at home. His mother is a housewife and his younger brother is still studying.

When things get too much for him, he finds an open space behind Seletar Mall and lets his body do the talking.

"Is dance my escape or a space to be free? That's something that's really fascinated me," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2018, with the headline 'B-boying a safe place for expression'. Print Edition | Subscribe