Building connections: Collaborations bring new dynamic to M1 Contact dance festival

M1 Contact dance festival features many collaborations to bring a new dynamic and extend the life of works

Collaboration is the name of the game for the annual M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival.

Almost all the programmes feature collaborations in some form. Some will go on even after the festival ends.

"Collaboration is a chance to bring a new dynamic into a production," says Kuik Swee Boon, 44, artistic director of T.H.E Dance Company, which organises the festival. "As an artist, we need that kind of stimulation and challenge."

The festival is in its eighth edition this year and is presented in collaboration with Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay.

It is on from Friday to July 7, with four ticketed and two non-ticketed performances as well as more than 30 dance and choreography classes. Tickets cost between $25 and $36.

Different passes will be offered, including a $70 "taster pass", which allows one to attend two shows and a dance class.

One of the festival's programmes, work-in-progress presentation Off Stage on June 9 and 10, is already fully subscribed.


  • WHERE: Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, 1 Esplanade Drive; and Goodman Arts Centre, 90 Goodman Road

    WHEN: Friday to July 7

    ADMISSION: $25 to $36 for ticketed shows. Passes from $37.50 to $400 are available


The groundwork for meaningful collaborations starts early, sometimes years beforehand, to build connections and trust between companies.

Kuik met Ross McCormack from New Zealand dance company Muscle Mouth in February last year during the Auckland Arts Festival and liked the company's aesthetic, which is similar to physical theatre.

The companies will present two new works, collectively titled Borderline, from June 22 to 24. They will be performed by six dancers from T.H.E Dance Company.

Building networks internationally can also help to extend the life of a work after it is first shown.

Kuik says: "Singapore is a very small country. It is important for our artists to get more international connections. You need to find ways to make your work travel."

For example, he hopes that Naka, a collaboration between Singapore dancer-choreographer Goh Shouyi and Japanese dancer-choreographer Mai Kubota, will be able to travel to Japan.

The piece is part of the Asian Festivals Exchange programme, a showcase featuring South Korean and Japanese dancers and choreographers alongside Singapore talent on June 26.

The connections work both ways.

Bulgarian choreographer Dimo Kirilov will not only perform with his wife, Japanese dancer-choreographer Tamako Akiyama, for Binary, a showcase of international dance talents on June 29 and 30, but he will also stay on in Singapore till August for a residency with T.H.E Dance Company.

Kuik says such collaborations "keep the flow of the energy circulating" in the company and ensures its artists keep learning through the exchanges.

Ultimately, these cross-border activities also help to overcome "the limitation of our arts environment", he adds. "The market is small here. But we need to see that we are not just Singapore; we are part of the larger world.

"We need to make the impossible possible. That's the only way to grow our scene."


By T.H.E Dance Company and Muscle Mouth

Area² by New Zealand's Muscle Mouth, featuring T.H.E Dance Company dancers Billy Keohavong (left) and Kei Ushiroda, is part of the double bill Borderline.PHOTO: SHAUN HO

Boundaries of different forms are explored in this double bill, titled Borderline, by Singapore's T.H.E Dance Company and Muscle Mouth from New Zealand.

The show runs from June 22 to 24 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio.

Vessel, choreographed by T.H.E Dance Company's artistic director Kuik Swee Boon, explores the personal boundaries of people, both physically and emotionally.

In the work, dancers explore "how they overcome their physical borderlines", he says. These includestrength in terms of "hardness" as well as in the "flexibility" of their bodies.

In Area², the idea of borderlines is manifested more conceptually.

Muscle Mouth is known more for its physical theatre elements and the work is influenced by the surrealist themes of avant garde playwright Samuel Beckett and Canadian visual artist David Altmejd.

In preparing for the piece, Muscle Mouth artistic director Ross McCormack, 40, asked the dancers to watch various videos, "ranging from octopuses having sex to massive factory lines building mechanical parts and cars".

An element of the set, known as a "rock", becomes a metaphor for territory and control.

"The humble rock has become a fascination to me. Its sole purpose is to slowly erode into dust - to control it or shape it becomes a very violent action," says McCormack.

But despite what seem to be differences in vocabulary, Borderline, says Kuik, is meant to be seen by the audience as "two sides of a coin".

Helping to bridge the two productions is the sound design, led by Muscle Mouth sound artist Jason Wright, with the help of Singaporean artist Jing Ng.

Kuik says: "Collaboration makes a production more complicated. The different dynamics among the people involved add to its complexity. This is also what makes it interesting."


By Dimo Kirilov and Tamako Akiyama

Broken Lines features dancer- choreographers Dimo Kirilov and Tamako AkiyamaPHOTO: JAVIER GARCECHE

Communication and the lack of it is the subject of dancer-choreographers Dimo Kirilov and Tamako Akiyama's piece.

Titled Broken Lines, it explores the discrepancy between human emotions and the external world.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: June 29 and 30, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $36 from Sistic


Kirilov, 41, says: "It's about different realities, the distance between our inner world and what's taking place externally. I've always been interested in human, interpersonal relations and how we interpret and understand situations differently."

The piece is part of Binary - a showcase of works by international artists in the festival which takes place on June 29 and 30.

There is another piece, Zero by dance duo Humanhood, made up of British artist Rudi Cole and Spanish artist Julia Robert, in the show.

Kirilov was born in Bulgaria and is now based in Spain with his wife, Akiyama, who is from Japan.

Both of them were part of renowned Spanish ballet company Compania Nacional de Danza.

It was where they met Kuik Swee Boon, artistic director of T.H.E Dance Company. From 2002 to 2007, Kuik had been the company's first Asian male dancer.

The couple performed in Singapore in 2013 as part of the festival that year. Kirilov also created a work for T.H.E's dancers then.

He will be staying on in Singapore after Broken Lines to create a new work for T.H.E which will debut in December as part of a triple bill.

While he has a few ideas in mind for the residency, he is keeping things open for now.

"Swee Boon and I had a close relationship when we worked together in Spain and it is always a pleasure to see him, his team and the work they are doing in Singapore."


By Goh Shouyi and Mai Kubota

Japanese dancer-choreographer Mai Kubota will be performing at the Asian Festivals Exchange show.PHOTO: BOZZO

Working with dancer-choreographer Mai Kubota, says Singapore dancer-choreographer Goh Shouyi, has been like going on a blind date.

He has been corresponding with his Japanese collaborator through messaging app Line, Facebook and e-mails for the past few months, with both asking questions to get to know each other better.

They will be creating a 15-minute work-in-progress piece, titled Naka (Japanese for "inner"), for the Asian Festivals Exchange on June 26.

Kubota, 22, will be coming to Singapore only on June 12.

"Naka came out through the process of conversation. It's about what is inside of me - my memories and emotions, what is inside of her and what am I to her and her to me," says Goh, 28, who is with T.H.E Second Company, the training company of T.H.E Dance Company.

Kubota adds: "Our inspiration comes from not knowing who or what the other is like, since we haven't met each other. I often imagine and wonder who Shouyi is. I'm looking forward to discovering his emotions and memories during the residency."

Under the same platform, Kubota will also be performing with fellow Japanese dancer Uchida Tokio. Titled Dialogue On The Green Way, the work is about how the simplest things can hold importance.

There will also be performances by South Korean dancers Seon Jeongchan and Lee Younghun; collaborations between them and Singapore dancer Zhuo Zihao; and a collaboration between Singapore choreographer Albert Tiong with T.H.E Second Company.

Cross-border exchanges are not new for Goh - he has worked with artists from South Korea, Japan and Malaysia in the past few years. He says: "Every opportunity puts me in a different situation, which helps me to grow and contributes to how I approach a collaborative project."

For now, he has not finalised anything for the piece with Kubota.

"We haven't met each other yet. Dance requires that human touch. Sometimes, with the body, you can talk more."

Other programmes


Mist by choreographer Stephanie Burridge, featuring Kailin Yong (with violin) and Yarra Ileto, will be performed on Saturday.PHOTO: BERNIE NG

M1 Open Stage presents eight open-call and two invited performers from Singapore as well as countries such as Ukraine, Vietnam and Japan.

These 10 performances will be spread across two evenings.

Each night also presents Corollary, a commissioned 25-minute work by artist Germaine Cheng.

Corollary is part of the DiverCity platform, which nurtures up-and-coming Singapore talent.

The work is inspired by the Rube Goldberg machine, a contraption consisting of a series of devices which perform simple tasks before triggering the next set of devices.

Where: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive When: M1 Open Stage 1 + DiverCity: Friday, 8pm; M1 Open Stage 2 + DiverCity: Saturday, 8pm Admission: $25 (one night) or $37.50 (both nights) Info:

L'envers by Swiss dance company Ici'bas merges circus tricks with dance.
L’envers by Swiss dance company Ici’bas merges circus tricks with dance. PHOTO: CHRISTINE DAIGLE


This new outdoor component of the festival features L'envers, a performance merging circus tricks with dance from Swiss dance company Ici'bas.

There will also be performances of excerpts from the repertoire of T.H.E Dance Company and T.H.E Second Company.

Where: Esplanade Outdoor Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive When: Friday to Sunday, 6.30 and 8.30pm Admission: Free Info:

Nabilah Said

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2017, with the headline 'Building connections'. Print Edition | Subscribe