Digging into feelings and playing games

Going all out in Act II – The Messy Middle.
Going all out in Act II – The Messy Middle.PHOTO: BERNIE NG


R.e.P 2016

Raw Moves

Goodman Arts Centre Black Box Last Saturday

At a time when many local dance companies seem to be favouring packed programme formats, Raw Moves' 2016 R.e.P season was a welcome change.

The double-bill performance had more focus and it was one of the few times in recent years that I did not feel overwhelmed by quantity.

This idea of not yielding unnecessarily to quantity was also apparent in the two works by local choreographer Foo Yun Ying and New York-based Jo-anne Lee.

In a work titled, Act II - The Messy Middle, Foo continued to eschew the kinetic lyricism of her earlier works in favour of a pared-down aesthetic.

This has been apparent in her works over the past two years.

It seems Foo has begun to ask a seminal question in a young choreographer's artistic journey - what comes next after the technicalities of movement?

In this work, she attempted to dig deep into the emotional depths of each of her performers. The work had immense potential in being moving and honest, but it fell short because some dancers did not manage to overcome their veneer of performance.

Standing in plain view and baring one's feelings and thoughts on stage without movement is perhaps one of the hardest things to do. The pace was slow. But the slowness was felt only at a mechanical level and did not manage to draw me into their world.

Matthew Goh was perhaps the only performer who took the risk and went all out. His energy surged unapologetically as he engaged fellow performer, Melyn Chow, in a rugby-style scrum. As Goh's aggression grew, Chow's effort to resist and overcome him became real.

In another scene, Goh jabbed his elbows continuously into his abdomen. On the verge of breaking down, he nonetheless struck with increasing force, making for a gut-wrenching and grating moment of honesty. However, one man alone was not enough to hold down the entire piece.

Lee's Bound was a work that relied heavily on the humble rubber band and the ingenious use of games to craft the structure of her work.

She was sensitive in balancing all the theatrical elements so that each section was succinct and engaging.

In one scene, familiar void-deck games played by children, such as zero point, tested the performers' strength, technique and agility without having to resort to stylised dance movement. Also, the performers were daring enough to bring the games to levels that were sufficiently challenging so that it did not feel like they were copping out too early.

Lee managed to develop the concept of one-upmanship adequately.

Using swift and direct movement derived from martial arts, tightly choreographed unisons incorporating the stretched cords of rubber band visibly manifested tension within the group.

At the end of the work, the deliberate ripping apart of the bands released the dancers into the space, their movements finally becoming wider as the rubber bands littered the floor.

Freedom was achieved by a simple gesture and by Lee's choreographic sensitivity in knowing when an idea had come to complete fruition before pulling the rug from under its feet.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline 'Digging into feelings and playing games'. Print Edition | Subscribe