Flame burns strong Above 40



Kuik Swee Boon, Silvia Yong, Jeffrey Tan & Albert Tiong

Esplanade Theatre Studio

Last Saturday

Turning 40 seems like the first step to middle-aged doom and gloom, especially in a society and workforce that prizes youth and vitality. But a famous Confucian saying suggests that being 40 is when one attains clarity in their ways.

This is the Chinese title of Above 40, a deeply honest meditation on love, life and dance by four of Singapore's beloved second- generation dancer-choreographers - Kuik Swee Boon, Silvia Yong, Jeffrey Tan and Albert Tiong.

Throughout, the show's various sections are met with applause, roars of laughter or hushed silences. The audience, made up of mentors, counterparts and students, is familiar with the backstories, quirks and prowess of these artists and holds tightly onto every shred of this rare comeback.

The shelf life of a dancer is undeniably short. It is dictated by the body and the increasing demands of the profession. When the frustration of a maturing mind paired with a body in decline is too much to bear, the stage is too revered to be trod on. Yet the flame that was lit never gets extinguished and, as evidenced by the performances of Kuik, Yong, Tan and Tiong, it is still burning strongly. 

The quartet are dressed quintessentially, as they are now - directors, educators and choreographers. A fan rotates overhead, its shadow looming large a reminder of the passage of time. In the spare void of the Esplanade Theatre Studio, the artists begin to carve out space with their presence. 

Tiong pushes the air like a taiji master, Yong manifests her emotions through circular pathways, Tan's stylised articulation reveals his balletic roots and Kuik's minute pauses evince a contemplative mind. They are vastly different, yet united by their experiences of the ecstasy and agony dance has brought them.

Engaging in stunning physical banter, they take turns to bear and give weight. There are surprises - Kuik smiles as Yong falls towards him, Tiong misses a hand. But these are uncertainties the mere body faces, their beings still stand firm.

While the pacing of the hour-long show is uneven, Above 40 is a success because of the genuine perfor- mances by its creators.

As Kuik grabs a chair and repeatedly hits its back legs on the ground, the force he exerts causes the front legs to rebound off the floor.

This dual sound reverberates through the space and, in his rippling frame, like a heartbeat pumps blood through the body.

Kuik is visibly spent by the end, his efforts paralleling his sacrifices for dance. The art form takes a lifetime of dedication, but as evidenced by the sentiments of these artists, it gives them life.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2015, with the headline 'Flame burns strong Above 40'. Print Edition | Subscribe