From the playful to the philosophical

The cyclical nature of human interactions gets a spin in Pure, part of the triple bill.
The cyclical nature of human interactions gets a spin in Pure, part of the triple bill. PHOTO: BERNIE NG



T.H.E Dance Company, Esplanade Theatre Studio, Thursday

With a growing repertoire and reputation, T.H.E Dance Company boasts a touring schedule that is packed to the gills.

Yet its commitment to new work also keeps it in its studio, immersed in the thrill and pressure of the creative process.

This year, the company opens its annual M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival with a triple bill of world premieres by artistic director Kuik Swee Boon, resident choreographer Kim Jae Duk and Arthur Bernard Bazin, who is working with the company for the first time. 

Although the pieces posit similar existential questions, each of the choreographers situates the body differently - as vessel, barometer and playground.

In Bazin's Attachant, the dancers display a child-like state of playfulness, stripping away the usual confines of personal space as they climb up and tumble off one another, navigating an obstacle course of limbs and bodily surfaces.

Then, they shift from one sleeping position to the next, cradling one another's heads in their arms.

Billy Keohavong, ejected from the huddle at one point, flails his limbs with a limpness that belies great physical strength.

It is as though he is learning how to move for the first time, not by coordination but by sheer force.

This is much like the entire work, whose sections adhere, but do not necessarily cohere.

Contrastingly, Kim's Equilibrium and Kuik's Pure are more mellow. Drawing from philosophy, these pieces present a captivatingly muted physicality, one that is refreshingly different from Kim's usual loud, hard-hitting output and Kuik's often frenetic, exacting vocabulary. 

Equilibrium still showcases Kim's movement signatures of lopes, bobs and tremors, spliced here with overt references to the piercingly directed limbs in martial arts.

But these movements, when performed with less speed, allow for nuance to be made visible - the spine ripples, joints flex to cushion a landing and the head floats above the action.

Evelyn Toh holds a steely gaze throughout, as she allows Kim's movement to engulf her body.

Like ninjas, the dancers scurry in and out of slivers of unison, accelerating until they find collective release. With chanting and hypnotic percussion, Equilibrium is contemporary dance as ritual, filling the empty vessel of the body with stillness through intense motion.

Kuik's Pure, too, has a calm, predictable quality. Dancers Anthea Seah and Wu Mi are together and then apart, they advance and then retreat, they reach and then release. The cyclical nature of their interactions is based on the interchanging phases of conflict and compromise in human relationship. 

White coats by designer Jamela Law encase the dancers like clouds, both protecting and preventing them from their true selves. They dance much of the piece in symmetry, skirting around the borders of each other's kinespheres. 

Then, the coats are removed and the dancers launch into solos with a palpable hunger for mobility, bounding through the space with unfettered abandon. Seah, in particular, moves in a wondrously edgeless manner as movement just seems to well up inside and escape out of her being. 

The predictability of human nature seems inevitable as the pair establish a new rhythm and find themselves in step again.

Perhaps our bodies are always a true indication of what our minds and souls desire, and dance is a way to listen to ourselves. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2016, with the headline 'From the playful to the philosophical'. Print Edition | Subscribe