Giving dance a new spin

Theatre performer and director Edith Podesta turns choreographer for a performance by dance company Raw Moves

Dancers (from left) Matthew Goh, Jeryl Lee and Melyn Chow will perform in Indices Of Vanishment.
Dancers (from left) Matthew Goh, Jeryl Lee and Melyn Chow will perform in Indices Of Vanishment.ST PHOTO: NABILAH SAID

Edith Podesta is known as a theatre performer and director in Singapore, but she will take on a new role as the choreographer of upcoming contemporary dance show - Indices Of Vanishment.

The hour-long performance, a study of the emotional arrows that couples shoot at each other and how this can destroy a relationship, is presented by Singapore contemporary dance company Raw Moves, and performed by three of its dancers. It takes place from Feb 23 to 25 at the Aliwal Arts Centre.

Podesta, 37, a household name in theatre, is already busy with her next show as the director of The Golden Record, a play about an actual record of sounds and messages sent to space in 1977. It will be staged at the NUS Arts Festival on March 17 and 18.

But not many know about her history as a choreographer, especially in her homeland Australia.

She has a graduate diploma in movement studies and has choreographed many theatre and opera performances for the past 16 years. She even did the choreography for the MTV Australia Music Awards in 2005.

"For some reason, that career didn't follow me to Singapore," says Podesta, speaking to The Straits Times at the sidelines of a media preview for Indices Of Vanishment.

Her working style with the dancers is to give them "specific and very detailed notations" that they would have to respond to through dance, says dancer Melyn Chow, 23.

In her notes, Podesta might give them a specific piece of music or text to inspire their movement.

Chow says: "It's intense. In one day, Edith can give us three notations and we have to constantly create material for each of them, but it's wonderful to see these creations come to play and how they add layers to the performance."

"Every action has to have a meaning," adds dancer Jeryl Lee, 26.

Lee and fellow dancer Matthew Goh, 24, are taking on the role of an old couple, complete with fat suits, who have grown apart over the years and harbour emotional scars.

Chow plays the metaphorical third party in the relationship, symbolising the rot that has set into their marriage.

But over the course of the performance, the couple start to shed their emotional weight and recall what made them fall in love.

The title of the show comes from an essay about performance archives by academic Rebecca Schneider, in which she states, "We understand ourselves relative to the remains we accumulate as indices of vanishment, the tracks we house, mark, and cite, the material traces we acknowledge as remaining."

The show features lighting design by Adrian Tan and sound design by Teo Wee Boon.

Raw Moves' artistic director Ricky Sim, 47, decided to work with Podesta after engaging her to teach his dancers a Viewpoints technique class last year.

The technique is derived from dance to help theatre practitioners understand movement.

"I wanted to revisit dance composition and I felt that it was good to allow the dancers to be taught movement by someone with a different perspective," says Sim.

He found that Podesta could communicate with the dancers very clearly and invited her to create a work for Raw Moves this year.

The company is used to working with practitioners outside of the dance world. Last year, it presented works in collaboration with sound composer Joyce Beetuan Koh and instrument-system designer Felix Leuschner.

Indices Of Vanishment is the company's first performance in this year's season, which is based on the theme of "clutter".

Sim says: "Clutter speaks about not physical hoarding, but about being loaded and overloaded with information. Is the information useful or meaningful or is it just clutter?

"I chose the theme to look at the world we live in now. To show clutter is to show what it means to unclutter."

Podesta says her initial response to the theme was a personal one.

Her godfather was discovered to be a hoarder late in life, when he suffered a stroke and the fire brigade had problems entering the house.

She recalls the state of the house, with "clutter that went up to the ceiling" as "terrifying".

"The idea that clutter is dangerous is still there, but it's about the emotions - these tiny arrows that we hoard - that are dangerous," she says.

"That's the thing we can't see with people - everything that fills our brain actually fills our whole body."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2017, with the headline 'Giving dance a new spin'. Print Edition | Subscribe