Injecting dance into One Table Two Chairs

Javanese dancer Didik Nini Thowok in Journey To The South, directed by Liu Xiaoyi.
Javanese dancer Didik Nini Thowok in Journey To The South, directed by Liu Xiaoyi. PHOTO: TUCKYS PHOTOGRAPHY

Given The Arts House's history as the former Parliament House, its Chamber is often used for debate and panel discussions by local artists.

Last Saturday saw a more innovative use of the space towards the end of the Southernmost arts festival, organised by local theatre group Emergency Stairs.

With Javanese dancer Didik Nini Thowok (or Didik Hadiprayitno) wearing a suit and carrying a suitcase, the rows of seats facing each other became the waiting area of a train station or airport.

His graceful traditional hand gestures and occasional irreverent shimmy illustrated the in-between condition of artists who seek to continue traditions as well as move on towards something new.

Journey To The South, directed by Emergency Stairs' co-founder Liu Xiaoyi, was the best of three 20-minute shows.

The festival is an offshoot of the One Table Two Chairs project by Hong Kong-based director Danny Yung.

He started by using only one table and two chairs as a set for two artists from different genres and ethnic backgrounds to find common ground on stage and create a 20-minute performance.



    Liu Xiaoyi/ Makoto Sato/ Danny Yung

    Chamber, The Arts House 

    Last Saturday

In last week's triple bill, however, the set was absent in Xiaoyi's work and unnecessary in the works directed by Yung and Japanese director Makoto Sato.

All three directors took the common route of finding common ground in dance and movement theatre.

Journey To The South had Didik playing across Kunqu opera artist Wang Bin from Nanjing.

Wang Bin reappeared and was sadly underused in the second work, Station, directed by Sato. This was the least developed of the three works.

Eyelids drooped as Wang Bin and Xiaoyi made circles around each other and a vocal improvisation in the latter half failed to fully awake interest.

Yung's work was the last and deliberately controversial. Titled Deep Structure Of Chinese Culture, it arises from Yung's concern about China peddling a single cultural narrative, fuelled by its One Belt One Road economic strategy.

As construction machines pounded and Chinese proverbs were projected on one wall of the Chamber, Cambodian dancer Nget Rady leapt around, striking formidable poses.

Yet he failed to gain the attention of Thai dancer Junior Dearden, who seemed mesmerised by a sheaf of documents. Most of the papers were discarded, akin to what is ignored in the pursuit of a single goal.

It was an interesting concept, but the execution could not sustain it beyond five minutes.

Bringing back Wang Bin and Didik for a controlled dance experiment might have helped, but only two artists are allowed on stage under the framework of One Table Two Chairs. It is rather ironic if a project meant to free artists may be constrained now by its own structure and history.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2017, with the headline 'Injecting dance into One Table Two Chairs'. Print Edition | Subscribe