Insightful and intimate dance show

Artists Eng Kai Er and Faye Lim's She Ain't Heavy, She's Reaching Into Space was a conceptually rich way to experience dance

She Ain’t Heavy, She’s Reaching Into Space by Faye Lim (above left) and Eng Kai Er.
She Ain’t Heavy, She’s Reaching Into Space by Faye Lim (above left) and Eng Kai Er.PHOTO: THEATREWORKS (SINGAPORE)




72-13/Last Friday

Something small yet wonderful happened in the Singapore dance scene over the weekend.

In the warmly lit space of TheatreWorks' home, 72-13, dance artists Eng Kai Er and Faye Lim put on a dance performance. There was no sweeping music, it had no fancy sets and it steered clear of the sort of highly dexterous but cryptic movement that so much contemporary dance in Singapore has come to be known for.

Their collaboration, titled She Ain't Heavy, She's Reaching Into Space, provided a much needed counterpoint to the recent currents in Singapore contemporary dance as well as society in general.

Against the Singapore contemporary dance scene, which seems to keep harping on technical virtuosity and visual embellishment, this work provided a conceptually rich yet unintimidating way to experience dance.

Against contemporary society, with its increasingly disparate and echo chamber type interest groups that adversarially jostle for space, the work offered a sense of hope that disparities could be negotiated harmoniously.

In this very calm performance, the duo wasted no time in expounding on the themes of the title.

They opened the performance with a visually soothing section of contact improvisation, a partner- work movement method that involves finding a harmonious way to shift and bear each other's weight through a series of limb- locks, lifts and counter-balances.

The method requires both partners to be responsive, trusting and open to the changes in dynamics when moving together. Indeed, both were reaching into space as they folded organically into and onto each other.

The famous song by The Hollies that their title clearly references was alluded to through displays of trust, reliance and the selfless offering of assistance in the partner work. Warm feelings of kinship were felt.

Following this opening section, the rest of the work was framed by two verbal discussions as well as a slightly off-kilter musical about a durian and a teddy bear who meet in a forest.

Through frank conversations between themselves as well as with the audience and the kitsch of their own musical, Eng and Lim managed to layer their work with reflections on people, humanity and dance.

At one point in the musical, the performance took on the tone of a children's educational show, full of values to be learnt.

Looking past the superficial pastiche, a subtle, bordering-onsnide social commentary about the complexities of celebrating or quashing difference could be detected.

Sitting close to the audience on two white wooden chairs, the discussion topics flowed naturally against a carefully choreographed pathway that saw them standing from their seats after a time- keeping buzzer was sounded.

They then walked slowly towards the audience before splitting up to walk down the row of audience members in opposite directions as they continued the conversation.

Throughout, Eng and Lim addressed the audience as equals, creating a comfortable vibe and breaking down the audience- performer divide.

The plethora of movement was visibly absent in this physically spare work.

But through their honesty, their willingness to expose their vulnerabilities and their vivid descriptions of the joys and foibles of their creative process, the physical act of them dancing was ingeniously conjured.

It was fantastic that just by vividly talking about dance, one could clearly envision the physical act of it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline 'Insightful and intimate dance show'. Print Edition | Subscribe