Moved in a new way

Sounding Body, in which dancers created music with motion trackers, offers a fresh experience in the art form



Raw Moves

Goodman Arts Centre Black Box


(From left) Dancers Matthew Goh, Kong Wei Jie and Melyn Chow. PHOTO: BERNIE NG

To dance or to sound? / to sound or to dance? / that is the question.

This opening line riffing on Hamlet set the philosophical exercise disguised as a concert/dance performance that was Sounding Body.

The result was a wondrous experiment that led the audience to not only experience dance in a new way, but also to witness how dancers can find new ways of discovering movement.

Raw Moves, under the leadership of artistic director Ricky Sim, is known for its unconventional shows (one of its shows had dancers baking onstage) and Sounding Body continues that tradition.

Instead of playing a backing track, sound director Joyce Beetuan Koh had the dancers - Melyn Chow, Matthew Goh and Kong Wei Jie - "play" the music on the Chinese stringed instrument guqin live, using only movement.

Besides the trapezium-shaped dance space which recalled a guqin, the instrument existed only in virtual form - as computer code programmed by instrument- systems designer Felix Leuschner - which meant that the dancers were also playing "blind".

For the audience, the only physical clues as to how the music was being produced were the bright blue lights emanating from the motion trackers worn by the dancers - a raised toe could make a note louder, an expanding chest could change a key.

But like fireflies, the dancing pinpricks of light simultaneously made sense and was magic intertwined.

One standout segment was a duet between Chow and Goh, performing their version of Dialogue Between Fisherman And Woodcutter, a signature guqin piece.

Both dancers perfectly embodied their respective characters, but created another level of artistry as their accompanying actions created a dialogue in music form as well.

And while there is elegance in the playing of an instrument, there can also be quirk and comedy, such as when a body part emits strange sounds. This was demonstrated with a welcome scene where the three dancers became drunkards in a tavern.

Of course, while the dancers deserved praise, there was a lot of behind-the-scenes work that merited credit.

Leuschner and Koh, both composers, ensured that the music created was indeed music and not just noise (though there is a place for noise when it acts like a foil to music and to silence), while Sim took care of aesthetics.

Both were equally important roles in an ambitious show that had its dancers working doubly hard.

Can dancers become musicians? It seems the answer is a rough- around-edges yes, with a lot of work in rehearsals and from unseen members of the orchestra.

Leuschner, in his opening monologue, might have referenced the famous Shakespeare tragedy, but in Sounding Body, Raw Moves has created a triumph.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2016, with the headline 'Moved in a new way'. Print Edition | Subscribe