Poignant and powerful dance about man and beast

Jecko Siompo’s frisky The Highest Animal.
Jecko Siompo’s frisky The Highest Animal. PHOTO: KUANG JINGKAI



T.H.E Dance Company

M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival

Esplanade Theatre Studio


The similarities between man and animal are perhaps the very reason for our dissociation and separation from these creatures some rungs down the natural hierarchy. These are highlighted in a triple bill by T.H.E Dance Company, as it helms its annual M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival in its sixth edition.

While artistic director Kuik Swee Boon's movement style can hardly be described as animalistic, the dancers inhabiting it have to possess feline power and agility as they meet impulse after impulse.

Dancing in a reprise of Kuik's early work, Pellucid, they are poignantly human as they disintegrate on the inside.

The contact work is borne of assistance rather than affection, and only in a serene trio do the men manipulate Evelyn Toh with an unadorned, beautiful gentleness. Elsewhere, the piece employs Kuik's tendency towards frenetic full-bodied physicality, but this tips the balance against the titular concept as it crowds and clouds the otherwise arresting work.

Spanish choreographer Iratxe Ansa's Dos Cuerpos is in a similar vein - kinetically, it hardly lets up, but the physicality is charged with beguiling effort. The illusion of ease, as is often a filter in dance, is eschewed here for faces distorted as a result of genuine intention, force and determination.

In moving as honestly as the body dictates, expression comes as a riveting consequence rather than an overwrought intention. The explosive ferocity of Anthea Seah juxtaposed against the expansive luxury of Chia Poh Hian make for compelling viewing, but the duo is almost upstaged by a surprise opening solo by Toh in near darkness. In slivers of barely visible movement, her gawkily fragmented limbs hold as much fragility as strength.

The year 2015 has been one of flux for T.H.E Dance Company, as it boasts almost an entirely new troupe of dancers. Veteran members such as Lee Mun Wai and Yarra Ileto have left the company, thereby injecting new blood into its veins and pumping out new work that is refreshingly different yet no less exacting.

This is evident in Indonesian choreographer Jecko Siompo's frisky The Highest Animal. The developer of a contemporary dance style termed Animal Pop, Siompo reads and portrays animalism not primordially, but quirkily.

In this romp of a piece, the ensemble of seven peck, leapfrog and yelp through what at first seems like an elaborate animal race. Then, they reveal themselves to be a dysfunctional family of hybrid creatures with the proud arched back of a peacock, the sniffing curiosity of a dog and the piteous flop of fish on land. T.H.E stalwart Zhuo Zihao is like the group's boisterous drill sergeant, bounding across the stage like a monkey and summoning the outliers back into line while providing much of the piece's humour.

While the caricatures in The Highest Animal elicit laughs, they draw parallels to man's need for inclusion, family and love.

Siompo points out these similarities as he questions our place on the top rung and whether there is room for some of these special animals to join us.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2015, with the headline 'Poignant and powerful dance about man and beast'. Subscribe