Maya Dance Theatre
Centre 42/Dec 5
Maya Dance Theatre, in collaboration with German company IPTanz, turned its attention to the social issue of body shaming in Puffing Bodies.
The publicity image of a bulbous creature, illustrated by collaborator and visual artist and musician Andy Yang, captured the strangeness of a body. If one looks inside the body with a medical scope, or simply zooms in on a particular part with one's camera, the human might look like an alien landscape.
Puffing Bodies was full of similarly unusual images, evoking discomfort and wonder.
They revealed how complicated bodies can be, with humorous scenes of moving a blob of fat or a beautiful shadow dance where bodies multiplied and dissected into abstract shapes. Fire blankets and shimmering gold were powerful as lighting and sound devices.
The show began with performers and invited members of the public walking down a runway.
It was clear it took courage for each person to step forward and put himself or herself in the spotlight, whether he or she appeared young or old, large or small, visibly ill or not. When audience members were invited to join in at the end, the celebratory spirit and message of inclusiveness was clear.
The performance took audiences on a literal journey through the building of Centre 42.
Sometimes, the audiences' views were obscured or the people were split into groups and could follow only one performer. The viewers' experiences were limited to what they could see.
It was an effective reminder that people cannot empathise with what they do not know and the work powerfully captured this with a solo by Chen Wan Yi, a performer with Down Syndrome.
In a plastic cage, she danced to a recording of her voice, telling an interviewer about her anxieties and desires for her body. This came sandwiched between scenes by performers who appeared more typical, who would pluck at their bodies and one another.
As with previous offerings by Maya Dance Theatre, one can trust that the work would explore nuanced narratives and take viewers on an emotional journey while being accessible to the general public.
The company's performances typically reveal the tight budget it works with, with props and costumes reused but reimagined, keeping the focus instead on the human relationships and the communities formed around each work. One wonders what it might do with more resources.