Singapore artist Choy Ka Fai’s SoftMachine goes to Sadler Wells

Artist Choy Ka Fai will present SoftMachine at leading contemporary dance venue

SoftMachine by Choy Ka Fai (right, with Surjit Nongmeikapam) explores the state of contemporary dance in Asia.
SoftMachine by Choy Ka Fai (right, with Surjit Nongmeikapam) explores the state of contemporary dance in Asia.PHOTO: LAW KIAN YAN

A dance performance, documentary and installation work about the state of contemporary dance in Asia, conceptualised by Singapore artist Choy Ka Fai, will be presented in London in October.

Titled SoftMachine, the work will be part of leading contemporary dance venue Sadler's Wells' Out Of Asia 2 festival, which showcases dance from the region.

Incidentally, the Berlin-based artist first conceptualised the work after watching a promotional video for the same festival in 2011, which made him feel uncomfortable.

"Who are you to tell me what is interesting, what is the future of contemporary dance in Asia?" says Choy, of his reaction then.

What followed was an 18-month endeavour involving research and interviews with 88 contemporary dancers, choreographers and curators from 13 cities in five Asian countries - China, Indonesia, Japan, India and Singapore.

While early iterations of SoftMachine have been presented as early as since 2012, it was commissioned by the Esplanade for da:ns festival last year.

The work has toured to countries such as Austria, India and Burkina Faso.

Given its origins, Choy, 37, says that he is "happy and surprised" with how open Sadler's Wells is to present SoftMachine as part of the same festival.

This is his first time working with the venue.

He admits that he did not think of taking SoftMachine to Sadler's Wells, which is better known for its commercial offerings. Its associate artists include contemporary dance darlings Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem.

Artistic programmer Eva Martinez saw SoftMachine in August last year and contacted Choy to discuss the possibility of presenting the work there.

The presentation at Sadler's Wells comprises "documentary performances" by dancer-choreographers Xiao Ke and Zhou Zi Han (China) and Surjit Nongmeikapam (India) on Oct 13 and 14; and Rianto (Indonesia) and Yuya Tsukahara (Japan) on Oct 21 and 22.

The performances - of which Choy features in a couple - consist of discussions, demonstrations and multimedia elements. Tickets cost £17 (S$30.60).

Choy graduated with a master's degree in design interaction from the Royal College of Art in London in 2011 and has been based in Berlin since 2014.

In the early 2000s, he was part of visual arts collective Kill Your Television and served as an associate artistic director of TheatreWorks for two years. He was awarded the Young Artist Award from the National Arts Council in 2010.

Besides Choy, several other Singapore artists are involved in SoftMachine. Dramaturg Tang Fu Kuen and stage manager Yap Seok Hui are involved with the London show, which executes the design concepts of lighting designer Andy Lim and sound designer Zulkifle Mahmod.

There will also be a free installation showcasing images and interviews Choy collected for his research, presented from Oct 3 to Dec 3 in the foyer spaces of Sadler's Wells.

He is unsure of how London audiences will respond to the work as it is critical of the issue of "exoticising of Asian work in Europe". But he is confident that Londoners will be open to discussion.

The work will continue to travel until next year, after which he will focus on presenting two new works - one about the connections between neuroscience and dance, and another about the butoh (a type of Japanese dance theatre) scene in Japan and Europe.

Still, SoftMachine is sure to stay close to his heart, as it straddles multiple art forms that are of interest to him, including theatre, visual art and design.

He says: "From the beginning, I was always a schizophrenic artist. SoftMachine is the project where all my experience and work come together.

"It's a work that has allowed me to find my position."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore work to show in London'. Print Edition | Subscribe