Surreal spectacle

In Taiwanese group M.O.V.E. Theatre's Dear John performance (above), a dancer is bound to a deconstructed piano.
In Taiwanese group M.O.V.E. Theatre's Dear John performance (above), a dancer is bound to a deconstructed piano.PHOTO: ETANG CHEN

A dancer in a white coat moves around a deconstructed piano. Strings bind her, marionette-like, to the piano's inner workings. When she moves, she pulls sounds from its insides.

This surreal spectacle is part of Dear John, an avant-garde performance by Taiwanese group M.O.V.E. Theatre that blends dance, music and kinetic art installation in deconstructing the process of making sound.

"To deconstruct is to look for new possibilities, to do things in ways that haven't been done before," says Taiwanese composer Lin Kuei-ju, one of the piece's creators.

The John in its title refers to John Cage, the late American avant-garde musician considered to be one of the most influential composers of the 20th century.

While the piece does not use his music, he is a spiritual mentor to the project, says Lin, 42. "Curiosity is the most important essence of Cage's philosophy and that played a part in how we went about developing the project."

The piece, which she created with artist Wang Chung-kun and choreographer Tung I-fen, began with them removing the keyboard from the piano her mother bought her when she was six years old.

"I wanted it to have a new life."

  • BOOK IT / DEAR JOHN

    WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Feb 15, 8pm; and Feb 16, 3 and 8pm

    ADMISSION: $38 from Sistic

They have since deconstructed three pianos, the others being donations from friends. "They are very precious," says Lin, who is married with a daughter. "They deserve to be listened to, not just played."

Besides being manipulated by the dancer, the piano also has objects placed between its strings or has its hammers hit by a mallet.

The piece also makes use of other unorthodox instruments, such as "sound bottles", which compress air to create sound, and motorcontrolled wind chimes.

The audience is encouraged to move around the space during the performance and even get up close to the performers. Lin says: "We want them to feel very close to the space and instruments. It is possible that what you see will be different from what your friends see at any single moment."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2019, with the headline 'Surreal spectacle'. Print Edition | Subscribe