The body is a cave



M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival

Esplanade Theatre Studio/Last Friday

The annual M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival culminates in Binary, a double bill featuring acclaimed pieces by international dance artists. This year, Astrid Boons and Shamel Pitts share the evening, presenting work that foregrounds the body as a cave, hollow yet full.

Belgian dancer-choreographer Boons works with the concept of emptying the body of its humanness. In Vestige, she begins by flinging her limbs away from her centre as though she is banishing herself from her body. The effort makes her gasp and she stops momentarily, her head floating on the surface of distress.

The piece alternates between extreme states, with Boons and Alice Gioria convulsing violently and then dissolving at a glacial pace.

While unnerving at first, this settles too easily and leaves little to the imagination. There are some strikingly ugly images where Boons is lying on the floor, legs splayed like a swastika. Necks are consistently arched backwards, stacking open mouths atop desperate eyes.

But when these pass, what remains is vacuous. Boons has not only emptied the cave of the body, she has also flattened its contours and erased its significance.

New York-based Pitts, on the other hand, highlights these contours and provokes thought on how they are filled in Black Velvet. Created in collaboration with fellow performer Mirelle Martins and light and video mapping artist Lucca del Carlo, the work is clothed in darkness, its mysteries emerging from the two androgynous, glowing bodies on stage.

These bodies as caves are emptied of old perspectives seeking to be filled and shaped by new ones. Pitts and Martins acknowledge the contours that are etched into their bodies with fingers sliding down arms and thighs, hands insistently tapping shoulders and cradling elbows. They are altogether different, but the same; two and one.

Thereafter, Black Velvet erupts into a psychedelic blitz of light and sound. It engulfs the theatre in grating fashion, as though mirroring the strain of the performers' fitful running and punching for the audience.

The piercing onslaught obscures and forcefully forges a new clarity where the performers move beyond their labels of gender and power.

Repeatedly, a light shines and immediately begins to close in on them. Darkness consumes the duo as they sustain a deep counter-balance, splat gracelessly to the ground or seek to fit into the crevices of each other's bodies.

At the end, the overwhelming onslaught is halted. The silence feels unbearably light. Pitts and Martins begin to slow dance, his hands moving her hips while she gently cradles her elbow. His face pokes out from behind hers, stoic but a little worn.

These are undoubtedly incredible performers, and it is in such bare simplicity that Black Velvet reveals its alluring, dark sheen.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2018, with the headline 'The body is a cave'. Subscribe