Finding freedom without a face

Skin Tight poses questions about identity and the liberation of anonymity, with performers wearing zentai or full bodysuits

Skin Tight performers put on full bodysuits, an act in concealing and revealing.
Skin Tight performers put on full bodysuits, an act in concealing and revealing.PHOTO: ANDREW NG



Ah Hock and Peng Yu

Esplanade Theatre Studio

Last Saturday

The Japanese zentai subculture is one that ripples beneath the veneer of a society that is charmingly composed and proper. Zentai, short for zenshin taitsu, refers to full bodysuits. Donning these suits is an act in concealing and revealing. 

Home-grown contemporary dance company Ah Hock and Peng Yu delve into this duality in Skin Tight, a commissioned work by the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. The choreographic duo are joined on stage by performer-collaborator Joey Chua.

Traversing a large red circle, the ensemble are sharply dressed in business attire. They cross one another, but never connect. There is an anonymity in being one out of many and keeping pace with the fast-paced rhythms of the little red dot.

Here, artist-sound designer Zai Tang's soundscape interweaves sounds of typewriters and telephones with a trippy voiceover addressing humans as automatons.

Ah Hock and Peng Yu earnestly pit one anonymity against another in their quest for true individualism.

Pulling nude zentai suits over their faces, the performers snap out of their strait-laced stupor, launching into a cutesy J-pop dance sequence spliced with suggestive leg-splaying and back-arching.

The societal metronome is toppled as the ensemble strip down to their zentai suits. Chua shields herself as she turns to face the audience, then removes her hands, emboldened in realisation of the cocoon that shields her. 

Like two halves of a whole, Aaron Khek and Ix Wong button their shirts to each other's. The duo perform an uninhibited, tenderly beautiful duet in which they serve and support each other.

Khek holds out a sleeve and Wong assuredly threads his arm through it. Shirts and bodies tangle and unravel until the performers find themselves in each other's arms. 

This is followed by Russell Morton's playful short film in which the trio appear in everyday places across Singapore - corridors, lift landings and open fields - in brightly coloured zentai suits. Khek and Wong are holding hands, their bodies meeting in the face of their facelessness.

The film culminates in an extended sequence shot in the heart of Raffles Place with the performers executing a synchronised movement phrase of kicks, taking a leaf out of a technical dance class.

It is amusingly illogical and seems to poke at the dichotomy of homogeneous dance training and the individuality expected of professional performers.

Skin Tight loses its way towards the end, but it nonetheless poses pertinent questions about identity.

In a zentai suit, a person is stripped to a body - a body tightly bound in emancipating anonymity. The allure of disappearing into the self and eluding social norms is undeniable, but the dangers of getting lost are not to be ignored either.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2017, with the headline 'Finding freedom without a face'. Subscribe