Notions of ideal beauty gone in a splash

The Immortal Sole is a dance theatre piece that looks at women’s issues through the lens of the fairy tale, The Little Mermaid.
The Immortal Sole is a dance theatre piece that looks at women’s issues through the lens of the fairy tale, The Little Mermaid. PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

REVIEW / DANCE

THE IMMORTAL SOLE

Edith Podesta M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

Esplanade Theatre Studio

Wednesday

Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid is a far cry from the bright colours and effervescent marine orchestra of the 1989 Disney film. The protagonist does not have her love, her life on land, not even a name.

There is no fairy-tale ending and Edith Podesta, in her retelling of it, portrays the protagonist teetering on the knife edge between transformation and conformation.

The Immortal Sole, a Fringe Festival commission, looks at notions of the ideal female body.

Clad in nude leotards, the four performers - Dapheny Chen, Yarra Ileto, Koh Wan Ching and Ma Yanling - writhe in a shallow pool, water dripping off their ponytails. Crossing their legs and lowering their chins, they perform a sensuality that appears even more striking on their athletic frames.

Intriguingly, the water expands and subdues their movements. A swipe of the leg is magnified by the wave that follows it, and placing a hand on the water's surface sends a ripple all around the pool. But the resistance of the water and the slippery surface the performers are dancing on make for some tentative moments.

Podesta's choreography is peppered with small, expressive gestures - the performers' hands caress their faces, circle their chests and clutch their bellies. This is a coming of age on their own terms as they discover their bodies as women.

Then, the camp smashes the intimate to pieces as the performers ride in on shark floats in high-cut swimsuits gyrating to songs by Britney Spears and Rihanna.

Lights flash as though a giant camera is clicking and, negotiating a pair of bright red heels, Koh begins to fit her body into the mold of the worldly woman.

Her weight drops into one hip, one hand slips behind her head and her back arches. She might have gained the world, but she has lost her soul.

The Little Mermaid is ultimately a tale of heartbreak and sacrifice.

Koh takes a knife to her body and it is in the wound that she finds herself.

In a stunning sequence, she holds up a mirror to reflect the light shining down on her, allowing her to bask in it and feel its warmth.

She examines her battered body through the reflection, seeing beauty where she did not before.

Working in both dance and theatre, Podesta understands the expressive capacity of the moving body and approaches her creations with a tinge of irreverence.

Surprises abound and they shake up The Immortal Sole both in pace and pitch.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2018, with the headline 'Notions of ideal beauty gone in a splash'. Print Edition | Subscribe