By Chloe C. Chotrani
(933 words, five-minute read)
Closing the ninth M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival is the annual Binary – International Showcase: a double bill by Astrid Boons (Belgium/Netherlands) and Shamel Pitts (Israel/United States).
In Vestige, an attempt to empty the body of its humanness, choreographer and performer Astrid Boons pushes the physicality of the body in an intense throw of impulsive and jolting movement. Boons’ movements give the sense that her impulses come from a force outside herself that swings and throws her around, losing sense of control. The continuous force on the body gives stark textures, as she recedes upstage. The curtain in the background is drawn out, revealing the back wall, creating an atmosphere of something other than a stage: more like a room, or a hospital, rather, an asylum.
In the ensuing duet with dancer Alice Giora, the two dancers find a duality through a gaze that reveals they are under some influence of each other. Giora leans her ear on the arched chest of Boons, as she listens for a life pulse. Giora moves forward, struggling, as if she is being dragged from the neck. The duet culminates at the back end of the room in a synchronized flow, they move in a texture within space that feels like time is melting, slow and sure, exploring the expanse of range in their joints, as they cling closely to the wall. A sense of calm seeps into the space, in contrast to the uncontrollable phantom of their presence throughout the first half.
Vestige gave the sensation of being within the room or asylum, the audience as witnesses of their trauma through the intensity of their physicality. However, it felt as if we were watching from a distant window, which made me question the presence of an audience and the relationship of performer to the audience. Were we necessary? It may not have made much difference, without us in the space. Perhaps, in an attempt to empty the human body of humanness, it was intentional. A kinesthetic empathy was present between the performers, but the energetic exchange shared with the audience, was absent.
The second performance Black Velvet takes us on a brutally beautiful journey, a multi-disciplinary work woven together by choreographer Shamel Pitts, co-performer Mirelle Martins, and lighting designer Lucca del Carlo.
As we re-enter the theatre, Martin is positioned on a high pedestal in a lengthy black skirt, a haunting presence, softly caressing her own skin, the color of the sun, a deep gold and black glistening. Once we settle, she is being moved around, floating on stage. Subtlely, the dim lighting reveals that her pedestal is being moved by another body across the stage—a piercing image of a body glowing amidst the black. Martin removes her skirt, revealing a high ladder that she sits atop. The soundscape discloses moments of poetry spoken by Pitts, and at times, songs, rhythms, and speeches of the revolutionary spirit.
On stage left is the large black fabric from the skirt thrown on the ground, with a fluid glimmer of light shining on it, mimicking a glowing body of water. Pitts is on the other end of the stage in bright white light, revealing the bareness of his golden skin. We are completely raptured by the stories his body tells, a tremendous sense of bravery, vulnerability, and fear as he dances with a vitality that is turbulent, yet soft and porous. The two come together in a leaning position of dependency, the authenticity in their physicality removing any obstacles of gender; the two were a mirror of each other, the same, yet unique.
The movement texture is thick, in a resistant tension holding each other’s neck in a slight suspension, bearing the beauty of the human body in relationship to one another. It carries a suggestion that the architecture of the human body is designed for interdependency.
They are running, gazing far ahead, confronting the vulnerability of fear and power. As they come into a halt, they return facing each other as a mirror, and come into a breathing sway back and forth; one body breathes into the other, as she opens her heart and chest to receive, flowing within a giving and receiving response; it intensifies, speeding up, breathing into shouting, and spirals into an outburst of panic. Pitts screams and jolts in a frightened manner, as Martin holds his space, keeping the ground for them both.
The light shifts between stark white and black, creating a series of moving images of duality in motion. They find crevices and curves of comfort within the architecture of each other. Their points of contact transition into a shifting positioning; as they morph into every next placement, they move with a sense of urgency. The dance moves into a whirlwind of light, sound, and movement: Pitts and Martin shift towards the ladder on stage left, climbing, pushing, and activating space. The energetic pinnacle comes down to an image of two bodies beneath the ladder. The ladder is pushed down horizontally, falling to the ground with a sharp sound, leaving the two bodies, one with and within the other, in a subtle and soft sway.
Black Velvet stays with you, long after the performance has ended. The performance presented an idealised vision of humanity where all people glisten and glow. Constructs and borderlines of race, color, gender, skin, and sexuality are fluid and ephemeral, in a space where humanity can come to remember from the depths of our being, the interconnectedness of all, even if we see difference. The prism comes from a single source: all colors stream from that single source.
Part of M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival 2018, Binary – International Artist Showcase was staged 3 – 4 August at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. It was a double-bill featuring Vestige by created by Astrid Boons and performed by Boons and Alice Giora, and Black Velvet created by Shamel Pitts, and performed by Pitts and Mirelle Martin.
Guest Contributor Chloe C. Chotrani is a movement artist based in Singapore. She is a project-based dancer for dance companies Chowk and P7:1SMA, and an associate artist with Dance Nucleus. She was an artist-scholar with Romançon Dance Company of De La Salle–Benilde in Manila and holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Asian Art from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. When she’s not dancing or writing, she is tending to plants in her garden.