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Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

Binary at M1 CONTACT 2019: Breaking all the rules with “Stigma” and “Dan-su”

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By Chloe Chotrani

(1,130 words, 6-minute read)

The 10th anniversary edition of Binary – International Artist Showcase presented two returning artists to the festival. Last performed here in 2013, Stigma is a dark and enigmatic solo by highly acclaimed Danish artist Kitt Johnson; while Shintaro Oue presents『談ス』(Dan-su), the Singapore premiere of an adventurous and uncertain full-length dialogue as performance, performed by Shintaro Oue, Mirai Moriyama and Daisuke Omiya.

Johnson emerges from the audience. Her face is wrinkled and marked with a netted pattern, she wears an oversized grey coat – a harrowing introduction as she interrogates the audience with a confronting stare. She backs her way onto the stage, falling under a narrow light, her movements are of a grotesque, swift, and limping creature. Her eyes fall into the shadows, dark and circular, witnessing her wrinkled features from a distance. The overbearing grey coat reveals her agile and strong body.

She stalks back into the shadows. She rolls the coat onto her back. She crawls while balancing the bundle on her back. She walks on her knuckles, on four legs, like an animal hunting in the middle of the night. As she finds stillness, she creates subtle, mesmerising and intricate gestures that bring our attention to the minute muscles on her back. The soundscapes heighten and she shifts farther into the stage with her back facing the audience, and rapidly flaps her arms like they are wings. Throughout the piece, she transforms from one hybrid creature to another. Her universe of distorted and whimsical forms are peculiar and deeply intriguing. She closes the piece with a striking and memorable image; what looks like gold dust falls from the centre point of the ceiling, onto her forehead and pouring all over her body. We learn later on that the last image was inspired by a Mexican cleansing ceremony practiced in many cultures. 

Courtesy of M1 CONTACT

 

Stigma was created in 1999. It continues to tour today and could be even more relevant than when it was created 20 years ago. In contemporary society where identity politics can be a defining narrative of one’s place in the world based on colour and class; stigmatisation is an internal battle that every human faces. Bringing these challenges into choreographic thinking with the body expands the conversation beyond a place in time and space — the meaning of the piece grows as the environmental landscape changes.

In a separate workshop titled The Sustainable Body held on June 22, Johnson shared some of the physical foundation techniques ranging from improvisation, authentic movement, and running that she adopts to maintain longevity in her practice. Witnessing Johnson as she finds pleasure in her growing and changing body shatters any stigma surrounding dance as a practice best experienced in youth. As the body ages, there is a deep maturity that one can only experience if there is a healthy and holistic sustained foundational practice as a way of life. One that Johnson exemplifies not only in her solo performances but in her being.

Dan-su means “dialogue” in Japanese, and is also how the locals refer to “dance”. Dan-su works beyond the common boundaries in dance making. It is a deliberate choice to be imperfect, dancing with the dialogue of humour, chaos, contact, and uncertain spontaneity.

Courtesy of M1 CONTACT

 

The stage is set with a large circle drawn with white chalk on the floor. There is a screen and a camera on stage. Moriyama stands uncomfortably with pain in his stomach. He falls and something emerges from his mouth, a little male figurine which he places in front of the camera.

Comedically, Omiya emerges from the left with his knee in pain. Moriyama and Omiya slowly build a contact improvisation duet while alternatively chanting the words one – two, black – white, oil – water, man – woman; highlighting common binaries while dancing. The synergy between the two dancers are deeply felt with a heightened awareness of their bodies in relation to each other. They have enough trust to throw themselves onto each other and the floor, knowing how to catch themselves and carry their weight. Oue then emerges from the audience, finding his place within this duality. He intentionally struggles to fit himself within this binary, and is rejected by the two. Eventually, by force, they merge into a trio.

They start to draw words outside the circle such as “dream”, “kiss” and “wherever, whenever”. They build structures with little figurines in front of the camera and together they dance re-creating the forms of the figurine structures, keeping an underlying sense of silliness while being physically rigorous. There is interdependence amongst the three performers as they have an almost acrobatic approach to the discipline of contact improvisation throughout the piece.

Courtesy of M1 CONTACT

 

The camera shifts from one place on stage to another, following the words, giving the audience the choice to either watch the live performance or the screen. The camera is then attached to a central rope that drops from the ceiling and is brought up to provide a bird’s eye view of the performance space, as the floor transforms into a large drawing board. The performers start to draw the anatomy of a human around the stage. Moriyama and Omiya then walk us through the different body parts, singing as they go along, making rhythms and accompanying them with dance movements. There is laughter, fascination, destruction, playfulness, and mostly, confusion! They leave the stage in utter chaos with dust chalk shattered all over, dripping in sweat, at the point of exhaustion.

The pursuit of art, in this case, contemporary performance, is precarious in nature and tends to resist what society may deem as “normal”. Its underlying purpose is to question and respond to society. The performance industry continues to be saturated even as it struggles to build support systems and infrastructure. Those who truly love what they do, will survive, and eventually thrive. Oue seems to be almost mocking these fantasies of artists by laying them on stage as passion, dreams, and drawings; laughing at the seriousness of life. While the execution may seem chaotic, each moment is deliberately chosen, working within the disciplined approach to the form of contact improvisation. Watching these three men as they play, one gets to know their personalities, nuances, and tendencies as people in this performance dialogue. It is rare to see performers in space performing and playing, as themselves. It reveals their nature without any dictated character or imposed narrative.

Binary has become a marker for providing a glance into the international scene and how it develops throughout the years. The curatorial choices that Binary has cultivated over the past ten years bring anticipation, surprise, and a witnessing of differences – exemplified this year in the depth and provocation of ageing as pleasurable in Stigma, and the lighthearted play and organised chaos within the rigour of contact improvisation in Dan-su


Binary – International Artist Showcase ran from June 21 to 22 at Esplanade Theatre Studio as part of M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival.

Chloe Chotrani is a Manila-born and Singapore-based movement artist, writer, and gardener. She co-creates interdisciplinary projects and performances that weave nature, art, and spirit. http://chloechotrani.com

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