“The Next Generation”: LASALLE and NAFA at da:ns festival 2017

For Esplanade’s da:ns festival 2017, LASALLE College of the Arts and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) come together for The Next Generation to present 70 minutes of well choreographed works that offer an insight into what we can come to expect from the next wave of dancers anticipating to enter the industry.

LASALLE College of the Arts kicked off their exciting repertoire with Martin Schick’s To Be Announced, an experimental piece that sought to almost aggressively tear down the boundaries between performance and reality. Prior to the beginning of the performance, the dancers were sprawled across the stage with mobile phones, interacting with each other while stretching, creating a cozy, casual ambience that is entirely separate from the rigid, well-manned workings of showbusiness. As the performance officially begun, self-introductions were made by the dancers and choreographer. Each self-description was interspersed with deadpan humor and an earnestness that makes me wonder what was scripted and what was organic. It was a fascinating experience because on stage, the speaking dancers were no longer allowed their principal medium of their self-expression, and I found myself watching their bodies fidget with the subliminal desire to move as they narrated their own identities on stage.

LASALLE dancer. Photo: Kuang Jing Kai

The notion of play was brought to mind as I watched the dancers rush up to each other with childlike excitement to suggest different forms of dance and to engage in games of scissors-paper-stone with audience members. In games, spontaneity is always present, which allowed for an element of pleasant surprise that never dissipated as the dancers showcased short dance combinations in a more pliable structure. From the dancers asking the audience directly to choose the last activity for them to perform to having a dancer himself stand up in the audience to provide his own self-introduction, the distance between performer and audience was, almost by sheer force, shortened and blurred. It is always refreshing to see dance unconstrained within traditional barriers; like play, it is free to circulate from stage to audience in unpremeditated dissemination, evolving with each contact with another person.

LASALLE dancers. Photo: Kuang Jing Kai

If Schick’s piece sparkled with the brightness of his dancers’ personalities spilling over the proscenium stage, Lee Jae-Young’s Equal was the complete absolution of the self. On stage, bodies melded into a startling, eye-catching well-oiled machine that seamlessly integrated separate individuals into a powerful instrument conveying meaning through bodies clothed in black. The performance begun with a pair of dancers in the spotlight, using parts of their bodies as measurement tools in an intricate duet. It felt like they were yearning to fill in the spaces until they became one. Against a tension-filled, pulsating soundtrack, the dancers were all body parts, moving fluidly in jarring, mechanical movements. While the dancers executed a series of movements in canon[1], I felt like I was watching gears shift in a piece of equipment – silver, sharp, pristine and cold in the specificity of positions. The scientist Richard Dawkins once described a computer as a machine that does exactly what it is expected to do, but surprises you with the result and with this performance, I was astonished by the clarity of movement and the intensity of Lee’s piece.

LASALLE dancers. Photo: Kuang Jing Kai

Next was an excerpt from Kuik Swee Boon’s Silences We Are Familiar With, a piece that was first commissioned and presented during the da:ns festival in 2012. Moving and poetic, the five dancers traversed across the large stage in a flurry of covering distance with each precise extension, and I felt myself settling into a comfortable state of having my own breaths match the rhythm of the dancers. Kuik’s pieces have always had a kind of pliancy to them and I’ve imagined watching his dances as akin to watching a spiral twirl continuously; likewise for this performance, the movements seemed to ebb and flow the same way one’s natural energies do, a harmonious blend of tension and release in a liminal state of being, anchored to this world by the squeaks of the dancers’ shoes against the dance mat. From the post-show dialogue, I found out that this particular excerpt was the excerpt of love. It felt fittingly poetic to me that while the dancers sought to fill in the empty spaces with their bodies, the only tangible marks left are those by rubber soles, almost like scorch marks against the black dance mat. Much like love’s residue.

NAFA dancers. Photo: Jeff Low

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts followed up with a diverse display of emotional performances that run through a whole spectrum. Lee Wan Yu’s Her Voice was a personal piece on discovering what it means to be a woman, and it was first performed at NAFA’s Crossing 2017: Diploma in Dance Showcase. Beautiful and empowering while playing on the dichotomies of femininity, the six dancers emerged dressed in flowing dresses in gentle colors while making their first movements assertively against the narration of extracts from Virginia Woolf’s ‘Professions for Women’ and ‘3 Guineas’ by Adrian Crowley, a deliberate ironic choice by Lee to highlight how a woman’s identity can never be separated from men. As a piece about womanhood, the movements were never feminine or delicate, even as the soundtrack segued into a piece by Steve Reich that evoked fantastical elements in a jovial tone that marked a celebration of femininity. The piece ended with the dancers facing the audience, eyes wide and fierce, almost demanding an explanation with each foot stomp, or refuting a misconception with each advance. The performance ended in silence, with six girls still glaring into the audience in an assertion that it is who they are, that makes them women.

NAFA dancers. Photo: Jeff Low

Flux by Jereh Leung was inspired by the anime, Koe no katachi (A Silent Voice) written by Oima Yoshitoki, with the narrative of the anime revolving around Nishimiya, a student with impaired hearing that was bullied. Premised as a piece that was deconstructed and reassembled, Leung’s piece was fascinating to watch, as devoid of a linear structure, the performance took on new meaning in indescribable ways. Certain movements were identifiable to the narrative highlighted to us; when the dancers took turns to lay each other face down, and I was able to deduce it to be related to the experience of bullying, but it was done gently and softly, which produced a new take on the subject matter.

NAFA dancers. Photo: Jeff Low

The final performance was Punch Me by Ezekiel Oliveira, a powerful piece exploring the sensuality and pleasure in dance. With the dancers clad in one or two-piece exercise gear, they executed movements that oscillated between abrupt spasms of ecstasy and slow, languorous extensions that made me contemplate what truly constitutes a sensual movement. The dancers provided a score of possible answers to that question, and one scene that stood out was when there were two dancers on separate pedestals created by fellow dancers, slowly pulsating in rhythm with the intense beats of Nicolas Jaar’s heart-thumping tracks. At what point is the sensual cathartic? Is it purely movement, or the display of it to an audience? The unabashed focus on the dancers’ bare bodies, emphasized with body rolls and hip sways, can be taken as a celebration of the pleasure of dancing. With the musculature of the dancer’s body out in full display, Oliveira’s piece demonstrates the fleeting quality of gratification. From the tension-filled, no-contact intimacy between two dancers unmoving amidst a whirlwind of limbs and skin, the show is concluded with a flourish.

Exciting and fast-paced, The Next Generation was a performance almost bursting at the seams to showcase the talent of both the choreographers and the dancers.

[1] a choreographic device or structure in which movements introduced by one dancer is repeated exactly by subsequent dancers in turn.

The Next Generation ran from 20 – 22 Oct 2017 at the Esplanade Recital Studio. The showcase is part of Esplanade – Theatres by the Bay’s annual da:ns fest which ran from 20 – 29 Oct 2017.

Browse through Crispian Chan’s photo-essay for ArtsEquator, documenting the rehearsals for “The Next Generation”.

About the author(s)

Lim Shan is a student at the National University of Singapore, majoring in English Literature with a minor in Theatre Studies. She has a background in ballet and contemporary dance, and is active in the university’s theatre club, NUS Stage.

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