Thursday, 26 June 2008

Possibilities by Melissa Quek
This is my first first full length show. Please come watch!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

what to look for in a class

I owe you a counterpoint. There are lots of great teachers and schools for dance, yoga etc in Singapore. It's important to pick one that suits you so as to avoid the minefields that can get an adult dancer injured - because the one big problem with starting these activities late is that you can get injured more easily.

Everybody has their own style of learning, and I know plenty of people who adore the yoga drill instructors that I detest. That said, if you are pondering trying out dance classes and have been wondering how to start, there's some basic things that you can look out for:

1. Find a studio and teacher that you feel comfortable with.
I believe in vibes. You won't know until you go down and try the place out - always ask for a trial or walk-in class first. You don't want to be stuck where you don't enjoy the space and the people.

2. Look for a teacher who is approachable.
Some of the greatest dance teachers in history were/are scary as heck, but other great teachers will also help you learn by being approachable and open to your questions. One of the wonderful things about starting dance as a mature student, as opposed to a five year old, is that you can do more than just copy. You can analyse what you are learning, and understand the process. "How can I get my flat back really flat?" and "Why do we turn out our legs?" are definitely not stupid questions. I have found it most rewarding to study with approachable teachers who will take the time to talk to you after class, and share their knowledge of physiology or dance history. (Thank you my first teachers Katie Glasner and Sandra Kaufmann!)

3. Favour teachers who give corrections.
I used to hate getting corrections. It made me feel like I wasn't doing well in class. In fact, there's no better way to learn. Take the corrections given to you (as well as the ones given to your classmates, which you can also learn from) as presents, not insults! There are teachers out there who prefer to just demonstrate the combinations and collect their paycheck. Good teachers will actually make the effort to monitor their students and help them improve. (Also on corrections - I believe that pink tights for ballet actually help you to get better corrections. You might think that they look odd, but they show your muscles and placement better than dark tights or baggy pants.)

4. Pick a studio that fits your schedule.

I know this sounds duh. But if you are rushing off madly to classes and are constantly late (and I have been there), you will be (a) missing the important warm-up or stretch segments and putting yourself at greater risk of injury, and (b) being disrespectful to your teacher and classmates. Do try to give yourself time to change and stretch. As a bonus you can get to know your dance-mates/yoga-chums while you're at it.

Happy dancing! It's like nothing else on earth.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

What not to look for in a class

So their towels are fluffier, the studios more spacious and less endowed with shoe-grease and sweat. But that's just not enough. I'm hanging up my towel and swearing that I will no longer judge a studio by its looks.

Especially not when it has nasty clauses against breaking your year-long expensive subscription, and especially not when my favourite teachers have left and only ditzes and grumpy drill seargeants are left teaching my yoga classes and time-slots of choice. Especially not when they go out of their way to make sure that it is excruciatingly inconvenient to not pay them. Need I even think twice when the erstwhile polite sales staff inform me that to cancel my giro when the contract expires, I must show up at the studio in person and sign a form? (i.e. so they can make another crude sales pitch) I am going to cut them off at the bank. Goodbye Pure Yoga.

Don't just dance!

This year's NAC commission of new choreography was based on the assumption that Singapore choreographers do too much moving and too little thinking. So Joavien Ng, Neo Hong Chin and Ebelle Chong were set the challenge of doing better, with the editorial advice of dramaturge Tang Fu Kuen.

With Body Inquire, Joavien chose to take on that giant of modern dance, Martha Graham. She boxed herself and Ricky Sim in harshly-lit white squares, and set up a game of "Simon says". Each contraction appeared more ludicrous and awkward than the last, interspersed by totalitarian quotes from Graham at her most fanatic (if you get bored with yourself, simply think of dancing towards your death). The dancers struggled and grumbled in a protest of their individuality against a strict technique. The finally sublimated into a pair of cardboard squares, while they described themselves in a recorded conversation and biographies scrolled overhead.

Hong Chin, working with Ebelle as her performer, revisited the birth of their children and the schizophrenia of confinement in MAgic:MAchine (what a great title).I'd never thought of pregnancy as phantasmagoric. In a dim glow, Ebelle emerged, embryonic, in a series of translucent plastic bags. In a wonderfully surreal dark her baby's face hovered, projected, on her plastic body. She writhed and screamed through her delivery and exhaustion, a sort of clinical manufacturing.

Ebelle then swapped places with Hong Chin, and cast her with Melissa Quek to measure w a l l s, an invisible house that appeared gradually in tape on the floor, a la Dogville. In another coup for great budget lighting, the dancers then whirled and wrestled across a grid of laser pointers.

Pushing choreographers to come to logical conclusions sounds like a good idea. The result was fresh, but forced. The ideas still felt unfinished, and I wonder if the movement motifs might have been less belaboured without the editorial intervention. At the post show dialogue, it sounded as if Joavien had been resisting pressures to draw a political conclusion from her diatribe on the oppression of the individual. It would have been a fun point to poke at Singapore governance, but if that wasn't the intent, then why attempt to force it?

Forward Moves, the Esplanade Theatre Studio, 7 June 2008

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Boxing Rings for Butterflies

Did you hear wailing about this year's festival programme being crammed with avant-garde work from unheard-of post-soviet states? Well, wail on.

Maybe it was with a knowing wink that this year's festival began with a Requiem. If you could imagine artistic insanity, it might well comprise an orchestra, a full choir, five vocal soloists, and two major ballet companies in swimwear. Also liberal silence, two divergent requiems and four black couches.

Yet all of it came together in impossible, dark genius. Choreographer Edward Clug harnesses the force of Mozart's requiem and migrates the conventions of beauty into a totalitarian state. Gradually, he strips all human comfort away: off with the skirts, the jackets, the couches. The fifty odd corps de ballet disrobing at dim centre stage formed a lump in my throat. They were just that reminiscent of preparation in a concentration camp. The dancers were transformed into a proletarian swimsuit parade, sweeping in mechanical ranks across the stage.

Out of such brutal uniformity, the ballet strives to remind you that in this cruel arena, we are still beautifully human. Such a soaring, exuberant Dies Irae. Lyric duets conceived in boxing rings for butterflies. Finally, the corps(es) struggle towards you to collapse in a plastic massacre. In the aftermath, a girl in white floats solemnly through, dispensing shining arcs of baptism water. Another dancer discovers her existence half-submerged in a fishtank.

Clug is well aware that his work is steeped in religious and political imagery, and insists that you must take away your own interpretation. But to explain its genesis, he admitted in the post-show dialogue that he wanted to turn the music around, create a requiem for the living, a purgatory, a rebirth. That this was his response to a childhood in Ceausescu's Romania, and his own realisation of a desperate need for freedom.

He found much resonance in Singapore. At curtain call, the audience were springing to their feet in applause. I guarantee you three theatres-full of Singaporeans can now identify Slovenia on the map.

-The Architecture of Silence by the
Slovene National Theatres Opera & Ballet Maribor and Ljubljana/ Singapore Festival Orchestra (Slovenia/ Singapore) blew me away on 30 May 2008, The Esplanade Theatre

counting to eight

Many "grown-up" friends don't know how happy they make me - when they ask me suddenly how they can start dancing. They're not planning on taking it seriously, they say, but they'd like it to be part of their lives. They wonder shyly if it's too late if they're 25, 30, 50? Can they do more than wait for their daughters outside the studio?

I'm so glad to have another opportunity to say: You're not alone! There is no better time to express yourself than Now!

It has been a joy to discover the dance community in Singapore since i returned from New York five years ago. It's a community of people who watch dance, practice dance, teach dance, and above all, love dance. They are present at the performances of classical as well as experimental work, and populating the pockets of adult dance classes across the island. Proof that movement is a language that transcends age, traditions, and languages. I've met dancing doctors, teachers, lawyers, bankers, homemakers.... and I'll admit that till recently, I was a dancing diplomat.

Dear friends, the link page of this site is dedicated to you!