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