Thursday, 18 November 2010

I love pain

I haven't taken such a long break since I came to NAFA and started dancing full time in 2008. It is much harder than I imagined to simply stop moving, as I'm supposed to do in this enforced time-out.

I confessed ashamedly to my physio. "I've been a good girl. I only did yoga on Saturday, very gently. Then I walked all over Orchard Road on Sunday." (It was supposed to be a book reading, not strenuous for the legs. Except that I was hopelessly lost.)

Did it hurt? Of course it did! Should I have stopped? Probably. But sitting at home drives me nuts. Lack of endorphins, sweat, rhythm, stretch, fresh air, pain...

I am beginning to see that while dancing all this time, I have developed a pretty perverted relationship to pain. I had gotten so used to it, day in day out. Pain, and fatigue. I wore it as a good girl guide's badge. I figured it was supposed to happen when you pushed hard so you could grow. Good dancing hurts. Every day. I often said that I was planning to print a T-shirt for class: I LOVE PAIN. The pain mecca was the triple row of koyok creams and plasters at Mustafa.

Now I keep thinking of that day four weeks ago. By the time Mr A bellowed "how am I supposed to know that you are injured? If you don't tell me I will still throw daggers at you as usual!", it was too late.

Was it supposed to count as 'injury'? It was just another regular day of pain waiting to be delivered only by the momentary exhilaration of dancing, which in turn would cause more pain? I suppose I should have noticed when my left knee gave way, but if I recovered I could only dance on! If my muscles began to twinge and cramp, I needed only to hold on for another five minutes and get an ice pack later...

I asked too much. My body showed me its limits. Decided to educate me that the little calf muscles are absolutely essential for balance, walking, turning, jumping. Decided to teach me that fearlessness is supposed to have bounds.

I need a new relationship to pain.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

dancing for love

It has been a long hiatus since the arts festival, and a lot has been happening for me in my final year at NAFA Dance. Oddly enough, the theme of my last post in June resonates a lot right now. We've just struggled through another production week of NAFA's annual Third Space show at the dan:s festival at the Esplanade Recital Studio. I say struggled because for us student performers and crew, it is a mad battle against the fatigue of the theatre schedule on top of our usual coursework and the accumulation of injuries and stress as we wind up our academic semester.

Dancing is indeed painful. Injuries are something that I am becoming used to as part of dancing life, with ice packs and anti-inflammatories as my best friends. What is more difficult is facing fellow cast members who may not care or work as much as you do, critics (professional and non-professional) who are unenthused about your work, audiences who sit stonily and reject every ounce of heart that you open to them. And toughest of all, your own expectations of yourself that can be the hardest to meet. Especially when working in the "contemporary asian" genre these last few years, I have encountered all of these a lot. Very often I have wondered what I am dancing for. It's horribly depressing. We had one of those stony audiences tonight, on the closing night of our show.

The only answer I have found is that I must be dancing for me. First and foremost I have to find something that I really connect with and believe in with the work, despite all doubts that others may have about it. It is my own story to discover and share. Then I have to go out on the shaky limb where I simply trust that in this conviction, I will be able to touch somebody, somewhere, out there.

I am coming to treasure a piece of advice I got from Ms Robin Payne, a director and former theatre lecturer at NAFA: that as a responsible performer, I need to believe that every work that I am currently involved in is perfect. I was confused to hear this at first. But this has become more and more useful to me in the last few months. As a performer I am responsible for making the work real. It is in my belief to bring it to fruition. I may have my own doubts or hear more from others, but when I come to the rehearsal studio and the stage I need to put those aside and surrender to the world in the work. Any doubts and fears I carry, anything less than full conviction will only sabotage the performance.

So pushing aside the boundaries in Raka Maitra's Boundaries...Dreams...Beyond this weekend, I did feel rewarded. It started to make sense in my own life and my own story what it means to face the many rules and OB markers that rule our lives, and to find courage to make a lonely journey and cross them into uncharted territory where our lives are truly our own.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

You have to love dancing to stick to it

This is posted everywhere since Merce died. But it captures so completely what makes me and so many friends dance, I think I must keep it handy.

"You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive. It is not for unsteady souls."
- Merce Cunningham

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

T.h.e O in Old

Swee Boon is that soft but completely unrelenting director and teacher, who softly runs what are probably the most punishing rehearsals in Singapore. In performance it all pays off. T.H.E gets better every time I see them. They move with an unrivaled fluidity, power and control.

Full review on the Singapore Arts Festival Blog

Monday, 31 May 2010

Where to find me!

It has been pretty quiet around here because i have a bunch of projects these school holidays.

One of them is my next show! I am dancing for Ricky Sim in It Appears That... in the Esplanade Studio Series on 9-10 July. Click here for details.

I have also been swallowed by the Singapore Arts Festival, as audience and blogger! You can see my ramblings about the Festival Opening, Wind Shadow, In the Mood and a few more at the Singapore Arts Festival blog.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Dancing in the Shadows

Wind shadow was stunning.

But wouldn’t it have been more accurately billed as “Cai Guo-Qiang feat. Cloud Gate Dance Theatre”?

Read more of my review on the Singapore Arts Fest Blog

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Velocity - Needs some revving up

Note to self- need to break that bad habit of thinking of all Taiwanese choreography in the same box as Cloud Gate. There is other stuff out there, and young choreographers especially need support for doing something different.

So I tried to prod myself not to be annoyed when the all-male cast of Horse spent the first five minutes of their act falling over in half-hearted contact improv and very casually scrunching paper into hats, vests, musical instuments, fishing rods.... I love a good po-mo moment but it didn't seem to come to much. There were several entertaining moments of accordion-laced slapstick worthy of a saccharine prime time tv comedy, a rousing parody of military-parade gun tricks done with floppy paper rifles, a surprisingly effortless trio where a chain of guys took turns to hoist each other overhead and fold between the legs of their partners. Finally, three impressive solos hinting of martial arts, release technique and stylised contact improv. The lanky guy whose solo ended the piece repeated an astoundingly soundless flip from his shoulders to his feet.

Sadly, it came across as a sophmorish improvisation class. None of vignettes seemed to have been thoughfully strung together and the transitions from were abrupt. The manila-paper cupboards and eight monitor screens projecting grass and static didn't do much for the production either.

It may be worth checking back on these boys in about five years. But for now they need some time to grow.

Velocity by Horse at the Esplanade Theatre Studio on 1st May 2010
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, 14 April 2010


Memory by the Living Dance Studio (Beijing) at Theatreworks this weekend.

Of course this must arrive suddenly in the peak period of arts/dance activity for the year. But for them, I have no hesitations catching my second show in a day (after Cake's Cuckoo Birds).

I have never forgotten their intense "Report on Giving Birth", staged here during the 2005 arts festival. The UCC theatre studio was emptied of seats and transformed into a cavernous chamber where the audience roamed between gritty performance installations of women backed up against a wall in rubber kitchen gloves, writhing on a table, whispering feverishly in a line of quilted sleeping bags as they recounted their lives in pregnancy, birth, family. So close, you could feel their breath, sweat, and pain. Haunted by magnified sections of themselves projected live from the roving camera of the company's videographer Wu Wenguang. Then the intimate studio workshop a few days later (just three of us dancers, I recall!), and choreographer Wen Hui presenting us with toilet roll improvisation and the conviction that all the creative material we would ever need was present in our own lives.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

finding centre

Since I began dancing, I treasure my centre. This rare centredness is a revelation that I guess only certain physical training can teach one to savour, though we all live in daily gravity. Dancers, acrobats, gymnasts, practitioners of tai chi and yoga may touch this. As slippery as perfect pitch, the value of a complex number?

The special moments where the body perfectly aligns, a miracle of living counter-forces finding stillness in a universe of constant motion. You could stay suspended forever on one leg, five metatarsals, a hand, a head. You are invicible and if you leave it for another direction, another level, a dynamic, it is because you so choose. I'm not a natural at balancing, so those fleeting moments come and go and it's a constant fight to rediscover them with practice, a teacher or a physiotherapist. With belief that I'll find it again, and hope that it will be more often than not. Perhaps it's an addiction. Experiencing that centre personally or vicariously, is just thrilling. The ultimate connection, control, harmony, and surrender.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home'"
- Twyla Tharp

Saturday, 2 January 2010

2009: My year in art

Moments that made 2009 for me, in no particular order

1. Nederlands Dans Theater in Silent Screen by Lightfoot Leon. That endless black dress.
2. Ahn Eun-me Dance Company in Let me Change Your Name? as well as Eun-me herself in workshop, screaming, effervescent, incredibly foul-mouthed and lucid
3. T.H.E. Company in Variance, choreography by Kuik Swee Boon and Zhang Xiao-Xiong. The awed silence that preceded the applause of a hall of those who had long watched, waited, taught, danced with, studied from the company on stage. Elated to see some of our own in a modern dance company reaching for the stars.
4. Q&A by Danny K. Dance as artistic statement for and against the institutions.
5. Cake Theatre in the Comedy of the Tragic Goats. Wrenching physical theatre, in deft local hands.
6. Amrita Arts, recreating the sacred heritage of Cambodian classical dance with great humanity.
7. Sidi Larbi and Maria Pages in Dunas.
8. Simon Beale as King Leontes in The Bridge Project performing a Winter's Tale.
9. Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake (on video)
10.Toccata, a collaboration of John Sharpley and Lim Fei Shen.
11. Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux danced by Ashley Bouder and Simon Ball, and the Bournonville Flower Festival at Genzano danced by Iana Salenko and Marian Walter at an Evening with Paloma Herrera and Friends
12. Lifeblood, the glowing tower of Singapore River-water by Twardzik Ching Chor Leng at the Singapore Art Museum.
13. Rosa Park as Odette/Odile in Singapore Dance Theatre's Swan Lake.
14. Three thousand women shouting passionately for feminism at the AWARE Extraordinary General Meeting
15. Stephen Hough playing Tchaikovsky's second piano concerto with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

Class with...

16. Aaron Khek
17. Jamal Jalil
18. Maud Toledano
19. Ricky Sim
20. Wee Beng Chong, calligraphy and seal carving
21. John Sharpley, music in dance
22. Maria Luisa Arias of Compania Nacional de Danza (workshop)
23. Kuik Swee Boon (workshop)

Dancing for...

24. Nirmala Seshadri, This and That
25. Larry Clark, Flight
25. Lee Ren Xin, as a synapse, a maggot, mini dinosaur, pillow and who knows what else!
26. Studying excerpts of the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux

Listening to...

27. Arvo Part, Fur Alina
28. Yo La Tengo
29. Battles
30. Animal Collective
31. The Analog Girl
32. Angela Hewitt playing the Goldberg Variations
33. The Concord Sonata by Charles Ives

34. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
35. A Dragon Apparent by Norman Lewis
36. Joan Acocella in the New Yorker

37. A meal at Jaan par Andre.

38. Creating a collaboration with the brilliant and modest composer Jenny Rompas.

39. My first visit to India, the glorious cacophony of Delhi and new friends made at the World Dance Alliance conference.