Monday, 26 December 2011

2011 - My year in art

This year has been PACKED with good stuff.  I think I'll have much to digest for 2012. 

Here it is, in mostly chronological rather than any other order!

  1. Model Citizens, a play by the Necessary Stage (Jan)
  2. Getting burned by Louise Burns during my modern dance exam  - well I needed to start asking myself at some point what kind of artist I am... (Jan)
  3. Learning to lenggang and ronggeng with Mdm Som Said (Jan-May)
  4. Dancing Peter Chin's Syncretitude (May)
  5. Dancing Albert Tiong's Checkmate (May)
  6. A dinner at Nahm, Bangkok (May)
  7. Lunch at Iggy's (May)
  8. Dancing in The Hungry Stones by Raka Maitra (May)
  9. SAF (May/June) Out of Context - for Pina, les ballets C de la B and Beautiful Thing 2, Padmini Chettur
  10. The Screw of Thought workshop at Theatreworks (Jun)
  11. A chance meeting with French choreographer Ole Khamchanla - little did I know what was to come, watch this space for 2012 updates... (Jun)
  12. Teaching in the Singapore Schools Programme by TTRP/ITI - Grateful for some crazy adventures and experiments at RGPS and CHIJ-St Joseph's Convent (Jun-Jul)
  13. Contact Improv Festival Kuala Lumpur (Jul)
  14. My first Capoeira Batisado with Argola d'Ouro (Jul)
  15. Cooling Off Day, a play by Wild Rice/Alfian Sa'at (Aug)
  16. Pina, THE dance film of the year, by Wim Wenders (Sep during the Singapore International Film Festival)
  17. Fear of Writing, a play at Theatreworks written by Tan Tarn How (Sep)
  18. Creating PLAY! - a wacky-thoughtful dance/performance experiment with Joavien Ng, Yak Aik Wee, Patricia Toh and Bernice Lee at the ArtScience Museum (Oct)
  19. My first solo dance work out of school - The Always Sea (Oct)
  20. Being a part of the FangMaeKhong International Dance Festival in Laos (Oct)
  21. Performing at and watching the 2High festival at the Brisbane Power House (Oct)
  22. An exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Gallery of Art, Brisbane (Oct)
  23. Dust: A recollection by Vertical Submarine (Nov)
  24. Some introspective conversations with Singapore choreographer Nirmala Seshadri - watch this space.  :) (Nov-Dec)
  25. T.H.E Contact dance festival - as a volunteer and a participant, and a witness to many amazing performances (Dec)
  26. Presenting my first live improv score at THE Contact's Open Stage platform with Chen Jiexiao and Sherry Tay! (Dec) 
  27. Walk with Me - an Amanda Heng retrospective at the Singapore Art Museum (Dec)
  28. Wicked at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre - I haven't enjoyed a well-crafted musical so much since West Side Story! (Dec)
And now, time for a real holiday.  :)

Friday, 4 November 2011

The best premiere

First tech run, Thakhek. Photo by Caroline Cochet.

I declare now that I fell in love with Laos last month. There will be some sentimental raving.

I am indebted to four squirming tots in a disused motel restaurant in Thakek. Who watched my first dress run of the Always Sea in Fang Mae Khong (FMK). They sat transfixed through all 20 minutes of languid soundscape and strange sitting and falling and object collection. Also the horde of tweens at the actual first show who were so weirded out that they actually ran away from me as I exited through the audience.

What a pleasure to have fresh eyes. An audience that you can amaze and touch.

These were people who have never seen any dance in their lives save for a bit of breakdancing. Part of me wishes I could see as they do, and see for the first time the ambitious mixed bag put together by Ole Khamchanla and his FMK team. The Vientiane-based Laobangfai b-boy crew (virtual teen celebs here) were the draw and local street dance crews opened the show. I wouldn't have bet that this audience would sit through it all - Lao dancers reinventing tradition and hip hop through contemporary dance, meditative contemporary Indian dance, Cambodian classical-meets club groove, clowning on Jacques Brel, Myanmar classicial dance battles b-boy, contemp hip-hop, stripped down experimental contemp, and my own weird installation performance thing. (See here for more info about the festival). And watch they did, in three towns. 

I can still feel the press of the last audience we played to, in the cool night below the bemused gaze of President Souphanouvong and the hills of Luang Prabang.  Maybe three hundred people, squeezed into standing room and peeking from benches or the tops of cars just to be able to see... They were completely along with us for the ride.  We were all amazed together.


I have had the fortune to travel and perform a fair bit in the past year. The immigration forms gave me the realisation that I had a great luxury of self-definition.

Seems hard to believe that just five months ago I was still immersed in three years of formal dance training. That orgy of intensely self-directed sweat, angst, humblement, reshaping oneself through guidance. At the end of which I stopped writing “Student” and put down “Dancer” every time I crossed a border.

Then the last five months – The Hungry Stones. The Screw of Thought at Theatreworks. The Singapore School Project with ITI. Contact Improvisation festival KL. My capoeira batisado.The Always Sea. Randai. Play! at the ArtScience Museum. Fang Mae Khong in Laos. 2High in Brisbane.

It is odd to say this. These days, I don't think I am dancing. I am moving, a great deal, but not in the same sense that I understood this in my past few years at NAFA. I have my own work, and it is often movement but it is not necessarily dance as in the technical sense. In the rehearsed and prepared sense. In the rules of choreography sense.

I am seeking. I am drowning. I am reading and mis-reading other human beings and human bodies. Sniffing around for ambient energy and human history. I am asking questions and writing emo drivel like this and proposing that something could happen. And also I am spending a lot of time writing proposals and grant applications.

In the last month I started to write “artist” instead of “dancer”. Then I end up explaining that I don't actually paint or sculpt. It could just as well be “researcher” or “interpreter”. I still hesitate over the boxes Holiday and Business for “purpose of trip”. I am tempted to draw in another box for Art, or Life.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

In some small way make our own

Photo by Oranje Lwin.
Tonight I performed in a Randai workshop showing organised by the Intercultural Theatre Institute - the presentation of a four-day intensive together with a group of theatre students as part of the NAFA Symposium.

It was an incredibly special experience.  For the first time I felt that contact with an unfamiliar culture and art form was so open and welcoming, and something that I could actually connect to and in some small way make my own.  Our three master teachers from Institut Seni Indonesia Padang-Panjang.  Pak Edmiral, Pak Halim and Pak Arif were warm and sincere as they arrived to share with us something that they confessed was deep inside them, and an integral part of the Minang culture that they treasure.

I have an increasing soft spot for folk art.  At any rate, the folk art that is practised as art and not as commerce.  The good stuff and other work that grows from it has a wonderful organic quality that I can't get enough of.  (My own theory: The folk art of Singapore is in our food.)

Photo courtesy of Zaidi

Anyway, Randai. I have swollen hands.

And a yearning to visit Bukit Tinggi.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

One journey ends, and another begins.

Dear NAFA classmates, thank you for the inspiration to sum up our last three years, and look ahead to the future. Yesterday's convocation was an emotional moment for me.  It was hard to look back on the way we've come - a mix of relief, achievement, joys and frustrations remembered, sadness that it's over, and most of all, gratitude.

This is what I shared with our class and guests yesterday.


Good afternoon Mr. Frank Benjamin, Executive Chairman of FJ Benjamin Holdings Limited, Professor Cham Tao Soon, NAFA Board Chairman, Mr Choo Thiam Siew, NAFA President, NAFA Board members, Lecturers, Ladies & Gentlemen.
I am Chan Sze-Wei, a graduate of the Diploma in Dance. I am deeply honoured to have been invited to stand before you today, representing the Class of 2011.
Dear classmates, I am honoured to stand here among you and remember my first day at NAFA, three years and two months ago. On that day, one of my newfound classmates put it perfectly.  She was happy to be here, she said, “because I am finally with my people”.  Entering art school, we were finally in a space where our passion for art or dance or music or design didn’t make you an oddball or a weirdo. We were finally here, in a space together with other young people who knew that the choice to dedicate yourself to the arts was a legitimate one.  And for some of us it wasn’t even a choice, but the recognition of a necessity.  We knew exactly why we wanted to be here, the distances we had travelled, and the sacrifices we had made.  While others among us started out simply because we didn’t know what else to do with our lives. We signed up for the first of many firsts, with little idea how this journey would change our lives.

For the purposes of this speech, I am really glad to have had the opportunity to get in touch with many friends across all the different faculties represented here today.  There were stories that were celebratory and some that were bitter.  Each was unique.
We are the ones who are left.  We saw many others abandon this path along the way.  Some couldn’t handle the mental or physical stress, some needed to support their families, or because they didn’t have the support of their families, or couldn’t muster the financial possibilities to find even $5,000 of school fees a year.
I believe that it’s normal that a number of those who come NAFA take a time-out, take longer to graduate or eventually decide that this isn’t the path for them.  Why do I say this?  Because I know that a life in the arts and creation is one of the loneliest and most challenging paths that we could possibly choose.  Every day that we train, we practice, we create and perform is a day that we have to face ourselves and our weaknesses, and not run away.  Allow me to clarify that this NAFA education is not about fun.  We come here to NAFA and literally volunteer ourselves for a position where we receive criticism every day, all day, from teachers and peers and the most merciless of all, the voices in our own heads. I am not exaggerating when I say that we have known three years, some of us four, of blood, sweat, tears, and pain. Days of frustration, humiliation and craziness when we wondered if any of what we were doing or learning made sense, when we doubted we would see this course through. We learned that pride and failure were bitter pills to be swallowed day after day, followed by swallowing the advice that this was all for our own good.
But it’s not as if there is no fun at all in this arts education.  It is something of a door to a funny landscape where you have to re-wire your sense of fun and find it re-connected to stress, craziness and physical and mental exhaustion.  Does that sound like opening week or production week, anyone? We all know that there’s no other kind of fun we’d rather have and no other place that we would rather be.
Also on the other side of this surreal and confusing door are instructions to be different and unique, yet to conform.  To learn discipline, technique and professionalism – and yet still try to hang on to a sense of who you are and what’s important to you. All these contradictions have a wonderful old-fashioned charm.  It may not be the only way to become an artist.  But it is a process that has allowed us to start to discover who we are, and realise potential we never imagined we had.  We were given first chances to show our work to Singapore and to the world. We acquired friends and mentors for life, and lessons for life.
My message to my class today is: let’s believe in ourselves and what we have to say.  The best gift that we have received in our time here was not the inspiration and praise from our mentors and colleagues.  Just as valuable were the criticisms and rejections.  This was probably the best preparation that our teachers could give us. Let’s face it. We live in a society that generally doesn’t understand or appreciate what we do.  If we’re really lucky, art is viewed as a profitable commodity or convenient propaganda vehicle.  When we’re not, we are too often brushed off with the assumption that what we do is self-indulgent, wasteful, incendiary, needlessly provocative or simply meaningless.  In a culture where individuals are too often treated as political and intellectual children, a young artist has a particularly heavy burden of proof to carry.
And I am sad to say that while NAFA is a sanctuary for the arts, there were moments where I felt that we couldn’t fully escape those same elements of the real world that want art and artists to be predictable, viable and pleasing.
So it is up to us, and only us, to first believe that what we say is worth saying. And then to go ahead and say it!
Let us not be afraid. There will be little recognition and probably even less remuneration. Don’t let that stop you. Let us not be afraid to make mistakes.  Not be afraid to continue to make meaning of our world.  To see and remember for society what is beautiful, what is forgotten, what has no voice, what has been censored by fear and by choice. Let us speak and sing, draw and dance, play and produce what is really important to us. Let us not fear to be loved and to be hated. To provoke questions and provoke reactions. To communicate.  To touch people’s hearts. To be understood and misunderstood. To surprise and to delight. To put ourselves and our work out there in its truest and most powerful form.  Let us not be afraid to let our art guide us.
My dear fellow schoolmates of the Class of 2011, and now my fellow colleagues in the arts, I am proud of you and I am excited for what our future holds. Now it is time for thanks. To our families, our lecturers, and friends.  The people who have loved us and supported us all this while. We really could not have done this without you. Let’s now rise and give these very special people a round of thanks and applause. 

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Cheeky memories - Flip Book

For the first half hour, I swore that Cunningham and Cage were turning in their graves.

Charmatz and co. looked like a gang of merry bandits stuffed into the most merciless unitards to do a massive spoof a la the Reduced Shakespeare Company. The arena-like stage was filled with incomplete contractions, sloppy balances, and careless lines paired with cheesy grimaces. A pathetic mime imitation of Cage doing old fashioned analog editing while the music alternated between Cage-y noises, static, and period pop of the 50s and 60s. I found myself laughing, but in horror. Among the sound crew seated just in front of the stage, the namesake picture book was being flipped as they danced, but even in the small Drama Centre theatre I couldn't see a thing of it. The house was half full, and one chap walked out. I wasn't sure whether to be relieved or even more pissed off when the dance seemed to end in a premature curtain call at what felt like thirty minutes. Billed as a memorial to Cunningham, Flip Book seemed to be no more a tribute than Joavien Ng's bitter take on Martha Graham in Body Inquire (2008).

Then they started again! For two more rounds, each faster and sillier than the last. Then I had some time to relax a bit and start to enjoy the nonsense, and get prodded to think about my discomfort. What is this awe which my Western contemporary dance training has given me for the work of Cunningham? What has he really left to us? The strict precision of form and direction that I studied with Larry Clark (two generations from Cunningham via Viola Farber) is one way to remember Merce, but these philosophies about movement and space also influenced a great part of the dance world even if you didn't actually study with him. In the 50s and 60s his company struggled with great resistance from audiences, but his work has now become canon. What would it take today to innovate like him? To surprise, shock, disgust and delight in the way that he used to do?

It made more sense as I heard more about Charmatz' underlying concept for the piece. This wasn't one of those pleasing shows where the audience can get its satisfaction in one go and understand everything just from seeing the work. It is very specific in this case, as Mayo Martin has pointed out it is a work that references something that references something. And Cunningham may be a giant in the contemporary dance world but you just can't compare it to the anglophone world's access to Shakespeare. This is one of those shows that requires a fair bit of audience work to grasp. I don't think that's bad, but it's also not easy.

I was interested in how Charmatz insists on working out each edition of Flip Book in only five days, and that he recreates it simply from the visual impression of the pictures, with groups of very different experience - high school kids, Cunningham veterans (incidentally very Pina/Kontakthof). Here was a strong reflection on history and how we receive and replicate it, and a deliberate contrast to the usual methods by which we study dancing - directly from the master's body, precisely, painstakingly and unfortunately too often without questioning.
Flip Book by Boris Charmatz/Musee de la danse, Drama Centre Theatre on 16-17 May 2011

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Hungry Stones

My first production out of NAFA is with Raka Maitra's Hungry Stones, this Saturday 28 May 8pm at the Esplanade Theatre Studio.

When I studied calligraphy and seal carving at NAFA, Wee Beng Chong was adamant that stones have life. He showed me several examples of the marble blocks that we use to create seals, regenerating themselves in crazy crystalline forms! It gave me a whole new way of looking at why we engrave them, and seeing Huang Laoshi's style of recapturing the look and feel of ancient time in the present. Then a couple of years later, I have gotten cast as a living stone, full of stories!

Tickets available through SISTIC. Details here.

As it Fades

Pick of the week!

This is the most powerful piece to date from T.H.E, and Swee Boon's most focused statement on the emotional content of lost Chinese dialects and personal histories that the present has received from past generations, set among a mobile city of frosted glass towers.

The climax of the piece was a quiet one, with the dancers' parents emerging from the darkness and taking the hands of the company dancers, sharing a very private moment of connection and gratitude, the vision then filtered through playful silhouettes of a chain of girls. The dancing by members of the first and second companies was of all the virtuosic physicality that we have come to expect of T.H.E dancers, with a fresh element of a more gestural and even comic vocabulary.

It was clear that Swee Boon's muse in this piece was the newest, tiniest and youngest member of the main company - Indonesian-born and Singapore-trained Jessica Christina. Of the many commendable performances of the evening, Jessica simply shone. She carried the piece from opening to closing with a frenetic precision and fragility, and a maturity in performance quite beyond her years and experience.

It was however a pity that Swee Boon has not managed to find a composer to work with on this piece - though each of the contemporary music selections were appropriate to the choreography, I wasn't able to hear them as a coherent soundtrack or connect them to the haunting Hainanese song that opened the piece.

As it Fades, T.H.E Dance Company, 21 May 2011 at the Esplanade Theatre

I want more people to remember - Singapore Arts Festival 2011

The Arts Fest has just begun, but already I feel like I've been running a marathon. Back to back with the Singapore Biennale, overlapping with the World Dance Alliance's free dance events of Singapore Dance Week, and the Esplanade programming of the Hungry Stones smack in the middle of the Arts Fest programme. It's a crazy amount of art to take in (and give out)!

Sadly, I've had to give away half my tickets because of my production schedule, so I'm counting on friends and blogs to tell me about the rest of the shows. I also don't have the time to churn out full length reflections on everything, so am giving the arts fest blog a miss. I will however be posting snippets here on what I've seen.

Apart from my rant about the festival website, my overall feeling is that the arts fest programming is quite interesting this year. The theme is simple but has the personal, sociological and conceptual dimensions. I have been surprised at the number of non-artist friends who have actually noticed the festival theme this year, and told me that they like it very much. There's a good mix of accessible and experimental work this year, which I am enjoying, and if I had more time I would definitely have caught the selection of free programming and public-friendly work. Choir Karaoke and Filem Filem look brilliant! The outdoor festival village has a nice energy to it after the post-show crowds start coming in at 103opm, although I am disturbed that the main feature of the village seems to be the Shiraz bar and kebab stand, and that from the exterior, the outdoor theatre has the feeling of a fortress against the un-ticketed.

So what happened to the ticket sales? It is painful to go to the dance performances and see the Esplanade Theatre and even the smaller Drama Centre at 50% house, when the performances have been excellent. I can imagine how tough it must be for the performers to look out into rows of empty seats, even if the other half of the house is moved to a standing ovation. On the other hand, what I hear from the music and theatre programming (that I had to give away my tickets to, bleah) though, is that the houses are doing just fine.

I actually like the concept of this year's dance programming - tributes to three dance greats Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham and Kazuo Ohno - and thought it would work well with audiences by banking on the names of the inspirations while bringing audiences to new work. This as opposed to the blockbuster-type programming we had last year with Sylvie Guillem and Cloud Gate. But it wasn't to be. It can't help that right now there is an esplanade publicity bombardment for the Nederlands Dans Theatre and the Mariinsky Ballet in the next few months, which aren't part of the arts festival (or dans festival, for that matter). I suppose that a large part of the Singapore audience, both local and expat, have yet to mature from the celebrity recognition phase. It's like visiting Paris so that you can show off your photos of the Eiffel Tower - and whether you liked Paris doesn't have to matter very much - but the Belgian or Cambodian experimental interpretation of the tower isn't going to interest you very much. And god forbid that you have a Korean superstar concert to compete with at the same time... my mum would have taken over my ticket for the Living Dance Studio from Beijing, but she was watching Rain. Of course.

A part of me hearkens a little to the sleepy arts scene of the 1990s, when it was possible to see pretty much everything in town, of all artistic disciplines. I love that we have such vibrancy today and a much larger audience base overall, but it really feels like all the events are cannibalising each another.

I sincerely hope the dance film component is doing better. I shall see next week!

On a tangent about Pina Bausch memorials. I enjoyed Ballets C de la B's Out of Context very much (snippet on the way), but I did wonder why we couldn't have gotten Pina's own Tanzteater Wuppertal, which is currently on its memorial tour around the world. I saw them in Hong Kong in March, and realised what a waste it is that the dance audiences of Singapore have never seen them here. Not when she was alive and the company visited Hong Kong and Taiwan in 2008, either.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Dancing can change your life

It certainly has for me. I can hardly believe that my three years at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) are over. In the past month I sped through a daze of impossibly long days. Rehearsals, technique examinations, final year choreography project, bump in for our final performance in the department showcase. Thank you cards. Editing weepy videos all night. Final year end party. It was so hard to imagine it all coming to an end, that we sat in the park with each other and a lot of vodka until the wee hours of the morning.

This is gonna be the sappy posting.

I think I knew what a huge gamble I was taking three years ago when I handed in my resignation letter in the civil service and headed to full time dance school. What I had no idea of was how my life was going to change. I find it really difficult to imagine myself in my old life now. Hard to imagine ironing my shirts, jet setting in suits and heels, scribbling in long meetings and drawing a comfy paycheck. I am surprised how uninteresting it sounds to me now. The thought of long meetings and laptop-lugging is enough to make my back twinge.

I am really grateful that a lot of good people gave a chance to an unlikely dancer - starting with friends and teachers who encouraged me to perform and choreograph when I was still working full time, and the faculty at NAFA who auditioned me and accepted me, even though I was over the age limit. A dance diploma programme is no joke. I wondered many times if I would survive the sheer misery of the technical training, the pain every day, the injuries that took me off my feet. I don't think I would have even passed the attendance requirement if I hadn't had a faithful partner to wheedle me out of bed every morning at 6am to make the long commute to school.

I encountered a lot of scepticism when I chose a local school for my dance training. Were the students of good caliber? The faculty of international standard?

In the first few weeks of school I realised that of my cohort of 22, none of us were "perfect". Most of us didn't have perfect bodies for dance, many were late starters with little dance background, some didn't have the finances (to complete the NAFA education), and many in my batch were to me really young and lacking in focus. I believe now that it was exactly the right place for me. In a programme full of imperfect dancers, we were there to encourage each other. I want to give credit to the faculty at NAFA for their dedication to nurture anybody with the commitment to try. However unlikely all of us seemed, our teachers believed that we could be transformed. Believed that from the passion that each of us showed at audition time, each of us could beat the odds and make it to a professional level.

I was able to work with some wonderfully diverse faculty, both local and international. Graham and Limon classes actually felt like coming home to my earlier training in New York. It was meaningful to work with Asian artists on their own journey to reconcile the contemporary and the traditional. The NAFA signature curriculum that I went through exposed me to both Western and Asian art traditions, and different disciplines such as music, calligraphy and fashion. It gave me many avenues for reflection on history, identity and society. I am especially grateful to those teachers who urged me to see myself as an artist, not a student, and to demand quality work from and for myself.

We ended our programme with a graduating batch of just 9 of us. I think each of us fought tooth and nail to make it through - through to yet another beginning.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Singapore Arts Fest 2011 - Let's go!

Early bird bookings open this week. I really like the mix of familiar and fresh programming. My picks:

Memory II: Hunger, Living Dance Studio (Beijing) - One of my favourite dance theatre ensembles since their visit with "Report on Giving Birth" here in 2005. Their new production looks at personal memories of the Cultural Revolution. This should be powerful stuff.

Crack by Arco Renz and Amrita Arts - Who could forget Renz' madly intense Heroine that was here at the arts fest last year. Plus one of my favourites among the Southeast Asian groups exploring classical forms. I never imagined the two could be put together. But from what I've seen in the last few years, Amrita's director Fred Frumberg has made some good collaborative choices in bringing non-Cambodian artists to work with the company. I'd trust that this is another wonderful adventure.

As it Fades by T.H.E - Sneak previewed at the Contact festival last December. Swee Boon is trying a new look, more raw and less (apparently) produced. I liked.

"Dance Greats" programming on Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham and Kazuo Ohno - and takes on their legacies by Ohno's son and Boris Charmatz (Musee de la danse). Yum.

Dance/film series - This was great last year, if poorly attended because of bad scheduling and publicity. This year the films have been branded "I want to remember..." with half on the dance greats and another series of dance shorts by Singaporean, other asian and international filmmakers. Don't quite understand the repetition of some programming choices though.

Javanese Moonlight Intertwined - I just can't get enough of Javanese dance and look forward to these court dancers. The dancing is paired with a contemporary acapella/gamelan music experiment. I suppose I could risk it. Even the cheesy title isn't going to put me off.

What I hate - the arts fest website. The mishmash categorisations by themes that all sound like the same thing: "Histories" "Personal memories" "Lost languages and memories". There must be better ways to convince audiences to cross genres, other than frustrating and confusing them with the programme.

My rant here. To suffer the SAF website yourself, click here.

Monday, 7 February 2011

"Your greatest love will never let you go"

- Paloma McGregor, dancer with Urban Bush Women

Dance Magazine has a regular last page featuring different artists' answers to "Why I Dance". I posted this article on my locker at NAFA all of last year until it got shredded by wear and tear and I keep returning to this line.

My Year in Art 2010 Part II

Time has simply flown by!  Nine months later, I finally acknowledge that I will never get around to writing in the detail that each of these merits, so I'm simply posting the rest of my 2010 list here, of the Jan-Oct 2010 experiences that I am savouring even now in Sep 2011.

Things I did...
  1. It Appears That... (July 2010) by Ricky Sim. My first Esplanade Theatre Studio show, and an immense growing experience as a person and as a plant!
  2. After Ricky's show I got a thrilling faux-celebrity moment when I promptly jumped on a plane the same evening to perform Nirmala Seshadri's This and That at Dance Theatre Workshop in New York. (July 2010)  NY is a sort of second home for me, after my college days when I began dancing.  It was incredible to be able to return to perform there, even in a small studio showing.  Also took lots of classes.  There's just nothing like dancing in New York!
  3. My first semester in Albert Tiong's advanced modern class at NAFA. This is the terrifying achievement that every NAFA dance student yearns for from year one, to be promoted to the boot camp that is Albert's class.  To find out how this semester ended, see this posting Part I. For how my story with Albert continued...well that's for another post!
  4. Javanese court dance with Neomi Ogo.  I have always loved the elegance of Javanese dance and now I love it even more for its precision and meditative quality.  But boy, is it tough!
  5. Prostitution in Port Authority by Larry Clark (May 2010).  It felt like I'd come a long way with Larry from his first casting me in Flight in my first year and I was really honoured to get a fiesty solo, as a mama-san! Port Authority was great fun, not least of all because of the excuse to go and dye my hair in crazy colours.
  6. Understudying Somewhere we hear... with Kuik Swee Boon. A punishingly beautiful experience to learn his repertory firsthand, which gave me a deep respect for the commitment and detail that goes into all of his work.

Things I experienced and won't forget, in no particular order...

  1. Twardzik Ching Chor Leng's Lifeblood - The Singapore River at 8Q SAM! Besides the mind boggling dimensions of this piece and its clever play to ask us about what we think we control in resources and life, it was also the first time I got introduced to land art.
  2. Poop by the Finger Players. A really simple, well crafted five hanky affair.
  3. Comedy of the Tragic Goats by Cake Theatre.  Boom! Pow! No words required!
  4. Blogging for Singapore Arts Festival 2010. Thank you Yish.  The blogging community that year was a wonderful platform for discussion and further enjoyment of the arts fest.
  5. Singapore Arts Festival shows, coup de coeur!!! Hokkaido by Danny K, Heroine by Arco Renz and Su Wen-chi, The Manganiyar Seduction by Roysten Abel, The Netherlands Sewing Atelier
  6.  Being Human by Malavika Mohanan.  A contemporary bharatanatyam experiment that she danced directly from the heart.
  7. Matah Ati a Javanese classical dance/opera blockbuster, a tad long but impressive in scale.
  8. While facilitating OC Women 4, I had the chance to rediscover The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.  It's a poem that seemed cheesy to me in the past but it all started making powerful sense in 2010.
  9. Buttered toast jus at Sage (which is sadly no more)
  10. After 13 years, coming home to my dad's roast turkey

Friday, 28 January 2011

My year in art I - Nov/Dec 2010

Some days are a gift. There were so many in 2010 and as I started to write up my "Year in Art" last month, I realised that there have been so many milestones that I would like to write about. So this rather late list will come in instalments, in some sort of reverse chronological order.

1. PainSo it's funny that when I choose to start with November 2010, the first "gift" must start with this. The most frightening part of my 2010 came at the end of October and completely turned my next two months around. When my calf muscles fizzled out it was the first time I had to deal with a severe injury and to accept that part of it was going to be chronic for the rest of my life. I had no idea how unprepared I was - for being unable to walk, run, stretch, roll, jump, dance as I knew how. I wasn't prepared to forgo my exams or for the completely lousy feeling of not dancing. Dancing is when I feel alive, and suddenly I wasn't fully alive. I started to question my plans and the fickle art that I have given up so much for. I asked myself if I could still afford to love dancing this much, and if I could ever dance with the same abandon again if it meant getting hurt.
(the sequel to this story is in 2011, and I hope I shall tell it to you soon)

2. Graey Festival 22-28 November
The Graey festival was the best consolation I could have in the horrible weeks right after school was out for the year. Curated by choreographer Raka Maitra, this festival tends to the experimental and an exposure of the live artistic process - so termed "vivisection" this time around. I am so grateful that Raka invited her students to be volunteers and gave me a reason to not worry about my own dancing and spend every day for a week in the oddball comforts of the Substation, in the company of some amazing Asian artists presenting performances as well as "open rehearsals". The latter turned out to be a series of wonderfully intimate workshops and frank conversations with the artists presenting at the festival. So many vivid moments are still with me. Eko Supriyanto in private dialogue with his mask of Prince Panji - Yvonne Ng's conversational live warm-up for her snarling, earthbound improvisation piece "Headdress" - the stirring austerity of Navtej Johar's first collaboration with Zulkiflie Mahmod in the light of one cold bulb above the catwalk - Tripura Kashyap whipping her chain of bells - Scarlet Yu in a torrent of white dust - Raka and Eko sculpted together as Ravana returning to the womb.

3. T.H.E Contact Festival 11-18 Dec
This is a little company bent on the impossible. After a punishing year on main stages in Singapore and on international tour, Kuik Swee Boon's lean company managed to pull off a full-scale week of performance, workshops and masterclasses by both local and international teachers from Asia and Europe. I spent the week as a festival volunteer - dancing a little, but mostly taking tickets and making announcements. It was a shame that the performances were under-publicised, but overall the programme was very strong and a real treat to be immersed in.

Waterbloom remains my favourite work by Swee Boon. I love its self-contained layers and its world of floating athleticism, though I still don't know what to make of the enigmatic ending between Sylvia Yong's elastic pacing and the skittering little part first created on Lee Ren Xin and this year performed by Jessica Christina. This performance brought me back to the wave of euphoria, also in the University Cultural Centre, the night of its premiere in the programme Variance in (2008). That celebration of a stunning new company that arrived with a stable of home-groomed talent that was this unexpected, visual miracle. The dancers looked even more powerful and fluid this time around, although a little cramped on the Theatre Studio stage. And how I will miss Sylvia Yong, who made this her retirement show. She is simply alight on stage, full of magnetic intensity and whiplike extensions that take my breath away.

There was of course a whole lot more going on than just T.H.E. The festival presented an ambitious menu including a local triple bill of T.H.E, Singapore Dance Theatre and Frontier Danceland, an evening of work by young choreographers of T.H.E's second company, two studio showings of Asian choreoraphers and workshopped pieces, and finally a full evening of T.H.E main company performing work by Swee Boon and Korean guest choreographer Kim Jae Duk. I thoroughly enjoyed the contrast of the frenetic strength in the classes, choreography and performance by Jae Duk. He puts together a rascal's instinct for hip hop, modern dance, tradition and gesture with showy, snappy virtuosity. Sometimes he slides towards primetime slapstick, then swings back with brutality, speed and mesmerizing dynamic shifts. It was another completely different planet again with the suspended economy of solo shown by the young Taiwanese choreographer Chou Shu Yi.

4. A retreat to the hills

I took a little trip after Christmas to Thailand and Laos. Two pieces of natural art that I am keeping with me: climbing inside the white limestone waterfall outside Chiang Mai, and the dramatic green creases in the hills of Northern Laos as seen from the window of a turboprop plane.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

"Never be afraid of failure."

"Never be afraid of failure."

The right advice at the right time. I didn't know until now how much I needed to hear this as a young choreographer.

Thank you, Larry Clark.