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.

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