Sunday, 2 August 2015


Tonight I saw Sylvie Guillem's "Life in Progress" at the London Coliseum - added dates as part of her "farewell" tour. The programme included pieces made for her by her longtime collaborators Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant and Mats Ek, with a guest appearance of a duo from Bill Forsythe.

This isn't a review. It just triggered a memory 13 years ago when I first set eyes on Sylvie on the stage of the Opera Garnier in Paris. I had picked up a student ticket in the gods, not really even knowing what I was going to see. She was dancing in Manon, returning as a guest to the Paris Opera. She set the stage on fire. That performance changed my life. It was one of the defining moments in my understanding of performance, and bringing something personal and challenging to every performance.

Over the years I watched her at every opportunity I could get, on stage, on DVD and on youtube.  One of her statements from her DVD Evidentia has stayed with me: (this is a very rough paraphrase as I understood it then) that if you take a risk on stage as a performer, push yourself to the point where you almost fear what you do, then you will take the audience with you entirely. They will feel that risk and go with you.

But as I watched her over time I often felt quite sad that I found that few of her performances gave me the thrill I first felt when I saw her. Her collaboration pieces of the past few years quite underwhelmed me. As did some of the programme tonight. Yes, 6 o'clock legs, fine and fierce control. But I didn't see her quite as much. Except for Bye by Mats Ek.

More than about Sylvie, tonight told me a lot about me, and how I've changed as a dancer in 15 years. How my tastes and my aspirations, my idea of my "work" has gone from technical performance, pushing myself all out in performing presence, to creating and bumbling and fearing, to playing and now driving myself on to investigate questions of society, questions of the body's capacities, and questions of abstract composition and the relevance of art and performance.


Lately I marked the end of my postgrad diploma in London - for those of us who don't speak that strange vocabulary, that means 2/3 of the way towards the MA at LCDS.

Most recently, last week I began studio research for my next project.  I also heard the good news that an artist I respect very much, Sara Wookey, has agreed to be my MA supervisor.

It's been a really full year. Since my last update at the end of 2014, I have written papers on Contact Improvisation - a cooperative form of dancing contrasted with its roots in the martial art of Aikido, and separately speculating on Contact settings as a laboratory for new forms of social organisation. I participated in the creation of a new work by Paolo Mangiola, who questioned contemporary dance as a form for the future. I reflected on my choreographic process through a jelly-making lecture demonstration. I turned my last few years' hobby of sliding down staircases into a dance film, with the support of a wonderful group of collaborators mostly from the London Contact Improv community.

And throughout the month of June I worked with a wonderful group of dancers to produce "The Sunshine Empire", an interactive performance selling the secrets of happiness.

Now it's my summer of Contact Improv in Europe, and reflection and rest in between.

In a way it seems that this time in London is allowing me to finally come into my own - spending time with other choreographers and like-minded collaborators has helped me find confidence in my practice: my exploration and research, my aesthetic, and my working style. (For now!)

I'll be home in Singapore soon, looking forward to attending a workshop with Danny K at the Esplanade. And!  Fingers crossed, I hope I will get to vote.

The Sunshine Empire

On probably really the last, last of 15 performances of Sunshine Empire today:

I'm so grateful for you wonderful collaborators. I have watched the delight, puzzlement, surprise and challenge that you brought to our audiences these last two months. While we made part fiction, it was also really personal and genuine and powerful in that way. Often I find myself standing back while I ring the timings, and just truly enjoying all of you perform. The more I see, the better it gets. I'm really glad and proud of what we've made together.

Also, thank you for all the venues, and the old and new friends who have supported us, making time to come to our shows, and supporting us with feedback along the way. You know who you are!