Wednesday 27 December 2017

Sze's dance updates Dec 2017 + Fundraising Appeal

Dear Friends,

Happy Holidays! It's been a challenging past year in my artistic life. I'm grateful to have learned a lot by doing much with little, about the importance of friends, networks and the beautiful spirit of mutual support across different fields of the arts community in Singapore.

Producing - and an appeal for support

My biggest leap this past year is as producer for my own work and an international tour. In 2015, I created an interactive performance work with Chilean dancer Gabriela Serani. "Talk to me and I slap you" was supported in residency and premiere by a small theatre festival in Zagreb. It is a high-stakes work where we challenged ourselves to reach into questions about the dynamics of violence, fear and loneliness in relationships. Whether it is the relationship of the performer to the audience, or relationships of love, family or power. We had one packed performance at midnight in a Zagreb bar. The connection with the audience was electric. A critic said we could be “a perfect mirror to the hopeless shortcomings of our present social condition.”

Since then, it has been one and a half years of networking and applications trying to get this work shown in the UK (where we were based together previously) and Asia. Finally, we have a chance to redevelop this work for audiences in Singapore and Bangkok in February 2018. I will be self-producing this work at the Substation on 24-25 February 2018. We have a little support from the Singapore National Arts Council, but this and ticket sales will only cover 25% of our production costs. We have also been invited by Democrazy Theatre Studio in Bangkok - but too late to apply for institutional funding for travel. We are currently $10,000 short of our total tour budget.
Details of our production and fundraising campaign are at the link below. We'd be very grateful for any support in cash or in kind (accommodation, air miles, printing, personnel support etc), or your recommendation of this production and fundraising campaign to your network. I'd like to acknowledge the amazing support and advice that I've received so far from venues, fellow artists and producers in Singapore, Bangkok and Manila.

(If you prefer an alternative channel to online credit card donations, please contact me.)

Dance films

Following on from my Video Dance residency in the first half of 2017, I've had the immense privilege to be invited to work with the Cinemovement collective, a group of outstanding Singapore filmmakers and choreographers. Through residencies in Macau and Taiwan this year, I have two new short films in the oven. One of them features some gorgeous original music by Melbourne psych-folk band Cold Hands Warm Heart. The films will appear mid next year, resources willing... a fundraising story for another time. 

In the meantime my 2017 micro-short ode to the kopitiam "Tea Dances" was featured in the official selections of Danca em Foco (Brazil), the Outlet Dance Project Film Festival (New Jersey) and Greensboro Dance Film Festival (North Carolina). It still hasn't found interest in Singapore, but maybe next year!

(Photo: Epiphyte. Dancer: Jereh Leong. Photo/Cinematography: Looi Wan Ping)

January through August 2017, I was involved as documentarian and online publicist in an ambitious site-specific dance project by Daniel Kok and a cast of nine talented dancers and actors for the Singapore International Festival of the Arts. It was an intellectually juicy and creatively satisfying chance to play as a dancer in a photographic and video documentary capacity. The production photos and video trailers for the production can be viewed on our Facebook page here.

Dance Advocacy
My work with the Working Group for Dancers Advocacy continues. As the year closes we're trying to get more responses for our surveys on the working conditions of dance educators and performers/choreographers to finally get some hard stats on the challenges facing dancers in Singapore. If you are a dancer or know any professional dancers here, we're very grateful if you can spread the word! In 2018 we will be running a series of practical workshops for dancers on essential skills for a sustainable career.

Some writing from this past 6 months
“from: The Platform” by Chowk Productions: A Running Imprint on the Mind
The Easy Trigger of “Guilty Landscapes III”
Here's to a good 2018 and new adventures.


Monday 5 June 2017

The smallest movement becomes tectonic

"The smallest movement becomes tectonic."

I am excited for Kiran Kumar and Raw Moves for this weekend's Archipelago Archives installation-performance. Chatting with Kiran about his extended research project over several years into the junction of moving cultures between India and Indonesia has been fascinating. Wish I could be there to see this live.

Archipelago Archives Exhibit #3: If I could set with the sun
9 & 10 June 2017

Monday 29 May 2017

artistic concerns

I was looking through some old archives tonight.  I found my resignation letter from the civil service, and I found this MA programme application that I wrote in 2013. Or rather, re-wrote as an exercise, after my application was rejected. I had some brutal but essential advice back then from Danny K, that I was giving a very poor account of my practice and needed to put more effort into it. 
So what did I think I was doing? What do I think I am doing? To go through this much struggle and sacrifice, I'd better know, hadn't I? I'm sorry Mum, I know you're still frustrated every time someone asks you what your artist daughter does.
These things are actually the hardest thing for me to come up with. Improvise from nothing in front of an audience? Eulogy for my grandmother's funeral? No problem. But synopsis of work, artistic statement.... the task makes me want to stab myself. Please try describing concisely why you exist. 
Of course, I had to try. I read this now and I see myself flailing and pretending. It's also still surprisingly accurate. In 2017 I'm still flailing, but maybe with sharper knives. 

2 - In light of your current situation, you could bring up issues related to your artistic concerns? Have you already identified one or more objects of research?
(2500 characters maximum)
What is the status of the individual in social organization, and how do we survive the systems and automatisms that we have created? We now have vast machineries, complicated institutions and modern rituals - urban living in particular has a quality of hyper-inflated reality where we try and insulate ourselves from discomfort and imperfection as much as possible.  In this frame the human life becomes so small.  I am frustrated and interested in both the system and the powerlessness that devolves to the individual.  The vain search for plastic perfection, how our systems re-create and process our lives, our modern incantations against pain and boredom, inequality and obliviousness, the need to remember and to be distracted and to forget.  What a safe space in which we enjoy TV, cinema, downloads, proscenium theatre, even the life in front of us in the myopia of handphone photographs. 
Seeking these themes, I feel a great impetus to make work from and in the cities of Asia.  I see the tensions of societies in development, the ever growing disparities of rich and poor, urban and rural, all painted in wildly auspicious colours. Singapore is one such place where comfort is cultivated amongst constant fear, a trope of madness and artificiality ripe for exploration. I continue to travel across Asia and Europe, exploring, creating and supporting production of dance and festivals.
In my current phase of creation I am exploring the emotional and intuitive resonances of these questions through improvisation, structured scores, spatial relationships, found text and my own writing. I know I am no longer thinking about creating something new as much as crafting filters with which to read the situations that I want to address – as well as the spaces and people that are already around me as collaborators and audience – a context that changes constantly. Working through the immediacy of physical and emotional responses, I’d like to confection performances to be so close that they are in your mouth, delightful yet disturbing.
I have done more than half of my work in the last two years with some degree of collaboration with partners or collectives including dancers, actors, composers and sound designers from different backgrounds and nationalities. The processes have been easy as well as difficult, but I continue to work this way for the impetus that I get from collisions and leakages from association with other artists, and realizing the differences between us.  This energy feeds back into my solo work and research.
At the same time I am following another track of body research.  Having studied a number of dance forms both “Western” and “Asian”, classical, traditional, contemporary, street, martial arts and improvisation, I try to approach movement languages and their interrelations with an appreciation of context.  First their meeting points in history, geography, and hierarchy, but also at an intuitive level their meeting points in the body - an instrument that has its own systems of integration and which when sensitized, learns to recognize the borrowings and transfers of physical knowledge that have seeped across cultures and through time - the body remembers things we don’t even know.
Of the two tracks of society and the body, it’s the anger in my understanding of the former that keeps me wanting to make work right now.   I accept that this is perhaps not the time at which the two tracks can be forced together, but I expect that they may grow to a fruitful intersection.

Sunday 30 April 2017

Sze's Dance Updates May 2017

Dear friends,

Hello, hope everyone is well! I've spent the past few months mainly in artistic research, teaching and advocacy with the Working Group for Dancers' Advocacy. I'm writing to share some recent writing on, and upcoming performances and workshops.

Upcoming: I'm performing 
Signs of a Nest by Susan Sentler
Thursday 4 May, 12:00 noon – 7:00 pm
Friday 5 May, 12:00 noon – 9:00 pm
Brother Joseph McNally Gallery, LASALLE College of the Arts
Admission free

This work by Susan Sentler, lecturer in LASALLE’s School of Dance & Theatre, reflects on signs that are becoming lost in their material sense, only to be held in virtual images. These images resonate in the landscape of our bodily memory and recall material traces. 'Signs of a nest' explores ‘nesting’ as an abstracted, repeated ritual, triggered by such images.

(Valerie Lim, Yarra Ileto and I are rotating as performers in this installation. If you'd like to catch me, please contact me closer to the date and I'll let you know when I'll be there.)

Upcoming: My Work-in-progress and workshops

Seeing with the Body: Videolab 2
28 May 2017 (Sunday)
Dance Nucleus Studio, Goodman Arts Centre
1:00pm to 5:00pm

How does the body understand its meetings with the city? How do those meetings become visual and tactile? Experience a collection of in-progress dance films and video installations by Chan Sze-Wei, Susan Sentler, Faye Lim, Chen Jiexiao and others.
This showing is in the format of a drop-in open studio. Come by and the artists will introduce their works and be available for discussion.

Seeing with the Body: Collective Making
Facilitated by Chan Sze-Wei.
2 June 2017 (Friday)
Dance Nucleus Studio, Goodman Arts Centre
10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Fees: Give-what-you-can
Limited to 15 pax, register here
A full day workshop where dancers and film-makers will work alongside each other, starting from moving with the body, to shooting, editing and commenting on each others' work. Bring and share your knowledge and diverse experiences. Open to all levels of experience. Where possible,please bring a video recording device (e.g. video camera, compact camera, smartphone) and a laptop for video editing (anything form Final Cut Pro/Adobe Premiere to iMovie).

Some recent snapshots of my recent work made possible through the ELEMENT residency at the Dance Nucleus Singapore:
Curse of the Pontianak: Hags have more fun at Co:lab, commissioned by the Esplanade Library and the Asian Film Archive, 18 March 2017. Yes, that's clips from the 1958 classic Cathay-Keris film Sumpah Pontianak. And a lady flying on my feet.

Talk to me and I slap you (installation, work in progress). Featuring Gabi Serani.

Tea Dances, short film featuring Wee Li-N, hopefully accepted for festivals and showing soon!

I began writing for the new Southeast Asian arts blog ArtsEquator last year:
"Pallavi in Time" by CHOWK: Seductive Virtuosity - A review of Singapore-based CHOWK/Raka Maitra's latest production, Apr 2017

Mattie Do: Horror Film? It's all Ballet - Conversation with Lao horror filmmaker, Dec 2016

Thursday 27 April 2017

"Pallavi in Time" by CHOWK: Seductive Virtuosity

Photo by Bernie Ng. Courtesy of Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay

This was one of those rare occasions where I realise that I’m watching an important work of art. A discovery, a risk, a breakthrough, that will influence my aesthetic and many others’ for years to come.

Read at -

Saturday 22 April 2017

Safe studios and stages

This is so important. It makes me think of the times i excitedly plunged myself into choreographers' request that put me in the position of strong female who was then raped or violated. And then the work i directed myself, to have a male collaborator crush and subdue me, and participatory work where the audience could potentially do anything to the performers, or when a one to one performer triggered the audience - leaving a couple of my collaborators shaking and in tears while i was thrilled at the "audience engagement". I didn't think then of the potentially traumatic effects on myself, on my collaborators, or the audience. I wanted the job then, so badly. From my privileged position, I wanted to be the fearless one known to be able to provoke and stir. My techniques as a past support group facilitator could open up "vulnerability is strength" in myself and others. 

I now see that some of this was quite terrible. I started to look at the ethical complexity of audience manipulation. I still think subjects of violence, pain and discrimination are important to talk about. I'm trying to learn how to direct more compassionately. I'm looking for better ways to incorporate trigger warnings in workshops, rehearsals and performance work that reach for intimately personal spaces. I'm looking for ways to preserve my own emotional and psychological health too. I'm grateful to my collaborators whom i directed in participatory pieces over the years and my workshop participants. Thank you... And I'm sorry where it was too much...and Please, let's keep talking. About how we can go to meaningful and electrifying places with safety and with humanity.

Killing Desdemona: Creating Safe Spaces for Dangerous Work
by Alicia Rodis, on Intimacy Directors International