After young Rian Asrudi’s performance in Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa comes my second pleasant surprise at the Fringe – The Prayer’s Eng Kai Er.
The Sweden-based Singaporean choreographer/dancer seemingly popped out of nowhere (this bit notwithstanding) to present an unpolished but enjoyably quirky and conceptually strong piece of confessional performance with subtle dark undertones.
Watching it was akin to entering the room of a child in the middle of innocent play – if said child was very mature, given to bouts of melancholia, and read a lot of existentialist literature.
Like the previous night’s Hymn Of Angelology, it’s presented as a series of actions alternating between dancing and talking.
She transforms a chess game into an imaginary war (complete with her own childish sound effects), delivers lines in rhyme and breaks out into song. She tells the story of a suicide (?) using toy figurines and contorts herself so that her back becomes a big-eyed cartoony character straight out of Esplanade’s Flipside Festival. She delivers at lightning-fast speed a spiel on thinking about having a baby, a car and a house vis a vis thinking about the universe expanding and contracting. At some point she delivers a deadpan scientific lecture on how to measure the volume of someone’s butt. Complete with diagrams. Oh, and she leaves painstakingly folded notes on every seat at The Substation Theatre for us to “read at home”. Awww…
Eng has a way with words, but what I was most impressed with was her dance vocabulary. Considering she’s not a professionally trained dancer (although she’s got a background in figure skating and Chinese dance as a kid), which is quite evident physically, her choreography is very well thought out and complex. Bookended by everyday gestures of waking up, punctuated by finger-snapping, she mimics her own fingers dancing and presents the various ways of praying seemingly as dance positions – many of these moments done to Martin Eklund’s music, which in itself is interestingly varied, from Euro dance to death metal-ish.
If one needs a reference point for what she’s doing in The Prayer as a whole, the closest I can think of in the dance scene are Daniel Kok/diskodanny/danny k and Joavien Ng’s conceptual experimentations. Not quite as polished but with slightly the same kind of performance sensibility.
The Prayer, which made its world premiere at the Fringe and is going to Stockholm and Prague next, is, I dare say a diamond in the rough. An honest work with the solid imprint of a refreshing new artist. She’s apparently hoping to make Singapore her base by 2013. I’m gonna stick my neck out and say Eng Kai Er is someone to watch out for.