With their latest show, Solo/Duet, it would appear that The Human Expression has done it again. And by “it” I mean surprising us with their willingness to push things further.
The premise behind this three-in-one production, which is part of the ongoing NUS Arts Festival (along with a rather nice portrait exhibition by longtime collaborator Matthew G Johnson, from which the photo above was taken), is simple.
Artistic director Kuik Swee Boon doesn’t want to have a “cookie cutter” group, he wants strong individuals. So members take a break from the company and work with another choreographer in another country (for the most part) and spread their wings, so to speak. It’s a strategy – a magnanimous one on the part of Kuik – that in a lot of ways diverges from the typical mindset of a dance company and informs the very essence of The Human Expression. No groupthink, thank you very much, we are here to realise potential in all its forms.
Kuik himself kickstarted it by collaborating with a Korean choreographer in last year’s amazing Re: OK… But! In Solo/Duet, he lets the others have a go, resulting in the three completely distinct pieces.
First up was Saya Bukan Saya (I Am Not Me) by Indonesian choreographer (and Boi Sakti prodigy) Davit Fitrik, performed by Jessica Christina and Yarra Ileto.
To be honest, the whole old-meets-new/Minang culture-versus-urban life theme, as Fitrik laid it out post-show, completely whizzed past me.
No worries as I felt I was watching some kind of dance equivalent of a psycho-drama, played out with pillows, a mirror, sarongs and a red dress. Opening with a scene of Ileto lying in a foetal position and Christina furiously wiping the mirror surface, it’s a slow-burn of nightmarish mystery amplified by the metronomic rhythm of a ticking clock. Extensive use of shadows gave it a slight hint of noir. At one point, they literally mirror each other’s movements with precision and by the end of the piece, you witness someone hyperventilating – a sensation unlike being trapped in a dream unable to wake up.
The final piece, ex-Singapore Dance Theatre resident choreographer Jeffrey Tan’s Remains Remain, performed by Christina and William Wu, is probably the most conventional of the three pieces, fleshing out a real-life story of a couple whose lives were turned upside down by last year’s tsunami tragedy in Japan. Literally, too, at some point, as Brian Gothong Tan’s beautiful video backdrop of a gentle sea slowly flips in reverse, leaving two tragic figures “submerged”. While it’s quite solid, it also, IMHO, provides the least interesting of duets, by virtue of expectations of its premise – essentially a “love story” – that inevitably demands a certain chemistry between the two dancers.
However, unlike the first piece, which buzzed with the energies of Ileto and Christina in equal amounts, the latter’s presence somewhat overshadowed her partner on this one. (Not to mention the fact that Wu’s rather half-baked white facial make-up and semi-white hair streaks – a reference perhaps to his “ghostly” situation — was a bit distracting and kind of overstates things.)
It’s in the second piece of the night where everything comes together. Ex-Cloud Gate/City Contemporary dancer/choreographer Wu Yi-San’s Crosstalk is the richest in terms of mining the night’s duality themes and also features a performance by Zhuo Zihao and Lee Mun Wai that simply oozes with an ease that comes from having worked together and known each other for so long.
Taking off from the Chinese comedy tradition of, well, crosstalk, the two engage in nifty physical and verbal sparring that not only showcase the skills we’ve come to expect but impeccable comedic timing we’ve previously only had glimpses of. I mean, who expects dancers to have such confident stage presence when talking?
And yet snapping at, poking fun at and engaging in word play with each other is just one part of Crosstalk. The piece itself has loads to offer – from its inventive use of the very microphone used to the hilarious Spanish guitar soundtrack to the duo’s hilarious series of movement derived from everything from kung fu to push-ups, to the almost-sensual melding of bodies in the end that jolts you from the earlier quirks of the piece, there was a lot going on.
Yeah, a cookie cutter group The Human Expression definitely isn’t.
(There’s one more show this Saturday night. Details here.)