Tuesday, August 05, 2008

(D) Tracing - Aug 1

Tracing: Dance Dialogues in Singapore and South Africa
1 & 2 August 2008
Fonteyn Studio Theatre

Pix source: Rimbun Dahan

What does a South African and a Singaporean have in common? Not much really.

Mcebisi Bhayi is a South African Xhosa man who swears by his customs and clings to his roots while Joey Chua is a modern Singaporean woman grappling with her Chinese Hakka identity, or perhaps, the lack of it.

So when the two got together in a dance collaboration project, one would expect a mammoth task in merging the two cultures and mindsets. But they got along like duck to water.

Tracing is still work-in-progress and like a reality show, we audience get to butt in and comment on their progress after the 25-minute preview.

On the preview

The duo got straight into action with continuous and energetic movements in School of Fish. The modern and contemporary vocabularies evident in this segment were indeed the language that helps them find common ground despite their cultural, physical and psychological differences. Throughout, they kept a safe distance from each other as they chug along (somewhat like their choice of music) while going through identical sequences in this tight choreography. This no-contact dance perhaps spells the need to respect each others’ space while trying to get into each others’ minds.

Two solos ensued; first by Mcebisi and then Joey. Mcebisi’s Speaking with Amadlozi (Ancestors) is African-contemporary, and naturally, it displayed the energy and body language very much attuned to his African roots. He painted the setting of ‘home’ with mimicry of farmers sowing seeds and described watering holes and wild animals with his actions. But this young man was not feeling at home at all. He was angry, suspicious and wanted to run away from it all. The intense performance aroused my emotions if not his ancestors.

Joey’s solo, Precious very much described her growing years living in a controlled environment. The good intention of typical Asian families to dote on their kids (to suffocating levels) took a negative turn and brought out their worst instead of their best. They learn to lie, rebel and are constantly on vigil to cover up each lie. Joey’s svelte figure accentuated her anxious movements, having to be, always ‘on her toes.’ We hear and see her suffocation from the rope tied around her neck and the ‘heavy-breathing’ music.

Tracing consist primarily of contact work and we see how the two grapple with coming to terms and accepting each other. The conflict on stage says ‘I-love-you-I-hate-you’ and sometimes ‘I-like-you-but-I’m-not-sure-I-can-live-with-you.’ It is this fight in tracing each others’ minds and bodies that sparked off an interesting ‘conversation’ in their dance vocabulary.

The dance may require some site specific improvisations given that they use the studio’s walls, curtains, bars and such in their interaction with space.


Although the audience was very small, the discussion was very animated. Questions posed included the duration of the final presentation and the ability to sustain the intensity if extended beyond its current length. The dancers considered a full-length piece of one hour but the FNB Dance Umbrella 2009, the festival in which they would perform their finished work had set a maximum time limit of 35 minutes.

In terms of the use of voice, Joey admitted that it was an amateurish attempt and she looks forward to working with a dramaturg to help them refine both text and speech.

While Mcebisi’s characterization was very clear, Joey’s was rather vague. The audience suggested a stronger characterization on Joey’s part of either showing a more prominent side of her roots or to prominently show her struggle of grappling with her identity.

Mcebisi shared that it was very enlightening working with Joey as they approach choreography very differently. Mcebisi tends to address the movements first whereas Joey wants to question the each step.

When asked if the finished work would look anything like what was presented, Joey said that she did not like to take the easy way out in choreography and she will constantly experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. She even challenged Mcebisi to deconstruct the entire dance while she is away for another residency.

Would that affect the synergy necessary for the success of a duet? An audience noted that he felt moments of disconnect between the two.

Last words

It was a pity that so few were there to share and contribute to the creative development of this dance. The involvement of audience in the choreography process certainly gave them a sense of ownership in this project and they all wanted to see the finished work. Audience involvement in choreography may be the way to go to promote ‘audienceship’ of completed works.