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Dive into the cutting edge of dance
THINK you know the latest in contemporary dance? You haven't until you experienced the works in Dance Marathon and all of its offerings from Japan and India in this year's Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA).
Just a sampling of four pieces over last weekend was enough to give one a glimpse into the diverse and cutting-edge world of Asian choreography.
Not only that, it's a privilege to witness this new-fangled "Archive Box" project initiated in SIFA, that archives aspects of contemporary dance creation, and gets other choreographers to respond to it.
Here's a roundup of four pieces in the Dance Marathon: Wall Dancing by Padmini Chettur, Real Reality by Mikuni Yanaihara, Lay/ered by Yukio Suzuki and Mandeep Raikhy's The Male Ant has Straight Antennae.
There is a certain joy that comes from comprehending a contemporary dance piece without reading up on it beforehand. And that honour can go to Mandeep Raikhy's The Male Ant Has Straight Antennae.
Little can be guessed from that intriguing title, but from the moment the six male and one female dancers started strutting, walking, gesturing in the stage made up to look like a spiffy arena, the message was clear.
In crisp, well-delineated and inventive moves derived from commonplace gestures, choreographer Mandeep presented a clear exploration of masculinity and the male body in The Male Ant.
The piece was a beautifully devised, slick ensemble piece that explored notions of masculinity through stereotypes, games, touch and relationships.
As the dancers isolated moves and exaggerated them, and took us through male posturing, aggression and "mating rituals", The Male Ant was part theatre, part dance.
The contact moves were the most innovative, as dancers locked heads with legs, and tumbled around; or leaped up on one another with the agility of kung fu legends.
Mandeep didn't tiptoe around human sexuality, and The Male Ant will be remembered most vividly for its bold moves.
On the other end of the spectrum, Wall Dancing by Padmini Chettur was a durational and meditative work which has its beauty in the small, calculated movements.
Dancers took up the entire space of 72-13 - and the entire dance was exactly that - danced against the walls.
Methodical and mathematical, to a degree, the two-hour work was broken into five minute segments. Isolated movements flowed seamlessly from one to another. Opening rolls (dancers pressed different parts of the body against the wall) segued into an arm section (where different parts of the arms touched the wall), and into "windmilling", "pivoting all together".
"Line dancing" isn't what you'd think about, while the "Trisha Brown" line - where the dancers go shoulder to shoulder and move as a column - was a highlight (which should give you some idea of how understated the whole dance was).
The opening show for Dance Marathon - Open with a Punk Spirit was held at the old Tanjung Pagar Railway Station on Tuesday.
Real Reality was a duet between two people, danced against an explosive video backdrop. Real Reality took up the large hall space well, especially the video projections, but as a result, the video work overshadowed the dancers, dwarfed by the sheer size and scale of the hall.
It didn't help that their hyperkinetic movements were derived from quotidian corporeal gestures; or maybe it was the juxtaposition of ideas that also made it interesting.
The standout work for the double bill that night was the other-worldly Lay/ered by Yukio Suzuki and Fuyuki Yamakawa.
Stretching for one hour at the tracks between the train platforms, the two male dancers gave us a rock-punk theatre piece with a fascinating soundscape made from everyday objects.
Choreographer Suzuki says he got the idea when Yamakawa started beating and rubbing on objects to create sounds.
From the time they let loose caterwauling howls to wiring themselves up to the amplifier to recreate guitar scrums and screeches, the audience was sucked into their strange but hypnotic world. The dancers' physicality was wiry and mesmerising.
In summary, it was a performance worthy of the current Seventh Month and suffice to say that any spirits left behind in the vacant Railway Station met their match. An astounding work, Lay/ered took us to another realm of contemporary dance.