Singapore’s leading practitioners of contemporary dance, The Human Expression Dance Company (T.H.E), gave three performances at the Festival Theatre this weekend as part of the OzAsia Festival.
As the audience entered the Theatre through Door 3 we were surprised to be ushered up the steps and onto the stage. With the theatre curtains drawn, we were enclosed in the ‘black box’ of the stage and backstage area. This unique experience gave an added air of excitement to the coming performance.
Three rows of seats were placed around the dance area, delineated only by masking tape on the floor. A few cushions were placed in front of the seats for audience members who wanted to get even closer to the action. Those who had downloaded the digital program knew that the audience was also invited ‘to walk around and explore your surroundings at any point in time’. A few brave souls did enter the dance space before the performance began, and again at its conclusion, but during the show we all stayed in our chosen seats. In other venues audience members have been given a card as they enter explaining that they are free to move around the space and perhaps that would have encouraged more people to participate.
Infinitely Closer with concept, artistic direction, and choreography by Kuik Swee Boon and dramaturgy by Kok Heng Leun, explores complex issues at the heart of what it means to be human. It talks to freedom and chaos, of personal identity, and of balancing the needs of society and the need to belong. These are very much issues of the moment, politically and socially, especially coming out of the Covid-era restrictions on freedom around the world. Indeed, the work was commissioned for the opening of a new theatre complex in Singapore in 2022 when these issues were even more top-of-mind. Together or alone seems to be a key conundrum – for the dancers and for society.
The seven dancers, led by guest Australian dance artist Billy Keohavong, are mesmerising to watch as they begin with restrained, slow movements and build up to frenetic, dynamic actions. The set consists only of three giant translucent screens, rigid scrims really of two panels each, about four meters tall, on castors so the dancers can move them around the stage. These are variously projection screens, prisons, or borders, and offer the dancers ways into and out of the set.
This dance is accompanied by a dramatic soundscape – musical noise more than music – by Kent Lee. It was so loud that staff had ear plugs available for those who found it too overwhelming! Adrian Tan’s excellent lighting design enhanced the narrative and created layers of atmosphere and mood.
Infinitely Closer is an engaging and original dance work. The young dancers are of the highest standard and the theatricality of the performance makes it a most impressive production. It’s a highlight of the OzAsia Festival and exemplifies OzAsia’s importance on our cultural calendar.
until 5 November 2023