FUSE is a bi-annual publication that documents the projects at Dance Nucleus

FUSE is a bi-annual publication that documents the projects at Dance Nucleus


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Table of







Element # 1.1 - Foreign Languages

7 Notes on Abstract (Verb) Dramaturgy by Arco Renz

11 Freeride Mountainbiking & Rhythm Sections

by Hwa Wei-an

67 Reflections on “In Plain Site”

A Conversation Between Chong Gua Khee

& Bernice Lee

71 Voice and Movement in Instant Composition

by Joao Gouveia and Petra Vossenberg


19 Maps of Broken Bodies by Pat Toh

Element # 1.2 - Post-Colonial Tactics

77 Should I Kill Myself or Have a Cup of Coffee?:

A co-choreographer’s work-in-progress reflection

by Chiew Peishan

33 Wrestling with the Contemporary

by Mandeep Raikhy

37 Ghosting by Bernice Lee


About Dance Nucleus

43 Power of softness by Chloe C. Chotrani

55 Ruminations on Asianness & Dance

by Nirmala Seshadri


Since taking over the running of Dance Nucleus, Ezekiel

Oliveira, Dapheny Chen and I have had to push through a host

of initiatives as swiftly as we know how. As there are many

things that we need to achieve, and not a great deal of time or

resources, we’ve admittedly had to be quite kiasu*: In every

initiative that we undertake, we have had to kill not just one or

two, but several proverbial birds with each stone!

Hence within six months, I’m pleased to announce

that we have revamped our website, refurbished

our studio, set up an online booking system,

established an association of members and

projects, formed partnerships locally and regionally,

conducted residencies, mentoring programmes,

presentations, workshops and discussions, with

many more to come.

There were several moments when I felt rather

proud of what’s already beginning to happen in

Dance Nucleus. I felt a sense of significance, and

the charged atmosphere, like something special is

happening for independent dance in Singapore;

when deep, meaningful things were said by our

guests and our members alike on different

occasions. I appreciate the amount of hard work

our artists have put into their residencies, and the

seriousness many have shown towards their work.

1 2

All these moments reveal a desire among our artists to

better themselves, as well as a general sense of

self-confidence to hold important conversations about

dance by ourselves for ourselves… like perhaps an

‘independent dance scene’ in Singapore need not be an

ersatz notion after all.

To engage with the colleagues at our doorsteps

andincrease our exposure to the region, I have

conducted a series of work visits in Kuala Lumpur,

Yogyakarta and Surakarta (Solo) this March. We have by

now, a list of partners with whom we are setting up

specific collaborations and exchange. Most noteworthy

at present would be working with the Indonesian Dance

Festival (IDF) to support Ayu Permata Sari (Yogyakarta)

and Pat Toh with residencies at Dance Nucleus and

presentations at the IDF Showcase this November.

Additionally, Dance Nucleus is now a core group member

of the newly launched Asia Network for Dance (AND+).

You can expect to hear more about the exchange

residencies we will be conducting with different partners

in the coming months.

FUSE#1 is the inaugural issue of our magazine that documents the key

projects that Dance Nucleus supports every half a year. I hope you will find

something that inspires you in the following pages. The ‘nucleus’ is the

central and essential part from which things grow. We certainly aspire to play

that role for dance in Singapore and have FUSE be the evidence of that.

Daniel Kok

Independent Artist, diskodanny.com

Artistic Director, Dance Nucleus

*Kiasu = Singaporean slang; someone who is anxious to lose out on an opportunity

3 4

Foreign languages looks at ideas and influences from forms other

than how contemporary dance is conventionally defined. Taking the

positions of ‘other' forms and practices allows us to reflect or look back on

contemporary dance itself, to gain a critical perspective on the

‘contemporary’ and how this notion relates to a cultural context.

For ELEMENT #1.1, we studied the works and movement

practices of Brussels-based choreographer, Arco Renz. In

March 2018, Arco Renz was invited to engage

artists-in-residence, Hwa Wei-An and Pat Toh, as their mentor

for their current projects.

Element# 1.1

Foreign languages

Through this residency, Hwa Wei-An explored how the sport

of freeride mountain biking - in particular, an element of it

called a “rhythm section” - may be used to influence and

develop choreography that is dynamic, dangerous and

exciting. A rhythm section, being a particularly tricky section of

a course in which a rider cannot stop nor make a mistake,

having no room to correct or recover from such, imposes

many external demands on a freerider. Can these demands

be internalised, and imposed upon a dancer in some form or

another, in the safe space of a dance studio or stage?

In Broken Bones, Pat Toh looked at the regulation of time,

space and daily practices that we go through in our

day-to-day existence. And how this is embodied in the way

we move, gesture, walk, rest, and how we position ourselves

within a network of other bodies, architecture and objects.

Based on codes of order in society and its mechanic

reproduction, bodies of different age, shapes and abilities

loop a step-by-step sequence of a physical regime. A linear

series of gestures repeats itself cyclically, forming phases.

The cycle becomes a human operation of pure physical effort.

Under such metronomic conditions, would individual bodies

gradually surrender to sameness rather than differences?

As part of this ELEMENT programme, Arco Renz presented a

lecture-performance based on the trajectory of his artistic

research. He also conducted a 2-day masterclass, through

which he elucidated his artistic approach.

5 6

Element# 1.1

Foreign languages

Notes On AbstracT

(verb) Dramaturgy














FOREIGN LANGUAGE in dance is the result of a

negotiation process between form and awareness of

this form through breath and its resonances.

Decoding a familiar sign to encode an unfamiliar,

foreign sign. For if the sign is foreign, we might connect

to its resonance, as we are not restricted in the same

way by our habitual associations and understanding.

And the unexpected is about to happen while the

anticipated may never come. Changing perspective,

breathing a choreographic tool.

by Arco Renz


Abstract [verb] Dramaturgy uses the elementary parameters of dance as

actors within confining structures.

The parameters time (as in music), space (as in spatial patterns, light or

set design) and awareness (as of movement and architectural frames,

as well as of breath and resonances).

The process starts from the awareness of breathing. Then the performer

physically negotiates her freedom within constricting frames of time,

space and movement-architecture. This negotiation process generates

conflicts, dialogues, tensions, transformations …

Abstract [verb] Dramaturgy uses such poles of opposites to physically

formulate questions, concepts, ideas: dual patterns in order to

experience. The negotiation process at the core of Abstract [verb]

Dramaturgy first decodes movement into a most elementary

expression: resonance, then it experiments how to encode this

resonance into movements of foreign language.



to abstract is a verb depicting dynamic inter-being of

body-mind-movement-space-time-awareness. the performer abstracts

or empties ”habits of i" to allow this inter-being to unfold consciously.

Abstract [verb] Dramaturgy is a flux, an evolutive, uncertain process of

dialoguing in a foreign language...

7 8

Element# 1.1

Foreign languages

About Arco Renz

Since the establishment of Kobalt Works in 2000,

Arco Renz has developed a distinct artistic

trajectory, creating performances as well as

developing transcultural and multidisciplinary

research and exchange projects. Renz’ body of

work evolves around the central concept of

Abstract Dramaturgy: a radical, structural and

choreographic confrontation of the individual and

the body with the parameters of time and space.

Postcards of Arco’s works

With Kobalt Works, Arco Renz has been engaged

in collaborative performance projects of very

different nature in Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam,

the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Taiwan

Arco Renz recently curated the performing arts

program of the EUROPALIA Indonesia Art Festival.

He studied dance, theatre and literature in Berlin

and Paris before joining the first generation of

P.A.R.T.S. in Brussels. He teaches dance and

choreography worldwide.

9 10

Element# 1.1

Foreign languages


Mountainbiking &

Rhythm Sections

by Hwa Wei-An

Watch this video (www.bit.ly/fuseone). Then this one

(www.bit.ly/fusetwo). These are from the winning run of

the 2017 Red Bull Rampage champion, Kurt Sorge.

Watching Rampage made me cringe and fret, grimace,

plain old freak out, and then finally explode in cheers of

amazement at what the athletes, these artists with their

mountain bikes, are capable of doing while riding down a

mountain. The danger levels are incredible, the precision

mind-blowing, the speed, amplitude and sense of gravity

overwhelming; and yet in the midst of this the riders

perform acrobatics that most of us never even dream of

trying into a foam pit or a pool of water.

Rampage is a competition that celebrates a movement

practice called freeride mountain biking (MTB for short). In

Rampage, freeriders descend a mountain in the Utah

desert, while being judged on a variety of criteria including

speed, style, choice of line (the course that they take) and

tricks that they perform on the descent.

Kurt Sorge, Red Bull Rampage 2017 Champion. © BARTEK WOLINSKI / RED BULL CONTENT POOL


Rampage is but one incarnation of the spirit of freeriding.

Others would include Red Bull Joyride

(www.bit.ly/fusethree), https://www.redbull.tv/film/AP-1M7V16DXW2111/the-art-of-flight

big wave surfing

(www.bit.ly/fusefour) and freeride snowboarding

(www.bit.ly/fusefive), events often being sponsored by

companies like Red Bull, Monster Energy, Quiksilver, GoPro

and many others. Despite the massive amounts of money

flowing in, these practices were created - and are still driven

by individuals who simply wanted to do more than what

being done in their respective fields. The individuals, not the

corporations, were the first ones to break the old rules and

established a state of mind that is perpetually pushing


It was evident from the first few minutes of Rampage, that the riders in the event

were stretching the boundaries of what was humanly possible.

When the terms “freeride” or “free” are prefixed to a

practice, it implies that a set practice has been liberated

from past constraints and recontextualised into a form of

personal self-expression combined with a desire to push

limits. It is the pursuit of freedom, of seeking the sensation

of liberation through a movement practice.

11 12

Element# 1.1

Foreign languages

Freeride Mountainbiking

& Rhythm Sections by Hwa Wei-An

Rhythm Sections

In the midst of the insanity of Rampage, one thing stood-out:

rhythm sections. During many of the riders’ runs down the

mountain, the event’s commentators mentioned the term

“rhythm section”, explained briefly as a sequence of jumps or

obstacles, all of which the rider must traverse flawlessly or risk

ending his run. This is because stopping or making a mistake

during such a sequence would mean falling off the track, or

losing the momentum needed to continue. Even though I was

just watching the event for fun, here was a golden nugget to

sneak into my dancing.

(For examples of rhythm sections, watch this video

(www.bit.ly/fuseone) of Rampage 2017 at the following

marks: 25:15, 32:44 and 1:44:45.)

As I began the process of translating the idea of a rhythm

section into contemporary dance, I chose to begin the

exploration with three elements of a rhythm section:

One movement necessitating the next.

The inability to stop, or the necessity of movement with a continuous flow.

The need for the audience to know when a mistake happened.

It quickly became evident that in the space of a dance studio or

a formal stage - the platforms that I chose to use in this

translation of freeride MTB to dance - made it difficult to fulfill

the condition of ‘one movement necessitating the next’.

Lacking a landscape in which momentum and gravity force a

dancer in specific directions means that a movement could

lead to virtually any other, so long as the dancer’s technical

abilities are sufficient to provide the desired outcome. Figuring

out how to deal with this task left me scratching my head.

(To gain further perspective on how much the landscape at

Rampage shapes what a rider can do, watch this video

(www.bit.ly/fuseseven) of the Red Bull Rampage 2017


The second condition - the need for continuous movement -

was simpler. It meant working with circles and curves,

something familiar to my contemporary practice as well as the

practice of breakin’/b-boying, instead of working with straight

lines and sharp angles which do not lend themselves so well

to the seamless flow of movement. This idea could also

manifest itself in non-literal ways. Rather than having my

whole body being in continuous movement, this condition

could be represented by a hand, finger or some other body

part circling its way through the space surrounding my body,

and the space of the studio.

The third condition, that of making mistakes obvious to an audience, is one that is

highly counter-intuitive to any performer. Who would want their audience to know

that they failed? Performers - freeriders included - practice covering up such

incidents to present themselves in the best light possible. And like the first

condition, the landscape of a dance studio or stage does not cause the same

kinds of failures that a mountain presents. A mistake in Rampage or Joyride

generally ends a run, potentially quite painfully, like what happened in this video of

Nicholi Rogatkin (www.bit.ly/fuseeight).


Sure, he completed his run, but what an

interruption in the middle!

So is it possible to create movement sequences that would make it impossible for

someone to recover from a mistake without an audience knowing? Certainly. How

far it could be taken, though, had to be curbed, out of the need to avoid injury.

Dancers tend not to have the large sponsors as action sports athletes do.

13 14

Element# 1.1

Foreign languages

Freeride Mountainbiking

& Rhythm Sections by Hwa Wei-An

Mentoring at Dance Nucleus

Arco Renz is a choreographer who specialises in taking

movement vocabularies that are new to him, breaking them

down to find their component elements, and then putting things

back together in a way that uncovers new perspectives and

possibilities. I had the privilege of working with him as part of my

Dance Nucleus residency.

After just a brief introduction to my subject matter, Arco pointed

out that one dramatically useful aspect of practices like freeride

MTB is to create interest not in the activity itself, but in the people

who perform it and the stories that they have.

This was an observation perfectly in-line with my own

experiences, of graduating from watching competitions to

curiously trying to find out how the athletes lived and trained.

This then becomes a way of crafting a performer’s mindset rather than

movements, allowing for much greater specificity and thus liberation from

questioning and doubt when performing an improvised score. For example,

getting into the state or mind that Arco and I discovered instantly meant that my

movements were dictated by that state, much like how getting onto a mountain

bike means that movements are restricted to whatever you can do on said vehicle.

So, down the mountain and on to…?

I don’t know.

The Art of Falling

Another thing that Arco emphasised was to search for the most

basic state of the existence of an idea. In the case of freeride

MTB, Arco saw this to be a spinning wheel, the thing that

enabled progress down the mountain and all the other insane

feats that take place in a competition like Red Bull Rampage. The

discovery of this state allows a choreographer to find dramatic

elements within the simplest of ideas, or to put it another way, to

find a movement mode for an idea, on top of which many layers

can be built.

During the the showing that was held at the end of the residency, someone

pointed out that rhythm sections and freeride MTB are simply one of many

possible forms available to be translated into dance, and this was merely one

manifestation of my search for a choreographic voice and style and the

crystallisation of who I am as an artist.

This was reflected in a residency that occurred right after ELEMENT. At Rimbun

Dahan in Malaysia. Instead of continuing my research into rhythm sections as

originally intended, a new piece was created around my personal practice called

The Art of Falling.

15 16

Element# 1.1

Foreign languages

Freeride Mountainbiking

& Rhythm Sections by Hwa Wei-An

Much like freeride MTB, The Art of Falling (TAoF for short)

deals a lot with the idea of gravity and how it affects us

physically. The practice also deals with learning how to

enter and exit the floor in a range of ways, from the simple

and functional to the complicated but dynamic.

Whatever the form or inspiration, though, there is no doubt

that I am attracted to practices that many would see as

dangerous, and possibly even foolish. Some would say

these are for “adrenaline junkies”, but practitioners are in

search of the “flow state”, also known as “being in the zone”

- the physiological state of optimum human performance.


(Check out the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

(www.bit.ly/fusenine) or Steven Kotler

(www.bit.ly/fuseten) for more information on this.)


From the piece entitled The Art of Falling, performed at Dancebox in the

Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre on May 1, 2018.

Photo by Eddie Tan.

About Hwa WEI-AN

As dancers, sometimes there is talk of being fully immersed

or embodied in our performances. In today’s culture, there

is a huge emphasis on “mindfulness” and the practice of

taking the time and energy to pay attention to the Now

instead of worrying about the Future. Flow takes all of that

and channels it into an almost superhuman ability to

perform and push our own limits to go higher, bigger, faster,

deeper and more dangerously than before. It also allows us

to become more immersed in what we are doing, as time

slows down and previously peripheral details come into

focus, thus making what we do important to our audience

because it is important to us, even if only for that moment.

In the end, the ELEMENT residency at Dance Nucleus has found its place as

part of my search for what it means to tap into the flow state as a dancer and

performer, and as part of learning to live life more fully. And the search will

continue, in various shapes and forms, though these are yet to be found.

Hwa Wei-An is a Malaysian artist based between

Penang and Singapore. He started dancing

because, as he puts it, “I’m fidgety.” And also

because he wanted to be cool, which led him to

breaking and hip-hop, and to dabble in tricking

and parkour, even while studying in the Nanyang

Academy of Fine Arts and later working in Frontier

Danceland as a full-time contemporary dancer.

Now, he seeks to bring all he has learnt to bear into

a coherent whole in his contemporary practice. In

2018, Wei-An has been commissioned by M1

Contact Contemporary Dance Festival in the Asian

Festivals Exchange platform. He will be

collaborating with Ho-yeon Kim and Jung-ha Lim,

and creating a work-in-progress in Singapore and

Seoul over 2018. He also organises Paradigm

Shift, a dance battle program that brings hip-hop

and contemporary dancers together for artistic


17 18

Element# 1.1

Foreign languages



by Pat Toh

My current research is based on a performance

work, A Map of Scars, Bruises and Broken Bones,

which I created as part of the Discipline exhibition at

Substation in 2017.

Map : A spatial representation of reality

Spatial :

Representation :

Reality :

Consisting of at least two dimensions and usually

referring to geographic space

Something that stands for something else

The totality of all things possessing actuality, existence,

or essence

Body : A concrete, material, animate organisation of flesh,

organs, nerves, muscles, and skeletal structure. A body is

defined, delimited, and articulated by what writes it, it

is the surface and raw material of an integrated

organisation of physical and social inscription. The body

is organically/biologically/naturally “incomplete”; it is

indeterminate, amorphous. A series of uncoordinated

potentialities which require social triggering, ordering, and

long-term “administration,” regulated in each culture and

epoch by what Foucault has called “the

micro-technologies of power.” The body, a human body,

a body which coincides with the “shape” and space of a

psyche, a body whose epidermal surface bounds a

psychical unity, a body which thereby defines the limits of

experience and subjectivity,in rule-governed social order.

(Bodies-Cities, Grosz)

I was working with the idea of mapping as an

external spatial and visual exercise. Performers of

different ages and sizes go through a cycle of placing

themselves in the space, lining themselves up

against each other before performing a collective and

individual repetitive action and sound.

Based on codes of formalised movement language

such as a sport or a dance form and its mechanic

reproduction, a step-by-step sequence of a physical

regime loops into a series of gestures forming phases

that repeat themselves cyclically. The movement was

composed from daily postures set in linear patterns

and collective repetitive actions to comment on the

discipline and control of bodies operating in a fixed

regime of space and time.

For the residency at Dance Nucleus, my research

was about designing a movement practice and

developing means of embodying the idea of


I wanted to put the focus on the performer and started to look at creating

a process that will bringing the ideas into physical experience. In the

mentorship program with Arco Renz, I connected with his use of breath

as an expressive medium, a physical pump which can connect between

forms. I began to engage with my breath and use it as a mode to

measure the internal sense of my body. That brought the inquiry into the

body and the research gradually evolved from external languages to

internal ones.

19 20

Element# 1.1

Foreign languages

Maps of broken bodies

by Pat Toh

I was interested to measure and represent the body as

a kinetic energetic terrain. How do I measure and

transmit internal sensations? I experimented with

measuring its sense of depth and intensity the body

through modes of measurement using joints, breath

and muscles. I looked into the body as phenomenon

as I go through a process of sensing and representing

internal spaces by going through a process of

breathing, tensing and jerking.


Basic shape:

Walk along a diagonal line across the space

Sit, squat, stand, lie down along the line

Test the length and reach of head, legs and arms

I devised the movement score as a frame.

(next page)

Pat Toh’s research reference.


Breathe in and out through the nose

Where in the body do you send the breath to?

Work into the extremities of volume, physical

expansion and compression

Increase the speed of breath



Tracing paths like marking coordinate of a map

Isolated muscles contraction



21 22

Element# 1.1

Foreign languages

Maps of broken Bodies

by Pat Toh

Notes from the mentoring session

Inspired by Arco Renz’s abstract approach to dramaturgy, I

did not design shapes or gestures that I feel will represent the

concept of the work.

I focused on tactility and corporeal senses as the means to

measure and test the body’s limit. I used the sensations of

numbness, tightness and soreness at different points of my

body as markers of borders and boundaries. This became

about me experiencing my body and negotiating the process

within the structure. I presented the movement score at two

different moments of studio presentation, during which

someone commented that they felt the intensity of the

performance and was physically affected by it. Most felt their

breathing changed and appreciated seeing the body in danger

of hyper ventilating. Some even became concerned for my

safety and questioned the intention of the mapping. I was

intrigued by their responses, which demonstrated that the

physicality of the performer was able to stir emotions and

trigger physiological effects.

In the further development of my movement practice into a

creative work, I see myself as performer-cartographer charting

a kinesthetics terrain. I will continue to explore the

embodiment of measurements as a means to performance

making. By taking a corporeal approach to performance, this

project expands the lens through which to view, discuss and

make performance. As a performance maker, I would like the

audience to view the body as a living event, a monument of

breath, muscularity and energy.

Session 1:

Transplanting previous score into a new space.

Placing oneself against architecture, placement

against space and the other bodies in it.

How are we making the decision to move?

What shape to take on when we stop?

Context and layout of space offers different attention

to the body


It has been a while since the group met up, and we

were busier negotiating the gallery space that was

already occupied by an exhibition than with what is

happening in the body. In the studio’s empty and

open space, a sharper focus is put onto the bodies.

Questions emerged in relation to shape and the types

of gesture to make. Are abstract designs enough to

convey any form of content and meaning?

23 24

Element# 1.1

Foreign languages

Maps of broken Bodies

by Pat Toh

Session 2:

HIIT workout video

I wanted to see the body over duration of physical exertion. But what is it after

the tiredness? What is the point of focus?

Sets of 100s in eyes, shoulder, arms, bouncing and vocalization of Shh.

Is there a need for clarity in the form? What does virtuosity in form serve?

Τhe development and repetition of a gesture from a body skill. Where does it

start? The process of exploration is not clear here. Is it from a physical

sensation, a mental image?


I added a specific area where the

performers are visible even offstage

sitting and resting. That gaze of

fellow worker added an objective

viewpoint to how I view what is

happening on stage. Yet how do I

build tension in viewing for actions

that are repetitive and predictable? I

may be feeling the sensations of

breath and sweat in my own body,

but how do I engage with audience

into what I am doing?

Session 3:

Discussion on measurements, measuring against the environment,

other bodies and within itself.

Aside from scientific gadgets how to measure movement through

physical means, external and internal ones?

Embodying the mapping -embodied measurements.

Measuring external shapes to the internal kinetic system.

Measurement as a form of control.


Pat Toh’s notes from mentoring sessions

with Arco Renz.

Aside from the placement of bodies in space, today’s session was to

look into the idea of mapping in the body and to create from the body.

It was a big step forward for me to move the idea into the spatial

context of the body. But some of the movements are so internal that

it is not visible spatially, what do I need to do to draw focus to the

micro movements?

25 26

Element# 1.1

Foreign languages

Maps of broken bodies

by Pat Toh

Session 4:

Where in the space do I place myself?

Is there a frontality towards audience?

Trying out the pumping of body parts. How does it start? The body tenses to

generate speed into twitch. Where else can it go? How does it get there? What is

going on in the other parts of the body from that isolated trigger?

Finding a pattern to the twitch. How to develop?

8 points of the body

How to work from systematic synchronicity into chaos?

Implosion versus explosion

How to not lose the performer? Am I conscious of external space when I am moving

intensely inside? How do I communicate what I am sensing inside?

In what ways does the soundscape of text serve how the viewers read the body?

Playing with the rhythm of the text

Movement should not illustrate the text

Dramaturgy of clothes/costumes

Structure-A B A, what do I want to convey?

Floor pattern-Walking along a diagonal line across the stage


In the previous session I looked at the idea of charting in the

body, today’s session was about the readability of what I am

composing in/through space and how simple device such

as floor pattern could communicate meaning. I started to

consider the idea of scoring specific poses in relation to the

text and pattern sequence to the twitching. I had to think

about making dramaturgical choices when composing


Session 5:

Formulating a rough score from the basic postures into the


Stringing sections together, walking along the line, poses along

the line, muscle tension and 8 points twitch, twitch from

standing poses going to the floor, back up to standing and

walking along the line.

Transitions, how sections fuse into or away from the part


How can I move the mapping language through shapes and

postures on different levels and planes?


Today was the last session and it was devoted to creating a

draft movement score. In running through the score, many

questions were raised in how I move from chapter to chapter.

As I am working from physical sensations to bring me into the

next section, how do I manage the objective and my subjective

sense of time, duration and energy. How do I approach the

repetition of walking in chapter 1? The development of the

practice into a piece of work was discussed. What is the piece

about? How do I go about framing the embodiment of

measures? What constitutes a piece of work?

27 28

Element# 1.1

Foreign languages

Maps of broken Bodies

by Pat Toh

Further exploration


Working from breath, tension and twitch all at the same time. Where does

one information start and another begin? How to manoeuvre into and

within a knot of information?

Looking at the micro movements in the form of thoughts and actions when

at the edge of consciousness.



Try measuring within formalised language and codes of movement such as

a sport, a dance form or a skill.


What can you say with a solo body? What can I say with a group of bodies?

How does each part inform to the greater idea of power and control?


Where is the performer’s attention, how does that direct or shape her gaze?

What about performing with an inward gaze?

What does the presence of viewers mean to the act of mapping?

Pat Toh is a performer and performance maker. A

Shell-NAC Arts Scholarship recipient, she trained at

National Institute of Dramatic Arts (Australia) and

graduated with a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts (Acting). Her

artistic interest lies in working on, with and about the

tactile body. She looks to the everyday and walks as a

practice of inquiry into human movement, physically and

socially. Pat is concerned with the corporeal sensibilities

of the contemporary body and seeks to develop a

choreographic practice that sensitises one to physical

lived experiences. Following her Dance Nucleus

residency, she will be presenting her work at the

Indonesian Dance Festival Showcase in November



29 30

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It is worth making a comparison between the Indian and Singaporean contexts.

Dance in post-independence Singapore has often staked its identity in

multiculturalism and a notion of “Asianness”. The latter is ostensibly a nebulous and

problematic term that raises more questions than answers them. On the one hand,

ownership of one’s traditions is a credible response to reclaim a society’s identity in

post-colonial times, not least in advanced urban societies where cultural memories

tend to be short. On the other hand, romantic nostalgia for the past and

self-exoticisation can be construed as counter-intuitive, whereby instead of

reclaiming one’s place in the world, one remains trapped in a (self-)designated

position of the Other.

Modern and contemporary dance in India have often been

obliged to grapple with India’s history with colonialism. In

post-colonial times, India has seen a revival of its numerous

classical and traditional forms, alongside rich investigations

into contemporary practices that question notions of Indian

identity today. Notable Indian choreographers have found

choreographic strategies to navigate identifications with

the past and the present, form and content, traditions and

speculations about the future.

The Singaporean government has announced the

intention to celebrate the nation’s history by

commemorating the bicentennial of the founding of

Singapore by the British for 2019. How should

Singaporeans ‘celebrate’ these last 200 years? What

kinds of conversations do we want to have about it?

For ELEMENT Season #1, we invite Indian choreographer and dance provocateur,

Mandeep Raikhy to dialogue with the Singaporean dance community under the

theme of “Post-Colonial Tactics". Raikhy will engage with local artists, Bernice Lee

and Chloe Chotrani in a residency, through which they will unearth particular

responses to questions on post-colonialism in the local context. Their encounters

will also be publicly shared in a symposium, where the Singaporean dance

community can also learn about developments in contemporary dance in India.

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Wrestling with the


Notes from Mandeep Raikhy

What is ‘contemporary’ in dance if it is not in reference to a form(s) developed in

the West? Can the ‘contemporary’ be experienced as a process? Could it indeed

be a lens through which we are able to look at the body in relation to the world we

live in? Can this lens of criticality allow us to ask questions about the body, the way

we live, dance, perform, assert, articulate and act? Could these questions allow us

as individuals/ collectives to resist, disagree and respond to our socio-political

environment? Through these questions, can we as artists challenge our own forms

of articulation? Can dance become a means of critical engagement?

The use of the term ‘contemporary’ in the context of dance in

India comes with its own tensions and forces. At first, it carries

with itself a kind of a homogenizing effect. It has mostly been

taken for granted that everything ‘contemporary’ in dance must

correspond somehow to dance developed and practiced in

Europe and the USA. The form and aesthetic stemming from a

highly developed discourse and economy in the western

hemisphere begins to wash out any specificity that dance in other

parts of the world may aspire to nurture.

Through the work of Gati Dance Forum in initiating an artists-led ecology for

performance in India in areas as diverse as creation, advocacy, performance

infrastructure, pedagogy and research, we have often arrived at these questions.

Through my own creative practice, I continue to complicate these questions for


Dance in India, on the other hand, is embroiled

in a national identity project since the beginning

of its independence movement in the late 19th

century. Dance, more than any other discipline,

carries the burden of 4000 years of India’s

cultural history. Under the guardianship of the

state, this burden isn’t an easy one to shirk.

Dance practitioners in India particularly struggle

with binaries such as ‘contemporary’ and

‘traditional’, where one is necessarily always

pitted against the other and where the former

invariably poses a threat to the great national

identity project. Now with a right wing

government in power, these tensions and forces

make dance particularly potent in these times.

Ignite Festival of Contemporary Dance. Images from Mandeep Raikhy

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Wrestling with the


Notes from Mandeep Raikhy

In 2015, the year that saw scores of writers and artists return their awards in protest against an increasingly intolerant right-wing

government, I realized that our dance field was fairly unresponsive to it all. Around this time, I also came across Nishit Saran’s article

‘Why my bedroom habits are your business?’ again. Written in year 2000, this article asks some sharp questions against section 377

of the Indian Penal code that criminalises homosexuality in India. Just like that, I realized that it was time indeed for me to ask some

questions of my own. Questions that could enable me to assert my identity as a queer dance-maker at a time of severe cultural

censorship. How can we respond to our socio-political context through the dance that we make? How can the body, in its articulation

of desire, choice and intimacy, make an argument against an archaic law that enters the bedroom and bans consensual love between

two adults? How can a bed become the site for a performance? How can a private space be turned public in protest? How can

intimacy be deconstructed for an audience?

In response to the prevelant environment of intolerance, triggered by

hatred-driven communal politics in the country since the BJP

government came into power in 2014, Long Nights of resistance

was a project that examined the idea of dissent in the body by

examining and upturning codes that constitute the religious and the

nationalist body. What is the physicality of deference? Where are

resistance and deference located in this body? How could we find

resistance in our experience of prayer, endurance and patriotism?

What is vulnerable and human about the act of praying? What is a

nationalist body? How do we perform patriotism? Where do we

locate the regimentation of the body in the attention position of the

national anthem? How does one protest this normalisation? How

does make departures that are anatomical, rhythmic, or simply

irreverent? And finally, what is the power of the collective, as one

negotiates one’s own weight in order to enable collective weight

shifts. How does the collective resist and express dissent? How

does it fold unto itself to form boundaries and protect? How does it

bring you into the fold and then cut you loose? What is the role of the

individual within the collective, of the citizen within the nation?

Is it possible that resistance somehow lies at the heart of all

contemporary practice?

- Mandeep Raikhy

AbouT Mandeep Raikhy

Mandeep Raikhy is a dancer and choreographer based

out of New Delhi. He pursued his BA (Hons) in Dance

Theatre at Laban, London, and worked with Shobana

Jeyasingh Dance Company for several years. He has

created 3 full-length works, Inhabited Geometry (2010)

and a male ant has straight antennae (2013) and

Queen-size (2016) and divides his time between creating

and touring his artistic work and contributing to the field

as a dance administrator. Mandeep is the managing

director of Gati Dance Forum and artistic director of

Ignite Dance Festival.

Queen Size (2016), Image from Mandeep Raikhy

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Post-Colonial Tactics


by Bernice Lee

This document is put together with the knowledge that a large portion of what human

beings know in the 21st Century is on the internet, but that wisdom is far less common,

perhaps even outdated. This is a concerted response to the title “Postcolonial Tactics”,

from a choreographic and performative point of view — through an attempt to be both

subject and object at the same time, both coloniser and colonised at the same time.

As a person who might have some Genghis genetic material, it might literally be written

into my body.


What does the word evoke for you?

What images come to mind?

Create a task, an activity, that you think of as “ghosting”.

You would be exactly right.

Some ideas:

1) Become a pile of gooey ectoplasm on the floor

2) Laugh really hard until you forget yourself

3) Explode into 1000 pieces and then reappear

somewhere else

4) Build a relationship and suddenly break it




Ghosting might be a way of travelling through life. As an

artistic practice, it is the emancipating and exhausting

effort of being fully present and attentive to the invisible

things happening outside your skin and inside your skin.

Ghosting is to make the invisible visible. We can talk

about the gaze, the poetics of space, leaving traces, the

gap between immanence and transcendence, the politics

of invisibility and silence. Or we choose silence, observe

it. We might be more powerful this way. Unless Audre

Lorde is right?

We can move through multiple positions and points in space. At no given moment

is my body an entity simply dealing with time, space and energy — those are

“neutral” elements for choreography and improvisation.

What happens to history, memory, and place? What

happens to daily micro-events, emotional journeys,

human relationships? What happens to ideas thrown

away for not fitting in? What about the worlds that live

inside bodies, both human and non-human?

What are the consequences of ghosting, while also working choreographically?

A single woman ghost appears and sees you. Her gaze

makes the space palpably thick with meaning. Her eyes

disappear into her body, throws her off balance. In this

haunting, she attempts to exorcise all her memories,

including those of her ancestors. She slices the room in

half. She penetrates your space.

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Post-Colonial Tactics


This is a recording of a spontaneous performance at Make It Share It Open Stage,

spontaneously recorded by my friend Shahrin Johry. Shared with permission.

A loose score: eyes, skinholes , abhinaya, opening and closing doors, the afterlife,

death and mourning. Remembering dances. Crying and recovery.

Sometimes my body paints its shadows on landforms, like this video

(www.bit.ly/fuseeleven) of Mount Arapiles, and this video

(www.bit.ly/fusetwelve) of a Pink Lake (Western Victoria, Australia).

Medium: Unseen Body and iPhone Camera.

Ghosting by Bernice Lee

Directives developed for “Ghosting”, an approach to performance.

“Ghosting” is a performance approach that allows for any kinds of movement

histories and movement forms to reveal itself through the body and being of the

performer. Additional (spatial, temporal etc.) rules will determine the specific score.

1) Remember your future

2) Allow your past to haunt you

3) Take in all the bodily senses of time in the space, including your own

4) When you blink, it is a chance to look in.

5) When your skinholes reveal your eyes, tell the outside world something.

6) There is no beginning and no end that we can fully comprehend.

7) Finish your dance in a physical form that satisfies your flesh.

Possible Parameters for “Ghosting”,

based on some learnt movement forms


Rotate your wrists, inward and outward

Step lightly and rhythmically, bouncing

Keep a pleasant face


“Skinholes”: Think of your eyes as the holes in your skin that opens the barrier between your body and the outside

world. Your skinholes need to exist so that your eyes can actually see. I’d like to redirect the sense of the gaze not just

to the ocular, but to the tactile.

Bernice’s notes.

Give yourself intense internal imagery

Connect up and down as a clear vertical channel

Become earth

Undulate your spine

Move your head independently from your body but always stay connected

Repeat and transform your movements

Draw circles with your limbs

Reach into infinity from opposite ends of your body

Keep your feet dainty, but your legs strong

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Post-Colonial Tactics

Ghosting by Bernice Lee

(Selected notes after a public sharing in March. Upheaval and change.)

Sunday March 25, a presentation at SCOPE in which I knew I was chucking in way

too much content into a showing. I decided it didn’t matter, because I was more

interested in testing out an odd trajectory (risky, delicate, and definitely going

against the norms of theatrical logic) and seeing how it felt to do it, than in trying

one thing out with a group of people who can encourage me. I’d much rather

explode/implode an idea to see what kinds of questions arise - I’d rather exorcise

the multiple ideas in my mind, than keep them to myself, and allow it to weigh on

me. I was trying to create “a web of relationships” - Faye described it as delicate

and slightly messy like Queen Anne’s Lace. I love the image, and it’s certainly true

that I saw myself as author of the experience, but also subject matter - the “other”

whom others come in to encounter. I collected some writings from people who

share the things that bother them about someone else. I did nothing with what they

shared, except to say that I might use it at a future time. I feel responsible for other

people’s private sharing - I want it to matter - but I want it to matter in the context

of all the other things that matter in the world. Kai pointed out that the show felt like

a parody, but not really a parody, and referred to a youtube video where it was

trailers of advertising for all sorts of different causes that exist in the world. I cannot

find the video and have to ask for it. This is the video: www.bit.ly/fusethirteen

I have the video from the showing, which I called a showing of “a sequence of

events”. It felt really intense because of the amount of unsorted information I

decided to try. I was absorbing so many different energies and senses of time, and

paying attention to how I was impacting (and not-impacting) people. I enjoyed the

fact that it was probably a disorienting and annoying experience. Perhaps it is

passive-aggressive, but at the end when people shared their reflections and some

of their wonderment - what I realised was that no matter what happens there will

be a huge gap in audience reception. Some things that stood out: vulnerability, let

me in, bizarro, brave, news, neutrality… what’s the point?

I have collected those people’s sharing about what bothers them. I don’t know

what to do with those things, except that they matter. I want it to come in to use at

each show. I think practicing ghosting is practicing being able to transfer what

matters between different times. What are the performative logistics to getting

people to write down what bothers them, and how do I share that with other

people at “the next show”?

One of the people, an 11-year-old child, wrote about being bullied. I wrote to her

mom to make sure she is aware.

Do we care also about adults in this same way?

(We tend to think that the absurd is distant from the truth. The fact is that the truth

is often more absurd and nonsensical than what our minds can comprehend. That

is what absurdity is - more true than what I can make sense of.)

AbouT Bernice Lee

Bernice Lee is a Singaporean dance artist who

performs, creates and shares dance. She often devises

performances collaboratively and those pieces have

been presented at ArchiFest, ArtScience Museum, Arts

House, The Substation, and TheatreWorks. Her works

have also shown in international art festivals in Vientiane,

Solo, Jogjakarta, Bangkok and New York. Her creations

deal with performance states, experiment with creating

visceral and rarefied atmospheres, and embrace

double-edged humour. She thinks of time as her most

important material.

41 42

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Post-Colonial Tactics

Power of


by Chloe C. Chotrani

In the simplest form—a horizontal line represents an

aversion to the vertical, hierarchical and dictatorial. Where,

we can find ways to achieve making decisions, on an

egalitarian playing field.

Softness as a tactic to confront hybridity, ambiguity, and

nativity of the post-colonial present.

On an individual level, I look at myself, slightly detached.

Bluntly, as a Singaporean, I hold a place of privilege within the

region, and globally. I would not be able to sustain myself in

the arts as I do now, if it weren’t for the wealth that resides in

this island. Being in a highly visible position, I bring awareness

to the unseen. How do I listen to what is not being said?

Within the softness of our bodies exists a cultural memory that

holds power in what society may see as weak. In my personal

and professional embodied research on the power of softness, I

direct my awareness to the forgotten, the silent and untold stories

of women as the central life-giving force of society. It is masked

by the conditioning to be silent, obedient, and shameful.

Here is an image of myself, looking at

our guest mentor Mandeep Raikhy,

looking at me. During one of our

mentorship sessions in the residency,

while we were devising improvisation


Element mentorship session. Image from Chloe C. Chotrani.

I am actively seeking from an inner land, the ancestral knowledge

that is passed down through the womb. I do this by acting on the

choice to move from the body, listening to what it has to say,

rather than to dictate answers. I constantly ask

questions—Where is softness in the body? If you were to draw

softness—What would it look like?

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Element# 1.2 Power of softness

Post-Colonial Tactics

by Chloe C. Chotrani

Chloe’s notes.

On a collective level, I invited three movement artists based in Singapore; Eng Kai

Er (SG), Ted Nudgent Tac-An (PH) and Tang Sook Kuan (ML) to explore softness

on a horizontal plane in the studio with me.

Horizontal, meaning to say, without a specific goal, and

without a single leader. We all had the tasks of collectively

making decisions that would attempt to satisfy us all. We

spent every Tuesday evening from March – April 2018.

Within these sessions, we surprisingly devised a working

performative method, which we will continue to explore

after this residency entitled w.r.i.s.t.

w.r.i.s.t. stands for: witness, repeater, interpreter, source, and

transformation. We can think of this as a performative game.

Each movement artist is assigned a role and a task that is

movement, text and performance based. The chosen source

responds to a question that confronts softness, the repeater

repeats the information, the interpreter performs what was not

being said, and it culminates in a collective transformation where

everyone improvises based on the shared information. Each

phase is two minutes, the transformation is eight minutes.

It is a practice that teaches one to be empathetic by sharpening our listening skills

and pushing boundaries of communication.

w.r.i.s.t. is an ongoing process that tackles a soft horizontal structure of

listening and perceiving each other. In w.r.i.s.t., we confront the ambiguity

of truth, and how ideas are repeated, interpreted or transformed.

In my research, I have given attention towards idea’s surrounding the relationship

between the urban and the indigenous or the urban-indio. Which have brought me

to question the body in relationship to the land. What is your relationship to the land

you are on? What is your relationship to land?

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Element# 1.2 Power of softness

Post-Colonial Tactics

by Chloe C. Chotrani

The body and land are deeply interwoven, particularly for

the female body because of our menstruation cycles. We

periodically renew, we are asked to rest as we release,

cleanse and prepare for the cycle ahead that weaves with

the rhythms of the earth. However, until today bleeding is

deemed as impure.

One of many sources of empowerment within the cultural

context of Southeast Asia is the Babaylan. Today, there is a

strong reclamation within the urban-indio communities of

the Filipino people. The Babaylan are the pre-colonial

spiritual practices deeply rooted in the feminine in the

Philippines. Where the untold stories of the matriarch are

coming into the forefront, as we see today through the

revolutionary voices that chose to radically respond.

Chloe’s notes.

This sense of shame as a woman brings me to ask questions about

the erotic. Where we have to live up to the illusion of beauty standards

that force us to be ashamed of the natural body or when we stay quiet

and suppress our voices when we are in pain, because of mere,


While in this residency, when warming the body to prepare for

movement or to create mental space. A speech by Audre Lorde would

often play in the background, which I find to be extremely relevant to

the shift towards femininity at present. An excerpt from Uses of The

Erotic by Audre Lorde:

For once we begin to feel deeply

We begin to demand from ourselves the joy which we know ourselves to be

capable of

In other words, our erotic knowledge empowers us

This is a grave responsibility

Not to settle

Not to settle for what is convenient, or shoddy, or the conventionally expected

Nor what is merely safe

We have been raised to fear the yes in ourselves, our deepest cravings

And, the fear of our deepest cravings will always keep them suspect

And will also keep us docile, loyal, and obedient

And lead us to settle for so many facts of our oppression, as women

Ideas surrounding obedience within the Singaporean context deeply

suppress sensations and desires. Which cause a ripple effect of

chasing after structures of safety, which I feel can be dangerous to be

too clean. Thus, this piece by Audre Lorde, articulates that pleasure in

the effort and struggle for depth and rigor in all action—whether it be

dancing, gardening, writing, loving or cleaning. The erotic, not to be

confused with erotica, rather, the embodiment of Eros.

47 48

Element# 1.2 Power of softness

Post-Colonial Tactics

by Chloe C. Chotrani

My place in the post-colonial present is hybrid, ambiguous and native.

Hybrid—identity is complex, especially when we try to define it based

on nation-state borders. The term “third culture children” has come into

mainstream, a generation of children with multiple rooting, which give

us ancestry that is never linear. As a Singaporean, Filipina and Indian –

at the end of the day, I feel it is irrelevant. However, in the constructs

that we live in today, race matters. The color of your skin or the tone of

your voice dictates a level of privilege. As much as it would be

convenient to ignore race, or see faces in neutrality or worse, accept

fair beauty standards. The only way to confront it is to have a soft

strength, that can handle the brutality of racism. Thus, hybridity is a

way of not-defining my cultural context.

Ambiguous—Openness requires one to sometimes, straddle the

in-between. Some people impose, dominate, and control. The power

dynamics have to now shift to bring a sense of balance to the

eco-system, a more horizontal approach. Thus, being open to

diversifying, to a plurality of perspectives is essential to my practice, not

only as an artist, but as a person.

There is a term that is becoming quite trendy among artists that is

called radical softness. I find that important at the moment, as a

quality that takes material philosophy into an idea of politics. Where

you think about a different way of acquiring power, sharing power,

averting power positions… I saw something in your piece that is

energetic without being speedy, it was powerful without being

aggressive, it was a lot of in-between things that keeps me really

hooked, but I am never sure what I am looking at.” – Daniel Kok,

Independent Artist

“What I loved was the use of dirt… I saw a grounded-ness and

rootedness reflected but at the same time I saw something

extraordinarily modern… using your voice feels much like a child at

play, rather than something you would expect from something so

evocative and ritualistic. That together within being held in a space,

creating a space for us, it was mesmerizing in itself.” – Anlin Loh,

Producer, Pink Gajah Theatre

Chloe’s movement notes.

Native—Rather, nativity, is slightly indulgent. I feel a spiritual connection

to my Motherland, the Philippines. The abundant resources have been

and still are abused by war, capitalism and colonial powers. As so, the

rest of what is defined as the “third” world. Having lived in Manila for

over twelve years and constantly returning, having a third world

perspective has truly shaped my daily routines and it has brought me

into an ever-grounded approach to both my practice in work and life.

More voices and spaces need to be created from this perspective of

the third.

The solo piece that I worked on during this residency is entitled, Talking

Third Circle, which is a work-in-progress shared during SCOPE #1.

Responses from the sharing, as follows:

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Element# 1.2 Power of softness

Post-Colonial Tactics

by Chloe C. Chotrani

It needs to be brought to attention that “Postcolonialism: A Short Introduction” is

written by a white male, Robert J.C Young. Just as how the history of female

sexuality was written by men. Thus, validates the significance of writing and

research, as an individual, as an artist, as a woman, today. A short excerpt by

Robert J.C Young:

Do you ever feel that wherever you speak, you have already on some

sense been spoken for? Or that when you hear others speaking, that

you are only ever going to be the object of their speech? The you live

in a world of others, a world that exists for others?

The woman was there, but she was always an object, never a subject.

Postcolonial theory involves a conceptual reorientation towards the

perspectives of knowledge and needs, developed outside the West. A

lot of people don’t like the term Postcolonial. It disturbs the order of the

world. It threatens privileged power. It refuses to acknowledge he

superiority of Western cultures.

What is the role that we, the explored people of the world, must play?

Curatorial Statement || Softness

These bodies draw from a post-colonial present that

radiates the soft, fluid and the erotic as our creative

power force. Embodied living is radically called for as

we continue to dance within the global crisis. Diaspora

discourse of the matriarch with Rina Casero Espiritu,

Jana Lynn (JL) Umipig along with the queer vista of

Zavé Martohardjono.

Through this on-going research, I am exploring

questions surrounding the triad relationship between:

body, land, and the erotic. By constantly working with

my hands and the body; as a professional movement

artist, as a permaculture apprentice (gardener) and as

a dance writer.

softness: artist of color council curation

with Movement Research, Feb to– May 2018

Movement Research invited me to be a curator for the Artist of Color Council

Curation at Judson Church Spring 2018 Season, while being based in Singapore.

Coincidentally, in conjunction with the ELEMENT residency at Dance Nucleus.

Thus, I decided to utilize the exploration of softness within a diasporic space.

Artists of Color Council Curation Spring 2018

Each season the AoCC invites a member of the community to curate artists to

participate in Movement Research at the Judson Church. The Spring 2018 curator

is Chloe C. Chotrani.

Touching the soil directly and developing a relationship

with it, transforming the way I eat and the flora in my

gut, and perceiving land as a living entity rather than as

property or possession. Working in the studio with the

body, being porous, pushing boundaries, and learning

about space logic through physicality. I find a soft

strength and a sensuous pleasure within the effort and

struggle in each embodied task.

The work continues, towards studies on softness, as

embodied research, as a way of life, as a shared

responsibility, with wider and wider circles.

51 52

AbouT Chloe C. Chotrani

Chloe is a movement artist based in Singapore. Currently, she is

a project based dancer for Odissi dance company Chowk, and

Malay dance company P7:1SMA in Singapore. She was a dance

artist-scholar with Romançon Dance Company of De La

Salle–Benilde in Manila and holds a Postgraduate Diploma in

Asian Art from the School of Oriental and African Studies in

London. Working with a deep curiosity, she has traveled and

learned different forms of dance to West Africa, New York, and

within Southeast Asia. As a performer, she has worked

internationally with Legit Status Philippines, B Supreme London,

Omi International Dance Collective, Evidence Dance Community

and Movement Research. Her embodied artistic practice and

research is centered on the power of softness, which she

explores as a way of life. When she's not dancing or writing, she

is tending to plants in the garden.


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Post-Colonial Tactics

This essay is Nirmala’s Seshadri’s responses to the provocation questions.

Ruminations on

AsiaNness & DANCE

I STILL see myself, in the wider framework of Dance as that token brown person

engaging with a token ethnic dance form - be it in educational settings,

performance or other spaces. At the core of these settings are the western forms

- ballet, modern dance or contemporary dance. I must admit that for the brown

person, dance (strictly defined in ethnic terms) is the ticket to travel as a tourist in

a Chinese world in Singapore. But it is also a way to assert brown presence. So


we can neither give into the ethnic silos nor completely do away with them!

by Nirmala Seshadri

In Daniel Kok’s note inviting me to join the panel discussion on the

topic “Postcolonial Tactics” at Dance Nucleus, he inserted the

following provocations:

How do we continue to speak about Asian-ness in dance today?

In claiming an Asian identity, what is at stake and which agendas

are we validating? What are some choreographic strategies to

circumnavigate the landscapes of aesthetics, politics and/or the

arts market, which remains significantly dominated by the West?

Kok’s questions set me thinking and I shared my reflections

verbally then, in written form now:

1. How do we continue to speak about Asian-ness in dance today?

Classical Indian dance. Image credit: Rutgers Natya, 2010


I became aware of the concept of Asianness with regard to Dance in the 1970s as

a Primary school student. The school at which I studied promoted Dance very

actively. And by Dance, I mean Ballet that was performed mainly by Chinese girls

usually dressed in tutus and dancing to western classical music. While the dancers

who performed Ballet were featured on prominent platforms, where relevant I was

invited to present my solo 5 minutes of my classical Indian dance form

Bharatanatyam. At the age of 12 and 13, it felt good, I felt exclusive in my

Bharatanatyam attire, dancing differently from the other girls.

Now, 40 years later and viewing my past through various lenses, I see my Chinese

friends of Primary School as having performed aspirational whiteness. I, on the

other hand, played the role of the token brown person who performed the token

‘ethnic’ dance form.

To quote dance anthropologist Andrée Grau on race and multiculturalism in the UK

: “white artists, often see their oeuvre examined in artistic terms and their work

understood as somewhat ‘universal’ and ‘acultural’. In contrast, … artists whose

families originated outside Europe… often see their work receive a ‘cultural

treatment’, linking it to narrow notions of heritage and tradition, and thereby

excluding them from the broader world” (2008, 239).


In Singapore, the state manages cultural diversity in reductionist terms. The CMIO [Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others]

model cognitively streamlines society into four ethnic groups . . . While the CMIO model is in tune with the demands of

mass society and global consumerism, it influences ethnic stereotyping in Singapore.’ See Laurence Wai-Teng Leong

(1997) ‘Commodifying Ethnicity: State and Ethnic Tourism in Singapore’, in Picard, Michel and Robert Everett Wood,

eds. Tourism, Ethnicity, and the State in Asian and Pacific Societies, Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 92–3

55 56

Element# 1.2



Ruminations on

asiaNness & Dance

by Nirmala Seshadri

2. In claiming an Asian identity, what is at stake and which

agendas are we validating?

I looked at the Esplanade’s 2017 Dance Festival

programme line-up where “Asian” forms were mostly

non-ticketed and relegated to performances at the

Concourse, Outdoor spaces and as workshops and talks.

The website also highlights the separate arts festivals that

are organised by the Esplanade to feature the various

communities - Kala Utsavam, Pesta Raya and Hua Yi

platforms. But it needs to be kept in mind that in the

performance space, we speak of ‘Asian-ness’ as the

‘Other’ that exists in silos, on the margins, as cultural

heritage and cultural representation. How the different

ethnicities are situated on the margins would be an

interesting area of study.

Asian-ness is the tag that is needed to justify the presence

of the dancing body that is not trained in the western dance


On the other side of it, there tends to be a sidelining by the

specific ‘ethnic’ community, of the dancer who is seen to

veer away from what is considered acceptable


representation . Not only have I experienced this personally,

but I also understand from conversations with younger

dancers who are keen to push the boundaries of thought

and form, that it can be challenging to negotiate the

structures. The marginalisation on both sides of the fence

(ie within the ethnic silo and in the mainstream) carries

implications in terms of recognition, opportunities and

ultimately - the ability to exist. In other words - Erasure.

When talking of claiming the Asian identity, let me first hold up

the lenses of history and nostalgia.

The late pioneering dance teacher Mr. K.P. Bhaskar stated in an

interview with me, that in the 1960s there were multiracial

performances organised by political parties featuring Chinese,

Malay, Indian and Western dance (in Seshadri, 2013). Ballet

choreographer and dance scholar Francis Yeoh highlights that

when the National Dance Company (NDC) was formed later,

ballet existed alongside the other forms (2006). The promotion of

a ballet dancer/choreographer to the important position of

artistic director, as opposed to someone from the other dance

forms, points to the privileging of ballet as occupying a distinct

class from the other forms. By the time the Singapore Multi

Ethnic Dance Ensemble was formed a few years later under the

umbrella of the People’s Association, ballet was separated from

the “traditional” dance forms. The ballet wing of the NDC went

on to become the Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) in 1988 which

went on to receive strong support from the government and has

been featured prominently right from its inception. In discussing

the attention received by SDT, sociologist Gan Hui Cheng

highlights the marginalised position of ethnic dance forms, which

is in stark contrast to their role, visibility and status in the 1950s


These past events reveal that by claiming the Asian identity in

Singapore especially in the 1980s, we have subscribed to the

western evolutionary model of classification of dance forms that

has been discussed by anthropologist Joann Keali’ihonomoku

who underscores the point that ‘ethnic’ (unchanging traditions)

is relegated to the margins and ballet viewed as superior (1970).


My recent essay on this issue of marginalisation is: Seshadri, Nirmala (2017) ‘The Problematic Danseuse: Reclaiming

Space to Dance the Lived Feminine’, in Diotima’s: A Journal of New Readings, Kozhikode, Kerala: Providence

Women’s College, 54-79

57 58

Element# 1.2



Ruminations on

asiaNness & Dance

by Nirmala Seshadri

What is at stake? I would say (from my observations and experiences in the field):



Inclusion, visibility


freedom from cultural custodianship, and from cultural essentialism

Granted that at this point in time, traditional arts are being given a boost in funding

and support. But we still need to ask ‘what is at stake here?’ The use of the term

‘traditional art’ carries in it notions of ‘the unchanging’, ‘reproduction’,

‘perpetuation’ rather than questioning of status quo and pushing of boundaries.

The freedom to create and express oneself authentically - these are at stake.

In Singapore the classical Indian dancer (whether aware of it or not) exists at the

intersection of multiple agendas - cultural essentialism, collective nostalgia for an

imagined homeland, exoticism, multiculturalism, overt emphasis on religiosity, as

well as Indian nationalism that is increasingly mobile.

Anthropologist Sitara Thobani highlights that “It is in the transnational context that

essentialized constructions of India are further cemented, leading to the

strengthening of ideas regarding coherence, uniformity and impermeability of Indian

culture” (2017, 105).

In my opinion, the current categorisation of the Asian hinders authentic expression

and true inclusivity. However, questioning and rejecting the way in which the

category is now occupied might unleash its emancipatory potential.

3 What are some choreographic strategies to circumnavigate the

landscapes of aesthetics, politics and/or the arts market, which

remains significantly dominated by the West?

As historian Prasenjit Duara points out, there is a need to view Asian-ness not as

a constant/fixed region but instead as a process of regionalisation, thus

“distinguishing between the relatively unplanned or evolutionary emergence of an

area of interaction and interdependence as a region and the more active, often

ideologically driven political process of creating a region, or regionalization” (2010,

963). Dance as it is employed today buys into the imaginary construction of

Asian-ness. Dance is one site on which the negotiation of Asian-ness takes place.

Viewing it as a process means that it can be done differently - it can be reshaped

actively and consciously.

Choreographic strategies would include:


Choreographing Asian within the framework of cultural heritage and in

solidarity with the networks that support this strategy. My own

choreographic journey began with this strategy but I gradually found it

more and more difficult to subscribe to the power structures of

Bharatanatyam that is governed by rules of purity and appropriateness.

The lack of right to choice in the personal and artistic spheres became an area I

needed to address - after all, both belonged to the same patriarchal cultural

paradigm. Equating a male lover with God became problematic for me as a

dancer as it implied the superiority and deification of the human male. This created

a conflict within me both in art and in my life, which I sought to examine through

my choreographic process. I needed to address the gender imbalances in my

socio-cultural context and search for more empowering images of womanhood,

both in dance and in life. The questions and unrest in my mind were expressed in

my choreographic works. The fact that I faced these conflicts woke me up to the

restrictions of the silos. There was a need for Indian dance to grow to reflect lived

realities of women. But it could not grow as long as imposed, essentialised

Asian-ness required it to look a particular way.

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Element# 1.2



Ruminations on

asiaNness & Dance

by Nirmala Seshadri

2. I began to work through intercultural and interdisciplinary collaborative

processes. While I am aware that collaborative processes are often

positioned on the Asia-West axis, I belong to that group that tended to

replace the Asia-Western binary with intra-Asian collaborations.

I want to add here that the collaborative choreographic space can be a complex

one. If Asian-ness has emerged out of a history of imperialism and anti-imperialism,

then history has also shown us that new forms of imperialism later emerged within

Asia (Duara, 2010). Power dynamics come into play in any environment in which

there is an imbalance, therefore in this context it could end up merely substituting

Western domination with another form of domination.


Through a feminist choreographic approach, I contradicted the

prescriptive framework of Bharatanatyam to create works that

expressed the lived feminine through the portrayal of eroticism,

critiquing of gender norms, and expression of personal lived


experience . This focus on lived reality leads me to think that liberation

from imposed categories of Asian-ness cannot ONLY take place

through new collaborations (whether intra-Asian or trans-Asian with the

Global South). It also needs - simultaneously - to take place through

reclaiming the individual body. My current space of work thus reflects

feminist writer and activist Audre Lorde’s defense of self-care in a

context where CERTAIN bodies are erased - that sort of self-care is “not

self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political

warfare” (1988).

4. In my current approach I focus inward on the individual body, its inner

wisdom, its relationship to Nature, its connection to other bodies in

space and its potential to free itself from the hegemonic paradigms.

Drawing inspiration from Lorde’s defense of self-care (ibid), I have come

to believe that to THRIVE as a dancer (and not just exist) in the

patriarchal and capitalist framework that our dance forms are situated,

requires this sort of attention to the self. But when we also look to these

other connections that I suggest, there is perhaps the potential for a

more radical sort of collaboration that resists a hegemonic Asian-ness

for a more organic and emancipatory form.


These works have been described in my essays:

Seshadri, Nirmala (2011) ‘Challenging Patriarchy through Dance’, in Caldwell, Linda ed. In Time Together [online],

Denton: Texas Woman’s University, available from:

https://www.scribd.com/document/338711894/Challenging-Patriarchy-Zru-Dance [accessed on 12 June 2018]

Seshadri, Nirmala (2017) ‘Bharatanatyam and Butoh: An Emerging Gendered Conversation through Site-Specific

Dance in Chennai and Singapore”, in Munsi, Urmimala Sarkar and Aishika Chakraborty eds. The Moving Space:

Women in Dance, New Delhi: Primus Books, 182-197

Seshadri, Nirmala (2017) ‘The Problematic Danseuse: Reclaiming Space to Dance the Lived Feminine’, in Diotima’s: A

Journal of New Readings, Kozhikode, Kerala: Providence Women’s College, 54-79

In conclusion, I feel inclined to revisit Kok’s first question: “How do we continue to

speak about Asian-ness in dance today?” In this response I have provided my

observations, experiences and negotiations in the field of dance in Singapore,

where the concept of Asian tends to not only define but also hem in the practitioner

of a non-western dance form such as Bharatanatyam. I have highlighted the

convergence of multiple agendas that emphasise cultural reproduction rather than

encourage authentic expression.

61 62

Element# 1.2



Ruminations on

asiaNness & Dance

by Nirmala Seshadri

However, in examining unfolding choreographic

strategies, I suggest the possibility of speaking about

Asian-ness not in hierarchical or hegemonic terms

but in a liberating sense - as a space that is in

continuous metamorphosis through active and

radical interventions.

Many thanks to Daniel Kok and Shobha Avadhani for your valuable provocations

and inputs.

Reference List


AbouT Nirmala Seshadri

Duara, Prasenjit (2010) ‘Asia Redux: Conceptualizing a Region for Our Times’, in The Journal of Asian Studies, 69,


Gan, Hui Cheng (2002) ‘Dancing Bodies: Culture and Modernity’, in Kwok, Kian Woon, Mahizhnan, Arun and T.

Sasitharan, eds. Selves – The State of the Arts in Singapore, Singapore: National Arts Council

Grau, Andrée (2008) ‘Dance and the Shifting Sands of Multiculturalism’, in Munsi, Urmimala Sarkar, ed. Dance:

Transcending Borders, New Delhi: Tulika Books

Keali’ihonomoku, Joann (1970) ‘An Anthropologist Looks at Ballet as a form of Ethnic Dance’, in Copeland, Roger and

Marshall Cohen, eds. What is Dance? : Readings in Theory and Criticism, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Lorde, Audre (1988) A burst of light: essays, Michigan: Firebrand Books

Yeoh, Francis (2006) ‘Nationalism in Dance: The Singapore Perspective’, in Foley, Catherine, ed. Dance Research

Forum Ireland, “At the Crossroads? Dance and Irish Culture”, Ireland: University of Limerick

Seshadri, Nirmala (2013) ‘Mr. K.P. Bhaskar: 60 years of Bhaskar’s Arts Academy’, in Seshadri, N., ed. Aesthetics,

Singapore: Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society

Thobani, Sitara (2017) Indian Classical Dance and the Making of Postcolonial National Identities: Dancing on Empire's

Stage, Routledge


Nirmala Seshadri is a dancer, choreographer and

researcher who seeks to recontextualise her classical

dance form, Bharatanatyam. Her social justice

perspective leads her to use the body and performance

space to interrogate existing inequalities, problematizing

boundaries of time, place, gender, and caste, among

other social constructs. Her quest for autonomy and

sensorial perception led her to Butoh. Bridging dance

practice with theory, her research interests include

kinesthesia and corporeality, gender, tradition and

transition, site specificity, cultural hybridisation and the

politics of identity. She graduated with a Masters degree

in Dance Anthropology (with distinction) from the

University of Roehampton, London.

Esplanade theatres on the bay (2017), ’dans festival 2017 programmes’ [online], Singapore, available from:

https://www.esplanade.com/festivals-and-series/sites/dans-festival/2017/programmes#all [accessed on 5 June 2018]

63 64



SCOPE is Dance Nucleus’ open platform for artists'

presentations. Associate members of Dance Nucleus as

well as non-members conduct discussions, workshops,

jams, readings, screenings, open studio and

work-in-progress showings.

FUSE #1 features three of the current projects by our

associate members. Chong Gua Khee & Bernice Lee,

Joao Gouveia & Petra Vossenberg, Chiew Peishan &

Liu Wen-Chun share their reflections on the development

of their current collaborative projects.

65 66

Scope #1

Reflections on

“In plain Site”

A Conversation Between Chong Gua Khee & Bernice Lee

In 2017, Chong Gua Khee and Bernice Lee completed an initial exploration of

the possibilities of sound and movement running in parallel instead of in direct

relation/response to each other. In 2018, they are pushing this exploration

further by excavating the possibilities of parallel connections/resonances

amongst sound, movement, space, and story. At Dance Nucleus. the artists

have been exploring questions such as what constitutes a performance

score. Gua Khee and Bernice presented their initial developments at

SCOPE#1 (MAR 2018) and will continue with their collaborative explorations

for the rest of the year.

Gua Khee: As a practitioner, I am deeply interested in the

idea of ‘conversations’, and this has been a key driver

behind why I often reach out to work with practitioners from

other disciplines – I enjoy these cross-disciplinary

conversations, and find it exhilarating for my

preconceptions and/or beliefs to be challenged. Equally

exciting (although frustrating as well!) is the process of

working through these challenges to arrive at a deeper

understanding of each other’s practice. However, it is very

important to me that the conversations do not remain as

purely verbal ones, but that we converse through the

making of a work as well. In Plain Site thus came about as

part of the process of Bernice and I having conversations

and making work together.

Bernice: What are the ingredients in making a performance?

Why do we care so much about making performance, and

why do we care about making it together? We were running

around in circles, trying to find a common language and

common ground. Eventually we arrived at the understanding

that we were asking similar questions about performance

scores, and that the practice of having conversations helps us

make sense of scores. Some other questions that we asked

ourselves: How is it that human beings learn how to have a

conversation? How are human beings conditioned into

learning this specific skill? We decide that a conversation is a

form of everyday theatre, and there are scores which

underpin it.

GK: In a typical working session for In Plain Site, we talk a lot, and not necessarily

about the project, just letting ourselves meander around. But we also do a lot, and

I think this dynamic emerges in the piece in a certain way.

B: Within this process, we came up with different scores, and

tested them out with each other. We defined a "score" as

rules and frameworks which structure an event. We came to

recognise that what we wanted to do was, to highlight the

conversational form and the score itself, to point to the things

often taken for granted, things that seem obvious, until it

becomes clear that what seemed obvious need not have

been so. At any given moment, when we as human beings

point our attention to something, there are always other

conversations we are not having.

GK: So In Plain Site wound up being about a whimsical invitation to the audience

to pay attention to aspects of the environment around them, be it other audience’s

bodies, the performer’s body, or the sounds and textures of the space and objects

in the space.

67 68

Scope #1

Reflections on “In Plain Site”

A Conversation Between Chong Gua Khee & Bernice Lee

B: In building In Plain Site though, we are constantly shifting the rules and

frameworks of our performance score. Some of the things we played with:

1. When we enter a theatrical environment, the

expectation is that the performance is in control

of itself. The audience's role is primarily to receive


2. What are the things that are already built into

the score of a performance? The things that exist

in a theatre, which are now norms.

3. The always-existent sounds, thanks to the

work of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, are

clearly also players in the performance.

4. The "liveness" of the audience - how do the

people who have come to see the performance,

become part of the score? Are they invited? How

do we work their unpredictable presences into

the score?

GK: At the trial we did at SCOPE#1, what really surprised me was

how open-ended our draft of the score at that point was in

performance as well. Without giving away too many details, I think

In Plain Site evoked more curiosity and exploration amongst the

trial audience members than we had expected, resulting in the

performance developing beyond our imagined ‘ending’ in the

score. This was quite comfortably accommodated by the

parameters of the score, which for me speaks to how much space

and generosity there is within the score for both the performer and

the audience to just play. But what and how do we make of that as

creators and makers?

B: The fifth question is something we are still

grappling with. The work of participatory theatre,

community-activated theatre, proposes some

possibilities. In our work we want to return to the

starting point of a conversation. How does one know

when a conversation has ended? Who takes charge

in a situation where the performance score has been

proposed by the performance makers, the audience

has received it, and now we don't know what to do

with this exchange?

GK: This and many other questions remain to be

unpacked and explored, and moving forward from

SCOPE#1 and the rich feedback we received from the

audience, we intend to dig deeper and explore more

nuances and (p)layers within the score!


Chong Gua Khee graduated from the University of British

Columbia, Canada, with a Psychology (Honours) and

Theatre (Major) degree. A freelance theatre practitioner, she

mainly works as a director/creator, facilitator, and translator.

Her practice is situated in the exploration of different worlds

encountering each other, either in the final piece

with/amongst audience as in HOT POT TALK: Theatre & the

Arts, or in the process with artists of different disciplines. For

the latter strand, Gua Khee has been collaborating more

with dancers/choreographers, given her background in

dance and movement work. She is also co-convening a

Somatics working group for 2018.

For Bernice Lee’s bio, refer to her notes for ELEMENT #1.2.

69 70

Scope #1

Voice and Movement


in instant


by Joao Gouveia and

Petra Vossenberg

Connecting breath and movement leading to sustained

movement with a continuous trajectory from one movement to

the other. We see and experience full presence in the


Breathing deeply into the body. It opened movement to flow and

dynamic maneuvering. Body movement and breathing became

strong stimuli for experience.

Although somatic dance and improvisation are broad

fields of investigation, Joao Gouveia and Petra

Vossenberg have been trained in a specific way and would

like to share their knowledge, as well as to develop their

own practice in Dance Nucleus. For these ends, Joao and

Petra have been devising a series of workshops, one of

which took place on 19th and 20th May 2018. The

following are some notes that they made in their research

explorations at Dance Nucleus.

From breath to audible breath to sound. Letting the sound

come as freely as possible. Filling up the body with the sound.

Moving the sound to the pelvic floor, to the back of the body,

relaxing the throat and mouth, engaging the diaphragm.

The sound sustains the movement. It calls for movement to

develop further. Sound leads to more body awareness. It gives

volume to the body. It causes a rooting, connecting to oneself.

In this workshop, we will look at the dialogue between voice and movement.

Finding your voice

Relating your voice to your own movement

Relating your voice to the movement of others

Bringing your voice into space

Where/when movement become voice and

where/when voice is channeled back into


Sound invites us into space. It opens space. We can see space.

The movement is housed in space. Bodies meeting in space

through sound. Sound calls for giving, a generosity, a sharing.

Sound has longevity. Even after it has been fully released into

space, it lingers for a while in dissipation.

Sound is supported through our core muscles. Movement is

supported through our core muscles. Movement and sound are

interconnected. Sound and movement gathering in the core to

extend out.

Instant composition: develop and respond to what the other

gives to space. Do not let the excitement of all the possibilities

take over. Keep listening, digesting and developing.

Clarity in sound and movement.

Image credit: Raul Anderson

71 72

Scope #1

Voice and movement in instant



by Joao Gouveia and Petra Vossenberg

Sharing our practice. Guidance and facilitation in exercises.

Doing. Then breaking it down. Time and space for reflection.

Repeating (with different partners). Watching.

Working in pairs on connecting breath and movement. One

mover. One toucher, placing the hands on different parts of the

body. Connecting to each other’s breath. The mover using the

touch to breathe into, expanding the volume in between the two

hands, connecting the two hands with the breath, using the

point of contact as the initiation for the movement path.

The exercise expands the volume of the body. The touch helps

to find the natural paths of the body. Different paths. You are not

alone. Someone is continuously supporting you and you are

supporting yourself with your breath. It gives importance to the


Sound bringing awareness to the back of the body, the

space around the body.

Voicing the movement of the other. How close can you

stay to the movement itself? Or do you sound the image

you have of movement? The mover should be aware of

the sounder. Take them along in your movement. Be clear

in your trajectory. The partners are mirrors to each other.

Is the movement readable, clear and given to space? Can

you commit yourself to the other? Be there with them,

otherwise your sound is continuously too late.

Voicing the movement of the other with the permission to

go beyond the body. The spaces around the body.

Sounding the wider context. From the body, into space,

back to the body. A figure ‘8.’ Voicing the space instead

of the body can be very powerful. Giving the body more

space to move and tap into the imagination. The partners

meeting in space and riding the different images that



Through sound people start to see space, different spaces.

Both as a mover and watcher.

More clarity in movement

Dialogue between the dancers

Less ‘people’, more bodies

Movement and sound travelling through the dancers like a

wave and continuously transforming

Developing a theme

Playing with the placement and meaning of sound phrases.

Sounding our own movement. Different lengths of movement

phrases. Articulation and rhythmicality. What is first? The

sound or movement? Playing with this dialogue. Sound and

movement affecting each other in the doing.

Listening to sound in space. Receiving. Giving sound to

space. Making the sound available for others to use. Giving

direction to the sound. Creating structures with sound in

space. With sound being able to focus the attention on an

object or body in space. With sound being able to dissipate

away the focus.

The sound quality and depth in space relating to the quality

and depth of the glare and focus of the eyes.

Do different roles, i.e. sounder and mover, give clarity? How

much do you play in the box? Finding your freedom within.

From careful listening with the ears to a complete listening of

the body in instant composition. Listening to sounds and

movement. Quietness within. Listening to what is given to

space, receive, and give to space yourself. Building together.

73 74

About Joao and Petra

Researchers, dancers and performers based in Singapore,

students of Marisa Grande and dancers of InMotion dance

traces, Petra and Joao have danced in instantly composed

and site-specific works by different artistic directors (e.g.:

Marisa Grande, Iris van Peppen and Katie Duck) and

collaborated with live musicians, poets and different dance

artists. For Petra, somatic dance and instant composition is

about studying the wonders of the body, being fully present,

finding new pathways, release, surprising encounters and

playfulness. For Joao, the practice centers around exploring

and discovering the different corners of body with movement in

space and time. One particular focus of his is the experience

of sensing how physical space can be an extension of the

physical body.

75 76

Scope #1

Should I kill

myself or have a

cup of coffee?:

A co-choreographer’s work-in-progress reflection by Chiew Peishan

The conceptualization of our creation began in October

2017, and the first phase of exploration spanned from

mid-January to mid-May 2018. The next phase of

exploration will begin from end-June 2018 till the

performance of the work in the DiverCity platform of M1

CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival on 19 and 20

July 2018. We intend to continue to develop the work.

A common interest in the philosophy of the Absurd by Albert Camus motivated this

co-creation with Liu.

Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee? is a personal musing

on the absurdity of living.. It is co-choreographed and performed

by Wen-Chun Liu and I, in collaboration with film artist Yan-Hong

Chen, dramaturge Kim Seng Neo, and performers Kenneth Tan

and Supatchai Lappakornkul.

“A stranger to myself and to the world, armed solely with

a thought that negates itself as soon as it asserts, what is

this condition in which I can have peace only by refusing to

know and to live, in which the appetite for conquest

bumps into walls that defy its assaults? To will is to stir up

paradoxes” (Camus 20).

Still from film by Yan-Hong Chen

In Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, he presented a

philosophy that challenged itself, and posited that a

disharmony exists between one’s innate impulse to search

for meaning and the meaninglessness of life. If the option

of suicide that escape existence is not taken up in

response to the absurdity of life, then one will turn to

acknowledge and embrace the absurd so as to find worth

in living.

Prior to Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?, both

Liu and I shared choreographic responses that drew

influences from the Absurd. We had explored within

different contexts and presented work-in-progress

creations on separate platforms. Liu’s An Absurd

Reasoning explored the futile routine and absurd

encounters in daily life, and was presented as part of

International Choreographers Residency Programme

Concert in American Dance Festival 2017.

77 78

Scope #1

Should I kill myself Or have a

cup of coffee?:

A co-choreographer’s work-in-progress reflection by Chiew Peishan

I was investigating the manifestation of the aftermath of conflict and its

psychological influence on the body in re moved: Sisyphus is Smiling, presented as

part of Dance Nucleus’ HATCH in July 2017. It was a period in my life where I was

reeling from the effects of a conflict that left me feeling paralyzed by people’s

behaviour and the surrounding environment. I recall pondering on Tor

Nørretranders’ idea of social relativity that somewhere else in this world, there may

be someone in a worse plight, and I should stop drowning in my own sorrow. I

attempted to rationalize the circumstances of the conflict and it took me some time

to realize my futile efforts to reason, as Camus shared, “What is absurd is the

confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in

the human heart” (Camus 21).

Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee? extends Liu’s and my earlier research

on the Absurd. We are mulling over the primary question of ‘Are we all living to

die?’ which Camus accorded that “Living is keeping the absurd alive. Keeping it

alive is, above all, contemplating it” (54). At the conceptualization stage, we shared

reflections on the Absurd, as well as thoughts, encounters and personal

associations of death. Some topics included the deaths (not limiting to lives, for

instance the death of innocence and wonder) we faced thus far in our lives, the

different ways of dying, our daily trivial encounters of absurdity, bucket lists, poems

by Lixin Tan and Tania De Rozario, sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, Rohingya

refugee crisis, Saffron Revolution and the criminal offence of attempted suicide in

Singapore. The conversations accumulated in a visual score of five elements that

had most resonance for us, namely the hand, a graphic representation of

Sisyphus’ mountain and his rock, images of a lone dead bird, the sculpture of The

Nose (1947) by Giacometti and the colour red from Saffron Revolution, to inform

our movement research.

I was conscious that the thought of killing myself had not once crossed my mind,

and learning about the Absurd provided psychological support in negotiating my


Still from film by Yan-Hong Chen

“In its way, suicide settles the absurd. It engulfs the

absurd in the same death. But I know that in order

to keep alive, the absurd cannot be settled. It

escapes suicide to the extent that it is

simultaneously awareness and rejection of death. It

is, at the extreme limit of the condemned man’s last

thought, that shoelace that despite everything he

sees a few yards away, on the very brink of his

dizzying fall. The contrary of suicide, in fact, is the

man condemned to death” (Camus 54-55).

To facilitate a rethinking of purpose in the aftermath

of conflict, I researched manifestos, including

Yvonne Rainer’s No Manifesto (1965) and A

Manifesto Reconsidered (2008), Matte Ingvartsen’s

Yes Manifesto (2005), Bruno Freire’s Maybe

Manifesto (2011), and Marina Abramović’s An

Artist’s Life Manifesto (2011). The latter felt most


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Scope #1

Should I kill myself OR have a

cup of coffee?:

A co-choreographer’s work-in-progress reflection by Chiew Peishan

Liu’s interest in the cyclical nature of revolutions and protests also

led to a video sharing on Arab Spring protests and Catalonia’s

independence movement. There was a sense of the people

being caught in a situation and the accompanying wait for

something to happen. Lappakornkul and Tan translated this idea

through the physical stranding of different parts of the body,

where Liu worked with the former to create a ‘stranded solo’. It

was interesting for me to observe the different qualities of

musculature engagement when Lappakornkul worked with an

actual external stranding force as compared to an imagined one,

which led me to ponder on the potential facilitation of

embodiment of different nature.

In response to the visual score, Liu and I had different interests for

movement exploration. Liu collected four images of the Rohingya

refugees that connected her to visual score’s element of the hand,

and facilitated the exploration of reaching within a duet and trio

relationship. We carried out some improvisation exercises, took

turns to observe and participate, and engaged in discussions to

share reflections.

From the performer perspective, I am drawn to question the intention

of the reaching hand; if reaching is the act of performance or it is a

performance of reaching. Within an improvisation framework, I often

ended up caught in a futile struggle in my search for freedom within

the constrained relationship of tangled bodies. The possibility for

greater calibration of energy to allow for varied shifts in dynamics

opened up when there is clarity in the relationship between the

bodies. The exploration led to the creation of the ‘reaching duet’ and

‘reaching trio’.

Still from film by Yan-Hong Chen

One part of my movement exploration drew inspiration from the visual score’s

element of the hand and the Absurd. I was working with the association of a falling

hand with death. The accompanying idea of a loss of will developed into a

paradoxical conscious will of a loss of will. Like a trust fall, one actively initiates to

go off balance and consciously takes in every moment of losing control before the

fall is caught. I connected with Camus’ idea of tragic consciousness, where

“Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole

extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The

lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory” (121).

We began experimenting with the degree of muscular engagement and release of

the arm and extended the play through to the entire body. We explored different

ways of falling and developed various strategies for catching falls. In the ‘falling

trio’, the faller and catchers who alternate between the roles are to give conscious

thought on when and how to fall and catch, and to allow for sensitive play and

risk-taking in the initiation and recovery of falls. Personally, the process between

the initiation and recovery of falls where one wills and embraces the loss of bodily

control, as well as the occasional failures to catch fall, are the most authentic


81 82

Scope #1

Should I kill myself OR have a

cup of coffee?:

A co-choreographer’s work-in-progress reflection by Chiew Peishan

Another part of my movement exploration drew inspiration from

personal experiences and the Absurd. I read a final letter written by

Korean pop celebrity, Jong-Hyun Kim, who committed suicide in

December 2017. The use of ‘you’ and ‘I’ to refer to himself and the

clarity of expression in his parting words left deep impressions. I

thought of Camus’ “Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the

same earth” (122), and wondered about the non-accessibility of

happiness from the absurd that led to the suicide.

Lappakornkul, Tan and I wrote and shared our personal absurd

encounters, which I later reorganized Tan’s and my text into the

perspectives of ‘you’ and ‘I’ for Liu and Tan to generate movement

responses. I tapped on the idea of a flipping coin of two sides as a

motif for the duet relationship. Personally, this ‘flipping duet’ has been

ineffective due to my attachment to the text content that informed the

abstract movement responses. The compositional guidelines I came

up with to manipulate the movement materials fell short of motivating

Liu and Tan. The limited amount of time committed to this exploration

had correspondingly led to low clarity in translation. It leads me to

consider exploring different contexts to facilitate a greater sense of

purpose for the duet.

Film is a medium of interest to Liu and I, which leads us to

explore its integration with live performance. We met Chen in

December 2017 to share the concepts behind our creation.

This informed Chen’s proposal of a film narrative with a

central character, Miss S. Through discussions, the initial

theme of ‘Miss S’s final day before she kills herself’ evolved

into ‘A day in the life of Miss S’. The thematic shift allowed for

a better alignment of the creation’s exploration of the

absurdity of living, over an excessive focus on suicide. Liu

and I each came up with different scenarios that couple the

practical daily living to the imaginative way of dying. Edward

Gorey’s A Very Gorey Alphabet Book (1963) provided a

delightful read then. Chen shared his preference of injecting

black humour to heighten a sense of absurdity and lighten up

the potentially dark tone that the creation can incline towards,

and finalized a storyboard for filming.

Still from film by Yan-Hong Chen

The entire team got together for a ten-day residency from end April to early

May. After watching the movement explorations in person, Chen shared

his lack of motivation to capture any on film, as he prefers them to be

performed live. We took on that decision to keep the film content to Miss

S’s narrative, and worked on the integration of the different filmic scenarios

and live performance segments when structuring the creation. We shared

an initial draft of the creation in early May, and is currently at the

developmental stage of deconstruction. We have been working with Neo

throughout rehearsals and the structuring process to widen our

perspectives, which has been especially insightful as Liu and I are also

performing in the creation. Working on the feedback received, we are

rethinking decisions that have been ineffective in translation, reshaping the

context for some parts of the creation, and exploring possibilities to

strengthen the relationship between the live performance and film.

83 84

Scope #1

Should I kill myself or have a

cup of coffee?:

A co-choreographer’s work-in-progress reflection by Chiew Peishan

The themes of repetition, futility and rebellion from Camus

continue to inform our creative process to juxtapose both

real and imagined daily situations from our lives. In my

opinion, the Absurd is far from morbid. Rather than to

venerate suffering or advocate suicide, it encourages a

conscious acknowledgement and resilience towards

despair in life. “By the mere activity of consciousness I

transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death

- and I refuse suicide. I know, to be sure, the dull resonance

that vibrates throughout these days. Yet I have but a word

to say: that is it necessary” (Camus 64). Each of us can be

an absurd hero like Sisyphus in our own way. There is

much positivity to take away when “The struggle itself

toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must

imagine Sisyphus happy” (Camus 123). Through the work,

I seek to share a trivial lens to perceive little joys from the

absurdity of our everyday being, as well as a reflective lens

for us to be thoughtful observers of our own lives.

Rehearsal of initial draft of work. Image from Chiew Peishan


Abramović, Marina. An Artist’s Life Manifesto.


Aid Workers Say Many of Those on the Border Are in a Desperate Condition. BBC, 31 Aug. 2017,


Aronson, Ronald. “Albert Camus.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 10 Apr. 2017,


Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. Vintage Books, 1991.

Giacometti, Alberto. Seeing, Feeling, Being: Alberto Giacometti. Singapore Art Museum, 2008.

Giacometti, Fondation. “Fondation Giacometti.” Fondation Alberto & Annette Giacometti, www.fondation-giacometti.fr/en.

“How The Arab Spring Changed Europe Forever.” YouTube, YouTube, 31 Oct. 2015,


jun2yng. “Jonghyun's Dear Friend Nine9 Reveals His Final Letter.” Soompi, Soompi, 19 Dec. 2017,


Lepecki, André. Dance. MIT Press, 2012.

Popova, Maria. “The Gashlycrumb Tinies: A Very Gorey Alphabet Book.” Brain Pickings, 15 Apr. 2017,


Nørretranders, Tor. “2006 : What Is Your Dangerous Idea? - Social Relativity.” Edge.org, 1 Jan. 2006,


Rohingya Migrants Rescued from a Fishing Boat Collect Rain Water at a Temporary Shelter. BBC, 10 June 2015,


Rohingya Refugees Flee Myanmar. CNN, 17 Nov. 2017,


Rozario, Tania De. Tender Delirium. Math Paper Press, 2015.

Serpentine Gallery. Manifesto Pamplet. http://www.serpentinegalleries.org/files/downloads/Manifesto%20Pamphlet.pdf.

Tan, Lixin. Before We Are Ghosts: Poems. Math Paper Press, 2015.

TEDxTalks. “The Dark Side of Happiness | Meik Wiking | TEDxCopenhagen.” YouTube, YouTube, 10 May 2016,


The Unrecognized Rohingya Children. VOA, 16 Sept. 2017, www.voabangla.com/a/rohingya-children-mrc/4031764.html.

voxdotcom. “Catalonia's Independence Movement, Explained.” YouTube, YouTube, 3 Nov. 2017,


85 86

About ChIew Peishan

Chiew Peishan graduated with a Master of Arts in

Contemporary Dance (Distinction) from the London

Contemporary Dance School, supported by the National

Arts Council Arts Scholarship (Overseas). She was an

artist with Frontier Danceland (2007-2011), and

manager, associate artistic director and artist with RAW

Moves (2013-2016). She has also created works for Re:

Dance Theatre, T.H.E Second Company, Esplanade

da:ns Festival (2013), and M1 Contact Contemporary

Dance Festival (2014, 2015).

About Liu Wen-Chun

Taiwan-born Liu Wen-Chun received her Master of Fine

Arts in Dance from SUNY Purchase College, New York

with the coveted MFA Performance Award. As a

choreographer, her work has been featured in American

Dance Festival ICR Concert (2017), M1 Contact

Contemporary Dance Festival (2014), and Johor Bahru

Contemporary Dance Festival. She has choreographed

for Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Dance Horizon

Troupe (Singapore), and Lee Wushu Arts (Malaysia). Her

choreography, Tensegrity was awarded ‘The Most

Promising Work’ in Sprouts’ 6th Edition (Singapore).

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Dance Nucleus

Dance Nucleus is a space for practice-based research, creative

development and knowledge production for independent dance.

Dance Nucleus fosters a culture of critical discourse,

self-education, artistic exchange and practical support. Our

programmes are designed to respond to the needs of our

members in a comprehensive way. We build partnerships

in Singapore, Southeast Asia, Asia & Australia, and


Dance Nucleus is an initiative of the National Arts Council of Singapore.


Aaron Khek & Ix Wong / Adam Lau /

Bernice Lee / Chen Jiexiao / Chiew

Peishan & Liu Wen-Chun / Chong

Gua Khee & Bernice Lee / Chloe

Chotrani / Daniel Kok & Luke George

/ Dapheny Chen / Elizabeth Chen, Li

Ruimin, Zheng Long / Ezekiel Oliveira

& Christina Chan / Felicia Lim, Faye

Lim, Eng Kai Er, Chan Sze Wei (QQ) /

Hong Guofeng & Chan Woon Chiok /

Hwa Wei-An / Jean Toh / Jereh

Leong / Joao Gouveia & Petra

Vossenberg / Goh Shou Yi (Open

Stage) / Nirmala Seshadri / Pat Toh /

Sabrina Sng / Shanice Stanislaus /

Sigma Dance Company / Shermaine

Heng / Wiing Liu / Xie Shangbin


Artistic Director

General Manager

Studio Manager

General Assistants

Publication Designer

Daniel Kok

Ezekiel Oliveira

Dapheny Chen

Chan Hsin Yee, Denise Dolendo

Rae Chuang


90 Goodman Road, Goodman Arts Centre, Block M,

#02-53, Singapore 439053



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