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Dance review: Multilingual conversations about identity and origin in Dance A Dance From My Body

Dance A Dance From My Body

Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay and National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying)

Esplanade Theatre Studio

Feb 23

There is a friendly and informal atmosphere within the Esplanade Theatre Studio for Taiwanese choreographer Chou Shu-yi’s Dance A Dance From My Body. Performers mill about on stage while others are seated in the audience to strike up friendly conversations. It is so natural that a confused usher tries to help one performer find a seat.

Watching this performance, part of this year’s Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts, is like spending a satisfying evening with like-minded friends engrossed in pondering deep questions about identity and choices, origins and motivations.

The conversations – expressed in English, Mandarin, Chinese dialects, Japanese, French and movement – circle a few main ones such as “Where do I come from, and why do I dance here?”.

The various languages add a further layer of musings about colonisation and assimilation. Threads of themes emerge to be lost or picked up again later, and personal stories – grounded in being Asian – flow continually.

Within this assortment of overlapping ideas emerges a recurring image of a bridge. The interlocking bodies of the dancers spread across the stage to create a sense of solidarity. Angled and stretching towards the audience, it closes the gap between performer and spectator, drawing the audience into a community with the performers.

It is also a performance of the individual within a collective. Moments of structured improvisation give the cast a common aim with the freedom for unique interpretations. Instructions of stand, sit, lie, crawl, kneel – delivered in English, Mandarin and dialects – elicit varied embodied responses.

While revealing solos are peppered through the 90-minute performance, theatre-trained Taiwanese performer Cheng Chih-chung – who first appeared on stage in a wheelchair due to the paralysing effects of poliomyelitis – dances unhindered on the floor with a powerful and fluid grace that engages his body in a way the other performers would not be capable of.

Meanwhile, Singaporean Ng Zu You spins through the air with martial twirls and kicks, then questions where that dance comes from and how well it represents his country and himself.

The body is foregrounded as a vessel that holds the performer’s history, with references to brown eyes, black hair and yellow skin highlighting the body as a receptacle for imposed perceptions.

Frustration is palpable as Taiwanese dancer Yu Yen-fang strips down to her underwear and with forceful movements laments that she can never be neutral.

Halfway through the performance is a round-robin of self-introductions delivered in a language of choice. At the same time, another performer offers a very subjective translation interspersed with personal observations of the speaker and even asks a question.

It is clear from the performance that this diverse cast of nine from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, with varying backgrounds in theatre and dance, have become a close-knit community after their approximately seven-week rehearsal process – four in Singapore and three in Taiwan – and the strong onstage chemistry of the cast will have the opportunity to develop even more.

After this premiere in Singapore, the co-commissioned work by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay and National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying) will travel to Taiwan. The performance is already being publicised there under the English title Dance A Dance From My Yellow Skin, while the Chinese title remains the same, roughly translated as The Place Where My Dance Comes From.

With the complexity of the themes, reflected by the multiple titles and many unanswerable questions, this continuation of the conversation is welcome.



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