[Dance Review] Complexities of Spaces and Bodies

Complexnya compels the audience to view Hong Lim Complex anew.

Photo: Crispian Chan

Complexnya
Dance in Situ and P7:1SMA
30 May 2019
Hong Lim Complex
28 May‒2 June 2019

It may be a marketing cliché to say that a place has everything you need all in one place, but Hong Lim Complex is one such place. With a hawker centre; an array of businesses; and several blocks of flats linked together with various walkways, it is a labyrinth. It is a no-brainer that Dance in Situ and P7:1SMA would choose to create a dance work to respond to the space.

In response to the built environment, Norhaizad Adam’s choreography emphasises the organic quality of the dancers’ bodies.

At the start, we see the company crawl backwards, as if being slowly sucked into a vortex. The dancers coalesce around a pillar. Suddenly, like a star burst, the company scampers in all direction save for one dancer, holding on to the pillar and wriggling her fingers as if she has been infected.

Whether it is an embodiment of contagion or accepting and rejecting someone within a group, different sort of relationships seem to be at play throughout the show.

The dynamics of human relationship is best encapsulated in a sequence between Chia Kok Kiong Jason and Muhammad Sharul Mohammed. Staged on a metal structure with several storeys and Chia is one storey above Muhammad Sharul, we see both dancers reaching out to each other from staircase landings, but never quite touching. As the parley develops we see both men mimic each other’s movements, move away, and finally supporting each other. The synchronicity, especially when they ascend and descend the stairs, is amazing.

Billed as a performance walk, the main conceit is that there are no ushers and the audience must interpret where to go based on the dynamics of the performance. As such, there is a repartee between the dancers (Chia Kok Kiong Jason, Ow Wei Tian Jonit, Xie Shangbin, Zunnur Zhafirah Sazali, Hasyimah Harith, Muhammad Sharul Mohammed, Nah Jie Min, Syarifuddin Sahari) and the audience.

There are times when the dancers stand still by a stairwell, which clearly signals to us to go up or down the stairs. There are times when no clear signal is given and the dancers look at the audience only to suddenly move in a certain direction at the last moment. The repartee also extends into leaps of faith, as there moments that requires the dancers to dart through the crowd without any warning. And the kinaesthetic responses of the dancers are excellent.

The most inspired moment of the show occurs when we arrive at the commercial area of the complex, and there is a dance school on the second floor as well as the first. One thinks nothing much of it apart from it being an appropriate reference. But as we watch a group of middle-aged ladies participating in a line dancing lesson, Muhammad Sharul dances to Chong Li-Chuan’s throbbing soundscape. The ritualistic atmosphere of Muhammad Sharul’s dance contrasts with the leisurely dance lesson below, as a couple of ladies stop and wonder why there is a group of people looking at them.

Suddenly, the rest of the ensemble assembles on the ground floor, and starts exploring the topography of the space, as Chong’s soundscape continues to be an undercurrent for 夜来香 (Ye Lai Xiang), which is the track that the ladies were learning how to dance to. This sequence ends with the whole company converging on the second floor and performing an energetic group choreography that appears tribal. In many ways, the congregation of the company is not unlike the group of ladies dancing below.

There is an odd sense of defamiliarisation that occurs, and this contrast casts a new light on an activity one would simply ignore if one were merely passing by. It is then that we see how Complexnya truly responds to the life of the place—the built environment that contains the human traffic, and the human activities that go on within the complex.

The only issue I have is the decision to let the audience wait for 20-odd minutes before the first sequence. If it is to let us take in the everyday sights of the complex, it is simply too long. If it is to wait for latecomers, and there were a few who came at the tail-end, there should be ushers to bring them to where the performance was taking place. If it is to coïncide with certain activities that will happen in the complex, then there is reason for the show to start a little later.

Fortunately, the performance more than compensated for the time wasted with beautiful sequences that showcases the dancers’ dexterity, and the messy relationships between the place and the bodies that inhabit it.   

 Other Reviews

Complexnya, a movement love letter to Singapore – review” by Valerie Lim, Five Lines 

“Review: Complexnya by Dance In Situ x P7:1SMA” by Bak Chor Mee Boy

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Complexnya: Interview with Choreographer Norhaizad Adam

Dance in Situ strives to bring dance out into the community. Their works are inspired by the chosen sites or residential areas that they perform in.

For the fifth edition, Dance in Situ has collaborated with choreographer Norhaizad Adam from P7:1SMA and sound designer Chong Li-Chuan to stage a performance walk around Hong Lim Complex. 

To find out more about the work, I spoke to Norhaizad Adam about his choreographic process. 

Norhaizad Adam (Photo: Shania Regina Santosa)

Could you describe your choreographic process for this production?
After our team’s first site recce of Hong Lim Complex in February 2019, I am immediately drawn to this space. I decided that it will be my priority to invite others to walk with us. The complex’s  architecture brings to my mind a sense of complexity. It may be common flat in plain sight, but a stillness exists. In every decision I make, I refer to the characteristics of Hong Lim Complex.

My choreographic processes are centered on instinct through tasks such as silent walk and artist talk-back. I value my team for considering the site’s presence and behaviour, and how it resonates strongly with each individual. My senses tend to pick up on fleeting and intangible elements which may motivate my choreographic score.

 How do you go about choosing the various locations within Hong Lim Complex for performance?
I am attracted to pockets of public spaces that feels poetic and cinematic. My instinct grows as it is loaded with nostalgic stories and the spaces offer different smells, textures and temperatures. It’s hard to describe in words, but I chose locations where its presence can be felt.

I try to avoid locations that are decorated with commercial and modern elements so as to offer everyone a chance to consider the element of time and an alternative vantage point.

How often were you able to rehearse in the actual space? How did you structure your rehearsals?
We had the privilege to rehearse and immerse in Hong Lim Complex. From February to June 2019, all our rehearsals were on-site. At first, we started with a silent walk to huge areas in the complex. Every level, turn, and corner led us to various routes and gave us different sensations. Eventually, the performance walk route developed through the choreographic process. I hope each space will slowly unfold its intentions, revealing secrets layer by layer.

In my practice, I believe that a site-work should be rehearsed on-site to awaken my senses and imagination. Our ‘Complexnya’ team is lucky to exercise and chit-chat with elderly Hong Lim residents during block parties whilst taking in everything that the space provide and hinders.

Another integral part to the performance is sound design. What was your brief to the sound designer? Could you give us some clues as to what sort of soundscape the audience can look forward to?
I am blessed to work with sound designer, Li-Chuan. In addition to creating soundscapes, based on his generous insights he has definitely expanded my impulses in the work. I am open to give full freedom to my collaborators as I trust Li-Chuan’s instinct and reasoning of what Hong Lim Complex is or used to be. He is present through the entire choreographic process, listening to conversations between dancers.

I also value Li-Chuan’s sense of adventure as he often explores Hong Lim Complex to find hidden sounds and ways of making sounds from objects and traffic. I appreciate Li-Chuan as his approach to sound design does feel like it is coming out from within the cracks in the walls or from a far distance. The interplay between the sounds of the place and Li-Chuan’s sonic input heightens the presence of the place, and adds another dramaturgical layer to the piece.


Complexnya runs from 28 May to 2 June 2019 at Hong Lim Complex. Meeting point is at Chinatown Point KFC. Tickets from Peatix