I Also Can “Interpretive Dance”

A little background, for non-Singaporeans and Singaporeans who weren’t there, is that 1 + 1 Not Equals II was a free event on the Arts House lawn, featuring local bands Astreal, Lunarin, Electrico and Local Bar Boy and local dance troupes Ah Hock and Peng Yu and Moving Arts. The premise of the event was that while the bands played, the dancers would perform interpretive dances to the music. (Yes, I know it sounds like a recipe for awkward hilarity but it was free, so I went.)

Now that’s been explained, perhaps someone more knowledgeable about contemporary dance than I can explain how going on stage, slowly taking off one’s jeans, eating a takeaway meal from its styrofoam container, drinking from a plastic bottle, occasionally swinging one’s legs while eating, slowly putting one’s jeans back on, and leaving the stage, constitutes an interpretive “dance” to any music?

I must admit, one reason this aggrieved me was that it was done while my favourite local band Astreal was playing the best gig I’ve ever heard it do. For once you could hear Ginette’s vocals loud and clear over the mic instead of just snatches of them through the crashing guitars, and they did some new material I really enjoyed as well. It certainly seemed to me like music to which one could quite conceivably perform dance-like movements to.

I must also admit, if this had been done for Electrico’s performance instead of Astreal’s I’d have been fairly amused, given that the performer’s complete obliviousness to the music being played does rather capture my usual reaction to Electrico’s ho-hum music. But even then, I’d still feel it was rather taking the piss.


  1. I missed Astreal and only caught AHPY for their set with Electrico so I cannot comment on that effect though it would have completed my “contemporary dance’s daily activities kit” initiated by the peeing-on-stage dancer whom I had to review 3 years ago. I often wish that I could let these mindblowingly routine activities fade and not let them overtake my perception of contemporary dance. But as with all things, the temptation to label is too strong. Nonetheless, as with all things, there’ll be some dancers who eat/disrobe/etc “better” on stage than others.

    On a general level, my reaction to AHPY coincides with yours and pergaps diverges only on the level of assessment. Hence the question hinges on — would you have evaluated them differently if you were watching them alone?

    But even taking away that hypothesis and letting us remain with the actual night – perhaps some evaluation can be attempted with how they titled the night itself: “1+1 Not Equals II.” Of course “Never-the-twain-shall-meet” type of intentions are playful and certainly not a little distracting and damaging to us who turned up for the music (even if it were Electrico’s, although we had some laughs with the blue screen and Mayee rightly pointed out the MTV efect). But perhaps it is not too unfair to think: what if the music was supposed to interpret the dance, or further still, if two of them are supposed to interpret each other? As we know, after all Kipling’s poem does not stop at that line but continues on: “But there is neither East nor West … When two strong men stand face to face.”

    So in the end, AHPY did not take to me, not just because they failed to interpret the music adequately, but more so because their craft simply falls short. And that does not mean that (given even my fetish for companies whose entire corps can do a 32-fouettes set) they should have performed more ‘dance-like’ movements but that they could have moved stronger ‘un-dance-like.’ It seemed that they were trying harder to perform rather than become the ‘un-dance’ likeness of the ‘contemporary mode.’ If songs can be sung with the washing-machine in mind, certainly bodies can move to thoughts of clothes pegs. Given AHPY’s level of skill however, one doubts if they could have done a better ‘interpretaive job’ even if they had really ‘danced.’

  2. Shao: In answer to the question whether my reaction to AHPY would have differed if I’d watched their performance on its own: I’d have found the “Ah Hock jiak png” performance to Astreal completely unredeemable. I only saw about 5 minutes of what they did to Electrico before I got bored (not of them, of Electrico) and went for dinner but that one looked more self-sustainable.

    Very interesting point about what was supposed to be interpreting what, which hadn’t occurred to me. I’d say though that if this was the organizer’s intent, I don’t think they chose the right bands to make the best attempt of it. All the bands there do fairly conventional song structures which they don’t tend to deviate from much while performing. If any of them were indeed attempting to interpret the dancing with what they were playing, I didn’t detect it and think more interesting results could have been obtained with bands like, say, KLPHQ.

    No quibbles with your last paragraph at all, especially with the contrasting skill of the Delfos dancers so fresh in my mind. And yes! Washing machines have certainly inspired pretty good songs, one only needs to look to my favourite band for one example, and Ellen Allien’s Washing Machine Is Speaking is great too!

Comments are closed.