An interview with National Arts Council’s 2022 Traditional Arts Residency Artist-in-Residence: Li Ruimin
The National Arts Council’s (NAC) Traditional Arts Residency is a programme that supports the incubation of innovative content with a traditional performing arts focus. The programme includes grant funding, guidance through an interlocutor, and a rent-free studio space at the Stamford Arts Centre for selected Artists-in-Residence, allowing them to develop new work that culminates in a showcase or presentation.
With the conclusion of this year’s 16-week Residency programme, we caught up with the 2022 Artists-in-Residence to see what inspired them in their fields, and how their Residencies have helped shape their perspectives for the future.
In part 2 of this series, we introduce Li Ruimin, one of the two 2022 Artists-in-Residence. Li is an award-winning local Chinese dance practitioner, choreographer, and educator whose Residency focused on using dance to portray the intercultural fusion of the Singapore identity. This led to her work on 草动知风向: Ta Ri Ki Ta (A straw will show which way the wind blows: Our Dance) with dance collaborator Sufri Juwahir.
What was it about Chinese dance that attracted you?
When I was younger, it was simply the naive me having a liking for pretty costumes. After I started learning the art form, I realised there were a lot of interesting philosophies supporting it. The more I learnt, the more I felt like I didn’t know, and a huge part of me was curious about the answers.
While I love the aesthetic perspective of Chinese Dance, being able to immerse my heart and body in the form also relaxes me and the intricacies of the form really tug at my heartstrings.
What prompted you to explore the relationship between the Chinese, Indian, and Contemporary dance forms for this Residency?
I was interested in exploring an aesthetic perspective of a dance that reflects a Singaporean Identity. I would’ve liked to involve Chinese, Indian, Malay, and Contemporary dance forms in my research, but as there is a limited time in the Residency, it was more feasible to start by adding one more layer of traditional form on top of my experiences in Chinese Dance and Contemporary Dance. I would very much like to further this research by involving Malay dance in the future too.
I always wanted to experience dancing in a form that reflects my identity more than my race itself, because living in Singapore makes me feel like I am a collective of many cultures rather than just my own.
How different has the experience of this Residency been from the many other performances and projects that you’ve worked on before?
I think every project is unique as they all have their own focus. This Residency gave me a lot of space to explore and the team at NAC was also very welcoming and helpful throughout the process. The interlocutor, Charlene Rajendran, gave good insights and was a very good third eye to have in helping us to reflect on the right questions.
I also really enjoyed the flexibility of the studio space provided. As my collaborator and I are both freelancers, our schedules are always different from day to day. The studio space made available for us helped put our hearts at ease about having an environment to focus on the research. The team at NAC also made an effort to check in on us every now and then, which made us feel supported too.
As a professional dancer in Singapore, how has this Residency helped you evolve?
I learnt to look at art forms from more perspectives and to be more culturally sensitive about the origins of different forms. The process also allowed me to slow down and be more patient in feeling the details that make up a big picture. I feel that my progression as a professional dancer is always developing, every experience that I’ve been through collects and develops me into the person that I am, and every work I create is a reflection of me at that period.
The work-in-progress created for this Residency was also a reflection of where I was in finding my Singaporean identity in my dance. I feel that I am more confident in my intentions of explorations in breaking or developing my traditions as there are fuller intentions in each choice that I make. Connecting with the audience in a traditional art form usually revolves around a “performance state” – where you need to show a perfect execution of a clear message. However, this work-in-progress allowed for more vulnerability by showing the uncomfortableness of research in an experimental process. Putting these different states onstage allowed me to showcase the roadblocks and integration of cross-cultural work.
What are some of your key takeaways from this Residency?
Communication in collaboration is key. I have learnt to allow and embrace difficult conversations amidst the collaboration, as it is these processes that build the collaboration. To know when to give enough space and when to be present in a space of conversation when needed.
Now that your Residency has concluded, are there any future plans to develop the work or the collaboration you’ve established in this Residency?
Yes, I definitely would want to develop the work and would love to add another collaborator who is proficient in Malay Dance and Contemporary Dance. I hope to be able to find space and platforms through festivals and productions that could support the development of this work.
Learn more about the National Arts Council’s Traditional Art Residency here.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
(Photos: Li Ruimin, Jingkai Kuang)
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