An open mind for contemporary dance
Dancers Chua Chiok Woon (left) and Hong Guofeng (right) are part of this year’s M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival, which spotlights the dance form. (Photo: Kuang Jingkai)

An open mind for contemporary dance

If the idea of contemporary dance stumps you, you are not alone. We often rely on easy labels and habits to inform us and shape our tastes, but contemporary dance defies both. The shape-shifting art form is a poetic paradox.

To the uninitiated, a contemporary dance performance might seem, at first glance, all about random movements, yet there is order amidst the perceived chaos. Once you keep an open mind and expect the unexpected, you will likely find yourself pleasantly surprised by deft techniques, controlled execution and the human body’s capacity to evoke emotion.

Appreciation for the dance form in Singapore has been a pursuit of the well-established homegrown contemporary dance company, The Human Expression (T.H.E) Dance Company. It started an annual contemporary dance festival in 2010 which has grown into the M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival that returns this month.

In a bid to get under the skin of contemporary dance, we ask five dancers performing in the festival about their first encounters with contemporary dance, and tips on how to enjoy the art form.

Dancer Amelia Chong will be part of the M1 CONTACT show, DiverCity. (Photo: Kuang Jingkai)

What was your first brush with contemporary dance like?
Chua Chiok Woon:
I was introduced to contemporary dance late in my dance journey, at around the age of 22. I was intrigued by how the human body could move in so many ways, and the different ways it allows one to approach a movement or an idea in the creation stage. Now, I appreciate how contemporary dance connects me to my body and to other things in and outside of dance.

Syimah Sabtu: Growing up, I learnt traditional Malay dance. But I had watched a few contemporary dance shows and found them to be beautiful. I started contemporary dance training when I entered the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 2015 at the age of 22. It was tough at first; my muscles had to re-learn movements and bodily alignment, but I’m going strong now and there’s so much more to learn.

What do people commonly misunderstand about contemporary dance?
Amelia Chong:
A common misunderstanding is that contemporary dance is all about the kicks, turns and technical “wow”. The dance requires a certain degree of technical mastery, but the thought process and creativity are, I find, what makes it far more interesting, especially for audiences.

Adele Goh: It gets dismissed for being weird or equated with the American TV show, So You Think You Can Dance. Yes, certain contemporary dance performances can be “weird”, but those who think that way are likely looking only to be entertained and told what to feel and think about the dance. Contemporary dance, as with art, speaks about life in all its complexities and nuances – our innermost thoughts, invisible shapes and patterns, things that our practical lives can’t always quantify, intellectualise or make sense of. Contemporary dance is an attempt to hold on to those elusive moments and its value lies in those attempts as well as what is presented to the audience.

Dancer Adele Goh practising her solo performance for DiverCity, a show that is part of the M1 CONTACT festival. (Photo: M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival)

How can someone new to contemporary dance enjoy a performance of it?
Hong Guofeng:
Keep an open mind. Acknowledge what you like and don’t like about a performance and consider how it makes you feel at various moments.

Goh: Consider taking some classes, it will help you develop empathy for the performer. And don’t just ask, “What is the work about?”, but also, “How does what I am seeing make me feel?” or “What might this remind me of?”.

The replies were edited and condensed. Details about M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival here.

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