U

U

Date: January 2000

Venue: Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel

Choreographer: Lim Chin Huat

Guest Choreographer: Charlie Tan Cheng Swee (Malaysia)

 

Synopsis:

Chin Huat saw a lot of potential in the alphabet “U”, as it seemed to represent an empty vessel waiting to be filled. A piece of stretchable fabric was the artistic inspiration for Charlie. Described as “something completely neutral, a future state where there are no actual differences between man and woman”, the dance attempted to explore the spiritual aspects of life and its degradation.

 

In the News (2)

 

U Should Go Watch This

By: Tee Jia Yi
Source: Life!, 13 January 2000

U WANT it, U got it, so here is Dance Dimension Project’s kick-off to the new millennium with a refreshing contemporary dance titled U.

This marks the first collaboration between the four-year-old DDP and guest choreographer, Charlie Tan Cheng Swee, 40.

It will be staged at the Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel tomorrow and Saturday.

Tan, founder of the Charlie Tan Dance Theatre based in Malaysia, has been choreographing dances since the 1970s. The dance, Fan Tan Pi Pa Ji Le Tian, won first prize in the first Singapore Arts Festival in 1981.

His works have also toured the region through such events as the Malaysian Dance Festival in 1988 and the Hongkong International Dance Festival in 1990.

Another key person involved in the creation of U is DDP’s artistic director Lee Chin Huat, 30.

This man, bubbling with creativity, has taken full advantage of the training he received in the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts between 1988 and 1994.

Having choreographed most of DDP’s productions, U presents another opportunity for him to demonstrate his talent.

According to Lee, after watching a dance performance choreographed by Tan last year, he was pleasantly surprised that the latter’s style had seen a metamorphosis from Chinese classical works to contemporary dance.

Lee says: “That set me thinking -based on the similarity of our styles, perhaps we could work together.”

Where did the inspiration for U come from?

“A piece of clothing,” says Tan. This unique piece of fabric, made of stretchable material, can be worn by up to three dancers simultaneously. It has become the main costume of the dance.

According to him, the dance was at first called Untitled. Later, Lee suggested U.

Do not be taken in by the simplicity of the title, though.

Lee says: “The alphabet U is shaped like a container which can be filled with various impressions and interpretations.”

But there is a deeper meaning to the title. According to Tan, it represents a neutral society where neither sex predominates.

He says: “The message I wish to convey through the dance is a blessing for the new millennium. The past 1,000 years have not been good due to events such as World War II and political chaos, which seem to symbolise the end of the world.”

Explaining how this links up with the dance, he says: “The piece of clothing conveys an image of purity.”

When asked if the audience would be able to appreciate the true meaning behind U, Lee answers: “They might not get the exact idea. After all, contemporary dance is still quite new in Singapore compared to other forms of performing arts.

“But it’s encouraging that more people are starting to understand and appreciate it.”

Now, U go watch it and see what it means to you.

 

An Empty Vessel

By: Malcolm Tay
Source: The Flying Inkpot, January 2000

Imagine a performance that is bold and bizarre, yet subtle and tranquil at the same time.

That may be difficult to visualize but local contemporary dance group, Dance Dimension Project (DDP), proposes to deliver such startling contrasts of mood and imagery in their first project for the new millennium. Frugally entitled “U”, this new full-length piece is a joint choreographic effort between Malaysian award-winning choreographer Charlie Tan Cheng Swee and DDP’s artistic director Lim Chin Huat. It is a piece that is said to provide audiences with different opinions of ‘realism and the urban concern of identity and displacement’, while layering the truth with ‘poignant beauty”. As Lim simply put it, this work explores the spirituality and desires of humankind.

The origins of “U” are as intriguing as the title itself. “The starting point is from Charlie’s idea,” said Lim but Tan admitted to not having any clear concept in mind. What he did have, however, was an impression of the costumes that would be used for this piece. Designs were sketched from Tan’s descriptions over the telephone and the resulting image was that of a dancer clad in a hooded bodysuit, swathed in supple fabric that could be stretched to create different shapes with the body. According to Tan, the choreography for “U” was thus developed from the ideas inspired by this somewhat disarming costume. While the production was dubbed “Untitled” when no suitable title was available in its initial stages, the alphabet ‘U’ was later adopted as the official title for its symbolic value. To Lim, its shape “[seemed] to represent an empty vessel waiting to be filled” and to Tan, it represented “something completely neutral, a future state where there [are] no actual differences between man and woman.”

DDP may be no stranger to collaborations with foreign choreographers, but Lim felt that his partnership with Tan was different. He first saw Tan’s work almost fifteen years ago as a secondary school student, and thought it would be interesting to work with Tan and to see how much he had progressed since then. Yet, Lim only got to know Tan personally when both parties met in Malaysia last year and the possibility of collaboration was discussed. While concrete concepts for past collaborations were conceived before the choreographic process began, the ideas and actual choreography for “U” were only developed through direct interaction with Tan when he came to Singapore. Coincidentally, the feelings of unfamiliarity were mutual. With an artistic career that stretches over nearly twenty years, Tan has had plenty of experience in choreographing, staging and producing dance works. For this project with Lim, having to focus his attention on choreography alone was a very different experience for him as well. Fortunately for them, their working relationship has been rather smooth with no reported conflicts. “We collaborated in a spontaneous wayĆ  we ironed out our differences in opinions through direct feedback,” assured Lim.

While contemporary dance is still in its early stages in Singapore, are they worried that local audiences may not be able to understand what “U” is all about? Not Tan, who revealed that he was not worried that the audience will not be able to understand it. “I believe that the audience will find an explanation to help themselves understand the dance,” said Tan. “They should respect their own feelings towards the dance and acknowledge those feelings.” Which is perhaps the beauty of contemporary dance in that there is space for personal interpretation, that it is more relevant to people today than other dance forms. “You don’t need to know the dance before you watch it,” stated Lim confidently. Sounds like good advice for those who have been too intimidated by contemporary dance to watch it. As the new millennium continues to unfold with each day, it is their hope that DDP’s presentation of “U” will be their way of blessing the end of a century and welcoming a new era.

 

Reviews (1)

 

U for Understanding

By: Malcolm Tay
Source: The Flying Inkpot, 14 January 2000

Those who caught “Four and A Half Rebels” last year would be glad to know that dancer Lim Peck Lee would not be uttering gibberish in this latest endeavour by Dance Dimension Project (DDP). Instead, she would be wearing a hooded dress and draped in stretchable fabric, and this image of her would also grace the programmes and flyers. Said to be the starting point for this piece of work, “U” was as beguiling as the costume itself. Following a cyclical pattern, it began and ended on the same note with each segment of the dance exploring various ideas of human dynamics, desires and spirituality.

Interestingly enough, the first few minutes of the performance began in the area just outside Jubilee Hall. Clad in flowing white gowns the dancers moved ever so slowly to the hollow, almost haunting sound of constant moaning. Bearing broad green leaves in a reverent manner, the dancers imitated the motion of sprinkling water from the leaves as they distributed themselves among the standing crowd. For the reason that “U” represented ‘the human longing and blessing at the end of the century’, this was perhaps the choreographers’ intention in generating such an atmosphere. While being in the middle of this enchanting display, one cannot help but feel like a participant in some kind of pagan ceremony with religious overtones. As the dancers forged an intimate relationship between their movements and the accompanying music, this opening segment created an air of mysticism that persisted even within the chilly spaces of Jubilee Hall.

The most fascinating portions, however, involved DDP dancer-in-residence Lim Peck Lee. Wearing that familiar hooded dress she projected an almost saintly image of sanctity, as she placidly stood on stage under a single spotlight in the opening scene. As a holy figure that was worshipped and distinct from the rest of humankind, Lim’s role seemed to portray the human spirituality as a fragile entity that could be tempted and shattered. Lim, who was impressive in expressing the evolution and eventual destruction of a sanctified being, handled this demanding role very well. In a stirring scene with the complete costume, the audience witnessed the desecration of this sacred being as another life form struggled to emerge from within her. Accompanied by the eerie sounds of incessant humming and loud droning, it was simply enthralling to watch the two beings stretch the fabric to its utmost, forming all kinds of shapes as they intermingled with each other. Towards the end of this piece, Lim was literally stripped of all vestiges of purity when her hooded dress was removed during a fit of frenetic trembling, which seemed to indicate the emergence of a new form and a common place in the world.

While one or two sections seemed rather detached in its illustration of the subject matter, other segments in “U” certainly struck home with its brilliant contrasts in imagery, mood and pace. Shuffling between the intense and playful segments, Tan How Choon, Choo Leh Leh and Lim Peck Lee (without that costume) displayed remarkable chemistry between themselves while they depicted the passion and tension between the opposite sexes, and the comfortable state of intimacy between similar sexes. Whereas one scene showed some kind of rivalry between Tan and Lim with Choo as the object of desire, this was juxtaposed with a section of duets between dancers of the same sex. In this scene, Lim and Choo were contentedly intertwined in each other’s embrace while Tan and project dancer Lee Chee Koon used the whole stage for their energetic lovemaking in what appeared to be a vibrant mating ritual. Credit should go to these three dancers for their tireless dancing throughout the entire piece.

Contemporary dance may still be relatively foreign to local audiences, but DDP seems unrelenting in its quest to create works that inspire and promote contemporary dance in Singapore. “U”, with its symbolic title and wonderfully bold contrasts, proved that contemporary dance is not the exclusive province of the Americans, but available to all who believe in its relevance to this time and age.

If only some Singaporeans would just switch off their hand phones for a while.

 

 

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