Underground Works

Underground Works

Date: March and April 2001

Venue: Velvet Underground
Conceptualized by Lim Chin Huat

Guest Cheoreographers: Loke Soh Kim (Artistic Director of Penang Station, Malaysia) and Michelle W. Stortz (Choreographer/dancer/producer/dance teacher in San Francisco, USA)

 

Synopsis

An experimental performance that explores the repressed individual caught in the mechanistic rhythm of modern life. Held at a trendy club, Underground Works is a site-specific dance performance where dancers embody the need for an ‘underground’ space for self-expression.

 

In the News (3)

In The Beat Of The Night

By: Cheah Ui-Hoon
Source: Life!, 3 March 2001

 

Come next week, Velvet Underground turns into a stage for Dance Dimension Project’s latest performance.

OBVIOUSLY this should not be taken as an indication of where the contemporary dance world is heading, but Dance Dimension Project goes underground next week.

For esoteric and aesthetic reasons rather than an insidious one – the company is staging a site-specific performance in one of the more popular night hangouts in the city, Zouk’s Velvet Underground.

Underground Works promises to be experimental and refreshing and it surely can’t get more contemporary than using a clubbing and watering hole where professionals of every cut and colour loosen their ties, shorten their skirts and down a few pints every night.

“We started exploring the idea about a year ago, to look at what goes on underground in city life. It took us this long to find a suitable venue, so after that we refined our theme and started creating a work using Velvet’s existing space and furniture,” says the company’s director Lim Chin Huat.

Elaborating on the theme, he notes: “Modern people lead very busy lives on the surface, but life in the underground – where there are no windows and no natural light – can be an analogy of the hidden person which is very different and can be quite extreme.”

The company invited two guest choreographers – Malaysian Loke Soh Khim and American Michelle Stortz – for the actual choreography of the two dance pieces, After 8 and UnderMine respectively.

Loke’s work – a play on beginnings – will draw on memory besides exploring the open theatre space, explains Lim, while Stortz’s work explores insanity and madness and how relationships can push one to the edge.

Six of the dancers will project the two different approaches taken by the two choreographers – one which is more of an internal expression, while the other is more physical – a style of movement influenced by “capoeira and contact improvisation and runs rampant through the San Francisco scene”.

Underground Works opens this year’s season for Dance Dimension Project, and it is also their last work as it transforms into Ecnad Project Ltd come April. The company then heads to New Zealand to participate in the Festival of Asia organised by Asia2000 Foundation.

Underground Works is held from March 8-10 and runs again from April 19-21 at Velvet Underground, 8 pm. Tickets at $20 on Thursdays and $25 on Friday and Saturday. 20 per cent discount for Friends of Ecnad, 10 per cent discount for MPH Prestige Card Members, Bun & Zen Card members & Zouk & Velvet Underground members. Tickets include entry to Zouk Clubs. Available for online booking at www.ticketcharge.com.sg and at all TicketCharge outlets.

 

Unleashing The Animal Within You

By: Malcolm Tay
Source: The Flying Inkpot, March 2001

 

After capping last year with their unique adaptation of ‘The Little Prince’, Dance Dimension project (DDP) will begin a new season of contemporary dance with a site-specific double bill at Velvet Underground, which will also be the company’s last performance as Dance Dimension Project, before it transforms into Ecnad Project Ltd come April. Conceptualised by artistic director Lim Chin Huat and entitled UNDERGROUND WORKS, this latest offering is a cooperative project between DDP and two guest choreographers – Loke Soh Kim from Malaysia and San Francisco-based Michelle Stortz, both first-time collaborators with DDP.

According to Lim, the idea of a production with “a raw and underground feel” first came to him in 1998. In a world that is increasingly commercialised and streamlined by technology, it would be his way of uncovering the hidden persona of the urban and self-conscious human. A year later, it expanded from being a solo project to a joint venture, an exciting prospect that would significantly broaden its artistic and thematic scope. “In the end,” Lim said, “the concept behind the dance is to create interaction among artists from different parts of the world to explore the theme of urban people’s alternative expression.” Lim began discussions with Loke, who has worked with local dance group Frontier Danceland, early last year while Stortz, who has been in the country conducting weekly workshops on modern dance technique and contact improvisation at The Substation, approached DDP in the middle of 2000.

With the theme and venue as the starting point of the creative process, Loke and Stortz were left to their own devices (and the dancers) to develop Lim’s original concept further in their respective works. And what better place to reveal and explore hidden selves than the ever-popular Velvet Underground, undoubtedly a more-than-appropriate choice for “a sanctuary where the rage of urban life dissolves & one’s inner self breaks free.” Being a site-specific performance it will, as Lim stated, “make full use of the existing objects and settingŠ [which will merge] into the choreography.” Both choreographers will thus attempt to utilise the space to its fullest potential, while dealing with its physical and technical constraints.

Executed by a cast of six dancers, the result is two pieces that, as resident dance artist Kon Su Sam observed, reflect two different approaches: “I feel that Michelle’s piece is very physical and dynamic-based. Many smooth fluid movements coupled with off-centre and acrobatic-like challenges. On the other hand, Soh Kim’s piece is more grounded. In terms of movement, the focus is more on the inside-out expressionŠ It also places heavy demands on our internal timing (as there is no beats from the music to follow).” Much thought was also given to the design and fabric composition of the costumes, which not only considers the subject matter, but also the movement aesthetic of each piece. In addition to the incorporation of image projection, audiences may expect to see more of the stirring visuals that have become an integral ingredient in DDP’s work.

If anything, UNDERGROUND WORKS certainly looks set to turn pent-up frustrations and emotional turmoil into yet another scintillating study of the human condition.

 

Speaking To The Body

By: Malcolm Tay
Source: The Flying Inkpot, March 2001

 

In town holding classes on modern dance technique and contact improvisation at The Substation, US-based Michelle Stortz will be collaborating with local contemporary dance group, Dance Dimension Project (DDP), for their latest project entitled UNDERGROUND WORKS. Stortz graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.F.A. in dance, and later studied with Anna Halprin (an influential force in the New York experimental dance scene in the early 1960s) at the Tamalpa Institute in Marin. She has since been a freelance dancer and choreographer with various groups in San Francisco, in addition to stints in production work and arts administration. Through e-mail, Stortz talks succinctly about her life in dance and her upcoming work with DDP.

How did you get started in dance, and why did you eventually make it your profession?

“Depends on when I start counting. I think I learned how to ‘move’ when I was a kid playing in the ocean (I grew up near the Gulf of Mexico). But I really started dancing in my high school dance team. We performed at football and basketball games and our spring recital. I didn’t start my training in ballet, modern and jazz until collegeŠ I felt like my fullest, most complete self when I was dancing. I feel like I have a very good ‘connection’ to my body’s information and am able to explain things (movements, stories) from this source. This is used most in teaching, but also in sourcing material for choreography.”

What other techniques have influenced your work?

“I think theatre techniques have been a big influence. I worked for a theatre company for a while and became intrigued with ‘what makes a play engaging’; when did it ‘get me’; what makes it ‘work’. I’ve also been influenced by many dance artists who are combining text with movement very successfully, namely Joe Goode… I think I have a natural inclination to subtly ‘act’ when I perform. If the choreographer hasn’t given me an internal motivation, I find myself creating one (“I’m thinking something when I do this movement”). I can’t stand the ‘blank face’ modern dance. I want to see something going on behind those eyes.”

What makes your work different from other dance artists where you are based?

“My dances are starting to look something like plays (but not musicals). Each dancer becomes a character and has a particular relationship [with] the other dancers. They will often have some idiosyncratic movement at some point that gives me insight into that character. All the characters work together to reveal the theme.”

Tell us about your working experience with DDP.

“They seemed to be open to experimental work. I liked that they were doing so much site-specific work. There really have been no conflicts or disagreements. It’s been smooth sailing. In fact, Chin Huat and How Choon have been incredibly gracious hosts and I like that they gave me the theme and the venue. That made my job easier. The dancers have been great – very enthusiastic, no attitude, totally willing to try all the crazy stuff I throw at them, without even a grimace! I don’t think they’ve experienced much of this style of movement. It’s very influenced by capoeira and contact improvisation and runs rampant through the San Francisco scene.”

Given the opportunity, would you collaborate with DDP again?

“Most definitely. I want them to adopt me – just stick me in their back pocket and pull me out when they need a wacky choreographer!”

Tell us about the piece you have choreographed for UNDERGROUND WORKS.

“The name of the piece is ‘UnderMine’ and it’s about madness, insanity, craziness, nutty-ness; what gets unleashed at the end of a stressful week; what/who defines ‘normal’; what are our alternate forms of communication when under pressure; how do we release pressure; who are we ‘down under’ our facades of civility; what do our ‘animal selves’ look like; what do we find when we ‘mine’ our depthsŠ I’ve tried to find the ‘unusual’, the extraordinary, the experimental, the under-the-normal movement.”

How do you feel about staging a dance in a place like Velvet Underground?

“I love the venue. I love having so many spaces to work in and shapes to bounce off of. I especially love the colors and also the sparkly things hanging from the ceiling. And I love that this is exactly the kind of place where people come to unleash their animal selves.”

Finally, your impressions of the Singaporean dance scene?

“I’m finding that the Singapore community is young, but definitely happening and growing. There doesn’t seem to be any classes that the whole community would go to, at least not modern classes. In an established community, you could go to a technique class any day of the week and see dancers from all over town. I would also love to see contact improvisation come more into the scene. It’s really an excellent movement practice for dancers and non-dancers alike. Because of its nature, it creates a community.”

Call 3377800 for more information on workshops conducted by Michelle Stortz.

 

Reviews (1)

 

“Are You Going To The Emerald City?”

By: Malcolm Tay
Source: The Flying Inkpot, 9 March 2001

 

Comprising of two short works at eighty minutes long in all, UNDERGROUND WORKS by Dance Dimension Project (DDP) is a rare and refreshing departure from its traditional preference for full-length productions. A site-specific project with two guest choreographers, the dank and smoky Velvet Underground provided the setting in which two very different dances interacted with a varied landscape of stairs, stools and platforms.

The evening opened with ‘After 8′ by Loke Soh Kim, founder and artistic director of Penang Dance Station in Malaysia. Set to an assorted soundtrack of unadulterated, everyday noises, the cast of five was dressed in hooded leotards and pointe shoes, perhaps a reference to the rigid balletic line as a metaphor for the strict sense of social conformity. With their exposed backs turned towards the audience, ‘After 8′ began as the dancers flexed their sinewy back muscles and rotated their bulging shoulder blades while seated, against a chorus of cricket sounds.

Spreading themselves throughout the less-than-flat space, the five figures executed a combination of slow and sculpted moves and static positions at varying paces, showing a supple torso that was unafraid to bend and twist out of alignment, with clearly extended arms like birds preparing to take flight. A solo by DDP stalwart Choo Leh Leh, a slender figure in a flowing black dress perched atop an assembly of bar stools, followed this segment. Moving precariously, yet gracefully in slow, pensive steps, this was a great contrast to the duet that followed. To the jarring racket of construction work, a side railing, which was momentarily transformed into a ballet barre of sorts, kept their abrupt series of sharp and terse manoeuvres within its constraints.

The once bird-like group of creatures returned to the dissonant atmosphere of random dialogue and traffic noises, only to perform a series of calculated moves across the floor, with a largely stiff upper body and held leg raises. As they weaved in and out of formation on the tips of their pointe shoes, the group returned to their original positions, seated calmly with their backs turned towards the audience, contracting and rolling their backs once again till it darkened. In the background, the voice of a Hokkien-speaking woman who spoke of having no name, ended this stark, cold picture of urban life – a vicious cycle of discovering one’s individuality, only to be absorbed and streamlined by the mechanised rhythm of modern living.

After the ten-minute intermission came ‘UnderMine’, Michelle Stortz’s intricate blend of fluidly phrased full-bodied movement, pedestrian body language and spoken text. Dressed in peculiar exaggerations of everyday clothing, the madcap cast of six had a fine time harassing the audience in the lounge with their gibberish, distributing the audience evenly along all three sides of the performance space. Set to a rousing score by the Latin Playboys and Tin Hat Trio, the dancers were not functioning as an anonymous collective but as individual characters with contrasting personalities, revealed through their facial expressions, idiosyncratic gestures, and physical and spatial interaction with each other.

In the ‘Bones’ segment, five dancers were seated upright on bar stools, seemingly engrossed in the mindless mechanics of their occupation while Choo, in a vampish red dress, was the only deviant found to be cavorting recklessly on the floor. There was the dysfunctional couple, played with gusto by the seasoned Lim Peck Lee and dancer-in-residence Kon Su Sam, a relationship that was fraught with brusque lifts and bodies slammed onto the floor, with no happily ever after. There was the Sisters 3, three carefree single women with happiness literally plastered across their dolled-up faces and cutesy steps, but only as a mask for their fear of loneliness. Unlike ‘After 8′, ‘UnderMine’ was a full-frontal challenge to everything labelled “normal” or “standard”, depicting the madness and lunacy that lay beneath every façade of composure and civility.

Despite the somewhat awkward seating arrangements, UNDERGROUND WORKS was, in all, a scintillating experience for both old and new supporters of DDP. Notably, pieces like ‘UnderMine’ have proven that the nearly five-year-old company, with its infusion of new blood over less than a year, is more than capable of handling a broader range of movement aesthetics. This production is, in all respects, much deserving of a second run.

Catch the second run of UNDERGROUND WORKS in April (19-21)

 

 

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