ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Behind his moves
Publication Date : 31-01-2013
A Singaporean artist offers a different angle on Asean contemporary dance
As part of "Our Roots Right Now", the research forum and festival on contemporary Thailand/Asean theatre supported by the Thailand Research Fund, Daniel Kok performed last Thursday at Chulalongkorn University's Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts.
His Thailand debut was "Q&A", a conceptual dance work that was commissioned by the Singapore Arts Festival in 2009, and later seen in Edinburgh, Lisbon, Hong Kong, Berlin and Vienna.
Kok, adorned in a striking red fur dress, first danced to a seven-minute excerpt from Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." He then changed into a white shirt, a tie, a business jacket and a pair of eyeglasses and still in his black underpants, pushed out a supermarket shopping cart from backstage and spoke to us through a microphone. With the help of a Powerpoint presentation on the screen and note cards in his hand, he explained that before arriving, he had conducted an online survey with his potential audience members, most of whom were present. In the survey, he had asked how they wanted him to perform his contemporary dance, covering topics like narratives, subject matter, general movement, aspects of dance, music and sound elements.
Having analysed the survey results, he performed to "Madama Butterfly" for us because he wanted his performance to be "desirable".
He then conducted a live survey with a fewer number of topics and adjusted his performance accordingly for his last dance. On Thursday, for example, the audience voted for pop and rock music, and so he danced to Meatloaf's "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)"; on Friday, we voted for "traditional Thai music", and so a mor lam song was heard through the loudspeakers.
The audience on both evenings voted for "a mystery man" costume, and two stagehands wrap yellow and black tape over parts of his limbs and body. Cheekily though, his movements were not totally different, notwithstanding the different music. And that's one of the issues he wanted to discuss with us: "artists' intentions" versus "audience' expectations" in contemporary arts.
At one moment during his monologue, Kok said that he'd rather have his audience think about this performance after we left the theatre, whether we liked it or not. I think he was successful: even today, I'm still thinking about it.
I was also reminded of how Korea's creative industry had conducted marketing research, not only in the country but also in the region, and that's why K-Pop is giving their target audiences exactly what they want. I also thought of what my teacher, now National Artist, Sodsai Pantoomkomol said in her acting class: that if we artists just want to please the audience and to give them anything they want, we'd be in the world's oldest profession — for which our country is, unfortunately, also famous.
"Q&A" was staged as part of the quadruple bill that also included "Bach Cello Suites" and "Ferocious Compassion" by Cambodia's Amrita Performing Arts and Chiang Mai-based Waewdao Sirisook's "Fauwn Leb/Identity", developed from the traditional northern Thai long-nailed dance. When the three artists shared the stage at the post-show Q&A, we witnessed just how diverse contemporary Southeast Asia is.
An audience member asked Kok, who evidently doesn't have training in traditional dance, to relate his performance to the theme of the festival "Our Roots Right Now". Kok replied that, despite being of Chinese descent, it was MTV music videos that inspired him to dance and noted that for him "contemporary" is everything that's happening here and now.
That triggered another observation. Contemporary performances from our region that are travelling the world now are mostly based on traditions, even though they are not purely traditional works any more. Meanwhile, what most of us are watching more on our home soils are contemporary performances that are not based on traditions but deal with contemporary issues and are presented in modern styles. After all these years, are we still pulling the butterfly?
Visit www.DiskoDanny.com for more information.