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Interview: Choreographers of Singapore Dance Theatre’s Passages

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Passages, an annual choreographic Singapore Dance Theatre workshop which was completely sold out last year, returns for a third year from November 2-4, 2012 with new works by three new choreographers: Timothy Coleman, Christina Chan, and Tan Fangxi. The threesome answered some questions about their craft and about working on Passages.

Timothy Coleman

 

When and how did you first start to dance?

I started ballet lessons when I was six. My sister started first and I just hung around the studio playing. Ballet studios are always vigorously looking for boys they can convince to learn ballet so they persuaded me to give a go and here I am 21 years later!

What do you love most about dance?

What I love most about dance is that when you perform in front of an audience you are able to take them on a journey, be it a ballet with a story or an abstract contemporary ballet. There are no words involved to be misinterpreted, thus the relationship between the dancer and the audience is a lot more direct. Communicating with our bodies is a much more basic method of getting an idea across but at the same can communicate such specific and complicated feelings.

As a choreographer, how do you start to think about the steps, movements, and gestures for the piece? What’s your inspiration?

I always like to start with a very clear idea of what I want the audience to feel and what I want them to get out of it. Sometimes that idea comes out of a piece of music, as in the case of my Passages work, or, if the idea is separate, I would go and search for a piece of music that is suitable (sometimes this can be very difficult).

Which is harder – being a dancer or a choreographer?

This is a tricky one to answer because it really depends on the relationship between choreographer and dancer. As a dancer, when you really click with a certain choreographer, you feel like you really understand their movement style [and] where they are going with the piece. When this happens dancing can still be really hard work but you enjoy it so much that you don’t notice. I am sure it is the same from the choreographer’s point of view. When they find a dancer that they really gel with, the creative ideas really flow.

From a general viewpoint I think the choreographer has more to think about. The dancer is just one part of the machine whereas the choreographer has to make sure all the pieces work together and that the piece works as a whole and achieves the desired result.

How did you become involved in Passages?

I had mentioned to the Artistic Director of Singapore Dance Theatre, Janek Schergen, that I enjoyed choreographing and he was kind enough to give me the opportunity to be one of the choreographers this year.

What is your dance item about, or what is it going to convey?

My work can be viewed from a number of different levels. On the surface it is about four strangers who meet on the street one morning and play music together. Each of them feels differently about the music so we explore the concept of how the same piece of music can mean completely different things to different people depending on their past experience or personalities.

On a deeper level, I think it is fascinating how a piece of art can inspire more art. The piece of music I am using is a string quartet by Paul Hindemith. It is a parody of the Overture to the Wagner opera The Flying Dutchman. Wagner was obviously inspired by the legend of the Flying Dutchman to write the opera, Hindemith used this as inspiration to write his piece. I am now choreographing movement which the dancers give their own individuality to. The audience then sees the work and who knows what it will inspire in them?

What can audiences take away from your dance item or Passages as a whole?

Hopefully the audience takes something away from my choreography. My goal as dancer and choreographer is just to tell my story – as long as I achieve this and the audience is entertained I will be happy.

I think that Passages as a whole is a very unique opportunity to see a mixture of completely different pieces where the goal for the choreographers has been to push their boundaries and experiment with new ideas. At the same time we are performing one completely finished piece from the Passages Workshop from last year and a wonderful piece by professional choreographer Toru Shimazaki called “Absence of Story.” There will be something for everyone and it is guaranteed to be a great night of dance!

 

Christina Chan

 

When and how did you first start to dance?

I started dancing when I was five. My mother put me in ballet class for recreation, as my family is very academic, I don’t think anyone would’ve thought I would have a career in the arts.

What do you love most about dance?

It’s quite difficult to explain what you like about any art form. The process of being in a creative process, another’s or your own, is incredibly exciting. Dance is of course a great physical pleasure and a fleeting experience; you can never really do the exact same thing twice.

As a choreographer, how do you start to think about the steps, movements, and gestures for the piece? What’s your inspiration?

I’m not the type of choreographer who imagines big great things in my head. Once I am in the studio I draw from the collective movement qualities of the specific group of dancers I am working with. When I am creating movement I pay attention to how it feels and where my dancers’ bodies seem to want to go. The compositional choices I make are intuitive.

Which is harder – being a dancer or a choreographer?

They are two very different jobs with different responsibilities. As of now I still prefer being in the position of dancer. The hardest thing would be to be doing both at the same time.

How did you become involved in Passages?

I was the winner of the 2011 Sprouts choreographic competition organised by National Arts Council, and that’s when Janek saw potential in me.

What is your dance item about, or what is it going to convey? What can audiences take away from your dance item or Passages as a whole?

I hope that my audience comes to experience the work. Whether or not they understand it is less important. I hope that their own experiences add to how they may enjoy it.

 

Tan Fangxi

 

When and how did you first start to dance?

I started dancing at the age of six. I happened to stumble upon the dancers practising in the school hall on a Saturday morning and my Mum asked if I wanted to join them. I did, discovered that I loved it, and have not stopped since.

What do you love most about dance?

When I was younger, it was the thrill of suspending instantaneously in the air during a leap, stretching further than I originally thought I could, and feeling my legs slice through the air. Now, the aspect of dance that I cherish the most is being able to take a piece of somebody else’s story, add on my own perspectives, and present it to the audience for their interpretation.

As a choreographer, how do you start to think about the steps, movements, and gestures for the piece? What’s your inspiration?

There are many things that can inspire, and they usually crop up at the most unexpected places. It can be a forgotten piece of music tucked away in my computer, or watching a stray cat roll over and stretch in the sun, or even the way somebody shuffles into the studio before rehearsal starts. All these things form images in my mind, which I try to translate into concrete scenes on stage using the dancers and the space given.

Which is harder – being a dancer or a choreographer?

Being a choreographer is definitely harder. You have to learn to trust yourself and make decisions. More importantly, you also have to know when to admit that something does not work, and have the courage to start over. But at the same time, having to engage such tussles and agony is also what makes choreography such a stimulating and addictive experience.

How did you become involved in Passages?

I took part in Sprouts 2011 and was happy to be chosen to be part of Passages based on the piece I presented.

What is your dance item about, or what is it going to convey?

I started out wanting to explore the theme of how memories are formed and influenced. The audience is free to interpret what they see in the context of their own experiences and beliefs.

What can audiences take away from your dance item or Passages as a whole?

The three choreographers involved in Passages this year come from very diverse backgrounds, and are comfortable in vastly different styles. The audience will get to see how different choreographers approach the creation of a piece from different angles.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.