Talented dancers from across different faculties and dance societies in NUS eagerly auditioned for the exciting second edition of Overdrive. Part of this year’s NUS Arts Festival, the double bill will showcase two newly commissioned works of international choreographers Ricky Hu and Chen Wu-Kang. Overdrive II is set to raise the quality of dance in NUS.
Not to miss out on this trilling event, The Ridge grabbed the opportunity to interview Wu-Kang and his assistant, fellow Horse Dance Theatre member, Yeh Ming-Hwa together with dancers Joanna Karolina Korycinska, first-year Law undergraduate and Low Wei Zheng, computer engineering alumnus who graduated in 2005, about their piece, The Elephant in the Room.
Could you briefly describe your piece and the inspiration behind it?
Wu-Kang: Inspired by Singaporean playwright Kuo Pao Kun’s The Coffin is Too Big for the Hole, Ming-Hwa and I came here with nothing but the title of the dance: The Elephant in the Room.
Ming-Hwa: One of the reasons we took an interest in the script was because Kuo Pao Kun had the ability to bring out a deeper message underneath the humor and light-heartedness. I believe this is also the style of our dance troupe, HORSE. Through this method of choreography, we want people to perceive for themselves what the message of the dance is all about.
What is your choreographic process like?
WK: I try not to think too much before I go into the studio. I do a lot of other stuff that is similar to what I might find in the choreography. When I actually go in and start working with dancers, then the dance became a conversation. I hope!
MH: Other than the script, the people and environment that we have been in contact with is the heart of the choreography. We endeavour to allow each dancer’s unique personality to come through ¬–making the piece unique.
What were some challenges you face with regards to this piece?
WK: Time is a challenge. We have to draft the dance in about two weeks, so we have to make some quick decisions, and you kill some good ideas and direction once you make those decision.
Are there any interesting differences (in terms of dancing or otherwise) you notice about NUS students versus university students back home?
WK: Smart! Students that grew up and study in diverse cultural have different view point.
MH: The students were very enthusiastic and positive. They were all willing to learn and this quality is important and necessary in rehearsals.
Did you face a cultural shock in any way?
WK: Singlish. It is amazing to witness how Singaporeans speak English in their own special flavour. I’m learning it now!
MH: The multi-racial environment and culture in Singapore has fascinated yet puzzled me at the same time.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?
WK: I hope they can have many interpretations that are different from mine after they see the piece.
MH: It does not matter if the audience understood the piece, what is more important is that if they reflect on their feelings towards the piece.
What do you think is the role of the arts in society?
WK: I don’t know, but I hope that the society need the arts, because I’m doing it.
MH: The role of the arts is to communicate different messages to the audiences while provoking and allowing them to have their own opinions.
What advice would you give your younger self with regards to dance?
WK: Don’t worry! Your better works will be coming soon.
MH: Everyone is responsible for him or herself. Just do your best in what you know!
What are some projects you would like to work on in the future?
MH: I hope to use dance as a platform to work on more international collaborations so as to encourage more local appreciation of the arts.
Has this experience changed your perspective of dance? If so, how?
Joanna: Yes, I have a better understanding of using my whole body to dance. Coming from a mostly ballet background, my body is very comfortable moving in the same few limited types of movement. I had always conceived of dance as a quest for attaining perfection in one (namely, ballet) technique and form. Being asked to walk overbalance or walk with feet flat on the floor instead of using only the toes were some of the movements that were completely new to me. I wasn’t even used to adapting my body to different movements.
I realised that dance is a very individual thing; depending on one’s capabilities and personality, there really isn’t one perfect shape or form for everyone to strive towards.
Wei Zheng: I would not go as far as to say that the experience so far has changed my perspective of dance, as the creative process so far has been somewhere near what I expected. I also knew from the start that the piece is likely to be less “dancey” and use more elements of dance theatre—which is a rare opportunity indeed, as most pieces choreographed for dance groups in NUS would be focused on lines, movement, formations… overarching ideas which are more conventional, if I may call them that.
Were you part of the choreographic process? If so, how?
J: Yes, the choreographers spent a lot of time explaining and correcting movements that were ultimately discarded. The choreographic process involved the dancers in testing out the images that danced in the heads of the choreographers.
WZ: There was a fair amount of freedom for us to explore movements; the choreographers tailored certain portions of our (my) movements to the possibilities and limitations. They gave us opportunities to improvise, especially for duet and trio parts—some elements did make it into the choreography, or gave them ideas for new movements.
Any funny memories to share with regards to this piece?
WZ: Wu-Kang and Ming-Hwa have good senses of humour, so rehearsals have been sprinkled with funny moments, so there are too many to recount. I think it is very refreshing to work with them, as they do not take themselves too seriously. Yet, they are able to move us, the dancers, forward towards what they envision for the piece.
What have you gained most from this experience?
J: I had very limited exposure to dance forms besides classical ballet and jazz, which is still ballet-based. This was the first time I had to plan how to fall to the ground – I’d never thought that falling down could be such an active process. I had also never danced intentionally outside the rhythm provided by the music so being asked to do that was new. I would say that I have gained most of all an appreciation of other dance forms and I have expanded my horizons to consider a wider range of movements and their relation to music ‘dance’.
WZ: Working with Wu-Kang and Ming-Hwa has given me some insight into how to approach the unstructured nature of choreographing a dance theatre piece. They have struck a balance between collaboration, fun, and vision throughout the process.
NUS Dancers with Ricky Hu (China/Hong Kong) and Chen Wu-Kang (Taiwan)
Fri & Sat 20 & 21 Mar | 8pm | UCC Theatre
$22 & $19
1 hour 30 minutes
(15 minutes interval)
Tickets available on Sistic.