With his seminal production of As It Fades, choreographer Kuik Swee Boon seeks to take his audience through the looking glass. In an everchanging world marked by jagged mountains of glass shards, he sends his cast of 15 racing, rippling and roiling with thrilling exactitude.
Originally choreographed in 2011 for the Singapore Arts Festival, As It Fades stems from the festival's theme, I Want To Remember. The work expounds on the inexorable erosion of tradition and heritage in our fast-paced cosmopolitan society and draws upon the fragments of memory which still remain.
Dancer Zhuo Zihao sets a vinyl record in motion and a scratchy Hainanese folk song rings out. The dancers' spectacular physicality is not only seen but also heard - a foot brushing against the floor, a measured intake of breath - and consequently highlighted. The comforting lilt of the song is juxtaposed with forceful dancing in sharp contrast to the pastoral lyrics.
Kuik's signature movement vocabulary is writ large in As It Fades. The choreography is minute yet expansive, pointed yet luscious and undeniably demanding. Jessica Christina, Kuik's clear muse for this work and his subsequent creative output, puts in a stunning performance, displaying complete command of her instrument. Whether vaulting over Zhuo's shoulder or crouched, muttering by a chair, she evinces a fragile delirium which beckons.
The whirlwind of constant movement occasionally lets up and spirals into quieter, powerful moments. Zhuo pulses his hands towards the ground, as though exhorting our lost heritage into being again. A pair of dancers are encircled by towers of frosted shards and are compelled to look into the crevices of each other's forms.
Later, the towers are arranged like a fortress against the audience. The cast, which includes seven dancers from T.H.E Second Company, stretch their arms as if waking from a coma to accelerate in fierce defence. Seemingly desperate to grasp what is slipping away, they spread, bend and reach to protect the slivers of their splintered memory.
As is now expected of T.H.E Dance Company, the dancing throughout is precise and assertive. However, while As It Fades transfixes, it does not always transport. There are discernible, overlong segments in which the work dips into mandatory exposition and distracting ambiguity.
Bani Haykal's evocative whirring soundscape and Adrian Tan's modest lights allow the dancers' physicality to take centre stage. As such, one is left with a sense of admiration rather than a clarion call.
Perhaps when the shards of the set - triggers of our memories - pierce through our hearts with the purity of the Chinese operatic ode towards the end of the piece, then will we find the cracks they lie and will remain in.
This article was published on May 10 in The Straits Times.
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