THE INFINITESIMAL DISTANCE
BETWEEN TWO BODIES
Ming Poon and Scarlet Yu
Esplanade Theatre Studio/Last Friday
In The Infinitesimal Distance Between Two Bodies, the audience was given a peek into the backstage world of two dancers, preparing themselves and practising for a show which the audience never sees performed.
That simple premise was the start of a raw, intense and intimate journey into the world of Ming Poon and Scarlet Yu, which traversed the nooks and crannies of their relationship with each other through a series of comfortable, unassuming, almost imperceptible movements.
While the pair live continents apart - Poon is based in Germany, and Yu in Hong Kong - they stayed together for 10 weeks at Poon's apartment in Berlin to create the piece and to develop a bond and understanding with each other which they hoped to bring to the stage.
On this count, they succeeded admirably.
Donning simple tracksuit tops over a plain tank top or shirt, the bond between the two was evident and electrifying. When they looked at each other, they held each other's gaze frankly and openly, with the honesty of children.
Even when they were on opposite sides of the stage, there was always an awareness of another person nearby, which was palpable in the tilt of a body, or the synchrony of a seemingly untimed movement.
It was this bond between the two that elevated an already thoughtful choreography into a truly mesmerising performance. As the audience streamed into the studio, the duo were already warming up on stage and waved at friends and acquaintances as they passed by.
As they stretched and limbered up on the dance mats, patches of personality already began to seep though - Poon's meditative looseness as he shook out the tension in his hands and Yu's athletic certainty as she strained against the limits of her body.
The segue into the actual performance was so subtle that it felt like slowly raising the temperature of a pot of oil, and I was only certain that the performance had started when the pair work began. It was when they began to talk to each other with their bodies that the show excelled.
They took turns leading each other around the stage as they went through the motions of a jaunty dance, Yu counting the beat with clicks of her tongue.
When she reached down to correct the angle of Poon's foot or when he grabbed his back in pain after a particularly vigorous exercise, you know that each purposeful mistake was a slice of something that had happened during their time together, which made it entrancingly voyeuristic.
While piecing together their personalities, the audience also began to piece together the puzzle of their dance.
Because their routine was a "rehearsal" and not a performance per se, it was perfection without pressure. Instead of hiding behind a wall of choreography and tightly controlled movements, the interaction between them was genuine and heartfelt.
Finally, they returned to their corner of the stage to prepare for the unseen performance, personal effects such as water bottles, notebooks and energy bars strewn around them.
As they stripped off their sweaty warm-up clothes and changed into a simple black dress and shirt to prepare for the show, it felt as if they were donning a suit of armour against the vulnerability and openness which made the show so hypnotic.
In the end, when they finally left through the back door of the theatre studio to face the bright lights of another world, it felt like any actual performance of their routine would have been a mere shade of what one was privy to, for one extraordinary hour.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.