Theatre review: ARTivate's Dancing with Fish in the Midnight Zone explores the sea of grief

PHOTO: ARTivate

Anyone who’s lost someone will know that grief doesn’t march onward in five neat stages. There is no slow swimming forward; grief crashes over your head and floods your lungs. You try to thrash toward the surface, but your limbs are too numb and drained; you sink into an abyss which seems too deep for light to reach.

Shedding light on these cold, dark depths is the latest play by Drama Box’s youth wing ARTivate: Dancing with Fish in the Midnight Zone. The midnight zone is the ocean’s deepest waters – those unimaginable depths where no ray of sun ever reaches, though marine life still exists. It’s an apt name for a play that plunges us into the aftermath of a young woman’s suicide, and the pain of those who loved her.

PHOTO: Alvin Ho

Directed by theatre veteran Koh Wan Ching, Dancing with Fish is written, produced, and performed by ARTivate’s third graduating batch at the end of their three-year training program.

For their graduation show, this collective of eight young women (Harini Damodaran, Lee Pei Qin, Lim Ci Xuan, Loh Wan Qi, Teoh Jie Yu, Vanessa Poh, Wang Yingbei, and Wun Yun Fang) took on the thorny subject of youth suicides – which saw a spike of 10 per cent in local cases last year. In the course of research, they spoke to bereaved mothers from the PleaseStay Movement, a peer-support network of parents who lost their children to suicide in Singapore.

PHOTO: Alvin Ho

What takes shape is a play which tumbles between heavy waves of grief and whimsical currents of fantasy. In the aftermath of her daughter Remi’s suicide, Eunice clings to the routines of the past like a lifebuoy – setting a plate for her at mealtime, buying her favourite chocolate, carrying the bag she gave her around.

Her neglected younger daughter Rene retreats behind a shield of sullenness, while visits from Remi’s best friend Bernice increasingly shake up their fragile peace.

PHOTO: Alvin Ho

Around them swirls a chorus of chirpy advice from friends, therapists, and everyone in between. Set to high-energy game tracks and peppy dance steps from the cast, this stream of social wisdom all ultimately pounds out the same beat: Move. On.

Like the mobile game in which Eunice seeks refuge to forget her grief, the play unfolds interesting parallels between social reality and gameplay – a linear insistence on ‘leveling up’, the pressure of time limits that forbid dwelling on anything too long. Such a sunny tempo can hardly hold space for old grief.

PHOTO: Alvin Ho

Those in grief find themselves, instead, in the midnight zone – and here they may find other ways to survive. By tapping into the astonishing lore of deep sea creatures, Dancing with Fish explores other, non-linear possibilities of living within time.

There’s the powerful example of the moon jellyfish, which can age backward into a polyp under environmental stress – yet regenerate when it’s ready once more. Whether we humans can do the same is another matter, but these are tales worth watching, and perhaps finding light in.

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Dancing with Fish in the Midnight Zone runs from June 24 - 26,  2021 at Practice Space @ The Theatre Practice, 54 Waterloo St, Singapore 187953. A digital version of this production is upcoming in end-July; for updates, follow ARTivate on Facebook or Instagram.

SINGAPORE HELPLINES

  • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
  • Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
  • Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
  • Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
  • Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928

This article was first published in City Nomads.