Modern Dance Reviews

Learning: five-hour dance performance in an art gallery in Singapore

Le principe d'incertitude, France, and T.H.E. Second Company, Singapore
National Gallery Singapore, March 2019

"Learning" was the first performance in frame of the National Gallery Singapore's programme "Performing Spaces", aiming to facilitate encounters between performers and audience in public space. The work was based on Liz Santoro and Pierre Godard's concept created in 2011. Text words are translated into an order of movements, which consist of 24 elements engaging exclusively the arms and legs. As simple as it sounds (and as it looks), the concept is still alive. The protagonists and their collaborators explored it relentlessly on dance stages and at site-specific installations world-wide. In the following 2-min video, we see part of the 15-members group from both companies with Liz Santoro on the left and Zunnur Zhafirah from T.H.E Dance Company on the right (moving out of the view).

Le principe d'incertitude has been everywhere, we have seen them on a video in an exhibition organized by nGbK in Berlin! But engagement alone could not keep the minimalistic concept alive. Why is it so attractive? Due to a combination of random permutations of movements, their accuracy (which we frankly could not enjoy in Singapore), or the synchronicity with disruptions of the direction, order or timing ? Perhaps a bit of everything, yet why these performances incite such a curious appeal remains inscrutable.
     After chorus choreography in the corridor between the galleries, the dancers dispersed among exhi­bi­tion halls for solos:

The dancer captured on the video could be Maybelle Lek. Notice that she speaks out words from a sentence encoding her dance.
    The entire performance took over five hours and was repeated on four days. The video below (4 min) shows two parallel solos, rather than a duet. Visitors strolling through the gallery who discovered the dancers mostly ignored them because the perfor­mance looked like an exercise to them. Indeed it was! Dancers had to memorize texts (notice the folded paperboards) and translate them into move­ments according to the rules.

Watching how dancers learn a piece might appear pointless, but allowing visitors to witness the learning process was a major step in the pursuit of blending stage with auditorium, which has been on the agenda of conceptual performance for years. Dancers' learning is normally strictly secluded from the public. In the thirty years of my engagement with dance, I watched many rehearsals, to some of which general public was allowed, but have not encountered learning as part of a choreography. In stage performance, this is a true novelty and thus something everyone strives for. Most visitors in Singapore did not appear to appreciate the privilege. Pleasing is not the goal of conceptual art, see Krõõt Juurak's Once Upon for an example of an ultimate reali­zation. Synchro­nized simple movement of arms and legs does please the eye. This is not new; watch for instance a chorus version of Trisha Brown's Accu­mu­la­tion at Docu­menta 12. (In the background of the Youtube video you see her installation "Floor of the forest" from 1970, on which I reported earlier.) The robot-like movements in Liz Santoro and Pierre Godard's choreography are marked by their simplicity, slow pace and limited vocabulary. The piece unfolds its charme in a chorus. Trisha Brown's "Accumulation" was conceived in 1971 as a solo. The elements are simple because they were borrowed from everyday life, but the choreographer grows them into a fairly complex structure. In Santoro and Godard's work, the elements do not build a structure. The piece draws from the impression of spontaneity achieved by the quasi-random control of the movement order, encoded by texts, and from the synchrony in the chorus and its violations. Solos feel like exercises, and indeed they are exercises! From conceptualist's view, the programmatic involvement of audience in dancers' learning is the major virtue of the work. "Learning" might not receive a place in the history of modern dance, but it deserves a place in the history of conceptual performance.

Le principe d'incertitude (France)
Conception: Liz Santoro and Pierre Godard in collaboration with Cynthia Koppe
Performers: Matthieu Barbin, Lucas Bassereau, Cynthia Koppe, Liz Santoro
National Gallery Singapore
Direction and management: Vanini Belarmino, Grey Yeoh, Priscilla Liu, Lucas Huang
T.H.E Dance Company (Singapore)
Artistic direction: Kuik Swee Boon, Silvia Yong, Jackie Ong
Performers: [Second Company] Elaine Chai, Eunice Wee, Goh Shou Yi, Kimmie Marie Cumming (alumna), Maybelle Lek, Natasha Neo, Zeng Yu, Zunnur Zhafirah (alumna); [Main Company] Klievert Jon Mendoza, Nah Jieying, Ng Zu You

Report by Petr Karlovsky

Creative Commons License 2.5.