A Stark, Dark and Powerful Work

The cold that creeps in with a thousand cuts

Singai Tamil Sangam Studio, Kampong Kapor

August 26th 

The array of candles in the back courtyard seem to serve as an invitation to sensuality. We walk into the hall through the rear door, heightening the sense of intimacy that the space naturally affords. The Singai Tamil Singam studio at Kampong Kapor has witnessed many a production by Maya Dance Theatre, the most recent being the site-centric Pancha: Murmurs in the WindThe cold that creeps in with a thousand cuts is the maiden production of choreographer and dance artist Jereh Leung with producer Imran Manaff. 

The moment we enter we become aware of two male dancers, one is standing upright while the other is lying on his side. Both have their backs facing us. Except for the dance belts (which I wasn't aware they had on until much later), they are nude and in total stillness. 

Leung who is standing, exudes a strong masculinity. In contrast, dance artist and collaborator, Phitthaya Phaefuang's (Sun) physique and languorous stance convey a feminine quality which becomes increasingly accentuated as time progresses. Out of the stillness, his body emerges, undulating erogenously with every breath. There is beauty in his movements and yet there is also intense vulnerability, My heart goes out to Sun when he peels off that final layer of clothing to present himself in total nakedness. It is as if he is daring to bare his soul for the attention and touch of his partner. I am told later that this additional layer of clothing is a requirement by the censorship authority. The artists have been allowed 20 out of 50 minutes of nudity. I begin to see the importance of nudity in this work and yet also feel that this additional layer of clothing and its removal provide interesting conceptual layers to the work. 

As Sun moves slowly and determinedly in an animalistic manner towards Leung, he conveys an intense sexual desire that often borders on the masochistic. Leung presents a powerful contrast sometimes coming across as passive aggressive in his inertness that shifts into an often brutal domination that demands submissive movement responses from Sun. The imbalance becomes distressing because it feels real and unchanging. Only for a brief moment in between, Sun breaks out of his submissive portrayal into a dance of total abandon. This is when his penis that has been tucked between his legs all this while, is made visible as if to suggest a departure from his hyper feminine stance. 

The work is a 50-minute dialogue that is bold and powerful at various levels - physical, emotional and mental. Sensitive lighting design by Alberta Wileo and sound design by Jing Ng heighten the experience. The sometimes protracted sequences and the focus on the ticking clock give the impression of one long night of repeated patterns of behaviour and of desire unsatiated. As the performance progresses to trigger various demons within my own mind, I find myself constantly on the verge of tears. The boundary between dancer and viewer blurs as time goes by.  This is by no means a comfortable work. And it is certainly not for the faint-hearted or impatient viewer. 

The cold that creeps in with a thousand cuts is thought-provoking, stark and dark. Yet in a strange way it is also a celebration of dance, bringing to the fore that nebulous thing called the bodymind.