A double-bill for our times: T.H.E. Dance Company’s Seeing ___ Through The Eyes Of Impermanence

Livestream from Esplanade Theatre, Singapore
December 4, 2021

Choreographed over Zoom, Anthea Seah’s An Impression, the opening work of T.H.E Dance Company’s Seeing ___ Through The Eyes Of Impermanence progarmme, certainly creates just that as a steady stream of bodies slowly slip and slide down a giant ramp to tentative piano notes from sound artist Jevon Chandra. Throw in the surrounding blackness and general gloom, and the impression is of them drifting through the darkness as in slow-motion and unable to resist, they fall weightless, and almost lifeless, into a dark abyss.

Gradually, signs of life do appear. Arms extend as if reaching out for help. It is very intense. Little duets appear on the ramp as dancers meet and collide, but the overwhelming sense of melancholy remains. Some try to make their way back up the ramp, but success is elusive.

There are pairings down below too. A double duet sees a rare moment of choreographic unison. Another sees a couple tumbling and rolling over each other, almost in slow-motion. It is clearly incredibly controlled, but it is so dimly lit that that they appear as just shapes. Detail is impossible to discern, and certainly not faces.

T.H.E Dance Company in Anthea Seah’s An Impression
Photo Bernie Ng

In its way, it is quite impressive. But it’s also a difficult watch online where one gets nothing of the live atmosphere. I can see the dance is intense, but I cannot feel that intensity. It is a struggle to connect and easy for the mind to wander. Then there is the lighting. Cameras need way more light than the human eye to produce a quality, visible image. I suspect it was absolutely fine in the Esplanade’s Studio Theatre but it was much less so for digital viewers.

Whispering echoes in the soundtrack seem to indicate some sort of arrival. Reflecting a sense of relief, the lights come up a little and the choreography picks up pace. Now the five dancers move as if being battered, tossed and turned by waves or a heavy sea swell. Another interesting moment comes when a dancer slithers down the ramp creating a visible trail of lines and swirls, creating a sort of geometric artwork as she goes.

Towards the end, the dancers try to make their way back up the ramp. A light beckons at the top, shining like a beacon of hope. An exit. A way out of this nightmare. But there is a sense of desperate inevitability about escape being unattainable. Just as they arrive, they slide back into the abyss. It is very difficult not to read into the work the present depressing situation regarding Covid and variants, and the never-ending cycle of restrictions and their semi-lifting, from which it seems there is also no escape.

In Us, former member of Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, Albert Tiong, takes us to a corner of a city neighbourhood. Adrian Tan’s atmospheric lighting and the moving of tall boards cleverly transform the scene from room in a small apartment to an alley, a courtyard and a rooftop. It’s here that Tiong shows us memories and chance encounters that shape who we are.

Us by Albert Tiong
Photo Bernie Ng

There may only be four dancers but, in the ensemble sections, Tiong more than manages to create an impression of the relentless nature of urban life as he combines changing formations with fast-paced rhythms, swaying hips and elements of Chinese contemporary dance. Like most in cities though, although in the same place, the same space, they never meet or acknowledge one another.

That is good, but it’s in the more individual moments and duets that the work is at its most attention grabbing, none more so than a solo for Klievert Jon Mendoza, who hangs his shirt on the corner of a wall before launching into a long, deeply felt and intensely expressive dance that absolutely comes from inside. It is beautifully rich. Absolutely alone, he folds, bends crouches, reaches. He arcs backwards. He spins. Accompanied by agonising strings, there’s a sense of anguish; as he thuds against a wall, perhaps even of anger that something has happened, although quite what is left for us to imagine.

Difficulties pervade elsewhere too. A relationship seems full of unhappiness, even with hints of violence. Yet, as much as they seemingly might want to, neither seems able to escape. Something keeps pulling them back into each other’s arms. The closing duet, by Ng Zu You and Haruka Leilani Chan has moments where they dance almost lyrically, yet even here, the tension-filled strings and underlying feeling tells us something else. Is it real? Or is what we see just an imprint on the memory? Again, that’s up to us to decide.

Hidden stories and unusual perspectives, struggles with life. That’s Seeing ___ Through The Eyes Of Impermanence, a deeply thoughtful double bill that most definitely showed the versatility and class of the company, its dancers, and choreographers Seah and Tiong.