Under a canopy of fluttering Singapore flag banners flags at the perpetual wind tunnel that is the National Library Building plaza, and then amid the promise of Singapore’s youth legally making street art, then again with a backdrop of the Singapore skyline, Chanel and Gucci at the Event Plaza of Marina Bay Sands, MARK might be the patriotic spectacle that the National Day Parade wished it was. Except it isn’t. Except it is.
I saw the premiere of the piece at the National Library Building plaza, arriving just a little after start time. And already there was the spectacle of a gathered crowd, many of whom from the arts community. This was the premiere of a new work after all, so it kinda made sense that this was who was there. But in a way, this was also not the crowd that MARK was intended for (I think). Because this was a crowd that came for MARK, instead of stumbling on it, this was also a crowd that chose their viewing positions for the best view of the action, and to give performers space. So there was everybody, standing on the perimeter of the plaza, or taking tables at Hanis Cafe (I see you Jeffrey Tan), looking in, creating a huge clearing in the middle of the plaza.
But yet, MARK quite clearly intends to have an element of guerrilla intervention in the way it is created and presented. It starts almost imperceptibly, dancers scattered about the space in no perceptible pattern, entering with almost pedestrian gaits, dressed in casual, mostly, grey jersey, Equal parts sporty, yoga-mom and post-workout café stop. In other words, except for some stunning bodies, the dancers looked like the rest of us.
Later in MARK, these dancers became more obviously performers, moving from standing still, to tensing their bodies, curling their limbs in shapes that recall some kind of palsy, it was as if dance was entering the bodies of these performers. And yet then, our attention was pulled to the site, and the daily activity of the site, there goes Jereh Leung, posed next to a woman waiting for her ride at the driveway, he making some beautiful shape, she an unwitting part of the spectacle, at this site, a seemingly accidental situation, this was after all happening outside the performance perimeter as defined by this audience..
MARK appears to be interested in drawing the attention repeatedly from the dancer to the site, to the audience, to the site as a social space and back to the performer and back to the audience. At a point, those tense bodies of the dancer started to unleash energy, working with colourful spools of thread, tossing them, then running, tumbling, twisting, spinning their bodies, making these hard to see filaments more visible. And as the dancers got caught in thread, so too did the assembled audience, whether inadvertently with dancers running in and out of the audience crowd, or more deliberately, when they were asked to hold on to the ends of threads.
Eventually, the performers gathered to unfurl a giant piece of white paper, and off we were to the bit we saw in publicity images of the show. Performers pulling out boxes of charcoal, and with their bodies and movement, drawing in space, but then also on the paper. In one corner, Jereh Leung marking curling arcs on the paper as he proceeded to rock his seated body in growing concentric circles, elsewhere a topless Lee Mun Wai and Sun Pritthaya Phaefuang covered in crushed charcoal, using each other’s sweaty charcoaled bodies as brushes in calligraphic strokes across the floor, And then focus shifted again to the people gathered to see the show, invited by performers to venture on to the paper and draw with charcoal and coloured crayons, to join in the MARK making. And again, the gathered audience of lots of people involved in the arts made for a strange self conscious tentative action. We all knew what would come next, we all knew there was going to be coloured powders thrown about, many drew a bit and made quick exits, very few actually getting lost in the invitation to make a drawing together.
And then the much awaited coloured powders were broken out, dancers tossing fistfuls of the stuff on themselves, at each other, on the paper and in the air. Obviously referencing Holi, but then reminding me of the Colour Run (at least pictures I’ve seen of it, I don’t actually run).
Photographed by Jeannie Ho
The performance ends with the dancers standing in a huddle, they wait for each other and together throw a fistful of colour in the air, creating a singular, concentrated explosion.
It’s a little odd to suggest that the most gorgeous moment of a show is after the performers stopped performing, and I say this with absolute respect to all the artists involved, but at the NLB Plaza, the most gorgeous moment of the show was after. When the wind tunnel that is the Plaza finished the work, carrying those coloured powders off and leaving a film of colour on the awnings and other pristinely white and polished surfaces.
I walked away from the performance feeling a bit like these dancers who were working so hard, were in a piece that just didn’t really work, that it was a bit of a set up. But then I went and saw a later performance of MARK at the Marina Bay Sands Event Plaza.
And there, with less people gathered to watch the show, there it worked. There we saw what happens when it’s not really clear where people should stand or sit, stock still dancers in twisted shapes look like gorgeous plants growing from tufts of people grass. Dancers running about with spools of thread really were jumping around and over audiences, audiences were really getting caught in the thread. We really did have to get out of the way when it was time for the dancers to unfurl the big white square of paper.
And when it was offered, people, (mostly small young people) really got into drawing on the paper, really reveling in the opportunity to participate in a communal moment of art making.
And at the end, these same kids took part in the throwing of colours in the air. How fun, how liberating, how gorgeous!