The Hot One Hundred Choreographers by Cristian Duarte

Ng Yi-Sheng

June 19, 2015

So last night I just watched this:

That's a screenshot from Google Images - a collage of photographers' attempts to capture Senhor Duarte's myriad mélange of multi-generational movements in his 60-minute, one-man show.

It is trippy, honestly. The premise is pretty simple: he's re-enacting the classic gestures and poses of 100 great choreographers who influenced him. The full list of choreographers is here, from Martha Graham to Michael Jackson, from from Baryshnikov to Bruce Lee, to Bill T. Jones, each with a little YouTube clip or jpeg so we can see his references.

But in this age of segmented, user-friendly videos about the history of dance (or fashion, or anything), Duarte's adding a big dose of pomo. He's mixing it all up, un-subtitled, regardless of chronological sequence, soundtracks overlapping and colliding into one another, and while you're searching out visual quotations you can recognise (Martha Graham? Nijinsky? Ooh, there's Beyoncé's Single Ladies dance!), you realise there's no order you can impose on it, no clear educational value...

In short, this is not Judson Laipply's Evolution of Dance. Or maybe it is, after it's been through the spin cycle a few times.

Honestly, I have trouble with a lot of dance performances. I'm trained in literature and theatre; I seek a linear narrative and/or a nicely explicable concept in every piece I watch. Sometimes I'm lucky, and I find it. Other times I just ooh and aah at the athletics involved, and there's plenty of that here. He stands on his hand and crashes to the ground; he stamps his foot down while sticking his other leg out behind him, perfectly perpendicular; he does ballet, samba, kung fu.

But I think that's OK. That's kind of his point, really: at the end, he overlays melodic and spoken lines from the song "I've Had the Time of My Life" into a looper until its echoes overload the room; then he pours sky blue glitter into a mound on the floor, turns on a teeny-tiny electric fan and lets it blow - not across the room, but into a funny little U-shape, an oxbow lake with sands scattering just a few hands' breadth away from where they were before.

And that was when I thought, "Now I get it. It's about gathering up the weight of your heritage, all of it, from Japan and Brazil and the USA and Europe, and trying to build with it, spread it, disseminate it in the only fashion you know how, knowing that it'll be messy and so small it'll only touch a few people's hearts, but whatcha gonna do."

But on reflection, I think I'm overthinking things. It's probably much more polysemous and intuitive and stuff.  "If I could say it, I wouldn't have to dance it," as Isadora Duncan once said. Dammit, now I'm collaging choreographers too.

But that's not very strange, is it? Like Duarte, us artists in Singapore also feel cast adrift in culture: snatching inspirations from here and there, making up our culture as we go along. Hence the work of my friend and fellow Singaporean artist Choy Ka Fai above, who's playing with the idea of recording great choreography through electrical stimulation of muscles in his project Prospectus For a Future Body; of simply archiving choreographers' knowledge and perspectives in SoftMachine. He references Asian and Southeast Asian choreographers like Pichet Klunchun far more than Duarte, of course. We've all got to find our roots somewhere.

I'll be watching Duarte's Biomashup tonight - more ideas about this tomorrow. 

And I'll be attending his talk at 72-13 at 12pm on Saturday! It's free with a performance ticket or the OPEN Pass. Hope to see a few of you there!

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  • 2015