[Interview] T.H.E second company choreographer and NUS alumni talk about liTHE

Photo Credit: David Lee
Photo Credit: David Lee

From 27 – 29 June, T.H.E second company will present their annual production, liTHE. Three NUS alumni dancers and their choreographers Lee Ren Xin and Marcus Foo speak with The Ridge about their experience.


Photo Credit: David Lee
Photo Credit: David Lee

NUS alumni dancers Lynette Lim and Ma Yanling, who both hold full time jobs in the pharmaceutical and creative industry respectively will be performing in choreographer Lee Ren Xin’s She’s Chinese, and I’m Twenty-Five.

Could you briefly describe your piece? 

Ren Xin: I set out with the idea that this piece was going to be about the female cast but in the process of creation, I realized that I can’t help projecting my thoughts and aesthetic onto them.

In the beginning of the piece, there are theatrical moments that may give a narrative impression but the piece is not literal and cannot be read like a book, and definitely does not follow a linear trajectory. I hope the audience will be open to experiencing the entire piece as a whole.

What was your inspiration behind the piece?  

Ren Xin: Besides being female, a specific source of motivation is from the poem I Got Flowers Today by Paulette Kelly.

What do you hope to achieve with this piece? 

Ren Xin: I hope someone in the audience will be smitten enough to ask me for my hand in marriage.

I’m not sure what it means to ‘achieve’ something with the piece… it’s hard for me to answer this question because when I create, it’s usually not towards any fixed goal. My pieces usually actualizes in the process of my making sense of experiences and feelings that I can’t yet find alternative mediums for which I can express as effectively.

This piece resulted more as a side-effect than something created to achieve an end.

What do you think is the purpose of dance or art?  

Ren Xin: I wish I knew. It differs for everyone I would say.

I seek art to make sense of things – a way of considering, testing etc. I believe that if artists and community organizers meet more often and work together, art can spark off imagination powerful enough to bring about necessary action in communities.

Any funny incidents that occurred?  

Ren Xin: There was a time in rehearsals where I was reminding the dancers that they needed to listen to what their body is doing and saying.

So one night when we were rehearsing close to 11pm, I had Lynette repeat a movement phrase that involved speaking text. I guess she was tired and on auto-mode that after she very carefully executed her moves, she voiced out simply, “Hi, I’m thirty-one,” instead of “Hi, I’m Lynette.” It is actually another dancer’s line and Lynette is much younger than that. But it was funny when you saw her expression of utter surprise and confusion when she registered the words coming out of her mouth.

The comic moment is also poignant as it reflected how I was shaping the way they worked i.e. don’t plan your movement and vocals, just let them pour out and experience them as they take form, and discover what you have in you.  Lynette discovered just that.

What were some problems or challenges that you faced?  

Yanling: The challenge is always about juggling a full-time job and intensive rehearsals. There’s always the worry that I’m not giving 100% to both rehearsals and work when fatigue sets in. It’s not impossible to achieve, but requires discipline and

finding the right motivation for each end, and staying focused whether when I’m at work or in the studio rehearsing.

Lynette: The coffee machine has been much abused during this period!

Were you in some way involved in the choreographic process?  

Yanling: As part of the rehearsal process, we do movement improvisations to some parameters set by the choreographer. This sometimes helps shape parts of the piece.

Also, there is dialogue and exchanges of thought both during the process and after each rehearsal run, which helps to crystalize the ideas, and more importantly in clarifying our roles and motivations in the piece.

Does the piece you are in hold a special meaning or significance to you?  

Lynette: I think we can all identify with it.

Yanling: Ren Xin’s piece is essentially about womanhood and who we are at various stages of our lives. It definitely is significant, but we’re midway through the rehearsal process now, so I’m still in the midst of discovering how being in this work is affecting me.

Any advice for your NUS juniors on life, dance, etc that you wished you had known? 

Lynette: Seize every opportunity to dance and to explore. There is no such thing as bad choreography. Every piece is in itself a learning process and experience.

Photo Credit: David Lee
Photo Credit: David Lee

NUS alumnus, Glen, who has been working in the real estate industry since graduation will be performing in Marcus Foo’s Notes of Last Thursday.

Could you briefly describe your piece? 

Marcus: It draws from six pieces of text I’d written, about time, attachments towards places and relationships formed among people. Most of the text are prose with the exception of a poem. Parts of it will be recited live during the performance, pre-recorded and integrated with the music or projected. There are a lot of imagery and references to places and spaces that have vanished or are slowly being forgotten, such as the old National Library at Victoria Street, and the Toa Payoh Dragon Playground.

What was the choreographic process like/? 

Marcus: I’ve actually presented a short extract of Notes of Last Thursday with NTU’s contemporary dance group for the CONTACT Festival 2013 based on one of the pieces of text. Thus, the process of creating Notes of Last Thursday has been an ongoing one. Since Notes draws from a substantial amount of text, I’m playing around with the order and form in which it is presented and also having the dancers work with and within the words. We have a limited amount of time to create the work, so overall it has also been a mad rush in the studio.

What do you think is the purpose of dance or art? 

Marcus: I can’t say I know for certain at this point. I’m really still in the process finding meaning and purpose.

What were some problems that you faced? 

Marcus: Insufficient time. From shaping the piece artistically, structurally and visually, to working with each dancer in terms of the movement, it would have benefitted from a longer period of creation.

How has your time in NUS influenced the way you dance and think about dance now? 

Glen: I have learnt to appreciate all dance forms, and that there is no end to dance exploration. Keep taking classes!

Were you in someway involved in the choreographic process?

Glen: In some sense, every dancer informs the choreography simply by being part of it. For this particular piece though, Marcus worked mostly from personal material, thoughts and experiences that he had penned and collated over the years, so there was quite a clear choreographic direction from him from the start.

Any advice for your NUS juniors on life, dance, etc that you wished you had known?

Glen: Expose yourself to various dance forms. It’ll come in handy. Take care of your body and always warm up!

Valerie Lim
Valerie fell in love with dance at the age of five. When not tripping the light fantastic, the political science major enjoys reading political theory, learning foreign languages, travelling and speaking to locals while on her travels. She is currently working on an Honours Thesis on the relationship between dance and politics.