R.e.P 2015 by Raw Moves: In Conversation with Ebelle Chong

One of the best things about contemporary dance is its ability to incorporate and highlight the expressions of daily life. Most forms of art reflect life and dance is no exception. But no genre reflects it quite as plainly as contemporary dance. Contemporary dance has the ability to celebrate the everyday, placing significance on the nuanced complexities of our ordinary lives which are not immediately apparent.

Raw Moves’ 2015 edition of their repertory platform, R.e.P, features two works that move in this direction. The performance will be a double bill consisting of works by Chang Chien-Hao from Taiwan and Ebelle Chong from Singapore. There is definitely a lot to cheer about because one is a very current choreographer who has been creating seminal works that have been performed worldwide, while the other is a choreographer who is re-emerging after a long hiatus.

A graduate from the prestigious Taipei National University of the Arts, Chang Chien-Hao established Chang Dance Theatre with his three brothers in 2011. Since then, his dancing and choreographic creations have brought him to places such as New York, Paris and Hong Kong. He has created Floating Box, for Raw Moves’ upcoming show, that delves into the intricacies of daily life and the numerous interactions we encounter with others and our environment.

But what has really got us all excited is Singaporean Ebelle Chong’s re-emergence onto the dance scene after a long break. In the early 2000’s, she was part of a wave of contemporary dance artists who punctuated the local dance scene with fresh ideas and concepts. One might remember her working very closely with groups such as Ah Hock and Peng Yu as well as Collective MAYHEM. Recently, she has been focused on bringing up her kids, but now, her creative itch has finally caught up with her and she has created a work titled, SSLD:7, for R.e.P 2015. The Muse caught up with Ebelle about her new work as well as to reminisce about old times.

Describe the work that you are choreographing for this show. 

SSLD:7 basically stands for “Standing, Sitting and Lying Down”. The number 7 reflects the number of years that I spent being a stay-at-home mum.

I have spent seven years at home raising three boys. Due to the lack of time to take classes coupled with an ageing body and back problems, I decided to re-examine the definition of choreography and movement. I began focusing on the three neutral states of the body – standing, sitting and lying down. I am interested in finding out the dynamics of the bodies and the relationships they have with the space when in these three basic positions.

I will set up a baking station on stage and one of the performers will be baking cookies during the performance. Juxtaposing this image will be the other performers who will be moving really slow in a surrealistic manner. I spent a lot of time in workshops with the performers to discover the numerous physical and movement possibilities from these three neutral states. I am hoping that the audience, will somehow feel a sense of familiarity be it from their own memories or from what they see on stage.

You took quite a long hiatus from the scene. How has your artistic vision changed/developed during this time?  

Yes, seven years is a long time. I now question the meaning of choreography and movement. The placement of bodies in space, the tension created and motivation behind the delivery of performance are things that I am interested in now.

We would like you to talk about the early 2000s because that was a time where there was a real buzz in the local dance scene. Along with notable names such as Susan Yeung, Ah Hock and Peng Yu, Cheryl Quek and Collective MAYHEM, you were part of a wave that provided fresh insights into local contemporary dance. What were some of the highlights then?

I thoroughly enjoyed those years. We were each strong individuals with our own characters. We came together because we wanted to create and needed like-minded people to bounce ideas off of. There was a very open and frank atmosphere and I think that was what made us grow. Actually, our intentions were pretty simple. We just wanted to dance, create new works and try new ideas, so we created opportunities for ourselves.

I remember when I was dancing with Ah Hock and Peng Yu (AHPY) along with Aaron Khek and Ix Wong [Artistic directors of AHPY], we were innovative with rehearsal spaces. Most of their works were created in their living room or roof top. As their dancer, I had to adapt real fast and improvise once we got into the actual performing space because it would inevitably be different from their rooftop.

It seemed after some time, the energy reached a plateau and then died down with this batch of dance artists. A sort of creative lull in the scene followed. Do you agree?

I would not call it a plateau or a lull, but I would say that there was a shift from having many independent artists to having a few dance companies. So instead of having many independent voices, it became the voices of a few companies; and then motherhood happened and I left the scene to tend to that part of my life.

Comparing the early 2000s to now, do you think it is getting better? 

Of course! There are so many performances to watch these days. There are different festivals run by companies each catering to their own niche. There are also many more opportunities and platforms for young dancers and choreographers today.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to develop SSLD into a series. The first installation, SSLD: 6mins 40secs, was created in a choreographic workshop called Screw of Thought. SSLD:7 for Raw Moves’ R.e.P 2015 is my second installation in my continuing research on these three neutral states of the body.