Retrospective | 4/5
SINGAPORE — Stepping inside TheatreWorks’ vast performance space, you are greeted, somewhat like royalty, by the sounds of people making tooting sounds. Very badly. Surrounding you, they blurt out random years — “1998! 2001! 2008!” — before dispersing, as you’re left to figure out what exactly is happening.
You’ve entered French choreographer Xavier Le Roy’s dance performance-cum-installation that is, all at once, a playful game, an endurance marathon, a leisurely experience, a full-on confessional and perhaps a bit of ego-tripping, too.
Previously performed in various places such as Barcelona and Paris, the “retrospective” here is that of Le Roy’s and it basically hinges on his solo works from the ’90s to the present and how his collaborators — in this case, performers from Singapore — react to, interrogate or adopt these.
In itself, the list of 13 collaborators is an interesting snapshot of the local dance scene, with a mix of established and emerging names (and even those more closely associated with theatre): Aaron Khek, Bernice Lee, Chan Sze Wei, Jereh Leung, Joavien Ng, Kai Eng, Loo Zihan, Max Chen, Melinda Lee, Mohd Fared Jainal, Norisham Osman, Scarlet Yu and Wiing Liu.
You witness multiple voices (and bodies) perform, as Le Roy is quoted in the programme, “individual retrospective(s) of my works through their life”. Each dancer brings his or her own unique approach — but only to an extent. There is spontaneity and perhaps slight improvisations but, ultimately, it is Le Roy’s pieces that tie it all together.
Patience is a virtue in Retrospective, but it is encouraged rather than demanded of the viewer. Its total running time of eight hours — yes, eight — is not an obstacle to one’s engagement with the piece. You can go all out if you want but, since it is presented like an exhibition of moving bodies, you can certainly experience it at your pace as you would in, say, a museum.
It does take a while to get one’s bearings: Working in shifts, four performers are present at any given time, occupying any of the four points in the room, moving around only if someone enters the room (hence, the tooting to signal the new presence). Two of these are devoted to the performers’ enactments of fragments from Le Roy’s pieces (on one side, poses, on the other, fragments and phrases of movement or text). In the remaining two points, the performers offer their stories: Their reactions to and thoughts on Le Roy’s works, their “retrospectives” as artists and the connections made. Loo, for instance, recounted (and re-enacted) Le Roy’s experience with butoh. Lee offers her beginnings as a young dancer and choreographer. It’s the same for Eng, who shares some uncanny parallelisms with Le Roy’s background.
In these four points, Le Roy’s seemingly controlling hands are evident, but it all comes full circle — at the final “pit stop”, his presence eventually disappears and it is the performer’s turn in the spotlight. Until the next round.
There are so many ways of entering and engaging Retrospective and it’s this relaxed sense of freedom that makes it such a delight. One can choose to wander around, picking and choosing, rather democratically, from among the fragments. You can fixate on one particular dancer at a time, or focus on a particular station. You can approach it from a conceptual angle or just revel in the stories. But whatever you choose to do in this vast dance museum of sorts, you will certain glean something from, as one performer citing Le Roy’s words, “the in-betweens of an image and an image and an image”.
It’s certainly an unusual way of presenting an artist’s retrospective — a body of work glimpsed in fragments and literally embodied by or filtered through other people’s equally interesting experiences (and “retrospectives”). It is not a detached crash course on Le Roy’s artistic oeuvre, but an organic, lived-in experience, a fine testament to the idea that art perhaps best fulfils its function not as a static showcase of things hung on walls, put on display or presented as is, but as art that ultimately lives on and finds direct connections through people who actively engage with it.
Retrospective runs until Aug 2, 1pm to 9pm, at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road. Tickets at S$10/S$5 at http://retrospective.peatix.com