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SeptFest 2013: Monkey business in Do Gorillas Peel Bananas?

SINGAPORE — Dancer-choreographer Chan Sze-Wei’s performance with David Lim is the second SeptFest show I’ve seen that’s got some animal thing going on (drop by the gallery for Performing Coloniality’s “horses”) and the first of two monkey-related dance pieces I’ll be seeing (Amrita Performing Arts’ Khmeropedies III: Source/Primate at da:ns Festival).

SeptFest 2013: Monkey business in Do Gorillas Peel Bananas?

Chan Sze-Wei and David Lim's Do Gorillas Peel Bananas? Photo: The Substation.

SINGAPORE — Dancer-choreographer Chan Sze-Wei’s performance with David Lim is the second SeptFest show I’ve seen that’s got some animal thing going on (drop by the gallery for Performing Coloniality’s “horses”) and the first of two monkey-related dance pieces I’ll be seeing (Amrita Performing Arts’ Khmeropedies III: Source/Primate at da:ns Festival).

So what should you expect? Violence, partial nudity, and bananas. Let’s not forget the bananas — a cluster invitingly hangs from the rafters.

Do Gorillas Peel Bananas? is an intriguing, slightly perverse, take on control and empowerment. From the moment you sign an indemnity form, you surrender yourself to an experience firmly dictated by Chan — like an air stewardess, she preps you with a confusing list of signs to follow before you’re taken inside the black box in a single file. Every movement is regimented — you follow the lines on the floor that zigzag and wind around the space, you pause, and there are time-limits. All dictated by Chan, who smiles and talks like an enthusiastic, anal host inviting guests into her home. But she’s the kind of host you’d imagine the face twitching if you try to touch her prized Ming vase — and she’s particularly cruel to her servant, performed by Lim, who lives in the “basement” and is presented to the audience as a trained animal of sorts.

She’s proud of it, inviting you to bark orders (from a list, of course) at Lim, expressionless and the perfect counterpoint to his mistress. But it is also abnormally internalised as Chan herself eagerly submits herself to the same dehumanising process — and ups the degradation.

It’s this masochistic internalisation that fascinates as Chan relishes and zealously defends this very state of mind as liberating. The initial reaction is that it’s all bull, but it did make me think and consider her perspective briefly, as she danced inside an ever-shrinking “box”.

I won’t spoil the fun but suffice it to say the relationship between the two performers goes downhill, quite aggressively, from there.

As the audience “dance” and “choreograph”, the line between being controlled and being in control disappear, ethical questions surface regarding one’s role and complicity in everything that takes place.

The show’s monkey metaphors are evident and its social analogy hard to miss: The xenophobic asides, the overall point about control, the hierarchies and constant power struggle between “master” and “servant”.

I have to add, however, that I caught the preview last night and there were only a handful of us. Like many productions involving audience participation (don’t worry, shy ones, it’s not like they’ll make you sing or act in front of the rest by your lonesome), the energy and flow, the potential for something unexpected or vicious, is partially reliant on the willingness to be involved and, I’m imagining in this particular case, the very size of a crowd all set to go ape.

Do Gorillas Peel Bananas? Runs until Sept 14 at The Substation Theatre. Tickets at S$10 from the box office, 6337 7800 or boxoffice [at] substation.org.

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