Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

S’pore Fringe Fest 2015: Terra Incognita goes in different directions

SINGAPORE — There’s one segment that encapsulated everything Terra Incognita had going for it — and everything that it didn’t.

S’pore Fringe Fest 2015: Terra Incognita goes in different directions

Pat Toh's Terra Incognita at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2015. Photo: Pat Toh/M1SFF

SINGAPORE — There’s one segment that encapsulated everything Terra Incognita had going for it — and everything that it didn’t.

It was of performer Pat Toh walking diagonally across the stage at an achingly slow pace with the finesse of a butoh performer. Gradually, she hunched and crouched until you’re faced with someone old, betrayed by a body unable to walk or stand. She exploded in panic, rubbing her legs frantically.

Toh, however, also went on a dramatic verbal rant when, to be frank, the sheer physicality of the moment, the pure tension of her transformation, proved so mesmerising that everything else was just distraction or noise.

A meditation on walking and mortality, Terra Incognita began with Toh warming up as if going for a jog, uttering a series of numbers (which I take to be the number of steps she takes each time she goes for a walk), before dishing out a factoid: Singapore is home to the world’s fastest walkers.

As if to underscore this, she proceeded to brisk walk in a square, diagonally, and her space gradually shrank into smaller and smaller squares as she began panting in exhaustion. Zulkifle Mahmod’s incessant pounding rhythm, Andy Lim’s diminishing light that focused on Toh’s legs — by then a hypnotic blur — heightened the claustrophobia and emphasised the manic pace of things.

Later switching tact, she brought into the picture the story of her late grandfather, a gardener who loved to wander around the streets in his spare time, before becoming bedridden and eventually embittered. Toh also went on a spiel about the meditative nature of walking and the human need to explore. At times, the images she conjured seemed to echo Siddhartha Gautama’s journey (or maybe any similar person on a pilgrimage to self-discovery). Other times, her appeals for exploration went beyond walking and into the realm of the imagination as she evoked outer space.

There were many things I liked about this piece, which developed from a work-in-progress presentation back in 2012 titled Homogeneous. That “butoh transformation” moment was physically top-notch. I was captivated by her extremely detailed description (and demonstration) of how, physiologically, our legs work. The image of her fingers “walking” on top of the television prop or against the background of TV static, too, was uncannily sharpened by Lim’s lighting. And while the video of pedestrians walking on the streets proved too tiresome after a certain point, the TV set itself could be read symbolically as the bane of active living, a couch potato’s BFF.

But at the same time, seeing these moments also made Terra Incognita rather frustrating to watch — because it reminded you of its strong potential and that it had an inkling of what it wanted to do and where to go, but ultimately you sat there and see it go in different directions.

Perhaps it was a matter of a structure that needed to be reconfigured to create something that flowed smoothly rather than jerked around.

Or maybe the link between its larger social commentary about Singapore and walking, and the intimate, touching story of an incapacitated grandfather was too abrupt or big a leap (at various points, I was reminded of two different dance pieces: Joavien Ng’s a LIFE performance, which problematised space in Singapore, and Germaine Cheng’s Part-kinson’s, which was inspired by her late grandmother’s medical condition).

Or maybe it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to (primarily) be a physical, slightly more conceptual piece or a text-based, dramatic one. I can see the merits of both but I’d have to say I would have preferred the former, with Toh’s excellent understanding and control of her body in full evidence. It wasn’t the same in terms of her spoken lines, which could have been judiciously pared and distilled into sharper, less repetitive moments of insight. It would seem, and especially with regards to the latter, that Toh fell into the trap of cramming so many elements in a performance that told everyone to slow down and smell the roses. It’s quite a pity, since a clearer path would have been nice as we explored Terra Incognita.

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.

Aa