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Theatre review: How two artists turned dreams into art

header: Living in a world of dreams

header: Living in a world of dreams

SINGAPORE — Written and performed by theatre practitioner Jean Ng and choreographer Joavien Ng, Intrusions purports to explore a dream world where logic and reason do not exist. The fruit of their collaboration is a 70-minute work of performance art that cannot be classified as either a work of theatre or dance. It is simply a work of art that inhabits a chaotic and darkly disturbing world of forbidding objects, haunting sounds, dredged-up memories and unmoored storytelling.

The performance opens with Joavien silently packing a bundle of treasured items before laying her head down to sleep. As the lights go down on Joavien’s waking world, we are ushered into another realm with a telling of the origins story of the Dreamcatcher. What follows is a mixture of the strange and disturbing: A collection of gods, deities, idols and dolls staring at the audience from a corner of the stage; a bare-breasted Joavien tying the bangs of her long hair to a chair and using nothing but their tensile strength to lift it; an agitated Jean telling of how she has agreed to not one, but two, marriages — although she remembers nothing — while pedaling an exercise bicycle; a swimsuit-clad Joavien, body twisted and distorted, piled high with household objects, telling a nightmarish story of attempted rape.

Over the course of the performance, the writers appear to explore the ways in which dream worlds might intrude on one another or be intruded upon. Jean and Joavien seem initially to inhabit separate but synchronised dreams. They mirror each other’s actions: For example, making separate calls to their parents, speaking in Hokkien at the same time.

As the piece progresses, though, they begin to intrude on each other’s space: Jean approaches Joavien’s bed and unwraps the bundle that we had seen her packed earlier; she picks up a toy fish Joavien had been playing with and crawls away with it like a cat on all fours. Finally, as the piece draws to a close, she begins to move everything on the stage — pulling everything that had been on Joavien’s “side” over to her own.

The flow of the performance in Intrusions is itself occasionally interrupted by the performers who stop what they are doing to suit up and wield electric drills, for instance; or by props — a telephone perched high on a rung of a ladder leading into the rafters of the theatre rings incessantly during one piece. Here, the performers pause, as if contemplating whether to ascend from the depths of the subconscious world they inhabit to deal with the insistent intrusion from the waking world. As the intrusions cease, though, both Jean and Joavien descend and resume their movements through the dream world as if these interruptions did not occur.

Both Jean and Joavien are understandably coy when asked about the “meaning” or “concept” behind Intrusions and its various elements. It seems clear, though, that the world inhabited by Intrusions is not the usual dream world of whimsy and fancy. In one scene, Joavien describes having woken from a dream not knowing who she was, where she was and what she did.

Perhaps it is that capacity for dreams to disorient and destroy that ultimately is what Intrusions is keen to explore. Like the rapists Joavien describes as battering at the windows of a small house, threatening to intrude on her space, dreams have the capacity to intrude on our reality and destroy our sense of self, our sanity and our logic. Sometimes, it seems like the only way we can save ourselves is to will the windows away and build walls of steel.

However, Intrusions also seems to suggest that we can embrace the dreams/intrusions for what they are. We can then make them a part of ourselves — or into a work of art. Karin Lai

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