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Structures and Bodies

By Corrie Tan | Writer-in-residence

March 12 & 19, 2022

This rehearsal opens with a puzzle. Syimah and Adi, two of the performers, are holding up the rectangular module prototypes that Ining has fabricated for us, trying to figure out how the structure comes together based on the drilled holes available and the shape of the structure. Haizad, now a gleeful observer, occasionally offers clues. As the other performers filter into the studio space, they join the assembly line. These two March rehearsals are pivotal—they’re the first time the six performers (four main performers, two understudies) will be encountering the metal prototypes that Ining has built. As the performers orbit around the structure, test out its integrity, weigh the tools in their hands, I wonder: Can objects and structures give us clues as to their construction? How do these materials speak to us?

It takes the group of six about 30 minutes to put the structure together, with a lot of supervision and guidance from Ining and Haizad. As they reflect on the process and Haizad introduces the performers to the flow of events at each performance, the performers pepper him with questions. Most of these are functional, practical questions that revolve around how to carry and move the structures, as well as a long list of safety considerations. The performers will have insurance that covers injury and their costuming options will include covered shoes, gloves, and possibly even utility belts. There are also questions around the artistic choices Haizad has made in terms of choreography. He’s keen for the setting up and dismantling of the structures to be a key part of the performance—as part of the group’s commitment to revealing the aesthetics of labour. Haizad also cites the Micronesian stick charts introduced to us last year by Dr Imran Tajudeen that evoke a sense of lines and flow. Haizad then talks about the concept of sambut in Malay, where to menyambut is to receive or welcome a guest; these movements across the Distripark space feel like a gesture of invitation as much as they are a spatial activation.

Next, it’s time for the performers to get a sense of how their bodies engage with the structures and the kinds of physical vocabularies that emerge when skin, muscle and flesh meet metal. The performers are game but nervous as they make their way across the bridge, first one at a time, then in groups, with Haizad testing out choreographic prompts along the way. He first invites them to just move across and bounce on the bridge. The metal groans and creaks under their collective weight. Then, as their familiarity grows, they’re invited to move around each other while syncing their breath, and allowing the breathing to inform their body and movement instead of the structure. The performers are figuring out what balancing on the structure feels like and how many contact points their bodies should have with the bridge, but they’re still hesitant about damaging the structure; Ining reminds them that the structure will not break, it will simply warp or flatten. “Actually, feel free to destroy it!” she says, delighting in the bodies making contact with what she’s created.

Next, Haizad demonstrates what it might look like to have a body weave through the metal, his body moving over and under it.

As the dancers embark on this new encounter with the structure, it’s interesting to see the different kinds of strains that emerge. The shorter dancers find it easier to make it through the gaps, but struggle to reach further contact points. The taller dancers have to contort themselves into uncomfortable shapes to make it between the structure and the floor. The dancers also point out problem areas—particularly the nuts and bolts sticking out of the structure that can snag on pockets, drawstrings, and body parts. I can see them making mental notes about the kind of clothing they want to wear in subsequent rehearsals, and Haizad will eventually make a decision to have all bolt ends point downward so there’s uniformity in what the dancers will have to avoid. The dancers move cautiously, slowly. There’s a lot of nervousness around the bridge, and the refrain of “this is so scary” emerges as they move higher up the structure. As the dancers toy with the structure, they eventually invert the bridge so that it resembles a rocking vessel or a seesaw.