Despite being an Associate Artist with TheatreWorks for only a year, Eng Kai Er is no stranger to the realm of unconventional performance. Picking up dance as a CCA at the tender age of 9 years old, Kai’s bold character and passion for dance took her on a path of discovery, in which she experimented with different dance forms and performance styles. Most recently in 2015, Kai had collaborated with Bernice Lee and Jereh Leong to present Indulgence, where the title alone speaks volumes on what the performance is about. This year, together with Faye Lim, their collaboration explores their interpretation of a dance form called Contact Improvisation, a contemporary dance form that is intimate, resulting in a different outcome every time.
We’re less than three weeks away from the opening of She Ain’t Heavy, She’s Reaching Into Space, and we spoke to Kai about her anticipation and feelings about the upcoming production. We also reminisced about Indulgence, and found out a few quirky things about Kai too!
“But the process of finding out what to do [while creating the performance], is so engrossing, I would say it is addictive.”
– Eng Kai Er
1) Can you share a bit about your project that’s going to be shown at the end of the month?
In this project I feel like I do things that I enjoy, and also things that are unknown to me. Faye and I are going to perform in two modes: we will perform, and we will also interrogate performance. I am excited because I honestly feel there is some kind of blind spot hovering somewhere – even though I was fully involved in creating this project from the beginning, I keep feeling that there is more to find out about it.
But – enough about how I feel! In the performance, there will be structured improvisation, invisible guidelines for the performers, chemistry between the performers, and a spirit of collaboration. Hopefully the openness, sensitivity, humour etc, that Faye and I have been cultivating through these months, will be interesting for the audience, as well as the questions we will be asking.
2) What sparked the idea behind She Ain’t Heavy, She’s Reaching Into Space?
Faye and I talked one evening about doing a project some day, that would be a performance, that would somehow be about Contact Improvisation (CI). For me, I had felt for some years that I was a CI dancer, but I never danced CI in performances. I thought it was time to try and combine my performance-making self with my CI-dancing self in some way. Perhaps Faye felt something similar, I don’t know, but that evening we chatted about a future performance project that would have CI as a starting point. I also felt attracted to working with Faye on a closer collaboration and bigger project. We had worked together before on other projects and I was drawn to her.
3) How different is this piece compared to your last performance with TheatreWorks – Indulgence?
It is very different! In Indulgence we worked a lot on mood, atmosphere. We had simple movement, placed our bodies in relation to architecture and time, and if we spoke about anything, it was about desire or obsession. We worked with our psychological states as performers. Here in She Ain’t Heavy, instead of relating to architecture and time and how audience might look at our bodies as if they were moving sculptures – Faye and I have a mode of interacting that is constantly bouncing off the other person. So I would say I am not arranging my body and putting myself in a particular psychological and/or physical state in order to project something towards audience, which is what we were playing with in Indulgence. When working with Faye, I am always tuning in to her and responding to her, and another part of me is simultaneously tuned in to our histories, to what we have discussed in the preceding months, the structures that will guide us through the performance. It is almost like Faye is my personal, interactive audience, and I do the show co-performing with her and also performing towards her, while audience are watching me perform towards Faye.
4) Could you share if there are any challenges that you’ve faced while creating this work?
There have been moments where my brain couldn’t parse what was happening because there were so many options and Faye and I had to make decisions, rather violent decisions, to give shape to the performance. We started with the possibility of making (almost) anything, and then we have to choose something but not everything. But the process of finding out what to do, is so engrossing, I would say it is addictive.
5) Do you try to push yourself in new directions with each piece you do?
I have some tendencies I gravitate towards. For example, I keep making performances in small, collaborative teams, and I have a type of humour I like to pursue. So it seems like I keep doing the same type of performances. But, actually, one reason I like to work collaboratively is that the collaboration itself pushes me to new directions. Working with other people means I have to adapt, and with each project I challenge myself to be more open, or more flexible, or more kind, or to become a better communicator, etc.
6) Whats your favourite non-dance activity?
Does artistic inline skating count? It’s not really dance, but it’s quite similar. I also like to model for art classes, I find it very rewarding to be able to use my body in creative ways that help others practice their craft, and when the artists appreciate it, it makes me feel there is real value to what I do.
7) Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
I drink Milo for energy. And I try to stop eating 4 hours before the show. If the performance is very physically demanding, I have a physical warm-up routine that is pretty much the same each time. If the performance is not so physically demanding, I cut down on the physical warm-up and spend more time on voice or breathing.
She Ain’t Heavy, She’s Reaching Into Space will be presented on 28 and 29 July 2016, 8PM at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 6737-7213 to book your tickets now!