By Mabel Yet (19S03Q)
Photos courtesy of Modern Dance
In the final moments before they headed backstage, the dancers huddled in a circle with their arms around each other, in a bid to soothe one another’s jitters. As they soaked in the warmth of familiar company, one by one, the dancers poured their hearts out to their team, with some finding it a struggle to sum up the past few months of blood, sweat, and tears they’d invested into their countless practices. Nonetheless, their energy remained high as they chanted “MODMODMOD MOD DANCE!” for the last time, before breaking apart and disappearing backstage. And what a show it would be.
On 12 April, Modern Dance gave a spectacular performance, entitled 2613754410, at University Cultural Centre (NUS) for the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF), with the overarching theme of something we encounter all the time—numbers.
“Are we much more than these numbers or have we allowed ourselves to be defined by these labels that the numeric system has created for us?”
The audience watched with bated breath as the dancers made their way onstage in single file, standing in a row to face the audience, looking slightly sinister in the shadow of the dim light. At once the theatre was thrown into complete darkness, before the spotlight was cast upon the dancers, all the better to reveal their colourful outfits which were chosen in tandem with the theme of their performance. As Lyn Tan (19S06M) explained, “the outfits represent [their] very unique and different […] personalities, contrasting [their] individuality with the homogenizing effect of the numbers […] in today’s systems.”
Tension started to mount as the dancers took turns to step forward and announce a string of numbers, their movements deliberately sharp and contorted. For most in the audience, the numbers seemed as random as those you’d pull out from a lottery hat, but Hannah Wong (19S03Q) revealed that “the chain of digits was actually a combination of the numbers that made up [the dancer’s] identity in real life, from their birth dates to their postal codes”, thus subtly drawing attention to how personal this performance would prove for them. As the last dancer Cherilyn (19S06S) took her place back in the line, the dancers jolted into motion as one; the visual effect was of their entrapment by the numbers they’d just spouted, as they jerked against the invisible chains that bound them in futile resistance.
As the dancers leaped and twirled with grace, their theme of being oppressed by numbers was consistently woven into their performance. The team wanted to portray a “master-servant kind of depiction”, with Cherilyn struggling to break free from Claire’s (19S03B) clutches, depicting how numbers exert their dominance over us. Indeed, the push-and-pull dynamics of the two as they interacted with each other onstage had the audience completely captivated.
On the other side of the stage, the dancers stood in a row, then broke apart one by one, gliding across the stage, twirling madly as if in straining to escape the embrace of their numbers. They were then tugged offstage by an unseen force, their arms sweeping in front of them, as if eventually succumbing to their master. Despite the multiple changes in formations and mood throughout the performance, the dancers nevertheless kept up the appearance of fluidity throughout, transitioning seamlessly from one setting to the next.
Halfway through the performance, it was both disturbing and poignant to see every master-servant pair enter the stage from the wings in dramatic succession. Much like leading a savage animal, the ‘masters’ had their palms pressed firmly against their ‘servants’ foreheads, denying them of any humanity or agency whatsoever. Backs slouched, eyes trained on the floor, writhing helplessly against their masters, the ‘servants’ moved with slow laborious steps in a contorted manner, as if every step forward was a chore. Such was meant to incite a sense of unease in the audience, signifying the peremptory control our own numbers have over us.
Suspense grew as the performance approached its climax, with the dancers ominously chanting “1234567890” barely above a whisper. Each number had the dancers launching into a different formation, moving with sharp, mechanical movements while keeping in sync with one another.
The growing urgency with which they recited these same digits while keeping their voices low kept the audience on the edge of their seats. “Initially, we spoke “1234567890” out loud as we did the movement, and one week away from SYF, our laoshi (teacher) felt that we were lacking in energy”, Hannah shared, “so we […] made changes by speaking the numbers at an inaudible volume [instead]”. This last-minute change, however, made the dance even more haunting for the audience, reflecting the ubiquitous presence of our numbers and their silent control over us.
As the music gradually faded out into its last few notes, the dancers crowded tightly around Cherilyn, consuming her in their embrace. As silence reigned with iron fist, the audience held their breath as Cherilyn fought through and declared in desperation, her voice echoing across the theatre: “I am more than just my numbers.” Released from the grip of her numbers, she then dropped to the floor, drawing the piece to a dramatic close. This poignant conclusion was an apt representation of the exhaustion from trying to break free from our own numbers. In the stillness of the theatre that followed, the audience to was left to contemplate if they, too have allowed themselves to succumb to the numbers with which our lives are revolved around.
Behind the scenes
Behind the 6 short minutes onstage was, of course, many months of hard work and frustrations, with the dancers having to quickly adapt to changes while not letting them affect their morale and synergy as a team. Despite the obstacles faced in choreographing and perfecting every formation, the team took each one in their stride, pouring their time and effort into the art they love.
For instance, Hannah revealed that “[our] team member injured her knee [prior to the performance], so a junior had to step in to cover her [in the] last minute”.
“We had to overcome the [disappointment] that our batchmate couldn’t perform anymore, and […] help the junior learn the steps and not be too nervous about having to step up suddenly,” she added.
Indeed, the months of hard work manifested itself in the synergy of the team during the six minutes onstage. In group contemporary dances, especially, the biggest challenge would be to “keep the energy and synergy of the dance up”, Ariel Lee (19S03A) explained. “[We had to] try to synchronise our breathing [before dancing] and also “feel” each other and always “let the group bring you up”.
Being the first and last SYF conquered as a batch, the dancers were visibly emotional when they finished their piece, overwhelmed by a mix of gratitude, relief, and nostalgia. They had given their all to put up a mesmerizing performance, and knew that the hard work they invested and the sacrifices they made were well worth it.
To quote Modern Dance instructor Mr Goh (translated from Chinese):
“Your time on stage is that short– before going onstage, you should be stricter with yourselves, aim high and put in your best; when performing, you should enjoy the precious, limited time onstage and afterwards, you need to be willing to forgive [yourselves]. Only then will you earn something [from the process].”
With that, Raffles Press would like to congratulate Modern Dance on attaining a Certificate of Accomplishment!