Interview With Associate Artist Eng Kai Er

Associate Artist Eng Kai Er has successfully put up unconventional performances with us here at TheatreWorks for the past two years – Indulgence in 2015 and She Ain’t Heavy, She’s Reaching Into Space in 2016.

At the tender age of 9, Kai had picked up dancing through a Co-curricular Acticity in school. Ever since then, her boldness and passion for dance has taken her on a path of discovery where she experimented with various dance forms and performance styles. Till this day, she is still discovering and producing great experimental works that expanded from some dance aspects such as Contact Improvisation and Contemplative Dance Practice.

We’re about a month away to the opening of The Roundest Circle, and we spoke to Kai about her collaboration in this unique new work!


1. Can you share a bit about the project that’s going to be shown at the end of July?

Faye, Felicia and me – we draw on our experience in dance, performance-making, and contact improvisation, amongst other things. We have different takes on what it means to compose a show, so we work through that together. I’d say we have composition to frame the whole show, and there is also an undercurrent of willingness to engage each other’s bodies in both a very physical and very perceptual way. (I’m only speaking for myself here. If you asked Faye or Felicia the same question, they might focus on other aspects of the project that resonate more closely with them.)

2. What sparked the idea behind The Roundest Circle?

The Roundest Circle is to me a continuation of last year’s project, She Ain’t Heavy, She’s Reaching Into Space, which I shared with Faye. We had a turn-taking structure for leading rehearsal last year. This year, we included Felicia and continued with turn-taking for leading the rehearsals. Perhaps the strongest motivation for me to do that, is my desire to think about dance and performance-making, through spending time with Faye and Felicia, who I feel I can really bounce ideas off, as well as dig really deep into what is said, what is meant.

3. Could you share with us, how the piece has developed since the work-in-progress showing in April?

It has been difficult to continue working on the piece after April. Before April it felt like we were experimenting more. After April, it felt like we had to troubleshoot the April draft to improve it for July. That was quite boring to do, because we were no longer working with new ideas, we were just trying to make old ideas more extended, or better, or more polished. We had a discussion about that and I remember resolving to forget the draft for a while, to try and play with new ideas a bit more. It’s not been easy, as the draft keeps coming back to haunt me. Well, it has been troubleshooted, re-arranged, edited, extended in some parts and reduced in other parts, compared to the April version. But I wish for it to be more crazily different, or, for some new ideas to come, to help me make sense of why it would be the way it is. There’s still some time left to make this happen.

4. How different is this performance compared to other works that you’ve done?

It’s different from the more dance-theatery pieces I’ve made before, by being more focused on dance. We decided from the beginning that dance should be a more important part of this performance, so we did that. There was a lot of movement and dance exploration in the early rehearsals for this project. I didn’t have that for some of my previous projects, where most of the discussion centered around making the performance, while each person in the project had their own take on what dancing was, but we didn’t really discuss the dancing.

In this project, it’s different because we discussed dancing more, at least in the beginning. (Although currently, towards the end, the discussions are being shifted towards discussing performance-making.)

5. You’ve worked with other artists on other performances prior to this, how is this collaboration process different?

It’s quite similar to other projects where there’s also been a turn-taking structure for running rehearsals. This is my third (or fourth, if you count not-performance) project using this turn-taking structure. But compared to other situations where there isn’t such a structure, then, it’s quite different. For me I feel safer inside the turn-taking structure because I give myself more freedom to be as dominant as I would like to be, when it’s my turn, because I know that there will be other sessions when it’s not my turn. If it wasn’t in-built within the system that there would be other people leading, then I would feel a constant tension between wanting to be more dominant and wanting to give others space, and I would be negotiating that within myself all the time. But now, I don’t have to worry so much, because it’s been built into the system that everyone will get a turn. So I have the freedom to go for what I want, when it’s my turn. Also, in some other projects where I’ve not been the “lead artist,” I’ve sometimes managed to collaborate on a level that only required me to follow, but rarely to lead or take my own initiative. In this project, I’m not allowed to stay passive for too long, because sooner or later it becomes my turn to lead. So, this way of collaboration makes me both unable to be fully dominant, and unable to be fully passive.

6. Did you face any challenges while creating this work?

Yes, of course. Sometimes there were misunderstandings or confusion. But these are happy challenges because it’s always fun to figure out what the other person means. It’s especially fun when we use the same words to mean different things. One example is the word “duet.” For me, two dancers are not dancing in a “duet” if they are dancing two solos separately. In that scenario, I’d use the term “two solos” to describe what’s going on, rather than “duet.” “Duet” for me includes the idea that the two dancers should pay attention to each other and use that attention to inform their dancing. But I realised one day during rehearsal that for Faye and Felicia, if two people are dancing at the same time, then that qualifies to be a “duet.” So we talked more about this, and I realised I can’t just take for granted that everyone means the same thing when they say “duet.” It’s such a simple word, but we use the word differently. So sometimes we have to talk a lot to understand each other. “Duet” is just one example.

7. Has the work pushed you in any new direction with your performance making?

Yes, for sure. Especially talking about the default habits we have with our own performance-making. That helped me a lot to understand my limits. I haven’t “forced” myself to do something completely new that I have no idea how to do, but I’m slowly getting influenced by the others to try out new things step by step, to get a taste of their preferences, to let go of some of my biases.

8. What’s your favourite non-dance activity?

I’m learning new sports – I guess it’s similar to dancing. I like to acquire new skills if I can.

9. Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

Drinking Milo quite a few hours before. Warming up with jogging if the show is very physical.

Catch The Roundest Circle in July!

Date: 27 & 28 July 2017
Time: 8pm
Venue: 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road

Email or call 6737-7213 to book your tickets!

The Roundest Circle is part of TheatreWorks’ Associate Artist Programme and TheatreWorks’ long established belief in developing and nurturing Singapore artists. It is also part of TheatreWorks’ aim to present innovative contemporary experiences and artistic expression that offer Singapore audiences alternatives. Its home, 72-13 is an incubator for artistic experiments by both artists and creative, while being a consistent conduit for dialogues between disciplines and cultures.

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