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Dance

Making a Scene: The social life of dance

How our everyday movements inspire and include dance

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Published: 7 Oct 2021


Time taken : >15mins

Cover image: Photo by of Dajana Lothert, courtesy of LIGNA.

We had the idea to make a radio broadcast which also consists of a choreography in a contested space, which explores the boundary between gestures that are allowed, like shaking your hand, and gestures which are forbidden, like opening the hand for begging... And in 2021, we reactivated this format, to explore how space has changed in the pandemic.

Torsten Michaelsen

I think one thing that the pandemic has really taught us is where we look at spaces. Whether it's a personal or public space, these spaces are something that we're so aware of. When those barriers are shut or when those borders are open, how do we really cohabitate together?

Dapheny Chen

Dance is not only a spectacle performed by trained professionals. It can be a form of expression, discipline, and memory for anyone. So what happens when the performance of dance is based on the habitual movements of everyday life, and when dance is embodied by untrained bodies in everyday spaces?

In this episode, choreographer and educator Dapheny Chen, and Torsten Michaelsen of the German media and performance collective LIGNA, discuss their explorations of these ideas with multidisciplinary artist Alecia Neo.

da:ns festival 2021 features and so we dance, co-created by Chen, community theatre practitioner Serena Ho and migrant workers; and LIGNA’s Dissemination Everywhere!. The artists reflect on their experience of producing performances with collaborators who are not professionally trained dancers. There is beauty in observing how the activation of “neutral bodies” unfolds into a spectacle, with each individual bringing their personal history and environment into their movement. Both speakers’ creative processes also involve various forms of remote collaboration, from choreographing over Zoom calls, to simultaneous movements in response to audio scores.

Beyond the interpersonal relationships involved in creating performance works, the speakers also explain the political and social background of their work. Torsten explains how LIGNA’s work Dance of All speaks to the entanglement of the physical and the political in 1920s movement choirs, and even the entanglements of this historical phenomenon with Nazism. Both Dapheny and LIGNA have also responded more directly to marginalised migrants’ rights to mobility during the pandemic.

Dance is often considered a common language that bridges cultures, languages and social divides. The artists’ reflections on issues of justice, safety and identity challenge us to consider how dance can also call into question forms of social and spatial control, and bring about new ways of relating to each other.

Further Explore

Ready to Go Solo? A performance involving over 1000 ping pong balls that responds to Singapore’s Foreign Sports Talent Scheme. This is part of Dapheny Chen’s series of explorations Ball Measures, which reflects on the definition of dance, the labour it involves, and the relationship between dance, the body and inanimate objects.

On the phenomenon of movement choirs, which were developed by Rudolf van Laban for industrial workers in the 1920s and briefly co-opted by the Nazi regime in the 1930s, but continue to be used as forms of collective mobilisation

Alecia Neo’s work Care Index on embodied care practices

An interview on LIGNA’s Radio Ballet, a form of intervention in public spaces using audio broadcasts and collective movement.

This episode of Making A Scene is produced by Wong Kwang Lin and Hong Xinyi. The theme music of the podcast is Angels by hauste.

Credit for theme music

Song: Angels
Artist: hauste (FB/IG: @haustesound)
Publisher: Maker Records (FB/IG: @MakerRecordsGrp)


Alecia Neo develops long-term projects that involve collaborative partnerships with individuals, communities and networks. She develops long-term, collaborations with individuals and communities, exploring modes of caregiving, radical hospitality and well-being in my work. Her recent projects include Care Index, an experimental platform that collects and offers diverse practices of care and movement scores, performed by people from all walks of life. Care Index was initiated in Dec 2020 as part of the larger artistic research project on care practices, building on a previous collaborative project titled, Between Earth and Sky, which was developed with a group of caregivers in Singapore.

She is the co-founder of Brack, a platform for socially engaged art, and Ubah Rumah Residency in Bintan. She also runs Unseen Art Initiatives, a Singapore-based platform for differently-abled professional and emerging artists.

See more of her work at www.alecianeo.com.

Dapheny Chen is an independent dance artist who negotiates between the roles of a choreographer, performer, educator and manager of Dance Nucleus.

She is concerned about the provocations, connections and criticality that arise from making and viewing dance. Breaking away from her conventional dance training, she examines socio-political ideologies to navigate the possibilities of contemporary dance, while seeking to create alternative nodes of experience and entry points as conversations for change and knowledge. Her practice embraces the multiple facets of choreography and dance that change with time and state. While acknowledging the agile and transient nature of processes involved in creation, she breaks down previous definitions of the form to reform new experiences.

Dapheny graduated from LASALLE College of the Arts. She has since danced with Ah Hock and Peng Yu (2004), L.A. Dance Connection (2003-2008), Frontier Danceland (2010-2011) and Re:Dance Theatre (2012-2015). She is trained in contemporary dance, ballet, jazz, hip hop and salsa.

Torsten Michaelsen is part of the performance/media art group LIGNA. Since 2002 the work of the group devotes itself to creating temporary situations, that employ their audience as a collective of producers – an association that can produce unforseeable, uncontrollable effects which challenge the regulation of a space. One of LIGNA´s models of media usage, the Radio Ballet (invented in 2002), provides radio listeners with a choreography of excluded and forbidden gestures that allows them to subvert formerly public, now controlled spaces like train stations or shopping malls. Others like The New Man (2008) or Dance of all (2013) question the space of theatre itself and dance as an apparatus that shapes subjectivity, by examining the asthetics of the classical avantgarde. More recent works like The Great Refusal  or Rave and Rage (2017) invite the participants to stage a complex interaction on stage, which discloses itself to them only gradually. In 2020, LIGNA initiated the collaborative project Dissemination everywhere! with 15 international choreographers.

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