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da:ns lab is an annual platform for dance practitioners to critically reflect on key issues surrounding their creative practice. da:ns lab 2018: This Woman's Work examined the female artist experience in contemporary performance. Three female independent artists Melati Suryodarmo, Dana Michel and Sonja Jokiniemi, whose artistic practices go beyond identity politics, unpacked their artistic research through lectures, workshops and studio performances in response to the theme. Their works served as critical case studies that facilitated the discussions that the artists themselves had framed.
In this archive, you will find descriptions, observations, and amplified points that movement practitioners and participants Chan Sze-Wei and Chloe Chotrani shared from da:ns lab 2018 to give you an idea of how the lab was experienced. During the first three days, the artists each presented a lecture, a workshop, and a performance. On the last day, an open table discussion was held, followed by a group break-out, and finally ending with performances by the participants.
Gender bias persists evidently in the performing arts. Although female students outnumber male students by a wide margin in most institutions of study for dance, the ratio is reversed in the professional field where men dominate festival programmes and top directorial positions, while women take up most assistant positions. Accordingly, dance audiences are being presented overwhelmingly with works from a male perspective.
In 2016, acclaimed British choreographer Akram Khan, in responding to the lack of representation for female voices in dance, remarked that "We should be aware of it and see what is going wrong, but at the same time I don't want to say we should have more female choreographers for the sake of having more female choreographers.” This caused a backlash, in which hundreds of artists spoke out against his off-colour, even sexist remarks.
The question is not just if a woman is seen, but also how a woman is seen. Laura Mulvey’s seminal essay, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" written in 1975, asserted that the history of film and art is also a history of the objectification of women as visual spectacles for the voyeuristic and fetishistic pleasure of the Male Gaze.
In recent years, various feminist thinkers have explored the female perspective as an alternative to the Male Gaze. Film and TV director Jill Solloway outlined her version of the Female Gaze in her 2016 keynote address at the Toronto International Film Festival. For Solloway, the Female Gaze cannot be formulated as merely the binary opposite of the Male. (It’s not good enough that Lara Croft or Wonder Woman are heroines who get to save the day for a change!) Instead, Solloway prioritises the emotional, haptic and visceral qualities of the act of seeing or being seen, posing them as political aesthetic questions. Solloway’s Feminism, which can be aligned with Queer Theory blurs notions of subjecthood and objecthood in a way that potentially demands a practicable appreciation of difference and mutual empathy.
The politics of visuality seen through the lenses of gender can be addressed by dance. Through dance, we can scrutinise not just how the female body can be differently represented, but also how the act of seeing can be put into question and reconfigured.
Based on this hypothesis, this year’s da:ns lab studies the work of three female independent artists whose artistic practices go beyond identity politics and can provoke profound discussions on the female artist’s experience in contemporary performance.
Daniel Kok studied BA (Honours) Fine Art & Critical Theory at Goldsmiths College. (London, 1997-2001), MA Solo/Dance/Authorship (SODA) at the Inter-University Centre for Dance (HZT, Berlin, 2012) and Advanced Performance and Scenography Studies (APASS, Brussels, 2014). In 2008, he received the Young Artist Award from National Arts Council (Singapore). His performances have been presented across Asia, Europe, Australia and North America, notably ImpulsTanz (Vienna), Festival/Tokyo and AsiaTOPA (Melbourne). In 2017, he was commissioned by the Singapore International Festival of the Arts (SIFA) to direct MARK, a massive dance-drawing for 9 dancers in different public spaces. His current work, xhe is a durational performance-installation that premieres at the Esplanade (Singapore) and at Performance Space (Sydney) (October 2018). Daniel is also the artistic director of Dance Nucleus, an independent dance space for artistic research, creative development and critical discourse.
da:ns lab is an annual platform for dance practitioners to reflect upon key issues surrounding their creative practice, as part of da:ns festival at Esplanade – Theatres by the Bay. The programme aims to engage dance practitioners in Singapore and the Southeast Asian region in artistic discourse, research, reflection and exchange.
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