Singapore: The Human Expression Dance Company

A relative newcomer on Singapore’s dance scene, The Human Expression Dance Company, simply known as T.H.E Dance Company, was founded in 2008 with the aim of exposing ‘different dimensions of the human condition; to highlight the minute, intricate but nevertheless important details that often go unnoticed in a contemporary age that moves with blinding speed.’

T.H.E’s repertoire includes As It Fades, commissioned by Singapore Arts Festival in 2011, which investigates the erosion of traditions and culture through spoken and sung native Singaporean dialects. ‘This is an issue that resonates across cultures and nationalities – the concern that globalisation and modernisation are robbing us of certain traditions or native cultures, manifest, for instance, by the ever-changing Singapore skyline,’ says artistic director and founder Boon Swee Kuik. ‘We don’t deny that this is an inevitable part of modernisation – and are not vilifying it – but we recognise that there is an increasing sense of loss, loneliness and unfamiliarity that man finds within him, and we want to highlight that it may be because we are losing sight of certain traditions that keep us rooted to our native cultures and spaces.’

The Ordinary Man © Bernie Ng
The Ordinary Man © Bernie Ng

More recently T.H.E was commissioned by Esplanade’s Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts to create The Ordinary Man, which saw Kuik collaborate with Taiwanese choreographer Yi-San Wu. ‘The piece explores the quirks of Singaporean and Taiwanese society through the ears and mouths of our dancers (who had to dance and act), such as the Asian aesthetic of beauty, the political troubles in Taiwan, the unhappiness of Singaporeans in response to an influx of foreigners, and so on. In touching on hot-button social issues whilst exposing the complexities of the human psyche, The Ordinary Man was successfully relatable and accessible to a wide range of audiences.’

Collaboration is vital to T.H.E, and Kuik cites his relationships with resident Korean choreographer Jae Duk Kim as key to the company’s success. ‘Jae Duk and I collaborated to create a 2011 work titled RE:OK …BUT! for T.H.E’s annual contemporary dance festival, M1 CONTACT. As choreographers, we connected over a similar fundamental approach and attitude towards contemporary dance and life in general.’

For the artistic director, collaborating with Duk, who has been working with the company since 2010, allows him the chance to observe a different way of working with the body, its energy and aesthetic. ‘Jae Duk’s creative involvement has been very stimulating for the company and our dancers, whether in terms of style, training, work or thought process,’ he says. ‘Collaborating with artists of other disciplines, such as lighting designers and video artists provides stimulus. They help to shape the aesthetic of our works and how we frame and present what we want to say in more thought-provoking ways. These collaborators provide a different perspective and voice to the process of artistic discussion.’

RE-OK...BUT © Matthew G. Johnson
RE:OK…BUT! © Matthew G. Johnson

Kuik’s approach is to allow the company to be experimental within the parameters of a long-term strategy. At a grassroots level, he established T.H.E Second Company, a semi-professional youth training wing that prepares talented youngsters for a professional career with the main company. To broaden their perspectives and movement vocabulary, he sends students out to work with other companies and choreographers.

‘T.H.E Second Company now has approximately 30 dancers and we are slowly but surely working towards professionalising the group,’ he says. ‘It supports the main company in terms of further researching and developing our style and aesthetic. They also conduct our outreach and education programmes, helping to grow awareness of contemporary dance amongst schools and young audiences.’

Read: The dance performance that aims to question masculinity

Later this year the company will perform at a contem- porary dance festival, organised by T.H.E, titled M1 CONTACT 2014. Now entering its fifth edition the line-up features guest artists from the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Israel, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Southeast Asia. It takes place from 27 November to 13 December at Esplanade – Theatres On The Bay, National Museum of Singapore and Goodman Arts Centre.

For this T.H.E will premiere an new collaborative creation jointly choreographed by Kuik and Kim, whilst the Asian Festivals Exchange sees T.H.E Second Company artists Marcus Foo and Lee Ren Xin, create new works with Seoul Dance Collection, Yokohama Dance Collection, and Damansara Performing Arts Centre (KL) via a series of cross-cultural residencies.

Kuik Swee Boon
Kuik Swee Boon

Through M1 CONTACT and his two companies Kuik, who had a career as a professional dancer for more than 20 years, first as a principal dancer with the Singapore Dance Theatre, then with the Compañía Nacional de Danza in Spain, works tirelessly to get his dancers recognised by local and overseas audiences and festivals.

‘I believe that T.H.E has a distinct company style, notable for its blend of Western training and influence, with inflections of Asian upbringing, values and styles,’ he says. ‘This uniqueness allows us to position ourselves clearly in terms of our artistry, vision and direction within the local and international dance scene.’

Main image: As it Fades © Bernie Ng