One Small Voice: Kuik Swee Boon
Published on 25 November 2014
I danced ballet with the Singapore Dance Theatre for 11 years, and then as principal dancer with the Compañía Nacional de Danza in Spain. It was only in my later years that I turned to contemporary dance.
To me, ballet and contemporary dance are very different, not so much in terms of style or technique but mindset. As a dance form, ballet is very structured and beautiful. It has a clear storyline, like Swan Lake or The Nutcracker. It’s about finding perfection in an imperfect world. And so it attracts a younger, more idealistic audience.
But contemporary dance arose from the realisation that life is not perfect, I am not perfect. Many experienced dancers — including me — turned to contemporary dance when we started searching for stimulation and inspiration outside the perfect world of ballet, for something more authentic to our experiences.
As a genre, contemporary dance is darker and appeals to a more mature audience. Because it deals with imperfections, with modern issues and struggles, you’ll see all traditional dance forms evolve, with this change of mindset, to contemporary ballet, contemporary Chinese dance or contemporary Indian dance.
Not many people claim to understand modern dance because it’s such a personal expression of a message. When I first choreographed As It Fades (which explores our relationship with traditional culture) in 2011, the audience expected a clear storyline. But I choreographed the dance as separate stories, pieced together randomly like patchwork. The feedback to me was it didn’t make sense because there was no narrative.
So when we restaged As It Fades this year, I linked all the scenarios together with spoken text about memory. We included in our booklet the English translation of Cantonese spoken during the performance. The audience could understand and they were happy.
But for me, understanding is not so important. Even if you don’t understand, you can still be moved and inspired — like when listening to music. While we try to provide some education, we also don’t want to dilute the work by explaining too much because sometimes, art is not meant to provide answers but to raise questions. I don’t want to tell you how to react; I want to leave the response entirely to you.
When I go for a contemporary dance performance, what I’ve found helpful is to not read the synopsis first. I simply empty myself, remain open-minded, feel and appreciate what I see.
You can approach contemporary dance like how you’d approach a new friend — especially a friend from another culture. You won’t judge this person too quickly because your experience may not allow you to interpret his life. So you listen, you observe, you feel, you engage, you exchange.
There is no ‘one standard’, no ‘one right interpretation’, which can be a huge challenge for Singaporeans! But contemporary dance is a microcosm of life: It challenges you to have an open mindset, to celebrate differences, to understand the struggles of others, and respect them. Maybe this value is invisible, but isn’t it important? I see this as the function of the arts — to make us better people, and more human.
Kuik Swee Boon is the Founder and Artistic Director of T.H.E Dance Company and the M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival. His exceptional artistry led him to receive a nomination in 2003 for the Benois de la Danse Award. In 2007, Kuik was conferred the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council.