Profile: Eng Kai Er

Published on 22 December 2015

Scientist Eng Kai Er doesn’t let work get in the way of her passion for dance.

BY daphne ong

It’s no secret that passion is what binds artists to their work. But what happens when one is bound by both passion and obligation?

Few artists in Singapore are as qualified to answer this question as Eng Kai Er. Best known as the science-scholar-turned-dancer, Eng is, in fact, a study in dogged determination against the odds to become the artist she aspired to be.

Jumping at the chance to join a dance group at age nine, Eng kept dancing through her school years, even after attaining a scholarship to study biochemistry at Cambridge University, and later her PhD at Karolinska Institutet, a medical university in Sweden.

It was while she was in Europe that, in spite of having no formal dance training, the idea of working in dance became a reality.

“I saw that in Europe, it was quite normal for people to study dance in a professional training programme simply because they were interested in dance — it blew my mind. That idea was enough to make me dream that I would somehow find a way to work in dance,” says Eng.

She danced every chance she got, and started creating her own works during her PhD days. Now in Singapore, Eng holds down a job in science, while continuing to dance and create.

Her experiments go beyond the laboratories of her day job. “I think my performances are departing from dance, but at the same time, they somehow rely on a pre-existing affinity and curiosity towards dance.”

Once openly unhappy about her scholarly science obligations, her early art revolved around the problems she had trying to find her own path and identity. These days, she is happier and inspired by the people around her; much of her work now involves collaboration with other artists.

It is perhaps Eng’s bravery that sets her apart from the crowd. Bold enough to criticise her own works while taking unfavourable reviews in stride, she learns from experience and ploughs on to the next thing.

From her first full-length solo show Don’t Let the Shrink Shrink You to innovative 2015 offering Indulgence, presented as an associate artist of TheatreWorks, she shows no sign of slowing down.

In December, her work Porno was performed with long-time collaborator Sviatlana Viarbitskaya at the recent M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival.

Just like dance itself, Eng is a living example of her own personal credo: “Courage gets stronger with practice.”

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