A Tribute to Tan How Choon

Published on 1 October 2017

Left - Tan How Choon (Photo: Sim Tiak Siew)

Singapore Multi-disciplinary artist Tan How Choon passed away this weekend at the age of 47.

Tan was born on 4 September 1970 to a father who worked as a building painter and a mother who worked as a cleaner. Despite describing his upbringing as traditional, his interests were anything but conventional. His penchant for using the body for self-expression became clear during his time as a gymnast in secondary school and junior college, and blossomed as he trained in modern dance and ballet studies at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. There, one of his teachers – Cultural Medallion winner Angela Liong – introduced him to the idea of combining dance with visual arts, leaving him hooked on the idea of multidisciplinary work.

IN 1996, he co-founded the Dance Dimension Project which in 2001 became ECNAD – Singapore’s first full-time contemporary dance company. With artistic co-director Lim Chin Huat, ECNAD presented a range of adventurous, collaborative work which was practically revolutionary in Singapore of the time; such as site-specific movement performances in urban hubs including the Suntec City fountain, the Bugis Junction fountain, Millennia Walk and the UOB Plaza Atrium; ‘dance jam’ shows where the improvisation was itself the performance, or the integration of dance with cartoons, live video feeds, and computer-generated music. One production even saw singer-dancers perform Tan’s original a-capella compositions along with movement.

The unique ECNAD style saw the company being invited to various countries under different disciplines, including performances in Yugoslavia for the 35th Belgrade International Theatre Festival, to full houses and standing ovations. Tan also continually imparted skills to budding artists, as a part-time lecturer for the dance faculty of LASALLE College of the Arts over two years, as well as various initiatives including ECNAD’s own training and development ones.

When ECNAD closed in 2013, Tan continued to pursue diverse interests under the moniker of Choonie Tune, creating mixed media visual art pieces, original music, as well as working on a children’s book and initiating nomadic dance classes at venues other than studio spaces. To fund these passions, he did not hesitate to search for and take on all manner of work, from administration to being on the service crew at F&B outlets such as Burger King and Qi Ji.

It is testimony to his drive and diversity that members of the arts community, from dance-makers to theatre directors and film actors, have taken to social media to mourn the passing of a visionary in the Singapore arts scene.

Photo: Yuan Zhiying
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