A dancer, an iron bed, and a war heroine

9 10 2012

And what has a dancer, an iron bed and a war heroine have to do with each other? Come Friday 12 October 2012, the dancer, award-winning dance choreographer, Tammy L Wong will give a ten minute self-choreographed performance which is an interpretation of a war heroine’s personal struggle and faith as she faced repeated acts of torture at the hands of the occupiers of Singapore during the Second World War. The piece features in a collaboration between five local dance choreographers who have had an impact on Singapore’s contemporary dance scene entitled SideBySide.

A look of anguish on an iron bed … Tammy L Wong shares a very moving personal with a bed borrowed from SJI International in a 10 minute piece for the Esplanade’s 10th Anniversary programme.

SideBySide is part of a weekend programme that is being lined-up for the anniversary weekend of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay which celebrates its tenth anniversary on 12 October 2012. The anniversary programme, part of a year-long celebration, Dedicated to You, is one that is dedicated to the arts and to Singapore artists, featuring performances specially commissioned for the occasion with invited local artists sharing their personal journeys. Also featuring Joavien Ng, Ming Poon and Scarlet Yu who will perform a piece together, and also Daniel K, SideBySide will see a presentation of short dance pieces, each, a tribute to a personal inspiration.

Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay celebrates its tenth anniversary this weekend.

Thanks to the Esplanade, I was able to catch a rehearsal of the piece that Tammy L Wong’s will present, entitled Andante, a ten minute long piece that will take the audience into the darkness that accompanied war heroine Mrs Elizabeth Choy’s internment by the Japanese during the Second World War.

Andante is Tammy L Wong’s interpretation of a first-hand account of Elizabeth Choy’s darkest moments during 200 days of torture when she was interned by the Japanese during World War II.

The imagery provided by the iron bed is a powerful one that transports the audience into the late Mrs Choy’s tortured soul, tortured not just by the repeated acts of savagery that she was inflicted with, by also by time that in the circumstances, would have seemed to pass all so slowly, as is suggested by the title of her piece.

The iron bed is one that immediately transports the audience into the torturous solitude that Elizabeth Choy found herself in.

No attention to detail had been spared, even for the short piece. The bed is one that took some finding – with Tammy having to borrow the right one from SJI International for the performance. The music that accompanies includes a hymn which does not only represent Mrs Choy’s deep Christian faith which she drew on to find the strength and courage to survive where many others would not have. Her moves on and off the bed, speak also of anguish and of solitude and of a body broken by torture.

The dance moves and music are ones that tells of the pain and suffering as well of Mrs Choy’s deep faith.

On the evidence of what I was able to see during the rehearsal, the piece would certainly be a very moving account of Mrs Choy’s struggles condensed into ten minutes. It is however Tammy’s account of her personal encounters with Mrs Choy that had to be the most stirring part of the session which included an opportunity to speak to Tammy.

Besides the insights Tammy shared about the piece, Tammy also spoke of her encounters with Mrs Choy herself, all of which started with a letter that Tammy had sent to her driven by a desire to seek the strength that Mrs Choy had demonstrated.

Tammy also spoke of that first encounter connected the two of them, and of how Mrs Choy had without hesitation, taken out photographs taken of her in the nude, when she had posed as a model for sculptor Dora Gordine.

Tammy at the end of the rehearsal.

What is remarkable to hear of is the matter-of-fact manner with which Mrs Choy related what must certainly have carried a lot of pain. That she did feel it, was however evident – the sessions often went on into the evening when Tammy would often find herself listening to Mrs Choy in the dark. Mrs Choy, had, as a result of the numerous occasions during which she was tortured with electrical shocks, developed a fear of anything electrical, including turning on the lights.

Sharing a lighter moment.

The poignant account is one that certainly puts the piece into context and one that will be the subject of Tammy’s second book which will be published next year. It would certainly be interesting to see it on the day of the performance – alongside with the other pieces, each with an equally interesting story. The hour-long SideBySide will play at the Esplanade Theatre Studio at 8pm on Friday. More information can be found at the Esplanade’s page on the SideBySide.


About SideBySide:

By Daniel K, Joavien Ng, Ming Poon, Scarlet Yu and Tammy L Wong

Date: 12 Oct 2012, Fri, 8pm
Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio

SideBySide presents five established and independent dance choreographers who have made an impact on Singapore’s contemporary dance scene. The evening features new short works, with each piece created as a tribute to a personal artistic inspiration.

In a celebration of real and imaginary champions, Tammy L Wong creates a moving tribute to Singaporean war heroine Elizabeth Choy in Andante, while Joavien Ng ventures to make her very own superhero, in a salute to caped crusaders and the hero in all of us, in My Superhero.

For the first time, Ming Poon and Scarlet Yu perform together in a duet about the serendipity of encounters in The infinitesimal distance between two bodies, while Daniel creates a solo for arts practitioner Low Kee Hong who becomes his own cheerleader in The Cheerleader.

(1hr with short breaks)

$10

All Secondary Schools, Junior Colleges, Centralised Institutes and ITEs may use the Tote Board Arts Grant to subsidise up to 50% of the ticket price.


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