Across the causeway is a world where tissue paper is more powerful than it ever can be in Malaysia. A tissue pack tossed onto a food court table that is otherwise unoccupied is supposed to serve as a message that the spot is taken. Never mind that there is no one seated there.
Singaporeans have their own unwritten code of conduct that might make Malaysians scratch our heads at times, even as we amuse ourselves with the kiasuness that we associate with them.
Now, we can take this discussion into the realm of contemporary dance and watch the drama unfold as seven dancers fight over a kopitiam chair. We, The Singaporeans! (WTS!) by The Royal Dance-Off (TRDO) presents a quirky and lighthearted exploration of the dynamics in Singaporean culture.
It's a comedic take on life and all the daily annoyances that make you grit your teeth, yet provide you with an endless cache of stories to tell your friends. The show will be staged at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPac) on June 10, 2018.
“The inspiration for WTS! came from the daily encounters with typical Singaporean behaviour,” says Ryan Tan, TRDO founder and creative director, and WTS! choreographer.
“‘Kiasuism’ has somewhat become our trademark and it has not always been seen in a positive light. Through WTS!, I would like to shed light on a different perspective towards this behaviour.”
Tan, who also appears in his show, adds: “The chair we use is a recognisable icon in Singapore. It has been around for so long, it could almost pass off as a cultural symbol. It is often seen alongside episodes of kiasuism and parallels how the kiasu culture has been woven into our everyday lives.”
WTS! premiered at the Esplanade Theatre Rehearsal Studio in Singapore in January 2018, with this Malaysian performance as its second staging.
Tan says he's happy with the audience response so far, stating that Singaporeans loved the dancing as much as the concept. “They appreciated how a potentially serious social theme could be communicated in so many styles and expressions. It was a relatable and telling piece in a casual setting,” he shares.
In WTS!, the dancers represent different generic characters as snippets of real life and familiar scenarios play out. It is theatrical at times, absurd at others – but above all, it is a celebration of thinking outside the box.
“I wanted audiences to relate what they see in WTS! to things they may have experienced in their own lives, and learn to share a laugh about it,” says Tan.
“I also would like to explore whether this kiasu trait truly takes us anywhere, or if there is another way to do things. The traits and eccentricities in WTS! is often seen in varying degrees all around the world. Perhaps it is just a little more associated with Singaporeans.”
TRDO started out in 2011 as a contemporary dance competition for youths. Over the years, it has included showcases, performances, workshops and mass conventions in its repertoire.
Tan says they strive to push Singapore's dance scene by convincing audiences that, contrary to popular belief, contemporary dance is not defined by how enigmatic it is as a genre.
“Contemporary dance is not even a genre to us. It is a byproduct of current times combined with the individual’s background. We want to encourage everyone to see that it can be relevant and accessible. That does not change what it is nor the quality that comes with it,” he notes.
Rest assured that WTS! does not end on a dreary note – or worse, the “no ending” kind of conclusion that leaves mainstream audiences wanting more but not in a good way. “I hope people leave the theatre excited about what they witness, and know that contemporary dance need not always have a dark tinge,” Tan says.
“I also wish for people to see that things are multifaceted and can be perceived or solved in various ways. The norm is not all there is to it, so let’s get creative with how we approach life,” he concludes.