It starts with the deep, palpable vibration of the low humming of chest voice. In the recent teaser trailer published by Five Arts Centre of its upcoming production, ANGGOTA 2: Re-Member, director and choreographer Lee Ren Xin lies on her back, while video artist Chloe Yap Mun Ee asks, “so what do you think your body is telling you right now?”.
In it, we hear Ren Xin (as she is better known in the arts scene) describe an observation – dancers, who though may dance and perform fantastically, are somehow muted in the expressions their bodies try to communicate.
The show is set to play at the Five Arts Centre studio, 9th Floor, GMBB, Jalan Robertson in Kuala Lumpur from Sept 22 to Oct 1.
Ren Xin, a member of Five Arts Centre, is regarded as one of Malaysia’s most exciting and thought-provoking dance artists. The award-winning dancer creates work that primarily revolves around the questioning of how we share a space, or how (we want) to live together.
Following the success of ANGGOTA last year, Ren Xin, 35, returns to the stage with Tan Bee Hung, 42, herself an active practitioner in the Malaysian and international dance scenes, including participating in festivals in Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Germany.
Tan is also the recipient of several Boh Cameronian Arts Awards, including the 'Best Choreographer In A Feature Length Work’ and 'Best Group Performance’ (alongside Lee Ren Xin) for ANGGOTA at the 2023 Boh Cameronian Arts Awards.
Together with Ren Xin and Tan, ANGGOTA 2 will feature Yap, the critically-acclaimed, experimental Malaysian female filmmaker as video artist, Wong Tay Sy as creative producer and Syamsul Azhar as lighting designer, who is also a member of Five Arts Centre.
A personal journey
At the heart of ANGGOTA 2 is Ren Xin’s interrogation of the role of voice and its significance to the body's rhythm.
Although she is a body-oriented practitioner, there was a distance she felt with the inability to use voice in her practice.
Ren Xin muses over the "foreign nature" of voice, and the journey towards embodying voice in ANGGOTA 2.
For the progressive-minded dancer, this piece is very much a personal journey as it is a professional one.
“I feel this work is more grounded in the present and focused on the state of the voice of this (my) body here and now. I reflect on what that voice is saying, what it wants and how I can allow that voice to take up space,” said Ren Xin in a recent interview.
“I also reflect on the patterns of this (my) body – where it came from, what influences have made my body the way it is today? Is it family, ancestral lineage, school, education, and/or cultural values?”
An impetus to this work stems from Ren Xin’s experiences in dance training and education. She shares about the relation between being trained as a dancer and having challenges with accessing voice, whether in speaking or in expressing one’s self through voice.
“We are told to push and go beyond what you can. So I learned to push my body and ignore signals that my body was telling me, including pain and tightness.
"Ironically we often say to listen to your body, but I found myself often dismissing the act of listening to what my body was telling me because we were trained to almost ignore it, to push even if we were tired. The general messaging is that pain is good and there was something heroic about ignoring the pain to achieve the goal.”
Another aspect to the piece are the cultural values growing up, where there seems to be an over-glorification of sacrificing one’s self for the people around, or working extremely hard to the point of hurting the body. When sharing these perspectives with Tan, both dancers found a sense of relatability within the different trajectories both dancers have taken.
“We found that it was difficult to know what we wanted for ourselves because for so long we were trained for our bodies to serve a larger vision, whether it be the choreography or to fulfil a certain standard in our profession or training.”
Through ANGGOTA 2, Ren Xin and Tan will bring together their similar yet different journeys as dance practitioners, presenting a more sustainable approach for dancers to do what they love through the use of voice.
They will also be interrogating the disconnectedness, or dismemberment of body and voice while creating space for the two to be bridged together to reflect on the body of the two dancers in the here and now. Such is the kind of experimental and radical works synonymous with Five Arts Centre.
Pushing the boundaries
As for ANGGOTA 2, audiences can expect to appreciate the transitory phase that Ren Xin and Tan are currently in, both defying the typical peak age for dancers, exploring how they want to dance today, and how they want to feel moving forward.
Audiences can also reflect on the messaging Rex Xin and Tan are passing on to other bodies, in their capacity as dance teachers (and Pilates instructor for the case of Tan).
There is also the vocalisation of the body with its expressions of movement, which audiences can take value in. From the breathing that you hear to the varied sounds that flow from the body and movement, audiences are invited to imagine or listen to the voice as the ephemeral carrier of the body.
Perhaps, more importantly, is the necessity to view voice as a body of its own, and thus the voice as a body of agency, Ren Xin shared.
“Voice and agency of the dancer’s body is something of particular interest for me. Because of my training, I somehow felt like I didn’t have agency as a dancer, or rather than the dancer is here to fulfill someone else’s vision. The approach was: I am here for you, my body is here for you and I will do what you want, the best I can.”
“For me, ANGGOTA 2 is the deciding piece, and the biggest shift for me in this context. It is the expression of my decision to be the dancer I want to be. It is our voice to take up space for ourselves, because if we don’t take up space for ourselves, we are not giving space to others from a place of strength or empowerment,” she explained.
ANGGOTA 2: Re-Member makes a stance to question the things we have been taught over the years.
Be it for dancers, arts practitioners, or the general public, it is a reminder of the power of the voice, the remembering of its connection to the body, and the empowerment it brings when embodied in the everyday living.