CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival returns for a fourth edition with performances, classes, workshops and a dance forum. We spoke to Jessica Christina, a dancer of T.H.E Dance Company, about her experience of becoming a full-time dancer and participating in the festival.
As a dancer who has been in both the commercial and the artistic side of the industry, unlike the rest of the dancers in T.H.E Dance Company, what was the deciding factor to join T.H.E as a full time dancer? Were you just looking for a personal accomplishment that you could not find in the commercial world or was it just a natural progression?
For me, the deciding factor was the chance to obtain both deeper learning experience and personal accomplishment. After graduating from LASALLE, I knew that there was much for me to learn as a dancer. I wanted to improve my skills and learn from people who could help me to expand my capabilities.
There are many ways to fullfil this; some dancers find their way through (what you’ve called) the commercial world. For me at that point in time, I chose to gain experience through joining a dance company that would offer intensive training, allow me to work with experienced dancers and established choreographers, and provide platforms and opportunities to perform in various scales of performance. When I was offered the chance to move from being a semi-professional dancer with T.H.E Second Company to a full-time artist with T.H.E Dance Company, I saw that this would be a huge progression in my dance career. Thus in 2011, I decided to join T.H.E Dance Company full-time.
You started out as a dancer in T.H.E Second Company in 2009 and then made a move to join as a full time dancer in 2011, what was the main difference between the two companies? Is there a hierarchy to follow or does everyone get along and work well together?
I joined the Second Company during my second year in LASALLE. Being in the Second Company was an opportunity for me to work with a professional company, and a process that helped me to progress from being a student to becoming a better, more mature dancer.
Working as a full-time dancer with the main company definitely comes with higher expectations and greater demands on level of commitment, personal input in the work, technique, skill, performance ability, and various other elements. Spending most of our waking hours on training, rehearsals and performance has definitely made it a large part of our lives. As a result the company is more than just a platform to learn technique and skills; every experience teaches us to grow as dancers and as people.
I don’t think there is a hierarchy to follow. What the company practises is mutual respect and a set of unspoken shared ethics. When I joined T.H.E, I definitely looked up to the dancers because they were much more experienced and mature than I was, and actually most of them were my seniors from LASALLE. I enjoyed watching them during rehearsals and also learning from them because they are all great dancers with distinct identities and ability.
Having been in Second Company before joining the main company, I’d participated in the company classes and a few productions involving the main company dancers, so it was not unfamiliar or difficult to work with them when I joined full-time. When Wu Mi and Sherry subsequently joined the company, as with all work environments we needed some time to get comfortable working with each other. Spending long hours in the studio and sharing the ups and downs of rehearsal helped us to get along quickly and understand each other better to work well together.
T.H.E is very demanding in terms of commitment and dance skills, especially with Kuik Swee Boon’s high expectations, what approach did you take to keep up with the high and ever evolving standards? What was the most taxing experience you faced and how did you solve it?
There are a number of important steps that I take in order to maintain a good physical condition; I attend treatments such as massage or acupuncture at least 1 – 2 times a month, ensure that my body gets enough rest after work, and I take vitamins and supplements. In the studio, we do proper warm-ups before company class, and try not to skip any classes so that our bodies undergo consistent training and our technique continues to progress through classes and rehearsals. I’ve also learnt to be fast and flexible in order to adjust to the different styles of the various choreographers we work with.
Physical aspect aside, what is important for me is to have passion for what I’m doing, to focus in every rehearsal, to be open to feedback/comment, which allows creativity to flow during the creation process and rehearsals when necessary. Even during the tough and stressful times, we get up each day and try again to put maximum effort into what we’re doing.
One of the most taxing experiences for me was during our performance tour to the Beijing Dance Festival. Just two days before we left for Beijing I came down with quite a serious bout of food poisoning, so when we arrived in Beijing I wasn’t in good physical condition during the rehearsals and prep. Even on the day of the performance, I hadn’t fully recovered, but the show had to go on and I needed to give a hundred percent for my performance. It was definitely tough; especially since we were performing an hour-long work As It Fades, in which I was part of many sections and had to dance solo parts as well. I’m grateful that though I was not in my best condition physically, I managed to complete the performance, and it turned out to be a successful show!
As one of the very few full time company dancers in Singapore, do you find it hard to get by with the full time salary? Especially since it is getting increasingly difficult to work in Singapore as a non-local, were there any financial issues that were difficult to handle?
In my opinion it really depends on how each person manages their own finances. Everyone’s standard of living is different, and of course your lifestyle should be within the means of your income. For me, I keep it simple; as long as I’m self-sufficient, debt-free, can save a certain amount every month and still be able to give a portion to my parents; I would say that I’m fine with what I have for now.
You were teaching in educational bodies such as Catholic Junior College and Nanyang Technological University contemporary clubs, how was your relationship with the students? Was it a difficult hurdle to overcome to depart from teaching and leaving your students to concentrate full time at T.H.E?
I was an assistant dance teacher in Catholic Junior College, Temasek Polytechnic and Singapore Polytechnic for a short period of time, and I taught in NTU’s contemporary club for about 3 years, progressing from an assistant role to their resident dance teacher.
I would say that I have a good relationship with the students; I guess because there’s a smaller age gap, it is easier for me to relate to them. When teaching, I’m strict with the students so that they respect my position. Outside of classes and rehearsals, however, I’ve become friends with them. It’s great to see their improvement and increasing involvement in dance. A few of them have even ended up pursuing dance as a career!
I was already a Second Company dancer when teaching in the clubs and schools. I really enjoyed dancing and teaching at the same time, but I knew that I had to prioritise one over the other in order to be focused and progress in my career. I was 23 at that time and at a prime age to improve and become a mature dancer; plus, dance was my main passion, which was why I decided to grab the opportunity to concentrate on dancing full-time. Luckily I was still able to conduct open classes for the public once or twice a week, under the company’s banner.
However, I did not quit teaching totally even after I became a fulltime dancer, because I enjoy and love to share my knowledge and experience in dance to others. Currently I teach T.H.E Second Company (alternately with other company dancers), T.H.E Open Classes, and open classes in O School once a week.
I’m grateful that even though I had to leave the schools and clubs, I still get to see my students in my open classes, and am glad that most of them are still dancing and getting involved with the dance scene. A number of them also show their support by attending my performances with T.H.E. Though I’m no longer their teacher, I hope to continue inspiring them through my dance career.
This year’s CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival has a whole series of performances, workshops and classes, with many renowned international and regional artistes. Which of the performances and classes are you looking forward to? Is there any particular artiste whom you would like to have a one-to-one session with and why?
I’m looking forward to watching Seasoned Artistry and Accents of Southeast Asia.
As for the technique classes I’m not sure if I’ll be able to attend any, as T.H.E’s performances are opening and closing the CONTACT festival so our rehearsals are ongoing throughout the 10 days. But if I do get a chance to, I’ll want to attend Tamako Akiyama and Kim Boram’s classes.
Dancing in the first full-length creation for T.H.E by Kim Jae Duk, what is the difference from the previous works you did with him? Was it harder to continuously work with the same choreographer for the particular piece? What do you hope to take away from this year’s CONTACT experience?
For me, Jae Duk’s work is always innovative, exciting, and current; there are always elements of dark humor in between, and also really intense moments.
As a dancer, I look forward to rehearsals whenever Jae Duk choreographs a new work for the company. This is my fourth time dancing in his work, and it is challenging but in a good way, because it allows me to keep learning and improving. I like his movement style very much as well, and the crazy ideas he comes up with for every piece, which makes it an enjoyable process whenever we work with him. After continually working with Jae Duk, I actually find that it’s more beneficial for both the dancers and choreographer to have a long-term relationship, as we get to really understand his style, rehearsal approach, choreographic aesthetic, and numerous other aspects.
Comparing to his previous works for T.H.E, Mr. Sign uses a substantial amount of spoken text and requires the dancer to also be an actor. We are challenged to become an all-rounded performer intead of just a dancer. So get your ticket and don’t miss this show! It is something different from T.H.E that we’re presenting to you.
Working again with Jae Duk in a full-length piece, and also with Dimo Kirilov (former principal dancer of the Compañia Nacional de Danza) forDiverCity, is a very valuable experience that I am taking away from this year’s CONTACT. We’ve definitely learnt very different but equally useful lessons from both choreographers throughout the creation and rehearsal process. Apart from this, CONTACT is a great platform where I get to meet dance artists with different styles and backgrounds, from all over the world. Because of CONTACT, we can get to know them, catch their works live, and get inspired!
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CONTACT 2013 runs from 29 Nov to 8 Dec 2013.
Visit the event page for the programme: www.artsrepublic.sg/contact-2013