by Lee, Xin Ying
Joavien Ng Bong Na (b. 1973, Singapore–1) is a dance choreographer whose works have been presented and commissioned by various festivals and performances in Japan, Taipei, Hong Kong, Seoul, Canada and the United States.2 Ng has helped pushed the local dance scene beyond mainstream forms towards a multidisciplinary stage. Through unorthodox dance creations, Ng blurs the boundaries between dance and other art forms such as theatre. Tapping into multimedia art and theatrical elements, she creates her own signature blend of dance theatre, embodying simplicity with injections of dark humour.3
Education and career
Although Ng had studied tourism management, she later realised that she did not want to work in the hotel industry. The self-professed late-bloomer started dancing only at the age of 22. Ng began her dance career as a choreographer and performer in 1997 upon graduation from the Lasalle College of the Arts.4 In 2003, she founded Crow Jane, a platform that promotes and facilitates collaborative contemporary works.5
According to Ng’s biography, she “examines the world from multiple perspectives through an experiential framework. Drawing on her own experiences of being simultaneously an Asian and a global citizen, she delves deep into human nature and the construction of one’s identity and its accompanying volatility”.6 In Body Swap, which was performed with American choreographer Dani Brown, in which the two exchanged identities, Ng raised the relevance of culture in identity.7 A subsequent piece that also explored identity is The Diary of Alice, which was made during Pointe de Point, the 6th Asia-Europe Dance Forum in Lisbon, Portugal. It was selected for further development with residencies in Alkantara (Lisbon) and Rimbun Dahan (Malaysia). Created in collaboration with Spanish choreographer Paloma Calle, Ng explored both real and fictitious meanings behind the name “Alice” in the work.8
Ng treats all body movements as a form of art, even if they do not fit neatly within a particular dance style. While she appreciates classical ballet, she finds it harder to innovate within the classical tradition. She is much more passionate for contemporary dance because it expresses how real bodies move, with its natural instincts and clumsiness.9 Ng analyses recordings of her personal movements in order to realign herself with basic, innate and raw movements that she has cast aside while learning various dance forms. Not to be restricted to dance and movement, Ng’s choreography takes on a theatrical twist, combining dance movements with props, design and multimedia elements. Her enthusiasm for authenticity and experimentation gave rise to multiple cross-disciplinary collaborations such as Dance Dance Dance (2008) with multimedia artist Choy Ka Fai and the V.I.S.T.A. (Visual Interactive Sound Text Architecture) Lab series (2008) with sound artist Zulkifle Mahmod, writer-performer Ng Yi-Sheng and set designer Torrance Goh, among many others.10
One of Ng’s most acclaimed works to date, Lab was first performed as a solo piece in 2005 for dance company Ecnad’s 10th-anniversary festival called FireBall, and subsequently showcased in the inaugural show of TheatreWorks’ V.I.S.T.A. Lab series. Lab explored how people respond to instinctual movements, with dancers moving heavy wooden blocks and constructing traps out of peculiar objects such as lightbulbs. This interactive piece monitors the audience’s reactions, for instance, by asking the audience to form part of her tableau by freezing in a position.11 Independent dramaturg and producer Tang Fu Kuen commended Ng’s efforts, naming Lab the best dance production in Singapore of 2008.12
Milestones and performances
2000: Co-founds Creative Tree, a dance company for young Singaporean children.13
2003: Founds Crow Jane, a cross-disciplinary platform for both solo and collaborative contemporary pieces.14
2004–2005: Her solo piece, Toilet, is chosen for the final presentation in Sparks, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay’s Creative Development Programme promoting the creation of fresh art pieces.15
2005: First performance of Lab at Ecnad’s 10th-anniversary festival, FireBall; choreographs and performs Victoria in Taipei, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul and Singapore for the Little Asia Dance Exchange Network, a regional solo dance performance project encouraging cultural exchanges between dancers.16
2006: Choreographs Dream for the 2nd Fort Worth Dance Festival in the United States and accepted into Creative, a TheatreWorks incubation scheme that provides logistics and financial assistance.17
2007: Participates in the Asia Contemporary Dance Conference as a choreographer, invited by the Japanese Centre of International Theatre Institute (Tokyo) and choreographs and performs in Dance Dance Dance for TheatreWorks.18
2008: Lab is performed again at the Esplanade as part of the studios season; Body Inquire is featured in Forward Moves, the Singapore Arts Festival’s stage focused on experimental and process-based works.19
2009: Body Swap, a collaboration with American choreographer Dani Brown, is performed at Kampnagel Festival (Hamburg, Germany) and the Singapore Arts Festival; creates The Diary of Alice for Pointe de Point, the 6th Asia-Europe Dance Forum (Lisbon, Portugal), organised by the Asia-Europe Foundation and Alkantara.20
2011: Performed in The Diary of Alice for TheatreWorks.21
Lee Xin Ying
1. Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, October 12 from Joavien Ng website: http://www.joavienng.com/homepage.htm
2. Dance Massive. (2015). About delegates. Retrieved 2016, August 11 from Dance Massive website: http://dancemassive.com.au/delegate/ms-joavien-ng/
3. TheatreWorks. (2015). Incarnation of the beast. Retrieved 2016, August 11 from TheatreWorks website: http://www.theatreworks.org.sg/dev/singapore/incarnation/index.html
4. Cheah, U.-H. (2009, June 6). Taking contemporary dance forward. The Business Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. TheatreWorks. (2013). Flying circus project 2009/2010 platform 1. Retrieved from 2016, August 11 from TheatreWorks website: http://www.theatreworks.org.sg/international/flying_circus_project09/biographies.htm
6. Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, August 11 from Joavien Ng website: http://www.joavienng.com/homepage.htm
7. Cheah, U.-H. (2009, June 6). Taking contemporary dance forward. The Business Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. National Arts Council. (2010). National Arts Council annual report FY 2009/10. The bigger picture, p. 31. Retrieved 2016, August 11 from National Arts Council website: http://www.nac.gov.sg/static/doc/abo/annualreport10/ar2010_final_full_ver_10nov.pdf
9. Biography. (n.d). Retrieved 2016, August 11 from Joavien Ng website: http://www.joavienng.com/homepage.htm
10. Chia, A. (2007, September 13). Light, sound and forgotten events. The Straits Times, p. 56; Martin, M. (2008, March 28). He's got the moves. Today, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; V.I.S.T.A Lab artist biographies [Blog post]. (2008, March 1). Retrieved 2016, August 11 from Vista Lab blog: http://vistalabbers.blogspot.sg/2007/11/vista-lab-artist-biographies.html
11. Tan, T. (2008, September 4). Dancer turns lab rat. The Straits Times, p. 57. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Tan, T. (2008, December 28). Best dance production: Joavien Ng’s Lab. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Creative Tree. (n.d.). Our people. Retrieved 2016, August 11 from Creative Tree website: http://www.creativetree.com.sg/#!our-people/c13dq
14. Theatreworks. (2013). Flying circus project 2009/2010 platform 1. Retrieved from 2016, August 11 from Theatreworks website: http://www.theatreworks.org.sg/international/flying_circus_project09/biographies.htm
15. Biography. (n.d). Retrieved 2016, August 11 from Joavien Ng website: http://www.joavienng.com/homepage.htm
16. Dance Massive. (n.d.). About delegates. Retrieved 2016, August 11 from Dance Massive website: http://dancemassive.com.au/delegate/ms-joavien-ng/
17. Hong, X. (2006, March 9). Creative choices. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Martin, M. (2008, March 28). He’s got the moves. Today, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Tan, T. (2008, May 21). Shape shifters. The Straits Times, p. 59. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Shankari, U. (2009, May 1). Young choreographers make strides. The Business Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Arts Council. (2010). National Arts Council annual report FY 2009/10. The bigger picture, p. 26. Retrieved 2016, August 11 from National Arts Council website: http://www.nac.gov.sg/static/doc/abo/annualreport10/ar2010_final_full_ver_10nov.pdf
21. TheatreWorks. (n.d.). The Diary of Alice. Retrieved 2016, November 4 from TheatreWorks website: http://www.theatreworks.org.sg/dev/singapore/the_diary_of_alice/index.html
The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.