T.H.E Dance Company
by Lee, Xin Ying
The Human Expression Dance Company, better known as T.H.E Dance Company, is a non-profit contemporary dance company founded by dancer and choreographer Kuik Swee Boon in September 2008. Known for its dancers’ nifty techniques and classical-trained grace, the company focuses on fusing Asian and local identities with Western dance techniques to create works that are influenced by contemporary and societal issues. The company has made a significant impact on the local and international dance scenes, having had the privilege of performing at various dance festivals in countries such as China, Copenhagen, Dubai, France, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Poland and South Korea. It is fast becoming one of the best contemporary dance groups in the region.
T.H.E Dance Company is the brainchild of Kuik, who currently serves as its artistic director and principal choreographer. Kuik, a former principal dancer with The Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT), had performed in many of its full-length productions such as Giselle, The Nutcracker, and Romeo and Juliet before leaving to join world-renowned Spanish dance company Compania Nacional de Danza in Madrid in 2002. He was the company’s first Asian male dancer and thereafter its first Asian male principal dancer.
In 2007, Kuik returned to Singapore and in 2008, he set up T.H.E with his wife Silvia Yong and five other dancers, namely: Lee Mun Wai, Zhuo Zihao, Lim Rou Chi, Florence Long and Tan Wei Ying. Kuik took a huge risk when he started the company, with many people saying he would fail. The company encountered many problems in the beginning. It started off with six full-time dancers who worked for free, receiving only allowances. Most dancers even had to juggle teaching with administrative duties. Despite being overworked and underpaid, the dancers trained five days a week for five to six hours each day. The company was fortunate to receive an annual grant of S$78,000 in 2009 from the National Arts Council’s (NAC) Major Grant Scheme that helped to defray costs. In 2012, it received a two-year grant of S$420,000 from the NAC.
The lack of a permanent rehearsal space and dance studio exacerbated the problem. The dancers practised at educational institutions and even in a condominium multi-purpose hall once. At times, they had to rehearse in as many as seven different studios in one month. This was resolved in 2011 when the company moved to its current location at the Goodman Arts Centre, a pilot project under the NAC’s new Arts Housing Scheme.
In creating his works, Kuik draws inspiration from his personal life and experiences, and the various choreographers he has worked with. The company’s works, often a fusion of the East and West, are thought-provoking and poignant. These works dwell on societal issues and human emotions, and underscore the fragile connection between people and their surroundings.
The company’s first full-length work, Old Sounds, was commissioned by the National Heritage Board in 2008. Kuik was fascinated by the Chinese dialects spoken by his parents and sought to feature these and old folk songs prominently in his production. Although the focus was on the erosion of Chinese culture and loss of dialects, parts were conceived from the emotions that Kuik felt upon the death of his father, from whom he was estranged. The multimedia project encompassed dance, images, music and film.
To celebrate the company’s first anniversary in 2009, Kuik re-staged Silence, a full-length piece inspired by his life in Madrid and the terrorist train bombings that rocked the city in 2004. First performed in 2007, Silence incorporated music by rock bands Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails and was staged at Esplanade − Theatres on the Bay to much acclaim and support by the local dance community and the public. T.H.E earned the honour of being the second local dance troupe after the SDT to perform at the Esplanade. Although T.H.E incurred a loss of about S$1,000, the company had succeeded in establishing their presence on the local dance scene.
In 2011, the company’s production of As It Fades at the Singapore Arts Festival paid tribute to Asian traditions and cultures while lamenting the declining use of Chinese dialects among Singaporeans. Described as a “breakthrough” for the company in a dance review, the work juxtaposed contemporary dance steps with Hainanese folk songs. Performed by the company’s young and elderly dancers, it was praised as one of the best dance productions of 2011.
Collaborations are part and parcel of the company’s way of working. T.H.E frequently partners with guest artists, who may or may not be dancers or choreographers, for its productions. Re: Ok…But! in 2011 was a collaboration with Korean musician-choreographer Kim Jae Duk, who often uses urban and hip-hop dance in his works. For Silences We Are Familiar With: An Ode To Love in 2012, Kuik teamed up with indie musician Bani Haykal, vocalist and songwriter for local rock band b quartet. Haykal composed the score and performed the music live on stage during the production, and also contributed the opening lines of poetry. Other artists whom Kuik has worked with include local musician Darren Ng, Brazillian flim maker Gabriela Tropia, Finnish lighting designer Anna Rouhu and choreographers Zhang Xiao-Xiong from Taiwan and Boi Sakti from Indonesia.
Education and outreach efforts
Kuik strongly believes in nurturing the next generation of dancers and choreographers, as well as creating awareness and raising the public’s interest and understanding of dance as an art form.
T.H.E Second Company was founded at the same time as its parent company in 2008. Targeted at young talents 16 to 29 years of age, the dancers have performed at the 2008 Macau International Dance Festival and at local arts festivals such as the NUS Arts Festival in 2010 and 2011. In 2009, Kuik initiated T.H.E Emerging Choreographers, which has since become a yearly affair that provides a platform for aspiring choreographers to hone their talents and showcase their works.
In 2010, Kuik organised the inaugural Contact 2010, a week-long dance festival that served as a platform to develop budding Asian dancers and to facilitate learning and exchange between dancers and dance enthusiasts. With participation by both local and international artists, Kuik envisioned Contact to be an annual affair in which dancers and choreographers could collaborate, share ideas and create original works together. For Contact 2011, new items and segments were introduced. Continuum - Dance Academy Exchange featured performances by students from The School of the Arts (SOTA), the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and LASALLE College of the Arts. Open Stage, a dance version of an open-mic session, provided the platform for anyone brave enough to present a two-minute performance in front of a public audience. Contact was successfully held for the third time in 2012. In that year, the company awarded scholarships to local and Southeast Asian participants to attend the masterclasses, workshops and performances held at the festival.
As part of its efforts to make contemporary dance appeal to Singaporeans, the company’s T.H.E Community helps to organise its outreach projects. One of its outreach initiatives involves dancers performing excerpts of their productions at various community and public spaces, and using dance to promote social messages. In addition, under T.H.E’s Art Education Programme (AEP), the company presents its works in a more appealing and palatable format for first-time audiences. This programme is endorsed by the National Arts Council Arts Education Programme (NAC-AEP).
2008: Old Sounds, a multi-media project incorporating dance, images, music and film.
2009: Within. Without, commissioned for the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.
2010: O Sounds, performed at the Singapore Arts Festival and internationally in Jakarta (Indonesia), Bytom (Poland), Paris (France), Dubai (United Arabs Emirates) and Goyang (South Korea).
2011: Water Bloom, performed at the 18th Annual International Dance Conference and Performance Festival in Bytom (Poland) and at the 8th Guangdong Modern Dance Festival in China.
2011: Re: Ok…But!, a collaboration with Korean musician-choreographer, Kim Jae Duk for Contact 2011.
2011: As It Fades, commissioned for the Singapore Arts Festival.
2012: As It Fades, performed in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Avignon (France), Beijing (China), Madrid (Spain), Italy and Denmark.
2012: Silences We Are Familiar With: An Ode To Love, a collaboration with indie musician Bani Haykal for the Esplanade’s da:ns festival 2012.
Lee Xin Ying, Veronica Chee
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T.H.E Dance Company. About Us: T.H.E Second Company. Retrieved April 11, 2013, from http://www.the-dancecompany.com/about-us/t-h-e-second-company/
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T.H.E Dance Company. Productions: Overseas Productions. Retrieved April 11, 2013, from http://www.the-dancecompany.com/productions/overseas-tours/
The information in this article is valid as at 11 April 2013 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.