The Distance Project: Hymns of the Abandoned, a dance film
Review by Hamidah Abd Rahman

Hymns of the Abandoned by the Ask Dance Company (ASK) gravitates attention instantly as the film starts out with distorted sounds, hazy images and movements that seem all too fast yet calculated at the same time. Dancers begin their body isolations, drawing our eyes to their motions and to the silhouette of their hands grasping out to the sky, as if crying for help, seizing for hope.

With a title like Hymns of the Abandoned, the dance piece indicates a story of emotions that have been experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic, delivered entirely through body physicality. With bodies moving in a space set in a dilapidated, abandoned building, the visuals strike as seemingly unearthly, like the world had stopped still for all except the six performers. The concept of time ceases to exist, and the space seems to grow endless and expandable as the dancers move in motion throughout the film. Their bodies sing hymns of loneliness, abandonment and restlessness – emotions that hold importance in the space and time of the performance.

Everything placed within the film shot means something, not only from what is expressed by the dancers themselves, but even the run-down building, which seems to have a story to itself. The vandalised and rough concrete surfaces are a metaphorical imagery of us humans, that we have been roughened and beaten down from the suffering within this pandemic.

The added incorporation of contemporary dance elements and seemingly experimental movements further contribute to the hypnotic factor of the performance piece.

The dancers emphasise the feeling of isolation, abandonment and distress with a choreography that is explosive, yet deliberate and controlled at the same time. Tension can definitely be felt, but there is also vulnerability and the yearning of hope, translated from the movements of the body.

There is a sense of rawness especially in the way that the dancers deliver the bodily hymns, with their stoic expressions and strong physicality filled with resolution. The movements are especially powerful as they convey the toughness and hard-heartedness that most of us have forcibly taken on as a coping mechanism, to guard ourselves from further pain and hurt that have been experienced during these troubling times.

To be honest, it is difficult to put into words when explaining the structure of the performance. However, it is those complexities within the piece that make Hymns of the Abandoned a compelling dance film. If it were to put it simply, the dancers sometimes work in unison, and then sometimes not. At certain points, their bodies meet and create a connection, only to have them suddenly separate just moments after. They also dance collectively as a group at the start, but then break off smoothly into a quartet, a trio, a duo and then a solo (and then back as a group!). Other times, it looks as if the dancers are supporting and mirroring each other, until it changes again as they each separate to do a different routine instead. These exact compilations of different routines and movements make it an overall fascinating film.

The simple description of the piece comes off as abstract and seems to have no form, but when witnessed in the dance film, everything works cohesively and successfully evokes a narrative piece on the human conditions that have arisen from this pandemic. With the stellar camerawork and direction, Hymns of the Abandoned is truly a beautiful dance piece.

Executing this performance must not have been an easy feat at all. The arts sector in this country has especially suffered, as the imposed restriction orders have not only left creatives out of jobs due to event cancellations, but it has further created distance in the relationship between the audience and a performing arts discipline.

Artists are no longer able to create those important and riveting connections with a live audience, whilst the live audience are temporarily disconnected from the performing arts, a space that is rich in knowledge for better understanding and empathy for the world around us. It is as if our souls are left in abandonment due to the temporary, yet prolonged restriction on the arts, which fully resonates with this performance piece.

Hence, it is especially admirable that the ASK Dance Company had achieved this film, and even more refreshing that the dance performance was held a site-specific location, rather than a virtual Zoom call – which has been the case for most performing art shows during this Covid-19 pandemic. The dance company’s production proves that despite the difficulties, any great idea can be made possible with enough determination and drive to create that connection with an audience again: as if to say, your soul is still here, and it still matters.

Hymns of the Abandoned might have reflected the struggles during this period, but the dancers’ movements that fully held intention and life reminded us that we are all going through this moment in time collectively, together and never alone.

Filming was held in August 2020, prior to the current Movement Conditional Order restrictions. Hymns of the Abandoned can be found on ASK Dance Company’s YouTube channel on at this link:

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Hamidah Abd Rahman is a writer under the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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