WHY NOT HERE?: Exploring movement
Review by Natasha P.

On the 9th of December 2020, I attended my first and only dance workshop in the entirety of the year, no thanks to the pandemic. WHY NOT HERE? was a site-specific movement workshop held at Ilham Gallery, supporting the theme of the ongoing exhibition, Bayangnya itu Timbul Tenggelam and the unique architecture of Ilham Tower itself. Its organisers, Summer Gan and Alisya Razman - both ASWARA alumni and trained in New York - intentionally set the workshop around the space of the gallery to “contrast the staying power of visual art with the transient state of live performance”.

WHY NOT HERE? consisted of four days of learning and exploration and a final day used for filming our socially-distanced “performances” which would later be posted on Youtube. The attendees were 15 folks from varying backgrounds separated into two groups per day to maintain social-distancing measures. It was a diverse group of seasoned dancers, movement artists and even some complete beginners who were just starting out on their dance journeys.


On the first day, Alisya introduced us to the Gaga technique, which I’d always wanted to learn. Developed by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, Gaga is a movement language to help practitioners raise physical awareness by focusing on (in Gaga terms, “listening” to) the rhythm of their bodies, letting them direct their movement and feeling the pleasure that the movement brings. New to improvisation, I was nervous and eager. Alisya directed us to focus on the sensation of floating, and I let myself escape the confines of my own movement vocabulary. It felt alien and new because until that moment, I didn’t know my body could feel as light as it did. Each sway felt so delicate and free. I tried recreating the sensation when I got home afterwards but I couldn’t quite get it on my own. It’s extremely bizarre how an environment affects your headspace.

summer and alisya

Summer’s take on our exercises was a little different. With much of her background being Broadway, she made us explore a more theatrical side to dance and performance. We did a few exercises that had us doing either wild gestures or singing in gibberish while maintaining a character. Admittedly, it was hard not to feel silly and crack up but the exercises played a crucial part in breaking the ice and teaching us the value of playing a character. After all, dance is a performance and it requires putting on roles and performing them with conviction. Immediately after Summer’s first task for us, the shyness and tension in the room eased up.

We danced both in the gallery itself and outdoors, each environment presenting us with a new way to explore our surroundings. When we danced on the lawn, it was hard to be completely present as we had to be wary of cat droppings on the grass, all while being watched by an audience of passers-by. When we danced on the balcony, which was an open, wide space of concrete, it felt exhilarating. The setting of grey industrial tones was beautiful and when we looked up, all that was looking back at us was a beautiful blue sky. Dancing in the gallery, on the other hand, felt very intimate. I found myself trying not to make too much noise because a gallery is usually a place of contemplation and quiet. It was interesting to note the differences in how I felt, dancing in all these different environments. On the balcony, I felt very small and found myself using only a tiny corner to run over my steps whereas in the gallery, I lumbered and rolled around at every opportunity.

Summer and HERE X

My favourite group activity was when we were in the gallery and were tasked to stand in a row and walk back and forth from each side of the room. With each round, we were supposed to voluntarily drop out of the line and improvise. We were all pretty hesitant at first and did what was safe and familiar to our bodies, but as we progressed, Alisya and Summer kept insisting that we “break the rules” and the music gradually became more aggressive. Upon instruction, some of us started running across each side. Soon, that turned into us adopting characters and tugging at each other. That was my first proper experience with contact improvisation, which is partnered dance improvisation based on the principles of shared contact, touch, momentum and shared weight. It was thrilling to be able to capture someone’s attention and establish a connection merely by looking at them. It’s just a feeling of knowing and acknowledgement of an invitation. Before you know it, you are both leaning into each other and passing each other an imaginary ball of chi.

As one of the featured performances, we recorded a very fun, feminine, and campily satirical performance in which we presented as showgirls on a mock runway, inspired by a section in the exhibition celebrating glamour shots of 1980s showgirls. At first, our approach to it was rather simplistic as we only focused on the aspect of putting on an enjoyable performance. The facilitators later told us to contemplate on what it must have been like to perform every night for an audience of mostly men. We were encouraged to break character and use glamour as a ‘performance’ to hide the vulnerability and humanness of being women who might not have full ownership of their image. The end product turned out rather comical as we ended the performance in a formal picture-like formation, with broken smiles that didn’t quite reach the eyes.

Experiencing WHY NOT HERE? proved to be one of the few highlights of my 2020. It felt so good to be able to dance with other bodies and forge new friendships before the second lockdown. I would like to thank Alisya and Summer for giving me an opportunity and experience that is quite rare in a body-conservative country like Malaysia. It gave me an enriching experience and an opportunity to unlearn, explore and break away from the traditionalist approach to dance, and formed an extremely valuable part of my personal dance journey.

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Natasha P. is a participant of the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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