Behind the Scenes with Sigma Contemporary Dance: Exploring identity, defining perception

“Do what you love, and love what you do” – the running motivational mantra for many a Millennial, or better known as Generation Y.

Sigma Contemporary Light/Shadow et. Optical Delusion

On the flip side, it takes real passion, determination, and hard work too to pursue something you love. The Sigma Contemporary dance group knows this inside out, many having recently graduated yet pursuing dance on top of a professional career! Since their highly praised sold-out debut full-length performance, T|hitherto in 2012, they’re now literally hot on their heels in working towards a second production this year: A Double Bill: Light/Shadows et Optical Delusion.

We go behind the scenes with two of Sigma Contemporary’s founding members, Hong Guofeng and Chan Weizhi, whom are also the choreographers of A Double Bill: Light/Shadows et Optical Delusion.

Sigma Contemporary Founding Members Guofeng and Weizhi

We snooped around your Facebook page and found out you’ve got eight founding members! What sparked the formation of Sigma Contemporary?

Guofeng (GF): We started out back in 2010 as a platform to continue dancing even after graduation; we will book studios and take turns sharing our choreographies. Coincidentally, that was also the year that The Royal Dance Off, the first youth contemporary dance competition started. We joined and with a stroke of luck, won the competition, and that spurred us on to do our full length show T|hitherto in 2012. Some of us have been working for 4 years now, and we are still every bit as active as back in the university days.

Weizhi (WZ): It really came about when we realized we have graduated from school and asked ourselves “What now of our dance CCA?” From there, we gathered our friends who were passionate in dance and started dancing in studios out of school. One thing led to another and now we are putting up our 2nd blackbox production.

Wow, it’s amazing you’re all pursuing dance out of a passion yet holding other full-time jobs at the same time. Could you share with us what each of you are doing for work now, out of Sigma Contemporary? Is it a struggle to juggle? What pushes you on?

GF: Our occupations are very diversified actually; we have an auditor, civil servants, pharmacist, people in the finance sector, marketing, consultancy and procurement. As you can see, dancers exist in all fields of work. However, one of our founding members, Anthea (currently enrolled in Laselle College of the Arts) is pursuing dance full time and we are very happy that she has chosen this path. I think the greatest challenge we had was accommodating to one another’s schedule. Having different jobs also means that we are busy at different times of the year. I guess the shared belief and common love for dance still brought us together at 9.30am every Saturday morning.

WZ: It is a struggle to commit to the time required to put up a dance production. Being full time working adults, we have to sacrifice our precious weekends to make this happen. It can be quite challenging to find a time where all of us are available.

What’s the style of choreography or creative direction taken for Sigma Contemporary? Are there any local dancers who’ve influenced that take and how so?

GF: Sigma’s works are very concept driven and often we have to juggle between being too literal and letting the audience have the space to contemplate about a particular theme. Personally for me, the person that got me interested in choreography since I was 15 would be Benedict Soh. I learnt a lot about choreography from him. We are also avid supporters of local dance companies such as T.H.E and Frontier, whose works often inspired us both as dancers and choreographers.

WZ: Interestingly, all of us have different styles and different preferences! For myself, I like the concepts from Frontier Danceland and the physicality and movement choreographies of T.H.E Dance Company. I also enjoy the work socially satirical works of Kim Jae Duk, the resident choreographer of T.H.E.

Tell us more about your upcoming dance production, A Double Bill: Light/Shadows et Optical Delusion. What is the double bill or the underlying themes being explored? Why have you chosen to look into those themes?

WZ: Guofeng and I are helming a medium length item each this time. For my item Light/Shadows, it is about identities. I chose this theme because as a psychological concept and a young adult, the idea of identity is always evolving and changing in a manner that is extremely dynamic and to a certain extent, volatile. How we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us and how we think others perceive us are constantly affecting one another.

GF: My piece, Optical Delusion, was conceptualised as I am always very intrigued by our biasness in perceiving people or circumstances. Optical delusion, as explained by urbandictionary.com is when you see things as you want them to be, not as they really are. I thought this term aptly captures the essence of the item and what I want to portray.

Nothing beats watching the production itself, but could we get a brief description / sneak peak into a scene on how the theme would play out in the choreography?

WZ: Expect to see many costumes changes in my item and a tinge of whackiness!

GF: For Optical Delusion, the inspiration of the piece is bias in perception which led to us having a misconstrued sense of reality. Blind faith, discrimination and judgement of others vs self-judgement are several themes that I will be exploring in my piece. I will be using strong visuals in my choreography to present the various themes and hopefully the audience will be affected by what the dancers portray.

There can be so many facets to identity and to what defines us – our personality, career, family, gender, and even down to the clothes we don. Which aspects of identity are you exploring in particular with this production? Do you think there can ever be one absolute defining identity for an individual or will identity fluctuate?

WZ: Precisely! It is so difficult to reduce the exploration of the idea of identity to just 30 mins on stage. I think there is definitely one predominant identity in every individual, be it rooted in thoughts, clothes, career or any other manifestations.

One last random question: Which is your favourite “So You Think You Can Dance” contemporary piece?

WZ: I don’t actually watch much SYTYCD!

GF: There are quite a lot of routines which I like so it’s hard to state a favourite, but I would say the one that left the deepest impression was a guest performer on Season 7 called Dujuan Smart. The whole concept of portraying slavery, literally dancing with his hands chained is simple yet effective. His artistry also combined seamlessly with the music. I especially like that he is an African American shedding light on slavery on the national television. You can watch the dance on YouTube here.

Sigma Contemporary Light/Shadow et. Optical Delusion

Catch their fascinating exploration of identity through dance at their second full-length performance A Double Bill: Light/Shadows et Optical Delusion.
Sat-Sun, 14-15 June, 8pm / Get tickets at $20 here

Image Credit: Sigma Contemporary

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Claire Ding
Claire Ding is the Community Manager at ticketing platform Peatix in Singapore. She runs a community event for organisers, Backstage Pass , where organisers connect with others and learn tips on event management. Quite the thrill-seeker, Claire's gone skydiving, bungee jumping, and enjoys anything that puts her on edge (quite literally), it's no wonder she's in the business of events with never a dull moment!