Since it was founded in 2008 T.H.E. Dance Company has become one of the key players in Singapore’s dance scene. Based at the Goodman Arts Centre, the team is about to expand to nine professional dancers, under the direction of artistic director Kuik Swee Boon. The company has so far toured to France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Poland, Korea, China and the UAE.
Its biggest achievement though has been creating M1 CONTACT Festival. Launched in 2010, the festival started out with just three productions. ‘I saw a gap in the local arts scene and at the same time I wanted to present an annual event focussed on contemporary dance, where independent dancemakers, companies, students, curators and audiencess from Asia and around the globe could converge in Singapore for an immersive experience,’ says Boon.
From modest beginnings, with Boon even roping in family members to take the publicity shots, M1 grew quickly, and the 2014 edition boasted 14 shows. ‘More than 90 international, regional and local guest artists attended,’ says Boon, before adding that this year’s edition – running from 21 November to 13 Dec – will be even bigger. Events in 2015 will be spread across four major venues: Esplanade, National Museum of Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts, and Goodman Arts Centre.
That growth has been possible because of partnerships with other dance companies. ‘We’ve partnered with Damansara Performing Arts Centre in Kuala Lumpur, with which M1 CONTACT is a co-presenter for the d’MOTION International Dance Festival. We’ve also partnered with Seoul Dance Collection / Seoul Performing Arts Festival; Yokohama Dance Collection; and MASDANZA International Contemporary Dance Festival in the Canary Islands,’ says Boon. These partnerships have helped fill up the festival’s schedule, as well as raising its profile, spreading M1’s reputation beyond the confines of Singapore.
But what about funding – has T.H.E. had help from the commercial sector? ‘Yes, this vision has been greatly aided by our venue partners and, most significantly, the patronage of local telecommunications company M1 Limited, T.H.E’s principal sponsor and title sponsor of the Festival since 2014.’
Although it has grown in a short space of time, Boon says the festival remains true to its original intent: ‘The core values are still the same: to promote and provide learning, exchange and performance opportunities for contemporary dance artists through a series of 16-hour workshops, technique classes, and open-call performance and scholarship platforms.’ He adds that 45 such workshops were held in the 2014 edition, with more planned for 2015.
The format for 2015 follows the pattern set last year, breaking the festival up into different platforms. ‘One platform features local dance artists; one features Southeast Asian artists with professional practice/intent selected via an open call out; one has invited international guest artists including husband-and-wife duo Dimo Kirilov and Tamako Akiyama of Spain’s Compania Nacional de Danza (CND) and award-winning Korean choreographer Dong Kyu Kim, founder of R.se Dance Company; another features local and regional dance institutions and conservatories; one promotes experimentation and risk-taking beyond the contemporary dance genre called M1 Open Stage; and finally two highly-anticipated programmes of every festival edition: the creation premieres of our professional main company and second company dancers.’
Boon also believes that the festival helps improve its own work as T.H.E. Dance Company, by expanding the ensemble’s horizons. ‘For much of the year we focus our in-house productions, external commissions, and tours,’ explains Boon. ‘Then, at the end of the year, our gaze shifts outwards and we engage the dancers and community on a much higher level, where there is a greater awareness and perspective of the international dance scene.’