Part of the Invisible Diaries series:
Week 9 / Day 7
I once quipped to a very close friend that I do fine without people and I am quite alright to just be on my own. My friend laughed and teased, ‘How Ngean you’re such a people person; you like being around people!’ I must admit I was slightly taken aback, more for the reason that my close friend knew little of me. Living in rural Victoria, Australia for the past four years would have meant me going quite off-kilter if I wasn't fine being away from people and not socialising. My partner and I have a tight circle of friends we can count on but we do not exactly go out every weekend to party.
Then I realised that this wise friend of mine was not completely wrong, that she did know me well. One of the motivating factors of me getting involved in theatre in my university days was that I wanted to meet more people. I had wanted to try my hand at theatre, of course, out of sheer curiosity and minor interest at the time. I had actually started with the hope of learning stage management. Then I was asked to step in for a small role in a comedy sketch when I was stage-managing for our drama club in our residents’ hall. I did enjoy the friendships I made and I enjoyed the sense of purpose that my friends and I had. It wasn’t just sociality for the sake of sociality. It was fellowship. A group of people coming together to strive for a common goal: to make good and meaningful performances.
I won’t go into the details of my experiences building a working relationship with my fellow artists as I embark on my dramaturgical work. I will, however, tell you that a producer once said to me that she was glad I was dramaturging this particular dance project. ‘You know, she just needs someone to talk to. She is very lonely in the contemporary dance community in this country. She finds it hard to relate to the performing arts in her own community.’
Community. I think that was what I indirectly aimed for when I mooted the idea of the Asian Dramaturgs’ Network. A community committed to dramaturgy and dramaturgical consciousness in arts practice. My most immediate community would be the good people over at Centre 42, Singapore. Centre 42 champions the development of textual content for performance, an incubator of sorts for text-based performance whether it’s in drama, dance or any discipline of live performance. In addition, Centre 42 also advocates documentation and archival practices, alongside their education and outreach programmes, to run public awareness talks, forums, workshops ranging from dramaturgy to performance writing. Hence it was natural I proposed a partnership with Centre 42 in setting up ADN.
Four years on, I cannot wish for a better relationship that has grown beyond a working one. The individuals working in Centre 42 invest their hearts and souls into their organisation’s work. Company manager Ma Yanling is an ever-efficient project manager sensitive to the infrastructural needs of a programme or event, always keeping an eagle eye on things macro and micro. There is archive and documentation extraordinaire Daniel Teo who has been faithfully recording and documenting our past ADN events, who is now presently analysing our data to be used in other ways in future projects. Then there are executive director Casey Lim and board director Chiu Chian Seen who have supported every crazy idea I have had since Day #1 of ADN. Last but not least is my dear, dear friend, an insightful dramaturg and sensitive educator (and, my very own personal dramaturg!), Charlene Rajendran, whom I invited to be my co-director at ADN when I realised that her well-meaning advice and suggestions should be applied directly to ADN.
I did say in my previous entry that I was looking for other dramaturgs to connect with when I started ADN. And maybe I was lonely – as a dramaturg, as an artist, wanting to connect critically and intellectually with like-minded dramaturgs. We have invited repeat participants and speakers for our past ADN events, and we would be so proud to say our repeat invitees are always happy to come back. We work very hard at our symposiums, meetings, conferences and workshops; making connections between thinking and doing dramaturgy. On the other hand, we also value the delight and pleasure of the human company of our fellow dramaturgs. We may not meet very often but we pick up where we left off the last time we met.
Malaysian-born LIM How Ngean has been actively involved in the performing arts for 30 years, practising in both Malaysia and Singapore. He has dramaturged dance for the Singapore Arts Festival and Singapore’s Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, with critically acclaimed Singaporean choreographers Daniel Kok, Joavien Ng, Kuik Swee Boon and Ming Poon, and Thailand’s Pichet Klunchun and Phnom Penh-based Amrita Performing Arts.
In 2016 How Ngean founded the Asian Dramaturgs’ Network (ADN), a platform for critical exchange on dramaturgy among dramaturgs and performance-makers in the Asian region. It has had five successful symposiums and conferences since 2016. ADN organised its first dramaturgy laboratory in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in September 2018 in collaboration with Cemeti Institute for Art and Society. In 2018, he worked on a transnational curatorial performance project called Jejak-Tabi with co-curators Akane Nakamura (Japan) and Helly Minarti (Indonesia), which presented Asian contemporary performers specifically in Asian cities.
How Ngean was conferred his doctorate degree in 2015 from the National University of Singapore with his thesis entitled Choreographic Modernities: Movement and Mobility in Southeast Asian Contemporary Dance. He now resides in Victoria, Australia.
Portrait photography is courtesy of LIM How Ngean.