Continuities and Connections

Part of the Invisible Diaries series:

Week 9 / Day 2

Week 9 / Day 1


Disruption. Interruption. Postponement. Deferment. Suspension. Opportunity. Possibility. Potential. Shift. Consolidation. Reorganisation.

The Asian Dramaturgs’ Network (AND) had focused quite a bit on symposiums and conferences during the last three years. And talk we did: between 2016 and 2019, ADN organised six symposiums, conferences and satellite meetings of varying programme sizes with equally diverse topics, subjects and themes. And, thanks to the meticulous and efficient archiving and documentation efforts of Daniel Teo at Centre 42 (Singapore), almost all of our panels and roundtables are recorded and easily accessible – not to mention FREE – on ADN's website. That's quite a few hours of recorded discussions, presentations and forums.

Then, we began to experiment, to test out what we have been talking about. We ran our first ever dramaturgy laboratory for dance and theatre in 2018. For three days dramaturgs, academics, researchers, critics and practitioners pored over the works of a dance- and theatre-maker respectively. These makers were generous to a fault to allow us to dramaturg their works-in-progress; to see and experience what it means to work on dramaturgy in the studio, to think dramaturgically. While talking, discussing, discoursing and thinking constitute a substantial part of piecing together the ‘dramaturgy puzzle,’ it was time for us to try other modes of thinking via actions. In other words, we wanted to activate dramaturgical thinking or dramaturgical consciousness through doing, solving, trying.

And so the ‘doing, solving, trying’ continued in another form as we also took on and outreach and developmental programme with young arts writers and performance practitioners in our Points of View (POV) in 2018. This was a nine-day roving seminar-and-workshop programme where participants responded critically in structured sessions to the Singapore Festival of Arts events. Participants chose from two streams: in a nutshell, practitioners dialogued critically on chosen topics while arts writers were thrown into different writing workshops that pertain to performance – reviews, features articles, marketing communications, and, even pitching article angles to the press. This was expanding dramaturgical consciousness beyond a performance project and the making process. We really do believe that dramaturgical thinking should permeate all aspects of the arts in the most holistic way.

While we don’t have a fixed calendar of events, ADN was slowly but surely expanding its portfolio of activities. We were supposed to present another edition of POV in May 2020 with other planned activities that would highlight our rich archive. There was also another edition of the conference that we were starting to work on toward 2021. And then the pandemic hit. While the world tries to forge ahead with Zoom, Youtube, Vimeo, etc, we had one (albeit fruitful and productive) online meeting to discuss stalled plans and how to negotiate an unknown future. No new deadlines were set, just approximates. For now. We did, however, talk about the future.

Some questions that we thought about:

  • What are the new ways of dramaturging remotely? ‘Zoom’ dramaturgy?

  • What are some of the new ways of thinking while dramaturging remotely? What about liveness? How is focus affected – when we are surrounded by distractions in the comfort of our personal spaces?

  • Is remote dramaturging productive?

  • How do we organise (dramaturg even!) more effective webinars, online presentations and lectures?

(Dear readers, if you have thought about these questions, I would personally like to hear from you!)

And so, the definite conclusion in our Zoom meeting was that we would look at our archives to see what can be mined from that. We have yet to analyse much of what is documented. We have yet to truly organise and consolidate our recorded material into critical intelligence that we can share. So, it’s time to precipitate, analyse deeply and reflect even more critically.

Disruption. Interruption. Postponement. Deferment. Suspension. Opportunity. Possibility. Potential. Shift. Consolidation. Reorganisation. In Progress.

Sounds pretty much like a dramaturgical process, if you ask me.

Singapore 2018: Writing workshop session during the Points of View writers’ group. The broad aim of the Point of View writing sessions was to expose young arts writers to different modes of arts writing beyond the review.

Singapore 2018: The practitioners’ group meeting during Points of View. The group took participants to diverse talking points, to push young practitioners to always think of the social, cultural, political contexts of performance-making and staging.

Yogyakarta 2018: Post-workshop discussion during the dramaturgy laboratory of the theatre group. A theatre company welcomed a group of almost 30 participants to literally interrogate their creative process and how (perhaps) dramaturgical interrogation could critically strengthen their performance and performance-making.

Yogyakarta 2018: Post-workshop discussion during the dramaturgy laboratory of the dance group. One of the biggest challenges during these discussions and heated debates was that the language. Bahasa Indonesia or the Indonesian Language was the first language of the dance group who welcomed us into their dramaturgical interrogation. Most of us who took part in the interrogation spoke mainly English.

(More on translation and dramaturgy in my later entries.)

Yogyakarta 2018: Workshop showing of a dance segment for the dramaturgy lab. The three-day sessions of trying to understand how dramaturgy and dramaturgs work in the artistic process in a workshop environment truly required quite a bit of blow-by-blow planning. Contact this writer for a dense and detailed description of the labs!

Yogyakarta 2018: Public showing of the theatre group’s performance segment at the dramaturgy lab. The most apparent mechanism at play in the three-day project for both the dance and theatre groups was the various ways critical feedback was put in place by the ADN participants in different roles throughout the labs.

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.


Headshot photography courtesy of LIM How Ngean. ADN conference photography courtesy of Centre 42.

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