Grooving in Sync

The Xposition ‘O’ Contemporary Dance Fiesta has encouraged cultural dialogue among various countries, and nurtured one long love affair between Singapore and Italy.

BY ALY WIN CHEW
PHOTOS ODYSSEY DANCE THEATRE LTD

 

LEFT TO RIGHT: Dr Danny Tan (second from left) with members of MOTUS at last yearʼs XPO; a performance by MOTUS that was staged in Singapore in 2015; featured at last yearʼs XPO, ODTʼs performance, entitled Are We?, was backed by a choir.

H

aving performed extensively and choreographed dance presentations overseas, director-choreographer Dr Danny Tan came to a realisation that Singapore needed its own contemporary dance scene. This spurred him to establish the Xposition ‘O’ Contemporary Dance Fiesta (XPO) in 2001.

Organised by his own non-profit dance company, Odyssey Dance Theatre Ltd (ODT), the inaugural festival – held at Singapore’s Victoria Theatre and Northland Arts Centre – featured a collaboration between ODT and dance companies from Hong Kong and Australia.

More than a decade since its founding, XPO has found its way across Asia and Europe, bringing together hundreds of dancers from dozens of international dance companies every two years.

Garnering these achievements was no waltz in the park, however. First, Dr Tan had to make contemporary dance accessible to a local audience that didn’t seem to understand the performance genre. To deal with this, he held dance workshops at schools and fringe performances in the heartlands.

“We had to produce new platforms as well as diverse shows to make it more relatable,” he explains.

CULTURAL AMBASSADORS
The next step was to ensure that the festival reached audiences beyond Singapore’s shores. This Dr Tan did by presenting shows through international collaborations that made the performances more diverse and attractive to foreign audiences in Singapore, while opening the door to presenting XPO overseas.

Since then, the festival has evolved from being a contemporary dance platform to a means of cultivating stronger ties with international counterparts.

In 2011, XPO achieved a milestone when it debuted its Global Dance in Unison series, which saw the festival tour South Korea and Singapore. The project served to foster greater cultural exchange, as the organisers worked closely with government agencies and arts institutions in South Korea, including the Singapore Embassy in Seoul, the Korea Arts Council, as well as the Dance Association of Korea.

Presenting the festival in two countries was no easy feat, with organisations from both lending their expertise in coordinating the event. But it proved to be an eye-opening experience for ODT.

“Cultural exchange is essential, as it allows us to better understand the world we live in,” he says. “More importantly, it is through this that we can learn about mutual respect and humility.”

“We should always look at the bigger mission of us being Singapore cultural ambassadors – building friendships with our overseas counterparts and, together, creating a better world through mutual understanding and appreciation.” Dr Danny Tan, founder of XPO

LASTING FRIENDSHIPS
Another milestone was achieved in 2012, when ODT penned a three-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Italian dance company MOTUS. This enabled the two to stage performances in each other’s countries, as well as establish a sustainable long-term relationship to develop a new generation of artists. For instance, ODT’s performance, titled OM, was performed in two Italian cities the following year, while MOTUS performed at several editions of XPO.

Simona Cieri, the artistic director of MOTUS, praised XPO as being a champion for its own dance artists. She also pointed out that the festival has given her a more genuine understanding of Singapore.

“Thanks to the collaboration between MOTUS and ODT, we have learnt a lot about Singapore – its history, the behaviour of its people and the richness of its multicultural society,” she says.

“We love the architecture of the city, with its contrast between the old buildings and new constructions, between temples and shopping centres. But most of all, we really appreciate the kindness of the people. This helps us feel at home anytime, despite our differences,” she adds. Besides reaching their goal of bringing both countries’ contemporary arts scenes to a wider audience, ODT’s long-term relationship with MOTUS has also touched members of both dance troupes on a more personal level.

“Participating in XPO is always a fantastic experience. I had the chance to meet many artists from all over the world and exchange opinions with them. I appreciated the kindness and efficiency of people in Singapore, which I feel is a place where you can feel free to create in a productive environment,” says Martina Agricoli, a dancer from MOTUS.

It seems that her positive feelings are mutual. “This partnership has not only opened our senses to the rich history in Italian arts and culture, but to the deep-rooted humility and kindness that our Italian friends have shown us. We love the warm friendship that has led us to sustain our international collaboration year after year,” says Dr Tan. As a result of the collaboration’s success, the MOU between MOTUS and ODT was renewed in 2017.

Beyond fostering cultural dialogue through the appreciation of diverse dance styles, education is also very much part of XPO’s DNA. In 2017, XPO was expanded to include an education segment to deepen both local and international participants’ knowledge in contemporary dance. This included a seminar, masterclass and workshops run by renowned choreographers, all of which have garnered positive responses from participants.

“We should always look at the bigger mission of us being Singapore cultural ambassadors – building friendships with our overseas counterparts and, together, creating a better world through mutual understanding and appreciation,” concludes Dr Tan.




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