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Arts & Culture

The City in Motion

Artistic Director Ricky Sim and Dancer Matthew Goh talk about XITY, the latest dance project of RAW Moves exploring the relationship between people and the city they live in.

Words by
b-side staff
Location
Singapore

New ideas and perspectives can be drawn from elements of a city that we interact with daily if viewed with openness and imagination. Local contemporary dance company RAW Moves expresses that through their latest project, XITY, which draws parallels between movements made by the human body and man-made kinetic sculptures. 

Created in collaboration with kinetic sculptor Chok Si Xuan and production company Viziofly, XITY is presented through a live performance and an Augmented Reality (AR) application where viewers can marvel at digital kinetic sculptures inspired by real-life movements within their own environment. The use of technology—born out of a desire to explore and merge virtual and physical movements—adds a surreal layer to the live performance and subtly portrays the experience of living in a smart nation where technology is essential to its inhabitants.

We speak to Artistic Director Ricky Sim and Dancer Matthew Goh who conceived XITY to find out more about the project and how it seeks to invite people to look at their lived surroundings with creativity and fresh perspectives.

Left: Ricky Sim, Photo by Tan Ngiap Heng; Right: Matthew Goh

Tell us about XITY.

Matthew Goh (MG): XITY questions the relationship between inhabitants and the city. By doing that, hopefully, it allows the audience to see different facets of the relationship and expands our perspective of what a city can be. 

In my earlier phases, I was working with Choi Si Xuan who is a kinetic sculptor. We were toying with the idea of how to merge the two elements, body movements and her kinetic sculptures, together. 

With the AR app itself, what I was trying to do is to create this digital map and a draft of what XITY could be. So that is why it animates into different forms and inside these forms, you’ll be able to experience an audio-visual representation of the activity happening in the city.

What was the process of working on the AR App like? 

MG: In the early phases of my collaboration with Si Xuan, we started by exploring the relationship between body movement and objects with different materials—cloth, plastic, cardboard, aluminium, et cetera. We explored the tactile qualities of these materials and how the object influenced the movement of the dancer. It helped us to understand how we can work with these two elements—the body and objects—to create our kinetic prototype sculptures. 

For VizioFly, to give them a clear understanding of how to animate the 3D paper object and geometric visualisations, I used body movement. To simulate the 3D paper object in the studio, we cut a big piece of paper and wrapped it around the dancer’s body. The dancer then explores different movements while I select which ones would be appropriate for the animation. This method was my attempt to translate body movement into a digital animation.

As a dancer, what is it like working with technology? Is the process different or similar to conceptualising for a live performance? 

MG: Unlike the live show where I can use lighting, props, and movement, the app provided other tools for me to use to express my ideas. From face recognition, phone gestures, to 3D modelling and animation. I had to experiment with these methods by sketching or using other similar AR apps to understand how I could bring my message across to the audience. It challenged me to see how I can express myself differently such as translating movement into animation, sound or video. It allowed me to see other avenues in expressing my ideas. 

raw moves XITY
Photo courtesy of RAW Moves

RAW Moves work with a theme every year. Please tell us more about that. Did the current Reference theme guide the creation of XITY?

Ricky Sim (RS):We wanted to look at what smart nations are for three years with an annual theme. From last year’s theme of ‘Systems’ to this year’s ‘Reference’ to next year’s ‘Identification’, these are just components in the fabrication of what a smart nation could be or can be. How do we then draw from our living experiences in relation to our current practice? How do we reflect on existing output for the future? Hence Matthew’s reference came to mind. 

Through the XITY AR app, Matthew reflects on who and how he is in an environment where he is being constantly bombarded with technology in his everyday life. This is for him to express how that affects him as a person, citizen and as an inhabitant of this globe. I think it is very important because we all know that the world is getting smaller with the development of telecommunication and transportation. We are citizens of the world. We are no longer just citizens of a country. How that translates in Matthew’s work is how he transforms through different manifestations and forms. The XITY App addresses technology, humanity and a bit of surrealism in this smart city and the possible future. 

Covid-19 has brought about several limitations. Was XITY borne of a desire to inspire people to dive deeper into their surroundings? 

MG: Overall, the project allowed us to reflect on the current environment, especially our urban environment and the current happenings in our city. Not only does it allow us to reflect, it also allows us to question these events. Hopefully, by questioning deeper, it would give us further insights on how we interact with our city.

RS: XITY isn’t specifically created for Covid-19 but XITY can be a reflection on Covid-19 since this pandemic has certain influences. During Matthew’s exploration process during this pandemic, artists had a longer homestay which allowed them to generate deeper reflection while being alone at home. The bigger picture of the city they live in now becomes a small room. That in turn, affected how they think, act and channel their energy in making their art. It all comes down in a very metaphysical state. 

MG:The safe-distancing rule challenged me and pushed me to see how I can create my work. I don’t see those guidelines as a hindrance. I invite those challenges to create art. 

RS: Since Matthew’s work is about his current living environment, be it a retrospective view or expression of his personal take of what this city he’s living in, I believe Matthew definitely reshaped his approaches based on current practices.

raw moves xity
Photo courtesy of RAW Moves

How does XITY complement your larger body of work?

MG: I am always challenging myself to see movement differently or how movement can be challenged in motion. To me, I don’t see dance as a systematic “5-6-7-8”. So, XITY live performance allows me to experiment and push boundaries to what movement can be. Working with kinetic sculptures has enabled me to push movement beyond the organic bodies and fabricated bodies. I can see movement in terms of the organic body (the human body) as well as the fabricated body (kinetic sculpture). So, in a way, it has contributed to my practice as a person, which in turn developed into how I see movements overall.

How can people enrich their experiences of living in a city through dance and movement? 

MG:In a way, we are already dancing and moving in our city. For instance, if you look at the transportation system, how the trains are moving and how the people are moving in and out of it are already a choreography respectively even with the different soundscapes that are being created within the city. If we are mindful of these happenings in our city, we can then observe that choreography happening. 

RS: The entire living and interactive process of the everyday is an experience, and dance does not need to be recognised as a specific genre. The work, XITY itself, is actually a powerful work which allows us to see the world without having those lengths of technical dancing.

Photo courtesy of RAW Moves

What do you hope for the audience to take away?

RS: Come in with a fresh mind. That is the freedom of how RAW Moves allows people to relate movement and dance.

MG: Hopefully, they will be able to gain a new perspective and new questions about their living environments after watching this performance. I hope XITY allows them to see how interdisciplinary processes could be like since we are incorporating kinetic sculptures and the human body. Therefore, showing them how these processes can work out to become. 

What can we expect from RAW Moves next? 

RS: Next year’s theme is ‘Identification’ and with that being said, I think it is going to be more exciting than the current and last year’s because we will be tackling questions like “what and who are we” in relation to the bigger picture of a smart nation. Just tune in to our social media, Instagram and Facebook, to find out for what we have in store next. 

XITY AR App will launch on 18 Jan 2021. The live performance will take place at the Goodman Arts Centre from Jan 29 – Jan 31, 2021. Tickets available at xity.peatix.com.

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