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[ENG][中]Dance en Scene – Rethinking regional collaboration and connection in the pandemic era

Text: Iris Cheung

Dance film—a coming together of two art forms—empowers dance artists and filmmakers alike to rethink movements and transform storytelling. While this hybrid form has been around for decades, it has garnered greater exposure, understanding, and knowledge from dance artists, filmmakers, and audiences in Asia during the pandemic. As a Programmer at Esplanade – Theatres on the bay (Singapore) , I was excited to be involved in one such “creation”—Dance en Scene—an initiative led by Esplanade in partnership with three other arts centres in the region. This three-year programme (2021- 2023) was dedicated to providing a platform for dance artists and filmmakers to come together to explore themes of significance and site-specific inspirations. I am honoured to be invited by dance journal/hk to share some thoughts and reflect on this compelling journey, one which has given me the opportunity to develop myself both personally and professionally.

《舞蹈風景》(2023)台中國家歌劇院(台灣)主視覺Dance en Scene (2023)Key visual used by National Taichung Theater (Taiwan)(照片由濱海藝術中心提供Photo provided by Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay)

From stage to screen

To curb the spread of COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic, Esplanade, like many arts centres around the world, had closed its performance venues to the public but it continued to engage audiences through online streaming of archival recordings of past performances for free of charge viewing. It was during this critical period that I started brainstorming with my colleagues in Esplanade who were working on our cultural festival, Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts, on how we could create a new digital dance programme which would engage audiences meaningfully, involve our local dance artists (who had to cancel almost all their performances and projects during the lockdown), and allow us to connect with other artists and arts centres in the region during the pandemic. We did not want to ‘simply’ record or livestream a dance production from stage to screen, as we felt that the engagement with viewers would not be ideal for dance. Resources were limited and the many safe distancing measures imposed in Singapore seemed to stifle artmaking, especially for dance. Honestly, many of our brainstorming sessions came to a dead end, until one of my colleagues uttered a passing comment,

“How I wish I’m not stuck in my small flat in Singapore, even working from home in some scenic countryside in Taiwan sounds better… Or maybe I just miss travelling!”

That sparked an unexpected “aha!” moment for me, because, in short and deep down, many of us wished to escape and be transported to another part of the world and do what we love. That gave me the idea to create works which would enable us to escape into an imaginative world and bring the dance and sights of another realm to us on our screens.

Our focus then turned to commissioning dance films—outside the context of theatres, instead created and performed as site-specific dance performances. In addition, we decided to pair dance artists with professional (dance) filmmakers, to offer a new lens of expression and encourage collaboration and knowledge-sharing between artists of both art forms.

Mapping out structures and gathering partners

Aside from artistic considerations and audience experience, we also aspired to maintain our connections with overseas artists. Hence, one key characteristic of Dance en Scene was that it involved collective efforts from regional arts centres, exploring new ways of touring and co-presentations based on an open and democratic structure. Each presenter was free to curate the artists of their choice and the themes or topics of their works. While each presenter would only commission one dance film a year, all participating arts centres in Dance en Scene were committed to screen one another’s films in their respective locations. Collectively, the project showcased and celebrated a diversity of cultures and inspirations, as well as the creative processes of artists living in different cities.

With the overall direction, framework and working structure defined, we pitched the idea to regional arts centres and we were delighted to have National Taichung Theatre (Taiwan), Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Arts (Hong Kong) and National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying) (Taiwan) come on board as partners for three years (2021 – 2023). Together, we had regular online meetings to discuss details such as branding, timelines, co-presentation platforms and structures, as well as setting copyright terms which would work for all parties.

Trust, care and respect

As I was new to dance films, it was a steep learning curve for me. I had to quickly adapt to learn and understand the many differences in managing budgets, timelines, manpower and deliverables for films, since my experience had been in producing live dance performances. I remain grateful to Elysa Wendi (Singapore / Hong Kong) and her team from cinemovement, with whom Esplanade collaborated for the first edition of Dance en Scene in 2021; they guided me through this journey with patience.

This brings me to another key learning point—managing relationships between the choreographers and the film directors. Just as I had to learn on-the-go, our choreographer-dance artists and film directors too had to deal with a change in dynamics in their roles in the creative process. Typically, a choreographer often calls the shots in many aspects of a dance production; but here his/her role had changed. The same went for the film directors as well. Therefore, I also saw the need to have regular individual check-ins with each party on their thoughts and feelings during the process to keep the collaborative spirit going and have both their voices well represented in the work they were creating. It was also important to see that the collaboration offered new perspectives in artmaking. Till today, I still remember the remarkable moment when Singapore choreographer Albert Tiong (involved in Dance en Scene 2021), shared with me that the experience had been liberating in a way he did not anticipate; that it was only through letting go, that he found trust in himself once again.

Concurrently, there was much care and trust amongst the arts centres. We learnt to be respectful of one another’s cultures, keeping in mind each city’s social contexts, considerations and audiences, while maintaining the key point that developing and promoting the arts are central to our mission.

《漫漫》 大館—古跡及藝術館(香港)委約作品(2022)A Long Walk (2022), Commissioned by Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Arts (Hong Kong)(照片由濱海藝術中心提供Photo provided by Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay)

All in all, having personally worked on Dance en Scene, it was an immensely fulfilling experience. The 12 dance films commissioned by four arts centres in three years were astonishingly diverse—each film with its unique narratives, views, approaches, styles, themes and topics which matter and inspire, highlighting each city and each artist’s distinctive social and cultural messages and expression through dance. This three-year long working relationship with open and honest communication among the arts centres has helped all of us grow as producers and presenters. Dance en Scene has enhanced a deeper understanding of one another’s working structures, distinct artistic voices and focuses. It has set a good foundation for future opportunities between artists who have forged new friendships and broadened their perspectives. It has also allowed arts centres to prospect new pathways for international participation and collaboration.

While the partnering arts centres have yet to meet to discuss future possibilities of how Dance en Scene may evolve as we emerge from the pandemic, I do hope we can look for more avenues to screen these 12 commissioned films and reach a global audience.


Iris Cheung has over 15 years of professional experience in festival management, creative programming and producing dance. She joined The Esplanade Co Ltd in 2015 and has been working on da:ns festival (now da:ns focus) and Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts.



翻譯:Terri Lo







《沖流》衛武營國家藝術文化中心(台灣)委約作品(2023)Swash (2023), Commissioned by National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying) (Taiwan)(照片由濱海藝術中心提供Photo provided by Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay)



確定了方向、框架和工作結構後,我們向各地區藝術中心提出了這個想法,而很榮幸地,臺中國家歌劇院(台灣)、大館 — 古蹟及藝術館(香港)和衛武營國家藝術文化中心(台灣)都答應成為我們的三年(2021-2023)合作伙伴。各方會定期舉行線上會議,討論品牌、工作進度、聯合展示平台和結構等細節,並定立適用於各方的版權條款。



這次的經歷亦讓我學到另一個訣竅——如何協調編舞和電影導演之間的關係。正如我必須邊工作邊學習一樣,在創作過程中編舞/舞蹈藝術家和導演也需要適應他們角色定位的變化。一般來說,編舞在作品中通常都是擔當主導角色,然而,這次他/她的角色已不再如同過往;電影導演亦然。因此,我覺得在過程中有必要定期採訪雙方的想法和感受,令合作順利進行,確保作品有表達出兩者的想法。同樣重要地,我們希望這次合作能為藝術創作提供新的角度。直到今天,我仍然記得參加2021年參與《舞蹈風景》的新加坡編舞家張永祥Albert Tiong與我分享的他的難忘時刻。他說這次經歷竟以意想不到的方式解放了自己;只有放手,才能讓他再次相信自己。





張海昕Iris Cheung在藝術節管理、節目策劃和舞蹈製作方面擁有超過十五年的專業經驗。她於2015年加入新加坡濱海藝術中心,主要節目策劃包括da:ns festival(現為da:ns focus)以及華藝節。

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