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Chey Rithea (foreground) and Kitamari rehearse earlier this week. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Re/Play begs the question: to dance or not to dance?

A group of dancers on stage freeze in various poses, several lying prone on the ground. As the music begins, some of them begin making subtle, slight gestures, while others break into large dynamic movements. A few remain still. One thing is clear each – is performing their own dance.

This dissonance is exactly what director Junnosuke Tada is trying to highlight in the second international co-production of Re/Play Dance Edit in collaboration with Amrita Performing Arts. The production makes its Cambodia premiere tonight and Saturday at the Department of Performing Arts.

“I want to focus on the fact that it is not possible for [the dancers] to understand each other . . . But when the [whole dance] is presented on stage, a third person who sees it can make sense of the entire performance,” Tada says.

Re/Play Dance Edit started as a theatre performance in 2006, before evolving into a dance production with a focus on the transience of time, inspired by Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake. Re/Play was then performed twice again in Japan, then internationally co-produced for the first time in collaboration with Singaporean theatre company Theatreworks and performed in Singapore.

What makes Re/Play stand out as a performance is the fusion of elements of theatre and dance. Typically, a stage actor depicts a specific character, but dancers use their body’s movements to express a range of both abstract and concrete concepts. “In theatre, you can express solidarity with a person. However, in dancing, you can express solidarity itself,” he says.

Tada introduced the concept of what he calls “dance/not dance”, in which he sees “not dancing” as a state of existing as a human being, and at the other end of the spectrum “dancing” as expressing something that transcends humanity. This concept is key in the Cambodian rendition of Re/Play. As director, Tada only instructs the group of Japanese and Cambodian dancers to dance, or not to dance, while giving the artists the creative freedom to choreograph their own movements.

While this concept results in a chaotic presentation of dance onstage, the background that Amrita’s artists have in traditional Khmer dance also means that there are moments of unison during which they perform movements similar to those in traditional routines, creating points of interest for the audience.

Amrita’s artistic director, Chey Chankethya, who is also involved as a performer, says that the Cambodian dancers all experience bouts of frustration because of this working approach, which is completely different from what they are used to. “It is very challenging to be a dancer and to not dance. The Cambodian [dancers] said ‘Kill me if you don’t let me dance’.”

According to Tada, instructing them to stay still burdens their minds. They become more conscious of their bodies, and by extension their dancing. “The dancer will think ‘what is dancing for me’? Is it large dynamic movements or is it small movements?” Tada says.

For Kitamari, a choreographer who has been a main collaborator on the project since 2012, this tension means her art has changed with every version of Re/Play, bringing her out of the creative rut she had previously been in.

It is this refreshing shift in perspectives that Chankethya finds to be the biggest lesson from the collaboration, as the dancers re-examine their habits, attitudes and ways of thinking towards dance, and on a larger scale human-to-human interaction itself.

“This approach of [expressing humanity through dance] by stripping away religious and political beliefs and cultural practices . . . means that there is nothing preventing humans from interacting with each other,” she says. “Where politics and economy try to divide and put [up] a boundary, art expands and art just goes where we can”.

The Cambodian-Japanese edition of Re/Play Dance Edit will be performed at 7pm tonight and Saturday night, at the Department of Performing Arts. Tickets are available at the door: $5 for adults and $2.50 for students.

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