Gwen Sin caught up with Frontier Danceland’s Co-founder and Artistic Director Low Mei Yoke on the upcoming LEAP 2019 contemporary dance showcase.
LEAP 2019 is an annual showcase for graduates from the year-long M1-Frontier Danceland PULSE programme. Co-presented by telecommunications company M1 Limited, this scholarship programme features budding local talent from 15 to 25 years old who are enthusiastic about contemporary dance.
LEAP 2019 will feature an exciting line-up of new works by Frontier Danceland’s Artistic Director Low Mei Yoke, company artists Faye Tan, Keigo Nozaki and Sammantha Yue, and project choreographers Adelene Stanley and Chew Shaw En.
We spoke to Low Mei Yoke, more affectionately known as “Ms. Low” to her students and colleagues at Frontier Danceland, to find out more about this year’s program.
How did PULSE come about?
Low Mei Yoke (Ms. Low): The PULSE program initiated in 2010. From the dance lessons and interaction that I had with many youths in Singapore Secondary Schools and Junior Colleges, I noticed there are actually many youths in Singapore who love to dance, but doesn’t have an avenue to go to. I thought it was such a pity. If they could have somewhere to go to for regular practices in their free time or dance leisurely, it would help to raise the bar and standards of dance in Singapore. I also felt that if more people want to know more about contemporary dance, there should be somewhere that they could go to. There were also not many entities in Singapore offering contemporary dance then. A lot of people didn’t know what contemporary dance is too. These are the main premises to have the PULSE program nine years ago. Through weekly training sessions with Frontier Danceland company artists, our scholars learn different aspects of contemporary dance, becoming more well-rounded and mature artists.
How has PULSE evolved over the years?
Ms. Low: I am very happy to see some of the PULSE alumni returning in some of the years’ showcases. Like this year, there are three performers participating and were from the first batch of PULSE! Some of them come often or couldn’t return for three to four years, due to university. But they share with me they still continue to dance in university, and this is how it should be – that we will keep working on our passion even though we could be caught up in life.
How is this year’s LEAP conceptualised?
Ms. Low: I try not to keep to an overall theme, so that the choreographers and artists have more free play to think about their pieces. What’s more important to me is how the dancers relate to each piece and the relevance of experiences based on their age groups, ie. from 15 to 25 years old. If a choreographer conceptualises a piece but the dancers may not have the life experience of interpreting it, they will not be able to express it well then. Their current thoughts, mindset and emotions will bridge the gap of what we as the audience are trying to understand from each piece in the showcase.
This might be a spoiler for some of those who are going to watch LEAP, but could you share more about your piece in this year’s showcase?
Ms. Low: Birthdays are rarely celebrated in my younger days. Back then, it was just another event in our lives. And celebrations only happen when we are much older. Imagine we only threw a birthday celebration for my parents when they were in their sixties!
Times were also bad then, and there were many mouths to feed. I came from a big family and I have 10 siblings, and I am the youngest. It was very tough when there were so many of us and also, it seemed like a long time to celebrate my siblings’ birthdays before it was my turn!
I remembered my first birthday celebration only took place when I turned 21. I had started to work and earn a salary then. Everyone was also saying 21 is a good age to celebrate one’s birthday officially. It was very memorable as I booked a chalet at Sentosa Island and invited some dancemates and my then-boyfriend (who later became my husband) just to stay overnight to eat and laugh together. It was such a “大件事”(“dai kin si”in Cantonese, which means ‘big deal’) back then. Even though I lost touch with those friends, it was such simple joy and I could still remember my emotions and thoughts at that point in time.
Nowadays, we try to celebrate one another’s birthday at Frontier Danceland by buying a cake to surprise the person. Even on social media, friends from abroad will see the birthday alerts and send over their greetings to one another sometimes. This is why birthdays hold a special place in my heart.
What is the legacy you would like to leave behind for the PULSE Scholars and Alumni?
Ms. Low: I hope they will always remain appreciative. When they first joined PULSE, it could purely come from pure interest. But the one-year program could actually influence them in many ways. These youths must be appreciative of such a platform for them to perform, and also to remember to work hard. Be very focused in doing something. Even if they don’t dance professionally eventually, they should treasure the process.
Every year, I also have former students who have gone overseas to pursue dance as part of their further studies. Many of them would return to Frontier Danceland and share their own knowledge with the current students. I try to keep an open and collaborative culture with contemporary dance. Unlike ballet or other traditional dances, they have an entrenched history and knowledge. We need to advocate more about contemporary dance through a more collaborative platform and help those who wish to dance to have a chance to pursue their dreams. It was very tough for me when I embark on this dance journey, so I hope it is better for others.
Tickets are still available for LEAP 2019. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (65) 6336 1526 for group bookings (minimum of 10 tickets). Don’t miss this wonderful showcase on a diversity of new works presented!
Another interview with Ms. Low Mei Yoke on her thoughts of being awarded as one of Singapore’s Cultural Medallion recipients in 2018 can also be read here.