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Switchblade Operation: The Longing — Reviving Excellence After 30 Years

Published on 29/04/2024

(This blog post is written by Eksentrika. Check out their website here)

Revived after 30 years, Loke Soh Kim’s contemporary dance piece Switchblade Operation: The Longing earned 13 nominations at the 2024 Boh Cameronian Arts Awards.


It may have been her own dance performance from 30 years ago, but for Loke Soh Kim, restaging it meant pushing the standards further; with more experienced performers and gained expertise.

Perhaps, that is how Switchblade Operation: The Longing came to receive multiple nominations at the Boh Cameronian Arts Awards (BCAA); across various categories, showcasing excellence in costume design, lighting, set and visual design, choreography, group performance, and featured/lead performers.

Soh Kim collaborated with a team of trusted professionals to revive two of her previous works: a duet titled Gui Qu Lai Xi and a group piece titled A World in a City within the framework of Switchblade Operation: The Longing. These performances, were originally staged in 1994 and 1995.

For the 2023 restaging, Kongsi Petak and Cake Project presented the pieces, which were performed at KongsiKL between 6 and 9 July 2023.

In an interview with CloudJoi, dancers Audrey Chua and Winnie Xuan, set designer Liew Chee Heai, and costume designer Ix Wong discussed how the performance was adapted for contemporary audiences after a 30-year hiatus.

 

New Approach, Higher Expectations

Audrey and Winnie highlighted a shift in approach between creating and producing the two pieces in 1994 and 1995 compared to the present.

Since the newer production involved more professional and experienced dancers, expectations were higher. All the dancers were also subjected to an audition before being selected.

“Soh Kim made it clear from the very first rehearsal that since she was working with experienced and professional dancers, she expected more out of the dancers,” said Winnie.

“She trusted us to push ourselves more and was more ambitious with the whole work itself,” Audrey agreed.

 

Gui Qu Lai Xi was first performed at the Penang Dance Station in 1994.
‘Gui Qu Lai Xi’ was first performed at the Penang Dance Station in 1994. IMAGE: Penang Dance Station

 

More Matured & Refined After 30 Years

Both Gui Qu Lai Xi and A World in the City share a similar theme in that they critically examine societal norms and challenges, advocating for introspection and societal change through powerful and emotive choreography.

Gui Qu Lai Xi boldly confronts traditional gender norms, shedding light on the enduring struggle for freedom within a patriarchal society. Through its evocative choreography, the piece delves into the complexities of societal expectations, urging viewers to question and challenge ingrained gender roles.

Meanwhile, A World in the City serves as a poignant reflection of the modern urban experience, capturing the frustrations and disillusionment of the working class amidst the relentless pace of metropolitan life. Through dynamic movement and expressive storytelling, the piece exposes the harsh realities faced by individuals navigating the tumultuous landscape of a bustling cityscape.

In his review of the latest restaging of the dance, Malaysian dancer Ramli Ibrahim remarked that Loke Soh Kim approached the choreography with maturity and depth, steering clear of overt sentimentality while exploring the intricate cultural and destiny-related themes portrayed in Gui Qu Lai Xi. He noted that “A World in the City” effectively utilized space, movement, soundscapes, and lighting to vividly depict the chaotic life of a metropolitan environment. Overall, Ramli highlighted Soh Kim’s choreographic evolution towards more mature and nuanced storytelling, showcasing a willingness to embrace complex themes and innovative artistic approaches in her dance performances.

 

Nurturing Team Strength Over Individual Differences

The diverse team included members from various backgrounds, including individuals located outside Malaysia. To address this challenge, Winnie explained that they invested extra time and effort by scheduling extended rehearsals and accommodating later schedules.

Winnie commented, “The chemistry was there, and it all paid off in the end.” She added that the team consisted of individuals who were fun and understanding.

Ix noted that Soh Kim’s maternal energy played a crucial role in balancing the team’s discipline and creativity.

 

Switchblade Operation: The Longing features diverse performers.
Switchblade Operation: The Longing features diverse performers. IMAGE: Taka Chang / Kongsi Petak

 

Guiding With Flexibility And Structure

“She cared a lot about us and gave us the freedom, at the same time also gave us a lot of challenges,” Ix said. Audrey affirmed. “She exudes a maternal energy—strict yet supportive of individual expression.”

Once, Soh Kim had the dancers wear running shoes and run around the rehearsal space for a full 20 minutes to build the stamina needed for the rigorous performance.

Chee Heai observed that Soh Kim consistently pushed the team to excel by stretching their boundaries. Overcoming these challenges resulted in memorable experiences for both the team and the audiences.

“What was difficult ended up being the most memorable,” Audrey reflected, highlighting how Soh Kim’s expectations motivated everyone to excel and elevate their performance.

 

Loke Soh Kim's 'Switchblade Operation: The Longing' involved rigorous movements.
Loke Soh Kim’s ‘Switchblade Operation: The Longing’ involved rigorous movements. IMAGE: Taka Chang / Kongsi Petak

 

Trusting Talents To Deliver 

Ix said that Soh Kim was likely inspired by the performers and crew themselves whom she trusted immensely.

In trusting him with designing the costumes, Ix said he was proud of the fact that he was able to design the costumes with zero cost. Most of the fabrics were repurposed.

“It was challenging because of the huge amount of freedom I had. What can I do with so much freedom?”

This led Ix to spend long hours experimenting with the various costume designs which, according to Audrey, should be exhibited because they were that good.

 

Loke Soh Kim pushed the performers to deliver their best in Switchblade Operation: The Longing.
Loke Soh Kim pushed the team to deliver their best in Switchblade Operation: The Longing. IMAGE: Taka Chang / Kongsi Petak

 

Ultimately, “Switchblade Operation: The Longing” not only showcased Soh Kim’s artistic brilliance but also stood as a testament to the resilience and creativity of the Malaysian dance community.

These achievements are now being recognized through 13 nominations at the BCAA, including Best Costume Design, Styling & Make-Up (Ix Wong), Best Lighting Design (Bryan Chang & Loke Soh Kim), Best Set And/Or Visual Design (Liew Chee Heai), Best Choreographer in a Mixed Bill (Loke Soh Kim), Best Group Performance (Kongsi Petak and Cake Project), Best Featured/Lead Performer (Audrey Chua, Gabriel Wong & Winnie Xuan), and Best of Nominees.

The BCAA, held since 2002, honours Malaysian performing arts practitioners. Organised by Kakiseni and Boh Plantations, the awards span 37 sub-categories. This year, 74 productions were nominated at PJPAC, 1 Utama. The award ceremony is scheduled for May 5 and the full list of the nominations can be viewed here.

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