It was a canoe outing gone wrong when a speedboat crashed into choreographer Raymond Liew Jin Pin, its propeller slicing through muscle and sinew. He survived, but dancing was out of the question. He had to undergo more than 10 reconstructive surgeries and could barely walk.
But the Hamburg, Germany-based Malaysian dancer/choreographer eventually got back on his feet, sharing his journey of recovery with Dear Raymond, a solo performance, and a Polaroid installation called Dear Butt, which premiered in Germany in 2015.
He has had several other productions to his name since then, the most recent being Mermaid in Johor Baru and Penang last month, which he worked on with German dancer/choreographer Jascha Viehstaedt.
Tongue, the first part of dance trilogy Continue, opens on Feb 9 at the Black Box, Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPac) in Petaling Jaya with Liew, 30, Lu Wit Chin, 34, and James Kan, 35, taking to the stage. This piece is co-choreographed by Liew and Viehstaedt, who is also the dramaturg, with music composed by experimental composer Ng Chor Guan.
The three dancers had planned to perform together four years ago, but Liew’s accident in 2013 put the brakes on this dream.
“Now it is time for us to continue this mission,” says Liew during a rehearsal in KL.
Liew describes Continue as a contemporary dance piece that focuses on the constant and repetitive patterns in nature and human behaviour. Presented in three segments, it kicks off with Tongue, with Triangle and Touch still in the works.
“Continue extrapolates on the most typical, enjoyable and problematic patterns you observe with humans: communication, relationship and touch,” explains Liew.
Tongue deals with the different intentions of the spoken word in relation to movement; Triangle investigates the many impalpable and repetitive aspects of human relationships; while the third segment, Touch, analyses the fundamental meaning of physical contact for merging objects, societies and people.
This project is a personal one for Liew in more ways than one.
The Liew-Viehstaedt collaboration is not a new one for the duo, and having lived and worked in Germany for 10 years, he is keen to share what has influenced his artistic development.
“Jascha plays an important role during the creation process because this collaboration is about bringing the German contemporary dance approach to the local dance scene. In that sense, it goes beyond just this work; its reach should be broader, and this includes the work process as well as the language of dance itself,” says Liew.
All three Malaysian dancers go way back, but parted ways at one point; Liew in Germany, Lu in Hong Kong and Kan in Taiwan (and Korea).
At present, Lu is based in Malaysia.
“Dancing again with two of my old friends means looking back at the younger version of us eight years ago in Kuala Lumpur, and comparing that with who we are now. It is difficult yet interesting to reflect on this process of transformation and growth, fuelled by our experiences abroad. The way we dance and move and think about dance and life are different now, yet somehow similar and familiar,” says Liew.
He shares that Tongue is very much connected to their personal lives and the journey they undertake as an artist and person.
“It raises questions about the world around you being in flux, even as you struggle to find meaning in it, and within yourself.
“Who exactly are these people? Are they friends, family, enemies, lovers, strangers? How do changes in time and space change these roles and relationships? How do we define closeness? Is it the secrets we share, is it how deeply we understand each other, or is it about physical contact and intimacy?” he asks.
Liew might have scars that linger, a reminder of a tragic accident that threatened to change the course of his life. But it did not stop him in his search for answers – or at least, a direction.
Liew is certainly not letting anything hold him back.