TPAM: “The Retreat” 退避 blog

I landed in Tokyo at about 950am on a chilly Tuesday morning, 12th February. After a short journey to Yokohama and registering for TPAM, I took a brief stop at The Retreat workshop at Kanagawa Arts Theatre (KAAT) around 1pm.

The Retreat is a choreographic research process that Thai art practitioner Thanapol Virulhakul and dancers have been investigating for more than a year, drawing from forms of retreat from strangers, things and the unknown practiced in daily life, with the aim of arriving through the body at new understandings of and relationships with otherness. 

There was an exhibition that consisted of the work The Retreat was on – the body and the chair, the subject matter of horror etc. (Bear in mind I was running on 4 hours of sleep on a plane, I may not have fully understood the exhibition’s content well.)

The next room was where the workshop was held. It had happened to be the last day of their workshop – where the dancers were to find “the worst” – through finding “pleasure in pain” and taking part at the worst situations that we would normally object. The dancers would be confronting with deliberately unsafe actions, like with food and material objects. Sounds…uncomfortable.

I was greeted by six individuals playing with what looked like a breakfast set – white bread, peanut butter and a toaster. There was a performer who held a slice of bread in her palm, extended her hand forward and toward another performer’s face. It was like an act of suffocation, “bread facing” someone seemed unnatural. The not-normal was enhanced when members kissed each other through the bread or smeared peanut butter on each other’s faces. It was childlike, definitely unsanitary and almost amusing. Some members did burst out laughing.

After 2pm, the dancers were directed to move on to objects. They were surrounded by pieces of furniture, and used these physical manifestations as playthings. One member disappeared into a large drawer, another dancer balanced on an upside down chair.

I was actually quite blown away by the boldness of the dancers. Their deliberate movements were noisy, provocative and daring. Despite all this, I did spot a lady (an observer, like me) falling asleep. After all, it was a workshop space, not a full fledged production. The performers took no notice of us. After a while, it just looked like a bunch of kids wrecking the place, without a care in the world.

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