Lim Chin Huat is a familiar name in Singapore’s dance scene; the former co-founder and artistic director of ECNAD (1996 – 2013) has an oeuvre of over 70 creative works, mainly full-length dance since 1993.
Chin Huat’s works have been part of the Singapore Arts Festival, Belgrade International Theatre Festival, Vienna Arts Festival’s Asia Village, Festival of Asia (New Zealand), Asia Interaction (Indonesia), Actor Studio at Kuala Lumpur, Beijing’s Chaoyang Cultural Centre, Esplanade Raw Series, Gardens by The Bay Opening, Mercedes-Benz Asia Fashion Award, Artwine Festival, Singapore River Festival, MediaCorp Star Awards, Asian Civilisation Museum and too many others.
Chin Huat is also a cross-disciplinary artist, having worked in capacities from visual artist, performer, dancer, choreographer, costume designer, facilitator, to educator. His most recent work, as installation in collaboration with acclaimed photographer, Tan Ngiap Heng, for Soil (2017) at the Substation is just one of his ever-expanding artistic chapters.
At ITI, Lim Chin Huat has been guiding the students in Movement lessons since 2015.
Q: Share with us your multi-faceted artistic chapters.
My first dream was to be a visual artist, and I also wanted to be a teacher because my primary school teachers were wonderful. So I stopped studying science, which I was doing at the time, and studied Fine Arts for three years at NAFA. During my final years of Fine Arts, I did physical training under [Ang] Gey Pin and joined the Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, then I re-trained in Dance at NAFA for the next three years. I had no background in dance before that, I just wanted to train my body because I felt it was the fastest way to improve my physical abilities.
The Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble was where I first had experience training actors. I would sit in on every single rehearsal even if I wasn’t called, and I learnt about training people by watching people train other people. Then, I did not have formal theatre training, but I did become a trainer. Toy Factory trusted me to train people when I was figuring out while doing it, and it seemed to work.
After that, I set up ECNAD, the first full-time contemporary dance company in Singapore. I wanted to make professional dance possible in Singapore, because I didn’t like how people would laugh at us: “dance is very easy, just shake your body”. I ran ECNAD for 17 years.
In my work at ECNAD, I combined visual art, theatre and dance. I did a lot of site-specific work because it was a creative solution in times when we didn’t have money to rent a theatre. But that came with other challenges like dealing with the weather or floors that were not proper dance floors.
When I was with ECNAD, Sasi – then the Artistic Director of Substation – commissioned me to create a work. That was my connection with Sasi, and to ITI today. I would like to thank Pao Kun and Sasi for letting me discover at the Substation for a full 10 years. It felt like the Substation was my playground. And I came to ITI to give back to the people who created the space for me, to pass down the skills I built then for a younger generation.
Q: What ideas or principles do you draw on for your teaching at ITI?
“Be inspired and inspire others” – it’s a belief from my mum, who worked in embroidery and crafts. She had fantastic skills, but she was self-taught. She was inspired by other people’s embroidery and she made it her means of earning additional income for the family.
I believe that life is connected to arts practice: if there’s no life, there’s no art. My mother planted this belief in me that everything is about sharing; you should be able to open yourself up in order to make the work more beautiful. It’s about learning from other people and getting inspiration from them, and making it work for yourself and for others.
I’m here to share my experience as much as I can. I believe in guiding. I don’t believe in making people work the way I work, I share how I work. I try to share with the ITI students how to breathe, how to relax their joints and muscles, how to apply force … Once they understand that, they can do everything.
Q: How different is it teaching movement to dancers vs teaching it to theatre students?
It’s a different approach, but the basics are all the same. I have to find a balance between the two extremes. When I teach dancers, they don’t ask, they just keep doing it until they get it, so I need to get them to understand before they do. At ITI, I get students to experience and explore movement first, and then we will have a discussion after trying it out.
Theatre students are used to talking about actions a lot and analysing the text, so I have to get them to focus on the body in floorwork. I have to make sure they understand everything they need to know about the body, so that when they learn any of the acting methods, such as Grotowski, Suzuki or Viewpoints, they can apply what they know to create something more.
Q: Movement and Theatre, Modern and Traditional – these come together in ITI’s curriculum. How do you work it into your teaching?
Traditional forms are the cumulation of wonderful wisdom, experience and knowledge from generation to generation, with culture as a very strong foundation for how people use the body to express themselves in certain ways.
Tradition is an important thing to pass down; otherwise, you’re always trying to be new, and your work might not be grounded or solid. I see traditional art forms as a good foundation to make our contemporary expressions that much stronger.
Q: What words do you abide by – that you live by and encourage others to?
Always believe, always try. Also, as I’ve mentioned earlier, an adage inspired from my mother, “always be inspired and inspire others.”