It’s a wrap!

It’s a wrap!

The performance of Indulgence ended with a bang on Saturday, to the largest group of audience of the run!


We’ve been catching up with some audience members after the shows, and also got the chance to hear your thoughts on the show during the post-show discussion on our opening night. Some also penned their thoughts on Facebook! Many of you shared with us about how you can relate to various of the scenes in Indulgence, in a variety of ways. In this performance, where Kai, Bernice and Jereh explored indulgence through several tableaus, we’ve found that everyone has a scene or theme which they can really connect to.

“It managed to showcase the poetry of everyday pleasures. It reflects powerfully on the absurdity of life and how we keep on living nonetheless.”

Juliette, 20 May

“I loved the part they danced to the music video as it reminded me of my childhood.”

Afiqah, 20 May

“Some ideas on “having fun” resonated with me – reminded me of childhood games tht we used to play to pass time, like the “bottle” spinning that recalled senses of truth or dare. Other themes on sexuality, gender and identity are pertinent issues that do not necessarily resonate on a personal level, but are universal concerns I feel.”

Wan Hui, 21 May


“I guess what struck me was the beginning, in the scene with the sushi plate. Because for me what struck me was that it addresses the idea of a certain bit of exhibitionism, at the start where, I guess bodies become objects. It really relates, I guess essentially to the opening of the show itself, where the actors themselves become flesh on display. But also it maybe speaks to all of us.”

Kenneth, 21 May

“What I saw or what resonated with me was the hint of vulnerability and the inability to capture what one wants.”

Weiyu, 23 May

“The female body and just the trappings of the human body in general really resonated with me as a Muslim girl.”

Sabrina, 23 May


Some expressed how interesting and refreshing this work is, and how intriguing you find the concept behind Indulgence. We’re incredibly heartened to see how all of you have been excited for this new, experimental work, and are supporting Kai, a young artist with a unique voice.

“I like how the performance pushes my comfort zone in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. The performance explores indulgence in a fun, unpredictable way, especially in terms of how it maximises the use of space.”

Olivia, 21 May

“It’s a very visceral, sublime performance with a lot of surprises happening all the time. It’s wonderful.”

Alison, 22 May


“The languages it used to discuss the themes were definitely new. I really enjoyed it.”

Sabrina, 23 May

“I have never been to an engaging performance such as this. It was an extremely immersive experience.”

Meera, 23 May

“I really enjoyed how they were enjoying themselves; it’s something very refreshing to see – performers actually enjoying themselves while they’re performing.”

Jia Ling, 23 May


Here’s a BIG THANK YOU to everyone for making Indulgence a success and supporting new artists like Kai! Your thoughts and feedback are also very appreciated by Kai and her team.

We’re glad to hear many of you share that you’ve enjoyed yourselves, and we hope to see you again soon!


For more photos from the performance, behind-the-scenes and engagement programme dance-Oke, visit our gallery.

Our audience shares … #7

Our audience shares … #7

Kai, Bernice and Jereh performed the last show of this run of Indulgence on Saturday, to the largest crowd of the run! We spoke to some audience members after the show, and they kindly shared with us many insightful thoughts and interpretations of the work, and how it related to them personally.

Sabrina 1

Sabrina, a student at SOTA, shared:

1. Which part of the performance could you relate to the most? Why?

Definitely the exploration of the body and its trappings, and I like the emphasis on the female body, and also the different languages they used to describe, especially the trappings of the female body. Definitely, those themes definitely resonate with me, as a Muslim girl. Everybody makes assumptions about me and my religion, and definitely how my religion treats the human body, which I sometimes find very disconcerting, because they’re making assumptions about me based on just maybe one or two character traits that I happen to have. So the exploration today was really nice to see, and I liked how they, in their own way, they honestly discussed how basically all women are viewed as vessels for childbirth. Which is quite sad, because women are more than that.

2. Do you have any other comments on the show?

I definitely enjoyed the… languages, can I say it again, the vocabulary that they used, the use of the body, the music, and just the images that they decided to use in this particular production. The lights also, are very enjoyable, they definitely helped enhance the performance, and I definitely liked the promenade space, the use of space and architecture in this wonderful, wonderful space. The sense of intimacy was really engaging, and the whole performance was quite well thought out, you can tell there was a lot of effort put into concept.

3. Do you enjoy being at TheatreWorks’ shows?

Oh, definitely! TheatreWorks always has some of the best shows of the year for me. Really memorable stuff. Of course for newcomers and people who aren’t very well versed in contemporary art, or just theatre in general, would find this kind of work quite confusing, but I think sometimes you need the art to do that, you need to walk away going, “oh my god, the hell did I just watch? I just paid money for that?” Because that makes you think about the symbols and makes you engage with the work in a different way.

4. Do you like 72-13?

Yeah, definitely! The space is amazing, I would love to perform here once – haha, hint hint! But yeah, I think no matter the show, TheatreWorks, the performers and the artists really do engage with the space and they make full use of it, so I would love to keep watching works in here as well.


Fiona, an arts student, shared:

1. Which part of the performance could you relate to the most? Why?

I think the one that I can relate to the most would be the music video, and I can see why, you know, it’s the idea that all these things are accepted by society but yet it’s not really confronted in that sense. It’s also overly sexualised and whatnot as well.

2. Do you have any other comments on the show?

I think I did enjoy myself tonight, but I feel that this, it’s a lot to work on. I think the concept is there, but I think the execution could have been done a lot better. I feel it wasn’t coherent enough, it felt like it got there, the narrative got there, but it wasn’t clear enough and because of that it doesn’t really appeal to a lot of people as well. But nevertheless I still did enjoy myself.

3. Do you enjoy being at TheatreWorks’ shows?

Yes, I do! I definitely do enjoy myself. This is my, don’t know how many already, show that I’ve been to at TheatreWorks.

4. Do you like 72-13?

There’s no specific reason as to why I like it, but yeah.

Etienne, a dancer, shared:

1. Which part of the performance could you relate to the most? Why?

I’m not quite sure, this is a very special performance. I’m a dancer, so I know sometimes it’s not about what you understand, it’s about what you experience.

2. Do you have any other comments on the show?

This is not the kind of performance we’re used to watching, it’s more like an experience, it’s more like you kind of take part in the show, you kind of have to move around, move inside, it’s like you’re on stage with the performers and it’s quite interesting.

3. Do you enjoy being at TheatreWorks’ shows?

It’s my first time at a TheatreWorks show. It would be great to come to future shows.

4. Do you like 72-13?

I find the space incredible, I love it here.

Jia Ling, a dance student at LASALLE, shared:

1. Which part of the performance could you relate to the most? Why?

I don’t know how to actually talk about relating to the performance, it’s more of I came without any expectations, and I just really like the idea of just indulging in the performance. It’s funny how the performers can indulge in whatever they want to show, but I felt that by showing what they like to indulge in, I was indulging in their indulgence.

2. Do you have any other comments on the show?

I think it was really fun. I really enjoyed how they were enjoying themselves, it’s something very refreshing to see, performers actually enjoying themselves while they’re performing, because especially for dance, there’s this expectation that when you perform, you have to look perfect, you have to look as if you’ve rehearsed this for a million times, and you look great on stage. But I love how there’s so much room for mistakes, so much room for doing whatever.

3. Do you enjoy being at TheatreWorks’ shows?

Yeah, yeah! I’ve come for quite a few of their productions.

4. Do you like 72-13?

Yes, it’s a very interesting space, I think that a lot can be done in this space. It’s very flexible.

Esther, a dance student at NAFA, shared:

1. Which part of the performance could you relate to the most? Why?

I think I liked the part where they had the music video playing and they were dancing to it. I think that is just pure fun, and that is something I want to indulge in.

2. Do you have any other comments on the show?


3. Do you enjoy being at TheatreWorks’ shows?

Yeah! It’s my first time here.

4. Do you like 72-13?

Yep! I think the lighting is good, and there’s a wide range of space we can explore.

Thank you Sabrina, Fiona, Etienne, Jia Ling and Esther!

Our audience shares … #6

Our audience shares … #6

We caught up with some of our audience members at Indulgence once again on 22 May, and they shared with us their thoughts on the show.


Grace, a lecturer, shared:

1. Which part of the performance could you relate to the most? Why?

One thing, it makes me want to think of chicken rice. You know, what does chicken rice have to do with this part of the world, in Singapore? And also I think the space is very interesting to look at. The space between the audience and the performers, and when does the audience actually become the performers. The lines between these spaces are very interesting.

2. Do you have any other comments on the show?

I have a lot of… It created a lot images in my head now, that I will ponder a little a bit about.

3. Do you enjoy being at TheatreWorks’ shows?

Yes, yes I do! It’s a good experience. They always have different shows and different ways of doing the shows.

4. Do you like 72-13?

Yes! I do! I think architecturally this space has its own character by itself, and every time when different performers walk in this space, it has a very… I do not know, I don’t want to use the word transformative, but it does have that kind of feeling. To me, it is quite something that will transform a person’s state of mind. Even though I kind of know this space quite well, I’ve been here quite a few times, but I do find it different. There’s like some secret place that you know, oh suddenly you find, “Oh, this part can be used like this! That part can be used like this!”


Conan, from the Asian Civilisations Museum, shared:

1. Which part of the performance could you relate to the most? Why?

I think I really liked the part where they were sliding around on the floor, on the beanbags on the middle, yelling phrases like ‘I love you’ and stuff like that. I just found it very interesting, it was just very funny throughout. I like that part.

2. Do you have any other comments on the show?

I really like the sense of… I think they built the sense of tension really well, in terms of just anticipation, even with the idea of falling, if she actually fell from the heights, the truss, that was something that you’re wondering throughout the whole piece whether she’ll fall or not, are they going to do some sort of jumping thing. Even at the end of the piece that was something that was very strongly implied. So I like that. I liked that a lot, the way they built up the tension.

3. Do you enjoy being at TheatreWorks’ shows?

Yeah, the ones that I have been to have been enjoyable. The last one that I went for was…actually also with Bernice and Kai Er, also like a moving, walking around kind of thing.

4. Do you like 72-13?

Yeah! I haven’t been up here (Space 3), actually. It’s interesting. A lot of room to play with.

Alison, a theatre practitioner, shared:

1. Which part of the performance could you relate to the most? Why?

I think it’s the theme of having fun, because I think as artists, most of the time when we create, we forget that a huge part of it is having fun, because it ties in with what we do, and so I think that was the one theme and they really stuck through it the entire performance which I really enjoyed.

2. Do you have any other comments on the show?

I think it’s great, I think everything is great. It’s a very visceral, sublime performance with a lot of surprises happening all the time. It’s wonderful.

3. Do you enjoy being at TheatreWorks’ shows?


4. Do you like 72-13?

Yes, I love the space! I love love love love love the space. It’s open, it’s white, it has a lot of historical value, in the sense that it has a lot of story and the whole place just breathes a very strong sense of history which I really love.

Wiing, an independent dance artist, shared:

1. Which part of the performance could you relate to the most? Why?

There’s no one part that I can relate to the most. It’s more like…that I’m presently there? I think that everything is relatable. It’s understandable I guess?

2. Do you have any other comments on the show?

I really like the use of the space and lights. And how the piece transits from one section to another. At one point, at first, at the very beginning I felt like I was an audience, and then slowly I felt like I was being invited to a house party, by these three people, three chickens or whatever it is, but then it’s the best house party of the year.

3. Do you enjoy being at TheatreWorks’ shows?


4. Do you like 72-13?

Yes, I love the space! I mean it used to be a warehouse, right? And I really like it because it’s big and it’s spacious, and there’s a lot of room for you to do whatever things you want to do with it. It’s modifiable.

Thank you Grace, Conan, Alison and Wiing!

Our audience members share their thoughts at the Opening Night of INDULGENCE #2

Our audience members share their thoughts at the Opening Night of INDULGENCE #2

Thank you to everyone who joined us last night for making the opening of Indulgence a success! We caught up with some of our audience members after the show to find out their thoughts.


Archie, who does programming and Mathematics, shared:

1. Which part of the performance could you relate to the most? Why?

When I watched the performance, I tend to try to analyse it. So when it comes to which part I can relate to the most, I can’t really a give a specific answer. I would say it’s a great performance. But I wasn’t in the mood of relating to it, I was looking for the meaning behind it.

2. Do you have any other comments on the show?

It was an interesting experience. It was my first time being at this kind of performance, at first I expected a little bit of black box theatre kind of thing. This is very different, it’s cool.

3. Do you enjoy being at TheatreWorks’ shows?

It’s my first time here.

4. Do you like 72-13?

Oh yes! It gives a very good atmosphere and it’s a very unique experience.

Melinda, a movement teacher and artist, shared:

1. Which part of the performance could you relate to the most? Why?

The highest levels of absurd when the stakes get a little higher. Because their voices as artists come through a little more, there’s less of that restraint, I think. But then again, even just walking into the space, Kai as an original voice, and as an original vision, is already very clear. So I felt very comfortable from the minute as I walked in the space, that I was really inside of their collective mind, so I enjoyed all of that. Sometimes this time is a bit lulling.

2. Do you have any other comments on the show?

I love the fact that you guys let them use the bean bags. Because I really thought more standard production houses might be like, “You might break our bean bags!” or whatever. You guys just let them do what they want. And of course there were safety issues, the climbing, the blah, but… I thought that was great, I thought that was exactly what the scene needs.

3. Do you enjoy being at TheatreWorks’ shows?

Mhmm! Yeah, I mean, I’ve been in one, so I like all of them.

4. Do you like 72-13?

As a space? Yeah, and I think this kind of showing, where there’s high production value but is also really casual, but there’s also a low barrier to entry – 10 bucks you can already see a show – makes it hospitable and not cold. Yeah, big fan!

Lee Yew Moon, a freelance trainer, shared:

1. Which part of the performance could you relate to the most? Why?

I think I can relate to the more dangerous parts the most, because I think I do take risks, which are not necessarily physical, but this is presented as being physical.

2. Do you have any other comments on the show?

I think that I wasn’t completely prepared for the format, but nevertheless I think as it went along I bought into the show a little bit more. So I found that the duration was good for a show like this because I think if it were any longer, it would have moved from indulgence to something else, something more negative.

3. Do you enjoy being at TheatreWorks’ shows?

Yes, I do! I have been… actually I was very much a part of TheatreWorks’ audience in the early days, and then later on I stopped for various reasons. But it’s always good to know that there is a company that’s willing to experiment with theatre.

4. Do you like 72-13?

The location? Well, I mean, the location is nice. I’m not sure if you can do anything other than this kind of shows, on this location, but I think it’s nevertheless a good location.

Dayah Rahim, a theatre practitioner shared:

1. Which part of the performance could you relate to the most? Why?

The fast bits, you know, the whole running around and all that got me really excited. The jumping. I really thought she was going to jump.

2. Do you have any other comments on the show?

Yes, actually. Because the first impression I had of the show was, it’s called Indulgence. So I came prepared thinking that the whole play would be based on indulgence. But I soon realised that the play lacked of indulgence. I thought some scenes or some bits should be more milked. I think one of the comments tonight was “indulgence with abstinence”, and I strongly feel that’s so. There are certain scenes where I feel that you can do more, I sense a sense of… a bit pulled back so it’s quite frustrating to know that.

3. Do you enjoy being at TheatreWorks’ shows?

Of course! I find that TheatreWorks is one of the companies in Singapore that straps away the fluff, and the glitz and the glam. They’re more experimental, more realistic, more down to the agenda, compared to… You know, it’s nice to have all these musicals, and glitz and feather boas, but at times you need real plays, and I find that TheatreWorks does a very good job on doing so.

4. Do you like 72-13?

I do! It’s a very cosy place. I actually like it a lot. In fact this place has a very good, what do you call that? You don’t need microphones and stuff like that, it’s just a very nice… (Acoustics?) Yeah, the acoustics are really good here.

Thank you Archie, Melinda, Yew Moon and Dayah!

Indulgence opens!

Indulgence opens!

Indulgence opened last night to a great crowd; a BIG THANK YOU to everyone who was present! It was amazing to see everyone immersed in the performance and responding warmly to it.

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Following the performance last night, Kai, Bernice and Jereh held a post-show discussion at the same space. The three collaborators also fielded questions about the origins of the name ‘Indulgence’ and the concept behind the show. Audience members were eager to share their interpretations of the work and uncover the different layers of meaning in the piece, and were curious about the creative process behind the performance and meanings behind certain scenes. They expressed their appreciation for how the show skirted traditional ideas of indulgence, choosing instead to explore different forms of pleasure and enjoyment.

Thank you to all for sharing this evening and sharing your thoughts with us! We hope you enjoyed the performance and the post-show dialogue with Kai, Bernice and Jereh.

Kai, Bernice and Jereh sit down for a post-show discussion with the audience.

The presentation of Indulgence runs from 20-23 May, 8PM at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road. If you haven’t gotten your tickets, it’s not too late! Please be advised that the performance is now rated R18 (Some Mature Content and Nudity).

Email or call us at 6737-7213 to book your tickets now!

One more day to opening!

One more day to opening!


It’s ONE MORE DAY to Indulgence!

This new work by Kai and collaborators Bernice and Jereh will finally premiere tomorrow, 20 May. Yesterday, we began the audiovisual setup for the performance, before running through a tech rehearsal.

While tech was being set up, I spoke a little with the creative team about how they’re feeling. “I’m a bit bored,” Bernice jokes, “It was supposed to start at 3.30 but we’re still waiting.”

Kai shares that it’s hard to believe the performance the three collaborators have been developing will be publicly staged in two days’ time (as of yesterday evening). Unsurprisingly, they are nervous but excited, given how they have put in such a great deal of time, effort and thought into conceptualising and rehearsing the performance.

Indulgence, which is a work-in-progress, has continually undergone developments and changes throughout the process of creating the work. I ask Kai about the status of the performance and rehearsals, at just two days before showtime.  “It’s never going to be ready,” she says, referring to how every work an artist puts out will never be ready or complete in the artist’s eyes. Nevertheless, she, Bernice and Jereh are comfortable and confident about the performance, which will run for four days, from 20 May (tomorrow!) to 23 May, Saturday.

We’ve all got our fingers crossed that the show will run smoothly, and we hope to see you there! Although it’s the eve of the premiere, it’s not too late to get tickets for Indulgence. Shows will be held at 8PM at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road. Email or call us at 6737-7213 to book your tickets now!

BY: Yingbi Lee, Engagement Intern

What’s Buzzing? BT picks INDULGENCE !!

What’s Buzzing? BT picks INDULGENCE !!

For this weekend’s City Buzz, Helmi Yusof of The Business Times picks our upcoming performance of INDULGENCE !!

Also thanks for including a shout-out for dance-Oke happening tomorrow at 72-13. Get up close up with Kai and her team after the dance-Oke as they will share more about themselves as performance and their work.


Still not sure what dance-Oke is? Here’s what’s happening this Saturday

Still not sure what dance-Oke is? Here’s what’s happening this Saturday

This Saturday, Kai, Bernice and Jereh are hosting dance-Oke at 72-13. You are all invited to join us for this exciting, playful and upbeat weekend activity and dance along to your favourite music videos! dance-Oke is like kara-oke with dancing instead of singing, and is all about indulging in fun, uninhibited dancing purely for the sake of it.

In this event for people of all ages and backgrounds, everyone has their own favourite genres. Our playlist is filled with songs past and present, from current chart hits to oldies, and music from both East and West. It’s the perfect time to share your own unique set of songs and videos that you love, while getting to know and enjoy others’ favourites as well.

Joining us for this event is Singapore-born composer Chong Li-Chuan (also known as Chuan). A musician by training, an academic at large, and a design researcher in user experience and strategic design, Chuan will be moderating a live interview with Kai after the dance-Oke programme.

As a composer and sound designer, Chuan collaborates with different practitioners in theatre, dance, visual arts, and architecture. Recently, he had the good fortune to work with landscape designer Chang Huai Yan, visual artist Donna Ong, and theatre director Jeff Chen.

In this session, Chuan will delve into Kai’s journey as an artist, the impetus behind her performance-making and the performance of Indulgence. Chuan asks “Why?” of Kai’s various endeavours and the reasons behind the decisions she has made. You’ll also get to chat with Kai as she fields questions from all of you, and learn first-hand her story, thoughts and hopes.

If the interviews with the creative team and behind-the-scenes videos have made you curious about Indulgence, its meaning and Kai’s inspiration, this is the perfect opportunity to find out more about the performance.

dance-Oke will be held on 16 May, Saturday, from 2-4PM at 72-13. To register, contact Brendan at or 6737 7213 with your name, contact details, and your choice of up to three of your favourite dance music videos.

So, who’s Eng Kai Er? Mayo Martin from TODAY speaks with Kai in an interview

So, who’s Eng Kai Er? Mayo Martin from TODAY speaks with Kai in an interview

On Saturday, TODAY published a two-page spread on Kai. You can read it here.

To delve deeper into Kai’s journey as an artist and her motivations behind performance-making, read the complete interview with Kai below, originally published on the for art’s sake blog on TODAYonline.


We RAT on dancer-scientist Eng Kai Er

by Mayo Martin
4:17 am, 9 May, 2015

SINGAPORE — Who is Eng Kai Er? For some, she’s the A*STAR scholar and scientist who was in the news late last year for her No Star Arts Grant, which resulted in much debate about Singapore’s bonded scholarship system. Some may even recognise her as the woman who walked naked in Holland Village a few years ago.

But my first encounter with Eng was as a dancer — her solo show The Prayer at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival in 2012. She’s now a TheatreWorks associate artist and she has a couple of shows lined up this month. Here’s our long, no-holds barred interview with Eng, where she discusses, among many things, her life as a dancer and the No Star Arts Grant. Read on.

(Indulgence is from May 20 to 23, 8pm, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road. Tickets at S$10. To book, email or call 6737 7213. Rated advisory 16. Dance-Oke is on May 16, 2pm to 4pm, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road. Free admission. Register by emailing or calling 6737 7213 with your name, contact details and your choice of up to three of your favourite dance music videos.)


Q: You’re one of TheatreWorks’ new batch of associate artists, together with the likes of Loo Zihan, Joavien Ng and Japanese director Junnosuke Tada. Can you share a bit about your project, which will be shown at the end of this month?

A: I’m doing this project that is called Indulgence. I wanted to have a chance to work with (dancers) Bernice Lee and Jereh Leong. We were in a few projects together — including Xavier Le Roy’s Retrospective — but have never worked very deeply before.

Right now, it’s a slow-ish collection of different things that I’m trying to make more cohesive and (it has) a kind of museum or “church” mood, or a slow arthouse movie kind of mood. We’re basically using the space at TheatreWorks and there’s a pole (for pole dance), a piano, bean bags, a makeshift staircase…

Q: And what was the idea behind Indulgence?

A: It came from a desire to enjoy. I was struggling to think about what my next project was going to be and my idea was that this was going to be easy and I wasn’t going to go home and cry. Because in Fish (a show Eng presented last year as part of The Substation’s Director’s Lab programme), I was a first-time director and it was quite difficult. I really had a lot of control issues (laughs). And it worked. This has been really comfortable and easy.

Fish was exploring reactions about coming home and now that I’ve been back home for two years, the idea was to enjoy and really be in my element and just have so much pleasure.

It’s also connected to the idea of selfishness. I remember a very early conversation with (TheatreWorks managing director) Tay Tong where I brought up this topic and the desire to just indulge myself and do what I had to do. I remember him saying, “Oh yeah, it’s very important that we address this in this society. There are so many selfish people around.” I realised he had understood it in a completely opposite way. (laughs) I was thinking of challenging the idea of selfishness.

Q: That’s interesting because normally, one would automatically ascribe a negative value to selfishness, whereas you want people to rethink this. Perhaps even a hint of amorality there.

A: I mean, I do make work from a selfish starting point because I do see the world from my own viewpoint and I can’t see it from other people’s viewpoints even if I try. I only have authority on my own perceptions, just like everyone else. As for amorality, maybe it’s also another way of preempting any criticism? There are instances where I feel like I will be prepared if people say “This is a very masturbatory piece of conceptual s***.” I will just use my “amorality” to accept that.

Q: The past two years since you’ve come back has been fairly eventful but in a low-key way — until the hoohah regarding your personal grants project, the No Star Arts Grant. Your “dayjob” as a scientist and A*Star scholar has unfortunately overshadowed your practice as a dancer and choreographer. We can go into the former later on, but I’d like to find out more about how you got into dance.

A: I started dancing in my dance CCA (co-curricular activity) when I was nine years old. I joined the Chinese dance club in my school and I just kept joining until I finished JC (Junior College). At Nanyang Girls’ High School, I had a very enthusiastic young teacher who, being from China, was quite clear about the technical demands of the craft. She set my standards for what was good and what wasn’t. Her choreography was very SYF (Singapore Youth Festival) but it was very appealing and emotional. That’s where I got my early ideas about choreography— organising 40 bodies! (laughs)

I already had the idea that I wasn’t a very good dancer, but I danced anyway. I was not good but the teacher wanted to make the club very good so there were all these little intrigues — she would try to steal the girls from gymnastics to come over. We’d train very early in the morning because the gymnastics girls were also having their training. (laughs).

I was known as the figure-skating girl in my dance club because I was also training in it — I had gone ice-skating with friends after PSLE and after seeing one girl spinning, I wanted to learn ice-skating too. I think it was good that I did it by choice, like joining Chinese dance. But it’s alsy why I didn’t start as early as five, which some people do.

Q: I find it interesting how, despite an early awareness of your limitations as a dancer, you stubbornly continued to dance.

A: I think I was lucky also because by taking the wrong scholarship (laughs) I ended up in a place — the UK — where it wasn’t the end of the world if you cannot raise your leg up very, very high and hold it up very, very long. I met professional dancers in the UK — at that time, it had such a great funding system and so much support for the arts that it was infiltrating my university (Cambridge).

Back in 2003, I was under the National Science Scholarship BS-PhD through-train scholarship programme where I promised to do both my bachelor’s and PhD and be bonded to A*Star after that. So I took up Biochemistry for my undergrad in Cambridge and, later, Infection Biology at the Karolinska Institutet (in Solna, Sweden).

In Cambridge, I was in the Contemporary Dance Workshop student club and also in a lot of different things: Acrobatic rock ‘n’ roll, salsa… I had access to different teachers who passed through the university—and also young professionals. And not all of them were skinny or had long legs and they were still working in dance, so that really helped.

And also, I was doing contemporary dance and not Chinese dance. I felt generally more accepted because I had this weird (dance) vocabulary that people thought was interesting, whereas in Singapore, it was kind of bad that I would skate like I’m doing Chinese dance or do Chinese dance like I’m skating. I was in an environment that encouraged my development.

Q: While you were still doing your science undergraduate studies, right?

A: Yes. Oh my gosh, I spent so much time just thinking about choreography to stay away during lectures. It was so much torture but I just did it. (laughs) I choreographed a little and was involved in other people’s choreographies a little, too.

I wasn’t super confident that I would become a dancer at all, I just liked it. I was too shy to say I was a dancer. There were a little university annual productions where student journalists come to review shows and there was one year where my name was mentioned in two different (student) newspapers. I felt encouraged.

In my mind, it was a pretty serious hobby and by the time I graduated from Cambridge in 2006, I was really trying to perform everywhere I could. There was one year where I had to serve my A*Star bond in Singapore between my bachelor’s and PhD. During the Christmas party at Biopolis, I voluntarily performed two short pieces. I also performed at the scholarship award ceremony that year. I saw some dance competition in the papers, the Amore Dance Search, and also joined. In the afternoons, at work, I’d sneak out to dance at the office gym while waiting for my incubation samples.

People around me knew I was dancing a lot and one fellow scholar told me: “You’re on the wrong scholarship, man…” I said, “Yeah, I know.”

Q: And it was a passion you continued to pursue once you began your PhD at Karolinska Institutet.

A: During the first two years of my PhD, I struggled because there was no dance club in my little medical university. I tried to collaborate with a friend to get a dance club started but didn’t get it to work. I went to contact improvisation jams and tried to recruit people. I tried to start something called Choreographers’ Group but people stopped turning up. The problem was all the people who were serious in doing dance were already in dance school already because this is Sweden and they can study what they want and they knew from the very beginning there was such a thing as dance school! (laughs)

In the end, I just started to create stuff by myself. I went to see a bunch of solo shows and figured out that basically they’re talking and dancing and talking and dancing. I don’t know why, but I didn’t see any solo contemporary dance show where one person was dancing for one hour. So I started to also do this dancing-talking thing. I made this show called Don’t Let The Shrink Shrink You, which I performed at our dining hall for free and for my friends. I had little homemade flyers, which I gave to my friends. I invited my PhD supervisors and they came. I felt really, really supported.

It was really a bad show. The only good thing you can say about it was it was extremely brave. My PhD supervisors were sitting in the front row and I was m********ing and crying in front of them. It was very angsty, like I had something to prove. I wouldn’t even dare do it now.

But after that, I took excerpts from thisand took them to whatever place I could find — there was an open call at this thing called Summer Happenings at the Balettakademien in Stockholm so I just applied and showed work. There was also an open-stage thing called Velvet Underground where I went to perform My Mind Is Pie with Sveta (Viarbitskaya, a collaborator from Belarus). I also made a new piece with Sveta and Piak from Sweden called House Hole. It was a good time, I was creating, producing and working collaboratively and didn’t have administrative overheads at all.

Sveta was from a different university but we met through contact improvisation. She was a Physics post-doctoral fellow. We were the odd ones — we couldn’t access the dance world that’s why we ended up working with each other. (laughs)

Q: So what was the reaction back then to this PhD science student who seemed so obsessed with dance?

A: To be honest, there was a very clear breaking point actually. Because when I enrolled as a PhD student, I had to say I was interested in science, otherwise they wouldn’t take me in. So I felt so guilty because I knew I wasn’t really that interested but I also knew that it was my responsibility to do this thing. I did try my best and in the end I don’t think I let any of my PhD supervisors down.

Halfway through my PhD, I got arrested when I was on my holiday here, walking naked down Holland Village (in 2009). That was the really big wake-up call to me because up to that point, I really just imagined myself finishing the A*Star contract and going to dance school after that. But at that point, something just changed. After getting arrested, I decided not to lie again. When I told the truth, my PhD supervisors were very understanding and kind, and to this day I am very grateful to them.

Q: The Holland Village incident was the first instance you were in the public eye. Can you share what that was about?

A: At the time I did it, it was really just for fun. I didn’t think of myself as a particularly artistic type of person. I just felt like I liked to dance and I liked to choreograph. I didn’t understand, like you can change the world by interacting with it. I was just living out a lot of difficulties I had with my situation — letting the tensions come out in all kinds of different ways, partying a lot, running around naked… a very extreme kind of lifestyle. I was trying to dance, was very unhappy at work and just doing crazy stuff.

It was during the whole media circus thing that I suddenly felt like I had to distance myself from the whole thing. I couldn’t be “in it” because I’d have gone crazy. So I disassociated myself from the whole thing and realised it was an art project in a way. (laughs) But it was not intended as an art project at all. It wasn’t premeditated that way. It was a natural expression that came out and I only thought about it deeply afterwards.

Q: I guess we could consider your solo show The Prayer at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2012 your Singapore debut as an artist. What made you take that step?

A: I had come back one time for my sister’s wedding and just saw the festival publicity all over the streets so I thought I would just apply. I had such a hard time doing the application because up to that point, I would just do a show, beg for a venue. When they commissioned me to make a new work, I couldn’t believe it. I was nervous but also very happy and proud of (The Prayer).

It felt interesting because my family came to see it. They had not seen me dance for a long time.

My mum didn’t say much but my father said I was too extreme, because the show was like, “I just want to die”, “F*** the whole world”, which can be quite provocative, I guess.

It didn’t help when the bad review came out (in The Straits Times) — it was a moment when I felt so embarrassed and felt I had done everything wrong. That I worked so hard to put myself there and it turned out it was a really bad show that nobody liked. It did have an impact on me because I could feel that my parents were embarrassed too when they saw the review.

Q: I do remember saying in my own review of The Prayer that it was a diamond in the rough and you were someone to watch out for. So anyway, what happened after that?

A: In the end, I complained to three people in Stockholm that I was dying of shame, but that I was going to continue making shows. (laughs) I toured The Prayer in Stockholm and at the Prague Fringe Festival, where it was shortlisted for Outstanding Performance Award. I didn’t know anyone in Prague so I didn’t have a big audience, but it was more and more each night.

In my final years of PhD, I was intensively doing a lot of performances. My PhD was from 2007 to end of 2012, which was kind of slow because I kept doing art. I came back to Singapore in the beginning of 2013.

Q: Which reminds me, I recall reading you had also come up with a “fake PhD” project as well, right?

A: The fake PhD was awesome! We call it fPhD. This was in 2011 and it’s still one of my favourite projects. Sveta had asked me how my (real) PhD was coming along and I told her I thought I should be doing one on dance not infection biology. That’s how the idea started — I would write an fPhD thesis in choreography and I would have an exam. She would be my thesis supervisor, and we would invite people to come and sit on the exam committee. I would defend my thesis and either pass or fail. It was an art project. We did try to do it as close as possible to the Karolinska Institute model but we invented the school — Sveta’s School. I wrote it before I even started writing my real PhD thesis. I took it seriously, except for the last part where I really ran out of steam so I just wrote some jokes in the conclusion part. I’m an F doctor in choreography. (laughs)

Q: So basically you have two PhDs!

A: Well the other one is a fake PhD. (laughs) It won’t pass in a university. But the idea is consistent with many discussions we’ve been having about dance. In Stockholm, they had talked about the idea of how you might be able to do a practice-based PhD so you should get a PhD through doing rather than writing and thinking.

One thing that’s important is the Swedish science PhD is a compilation of papers you have done and each paper is like a little piece of actual science work. So your thesis is just science. It’s not you writing about other people’s science. It’s you doing your own science and then contextualising it within the rest of the science that has happened around you. If that is how it is in science and if you can translate that into dance, your dance PhD should be a collection of dance projects you have done, contextualised into current dance trends.

Q: Once you were back here, you started work at A*Star but also, continued doing dance, right?

A: I tried out various things to get to know people in the art world. Did some playback theatre sessions, made friends, looked for opportunities to perform — I took part in THE Dance Company’s M1 Contact (festival) open stage.

During this period, my husband was with me and we couldn’t live in my parents’ house because it was very small. So we were living in five different hostels in the first month we were here. I was going to Substation and saw the call for Directors Lab and applied for it from somewhere in a hostel in Bugis. (laughs) I felt like I just had to apply to kick-start my art life. I had doubts whether it was too aggressive but in retrospect, it felt okay because that was how I started to know people.

Q: And during this time, you were doing a few things such as Fish, of course, but also your duet with Sveta called The Pleasure Of Eating Oranges. Can you discuss these two?

A: The Pleasure Of Eating Oranges was about love but there was a lot of sex in it as well. And Fish was about freedom. And there was nudity in both. Fish was naked man, naked woman, running around doing crazy stuff for quite a long period of time. Pleasure Of Eating Oranges was, ‘I take off my pants, throw away my panties and put my pants on again.”

But Pleasure was way more loaded with sex. It’s a duet between me and Sveta that’s very based on images and really dependent on my close friendship with her. It was quite physical, dance-y in a way. She improvised on saxophone, there’s water, there’s sand… (laughs)

I also did a small thing with her in Europe called Ooze. Yuzuru (Maeda, a Singapore-based performance artist) had given me a zentai suit and Sveta and I were tied together, she’s a human being dressed in black and I’m a creature in a zentai. It was basically a 20-minute dance duet with shapes.

Q: Nudity seems to figure quite a bit in your performances. You mentioned that there are a couple of instances of this in Indulgence, too. You briefly stripped (from a distance) for Xavier Le Roy’s Retrospective. And of course, it’d be hard not to bring up the Holland Village incident. Why is that?

A: I guess I’m just very comfortable with nudity. (laughs) I think living alone started this thing as well, because I lived alone in a room in Cambridge and I could be naked inside whenever I wanted. And it helped me not to do laundry so often. It was really a practical thing. And then I just spent more and more time naked, until I just got super comfortable with it. I’d be sending emails naked and drinking tea naked, and so on.

Q: There are some current works you’ve done that doesn’t involve nudity, of course. Videos of you dancing inside MRT trains had previously circulated on social media. What was that all about?

A: I have professional or semi-professional projects — or at least things that I do with the idea of profesionalising myself, which I can put on my website to contribute to my art career, for example. These are different from personal projects, which I can consider as hobbies.

The MRT Project started as a personal project and the idea was just to dance on the MRT and cover all stations. It started off as a collaboration with Vincent (Chia), who was also in Fish. I’d seen teenagers wearing earphones dancing in the train in their own world and I think it’s something I would enjoy doing and I thought I would enjoy it even better if Vincent was with me and we would dance together. But he wanted to have a more party mood, so in the end, we brought speakers, but not too loud.

The first line we tried to do was the “purple line” (North-East Line). We tried to go from Harbour Front to Punggol but by the time we were in Clarke Quay, we were asked to stop by the staff. Then we decided, the next time, we just have to start from Punggol and go down to Clarke Quay to finish the line. That was the strategy — the idea was to dance with music on and finish the network. It took a very long time because sometimes we got stopped.

There was only one time where the person shooting the video was a friend who volunteered. I never asked anyone to please come and document us because it’s kind of related to my ideas of regarding hobbies. I rarely take photos in real-life so when I do art projects that require documentation, to me it’s work.

So The MRT Project had this “dirty” aspect, like “I’m not an art project, I’m a fake art project”. I never asked people to document but it worked out perfectly fine. I still got lots of documentation from the public that trickled back to us, which we didn’t ask for and only encountered by luck. And that’s quite beautiful in itself.

Q: Your distinctions between “professional work” and “hobby” is rather interesting — especially since both still see you performing.

A: I find that people don’t talk about this much. I don’t come from (a) professionally training background so I don’t take it for granted that I do “this” because it’s my job. For some people, it’s “I am a dancer, therefore I dance”, “I’m a choreographer so I choreograph”, “It’s my vocation, therefore this is what I do.”

In the beginning, I really wanted to professionalise myself—I had the idea that I must go to dance school first, maybe 2005. I always thought I would just finish the contract (with A*Star) then go to dance school in my mid-30s. But then things changed so fast, I became 25, 26 years old, I saw that dance schools don’t even accept people my age. I became braver. I did my own things and started to realise maybe even if I don’t go to dance school, I can still do things. I might not get recognised but it’s okay. That it’s actually more important to do the things than to get recognised.

What I’m thinking about nowadays is how to balance this desire to professionalise myself with this need to preserve something personal about it that was always the starting point.

Q: But then, of course, you add into the equation the fact that you already have a dayjob as a scientist with A*Star. The conventional dichotomy is day job versus hobby — yours is day job, art hobby and professional art-making.

A: That’s because my art life is becoming more serious. But it’s fun. I never expected to be here in this position to even talk about this and say, “Oh, what does it mean for my art now that I am starting to be able to do it in this way that I wanted so much?”

Q: And so we’ve come to what has been your most talked-about project to date: The No Star Arts Grant. How has the relationship been between you and A*Star since it became public last November?

A: They haven’t said anything to me yet, but they will. They’ve wanted to but the meetings have been postponed.

Q: Other than what you’ve posted on the No Star website, you actually haven’t said much about it in public, even while the debates were going on. Perhaps you can share with us the story behind it?

A: The idea arose when I was in a super angry state around March 2014, and I thought it was a great idea and it instantly put me in a very good mood. But then I didn’t want to launch the project the very next day because I had this plan that I must wait until Fish was over and then launch it on the first year anniversary of my bonded-ness, in November. And that it would run for one year up to the second anniversary.

So by the end of that month, I had done the write-up and made the website but didn’t tell anybody yet. When it came time to announce the grant in October, I wasn’t sure if I should do it anymore. I was very happy with my life! (laughs) I had just done Fish, I was fulfilled. Struggling with my own art stuff but not in a way where I could say A*Star was ruining my life — because they *weren’t* ruining my life. That was a really strange period. “Should I still go ahead with this or not?”

In the end, I decided to go ahead because what I felt in March was real, and in principle, it’s about the scholarship system. It’s not really like “I hate A*Star” but “I hate the bonded scholarship system,” which is a nation-wide thing. In principle, the bonded scholarship system does make people not able to live out their lives in certain ways. And I thought, based on that, I would still launch the grant. But in a secret way — I only told my friends at first.

Then it slowly became something more widely known. (laughs) Not intentionally but not unintentionally either. I must say that I did not publicise the grant on any public platform and I did not contact the press. But I also did not hide the fact that the grant existed.

By the way, No Star isn’t included on my artist website (, at least not yet. Because I’m not sure where it falls. I’ve spent a lot of years trying to separate the scholar part of me with the art part of me, which is why I haven’t included any scholarship issues directly in any of my art projects. It’s like I try to be two people.

Q: But it all came to a head during Xavier Le Roy’s Retrospective, where, as one of the performers who did a personal “retrospective” within the piece, you did mention this tension between your scholar and artist sides.

A: At the opening of my “individual retrospective,” I said I was “disgusted” with Xavier because he mentioned his PhD in biology in his artist bio, whereas I didn’t mention my PhD in mine because because I want to be recognised for my art. But now I’ve got over that. I still don’t mention my PhD in my artist bio, but I’m not disgusted at Xavier anymore, because actually, it’s just a fact of his life that he has a PhD.

Retrospective was when I finally started to feel like I’m one person again, because I started to talk about being a scholar in an art setting. That project was such a cathartic experience and I think I really needed the chance to confess I was a scholar, in the art world.

Q: So previously there was a conscious separation?

A: For many years I was very clear that in the dance or art world, I would not mention anything about being a scholar or a scientist. One reason was that I did not identify as a scholar or a scientist. Another was I badly wanted to be recognised for the art thing and not for the science thing. I was sick of people in the dance world in Stockholm having some kind of weird fetish for “research.” In Sweden, if my dance friends introduced me to their other dance friends as a PhD student in biology, I would get angry, because I wanted to be known as a dancer not a PhD student in biology.

After a while I just stopped even mentioning the biology part. I would go to workshops and festivals and just tell everyone I was a freelance artist, and I would not talk about my “day job” at all, because I didn’t think it was relevant to my art.

Still, there is a part of me that really wants to pretend I’m not a scholar.

Q: Well, with the No Star Arts Grant being the product of a clear confluence of your two “sides”, that’s going to be very different.

A: It does get confusing when my scholarship thing not only becomes my art work, but also, ironically becomes possibly my most well-known art work. I do view No Star Arts Grant as an art project and I really love it. It is a very important project to myself, and I am proud of it. I also think of it as a “pure” art project, one that comes from the place of un-stoppable, passion-driven art and not affected by commercial or professional interests.

But to officially put No Star in my artist portfolio means not only that I would have to acknowledge and accept that I really am a scholar, it also means that I acknowledge that being a scholar helped in my art — and also, that I would be using No Star to “sell” myself as an artist even though it’s such a personal, precious project that’s untainted by real-life concerns like how to professionalise myself as an artist.

I am looking forward to the day when none of this matters anymore and when it would be easy for me to talk about the scholarship and No Star, without any weirdness, in public. I guess this interview is one small step towards that.

Say what you will, Eng Kai Er just wants to dance: Get to know Kai in TODAY newspaper’s two-page spread

Say what you will, Eng Kai Er just wants to dance: Get to know Kai in TODAY newspaper’s two-page spread

Today, on TODAY writer Mayo Martin speaks to Kai Er in a no holds barred interview. Read the two-page spread below. (click on images to enlarge) Kai - Today - 9 May 2015 pg1 Kai - Today - 9 May 2015 pg2 TODAY, culture & lifestyle 9 May 2015, Saturday by Mayo Martin Read Mayo’s full interview with Kai here: