Checkpoint Theatre’s Still Life: Experiencing Dana’s Life Upon Her Paintbrush

I was surrounded by Dana Lam‘s paintings – from walls to floors – and sat down on an orange cushioned chair in a corner, next to a ladder that will remain untouched for the entirety of the show. Wooden panels framed the room from the ceiling to the four walls, while canvases casually lean against them – faces and bodies painted over the course of the last year. I was being looked at, just like how I was an active observer myself, throughout the entire performance – be it by other audience members seated across the 72-13 performance space or just by the defiant eyes of the painted portraits. Is this how sitting for a still life painting session would feel like?

The artist’s voice and intention translated into brushstrokes on canvas as her eyes devour my breathing body in this act of slowing down time. Both of us exchanging thoughts only through gaze; honesty said only with muscles and skin, no words.

Presented in collaboration with TheatreWorks, Still Life by Checkpoint Theatre is written and performed by Dana Lam. Having played and is still playing multiple roles in her life, this performance is Lam’s rediscovery and reclamation of her journey from the 1950s to the present through the vehicles of writing and painting. Just like art-making itself, the idea of perception and the shifting of time carry the audience from the beginning to the ending of this deeply affecting work.

Non-linear similar to how memories come back to us in fragments, distilled into their essence and good humour, Lam and fellow performer Jean Ng  travel across the room to tell these stories poetically and patiently. Storytellers with their facial expressions and hand gestures, their body becomes the brush that guides our attention across this empty canvas that is the performance space.

Ng’s gracefulness and confidence complemented Lam’s passion and genuineness. The delivery of the story came across with clarity and resolution, definitely under the care and sensitivity of Claire Wong‘s direction and dramaturgy.

I was particularly touched by the element of evolution present in the work. The evolution of emotion and perspective with regards to life’s incidents. The generosity in inviting the audience to go through the entire journey of disdain, regret, joy and comfort came through beautifully. Opinions and perspectives change with time, perhaps also due to hindsight and nostalgia, and to be able to journey with Lam was a privilege. In an age where we are constantly bombarded to be succinct, to simplify and quantify, I appreciated the attention to subtlety and the bravery in fleshing out the complexities of life and matters of the heart.

Together with the script, the set and light designed by Petrina Dawn Tan also enhanced the idea of evolution through materials. The entire life cycle of the making of paper was present – wood, papier-mâché, canvas, paper in all forms, shapes and stages of processing. These forms are all different presentations born of the same root, and it really makes one wonder how little we think of these things while we pursue (in some ways) a senseless insistence in being rigid in who we are and what we identify with.

What we choose to look at and shine light upon will change through the course of our lives, and admitting to that is part of the process. Just like how no two paintings can ever be the same – in intention as well as its place in time and space.

And Still Life is that very space of reflection; the intersection of truths taking different forms since their beginning, and being alright with that.

Still Life
Date: 28th February – 10th March 2019
Venue: 72-13, Home of TheatreWorks
Time: Thursday – Saturday, 8pm / Saturday & Sunday, 3pm
Admission: $45 (Concessions available. Get your tickets here.)

Photos Courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Photo Credit: Mark Teo


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