Production Talk with Goh Siang Leng on 'The Dancer' or 舞者


In his endless obsessive pursuit of medals in the competitive world of Latin and Ballroom dance, a young man is haunted by his memories that play themselves out repeatedly in his consciousness, even as he is being tormented by the continuous strains of opera music from the apartment above, coming down at him, night after night. His discovery of the source of the music transports him to another plane of consciousness and subsequently, freedom.

A little background to the story...

The story emerged as a result of observing youth culture in schools which emphasises quite a bit on achievement, as a result of which our young lose touch with the purpose behind their pursuits. The film hopes to remind them of the importance of enjoying the precious processes involved as they go about mastering the skills and technique needed to become fine practitioners of their chosen fields of interest. The film is also a tribute to the huge presence of talent found amongst our young in the many schools out there, who for various reasons, find themselves unable to pursue or are discouraged from pursuing their true loves in life.

SINdie: Are you a dancer?
Goh: Yes, I have been taking dance lessons over the past ten years, largely in Burlesque and Latin, especially Cha Cha, Rumba and Samba, but I do not dance competitively so what I learn is largely recreational in nature. I have also recently started Street Jazz lessons.

S: Why the choice of topic of dance?
G: I was largely restricted by budget limitations, which meant my story had to be confined to a certain space and enlisting the talent of individuals who were willing to help me out at little or no cost. I am the Dance Teacher-in-Charge of my school and was able to tap into the dance talents of our club. In a sense, the topic of dance was decided at the outset and I had to weave a story around the talent and resources available to me.

S: Have you watched Black Swan starring Natalie Portman?
G: Yes, I have watched it.
S: Were in you some way inspired by it?
G: No, my script was written, submitted and the film grant was given by the Singapore Film Commission in October 2010, we finished filming and editing in May 2011. Another round of editing was done in September 2011, but was not influenced by any external factors.

S: The experience of the dancer in your story could risk ending up being very esoteric, how did you attempt to help people to relate to the film?
G: I tried to raise awareness of the presence of other people in his life, via smses from his mother, his dance partner, etc. In my script, I wanted to have a night scene of him passing a group of elderly folks enjoying their line dancing in the heart of Marine Parade Central, as a contrast between his obsessive mindset and those who dance for the pure joy of it. But the limitations of costs and time made it difficult to film that scene. We needed a lot of lights to capture the feel of the heart of the neighbourhood, the neon lights of the coffeshop, the street lamps, etc. The line dancers gathered infrequently... it was all too difficult to organise and no money to do it.

S: Could you share about your artistic direction for the film i.e. how you wanted the film to look and feel?
G: I wanted a grittier look, or perhaps a more gritty feel, with an experienced art director on location to set up the feel of the place. But again, there were financial limitations. I was happy with the look captured of the sickly dancer in the phone and how it looks blown up on full screen.

S: Was the film more scripted or more experimental?
G: It was actually a lot tighter on paper. I cut three versions of the film. The last version you caught was probably the messiest... although I felt in some ways it was the strongest because of the ending which I hoped left people thinking, the other versions explained too much.

S: What were the experimental portions of the film?
G: If there were, they were as a result of frustration borne of attempting to re-edit the film in various ways and everything not working out till I got so frustrated, I let these dissatisfactions go even though I could see the problems. Is there anything you would have done differently about the film? I'd like to see how the footage would have been edited in the hands of an experienced film editor, just based on his/her reading of the footage alone. I wished I had used the footage from the phone, not the camera footage of the infirmed dancer, which is too clean, in my earlier cuts of the film.

About the Dancer in the Film...

Hailing from China, Zeng Jiayi has won and retained numerous accolades since his youth. Some of these awards were attained as part of groups, such as the teen group Latin (2003-06) and Ballroom (2005-06) Champion of Xiamen and teen group Latin Champion of the 3rd Fujian (province) Dancesport Championship (2005). Individually, Jiayi was crowned Ballroom Champion (under 16) in the Eastern China Dancesport Championship in 2006. He is here on the Singapore government scholarship to study his ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels in Singapore.

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