Exigency [Chen Jiexiao, Singapore, 2017]
From the director of 2017’s I See You See I See You - official selection at Moving Image, Nicosia, Cyprus - comes Exigency, a similar dance piece, though this time with a far more improvised feel, both in terms of choreography and production techniques. Director Chen Jiexiao asked his performers to attach to their movements memories of having loved something or someone that they did not expect. Capturing this fleeting and raw mental space, Jiexiao exclusively uses GoPro footage with an effect that gives the viewer greater intimacy to each dance vignette.
At no point can it be taken away from the piece that each performance does indeed feel personal. As we watch our first artist hide behind her sweating fringe before cowering under a sink, we are indeed eager to learn just what memory her body is responding to. Despite a possible sense of intrigue however, this short is one that has little other appeal. The musical choices throughout are misjudged, with poor Santana electric guitar impersonations, to nauseating renditions of pieces akin to lullabies for toddlers, meaning that rarely does the music match the DIY tone of the cinematography or choreography that it is underpinning.
The same could be said for the extreme close ups we are regularly afforded of our performers. Once again, they afford incredible intimacy, but just don’t seem to smoothly transition or supplement the aesthetic of the rest of the dances. The same, unfortunately, can be said of the GoPro approach more generally. Whilst it is an admirable method, it just doesn’t work particularly well here, with a distinct character or satisfying tone lacking throughout the film.
As our second dancer begins, the atmosphere is tense, the setting scarier, the mood dark, instantly inviting you in. Inevitably you realize how this huge switch has taken place – the music has stopped. And when it restarts? The neatly established tone is shattered all over again. The choreography, which had for one fleeting second become frantic, the characters at fever pitch, is once again shackled by the intrusive music, come to spoil the party. Later on comes the enthralling image of three tire swings, left moving under a piece of abstract architecture. The moment, however, serves as little more than a reminder that this is another image made stronger by the absence of music.
As our fourth performer enters, we are treated to some highly complex choreography, the rapidity of her hand movements akin to watching a piece of close-up table magic. By this stage though, most viewers will have lost their interest and affinity to the piece and, try as she might, this talented performer just can’t quite do enough to pull them back.
The film concludes with a joint performance, where we watch our dancers flitting and twisting in tandem up a set of concrete public steps at night. The sequence is akin to some of the more memorable moments from Joker (Todd Phillips, USA, 2019) – the characters abstract and unclear, though here without the ferocity. In fact, speaking of dangerous psychopaths, the music chosen for the finale sounds like something you can imagine Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, USA, 1991) listening to right before donning a suit of human skin. It really is that unpleasant.
Despite being made by the same director as I See You See I See You, Exigency lacks the same whimsy and urgency. The short gives access to some really fascinating shot locations though, regrettably, offers little else to celebrate.
‘Exigency’ was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2019.