The APG’s opening ceremony is a two-way learning journey for all involved.
Dance instructor and choreographer Pua Jin Wen (far left) with his dancers.
Dance instructor and choreographer Pua Jin Wen has an impressive portfolio. From Chingay and National Day Parade shows, to the 1st Youth Olympic Games and 28th SEA Games’ ceremonies, the 29-year-old has seen it all.
Choreographing for this year’s 8th ASEAN Para Games’ (APG) opening ceremony could certainly be seen as nothing more than another notch in his belt. However, this experience has proved to be a completely different one altogether.
The experienced artiste, who is a member of the Soka Youth Dance Crew, professed to have gained precious insights from working with the ceremony’s participants. Peppering our interview with heart-warming anecdotes, Jin Wen let us in on how preparations for the big day have been a unique learning experience for all those involved.
Taking on the role of the show’s Movement Director, he has been overseeing a team of performers and choreographers, helping to piece the different items together and ensure continuity. He also choreographed dance pieces for Movements III, IV, and V.
“For this show, we reached out to schools for students with special needs. [Creative Director Philip Tan] and I went down to these schools for meetings and to invite them to come on board,” he revealed, adding that persons with disabilities played key roles in every movement of the ceremony.
While he has never worked with people of different abilities on such a large scale before, Jin Wen had previously taught dance to students with special needs from Rainbow Centre and APSN Katong School. Remarking that it had been an eye-opening experience, he said: “Sometimes, they are so sensitive that they actually recognise music better than other kids! While I teach them, they inspire and teach me as well.”
“People may have the misconception that persons with disabilities may be weaker, but to me, they are a lot stronger. Despite their limitations, they still do what we all do,” he continued.
Bringing up the show’s hearing impaired dancers as examples, he shared: “They will make sure that they are able to feel the music, practising harder in order to keep up with the others. They don’t allow their disabilities to limit them. Instead, they step up and work harder to deliver.”
But surely, there have been challenges, working on such unfamiliar terrain? Jin Wen, ever the patient instructor, begged to differ: “It’s just about trying to understand them better. We have to talk to them and learn what their expectations are. At the same time, we will share our expectations with them. We’ll then be able to come up with something they’re comfortable with.”
Opting for a collaborative learning process, Jin Wen approached his choreography sessions with a flexible mind, rather than simply teaching the performers sets that he had already come up with.
“Sometimes, I’ll get them to try certain movements or show me what they have. I didn’t want to limit the moves just because I thought that they weren’t able to do it. I realised that I didn’t have to set constraints on my choreography. By playing to their strengths, there was much more that we could do,” he pointed out.
Of course, this two-way exchange occurs not just between the choreographers and his charges, but also among the performers themselves. As Jin Wen observed, the able-bodied dancers have gained a better understanding of persons with disabilities. The latter group, on another hand, have also realised that they weren’t as limited as they might have thought.
Recounting how a student performer with autism had started joining her fellow dancers from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts as they stretched and that they had, in turn, helped her to rehearse her steps, Jin Wen expressed: “The performers have learnt a lot from each other. And that’s what makes it so beautiful to me.”
“I hope that, at the end of the show, the biggest takeaway for the performers will be the friendships that they have forged. I hope that every performer will be moved by this synergy, and understand that we’re not all that different. We can pull off an entire show together.”
Catch Jin Wen’s dancers in action at the 8th ASEAN Para Games’ opening ceremony on 3 December!