Framing Dance: Location Research & Inspiration (Darren Soh)

Darren Soh’s photographic practice explores architecture, urban landscape and space. An established photographer who is most recognised for his documentation of vernacular architecture, Darren has been placed in several international photography awards over the years, including the Commonwealth Photographic Awards, the Prix de la Photographie, Paris, the International Photography Awards, PDN and ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu. His works have been shown widely, including solo exhibitions at The Esplanade and Objectifs (Singapore Art Week 2015), and internationally at photography festivals like Noorderlicht (The Netherlands) and Obscura (Penang). He has published several monographs including While You Were Sleeping (2004), For My Son (2015) and In the Still of the Night (2016). (Extracted from

I went down to Chapel Gallery, Objectifs to visit Darren’s exhibition titled ‘Before It All Goes’. In his exhibition, Darren researched on the passing memory of Singapore architecture buildings. A few buildings shown have been demolished while others are awaiting for their passing. 

What of our heritage, memories and connections do we lose as much of Singapore’s architecture from the early independence years is now getting demolished and redeveloped? Darren Soh has spent more than a decade documenting such spaces, and presents images — most of which will be shown for the first time — of eight iconic sites from this period in this solo exhibition. (Extracted from

The visit to Darren’s exhibition is paramount for my research because I am looking into filming the urban landscapes of Singapore and I wish to collect both landscape and texture photography of said country. Singapore is iconic for their Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, known for their high, structured building.

Photographed by Darren Soh, Image taken by Dan Ng

What sets Singapore’s HDB apart from some European buildings which ultilised similar architecture framework is the presence of various identity.

Religion: Incense burner, red Chinese banners, Chinese lantern, Christian cross.

Cultural: Clothes racks/hangers, bird cages, bicycles, plants.

‘Before It All Goes’ Exhibition

In his presentation above, he placed the HDB facades side by side in an orderly grid form of 6 x 8 totalling to 48 images. The visual reminded me of my visualisation for frames placement. It gave me an inspiration to place frames tightly side by side instead of setting the frame apart from each other. 

Below are HDB facades taken by Darren Soh. Published in his booked also titled ‘Before It All Goes’. 

Frames Dancing: Dance Research and Does Screendance Need to look like Dance?

Susan Sentler provided a whole list of dance videos that I could watch and it was tremendously helpful. I’ve listed down the videos which I find useful. I’d love to use Susan’s work to start off the very first dance example/inspiration. In ‘A Preparation’, she shot dance in stills as well as still imagery of architecture. Within the film, Susan played with the duration, some quick and some slow.


  • Changing the frame of the camera as well to show relationship with the space.
  • Sounds are industrial repetitive.
  • Body movement is almost mechanical.
  • Preparing a ‘machine’, preparing the body.

I could extract some of her ideas of using still imagery and moving images in the video.

Susan Sentler – A Preparation

Steve Reich – Violin Fase
Performed by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker

Through time, the sand gets wiped and it changes.

  • Very repetitive.
  • Very minimalistic era, minimalist art.
  • Subtle changes in differential in repetition.
  • Different shots, overhead, close frame, really tight.
  • Goes on and on and on.

Rosas Danst Rosas – Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker

Use of multiple dancers in one coordinated scene/set

Comment from Susan (In relation to the video above)

“Dance doesn’t have to have sound, because dance itself, has sound. Dance involves body, space and time. Time encapsulates rhythm, pulse, relation to music but it doesn’t have to. It works with breath which also gives a sense of time. Very gestural. Be aware of the folly sound, live sounds. Capture everything.”

William Forsythe – Solo (Choreographer)

  • Use of tight frames. 
  • Black and white.

One Flat Thing, Reproduced by William Forsythe

  • Static throughout
  • Archive film but also site specific
  • Setting up of tables is part of the dance.
  • Playing with positive and negative space, spatial content, in relation of tables and the human body.
  • Come in and out in time.
  • Only movement sound, no music at the back.

Nowhere and Everywhere by William Forsythe 

  • Created with both normal people and dancers.
  • Objects having movements, shifting to dancer, creating sense of rhythm and space.
  • Feet shot to full body shot.

HANDS by Jonathan Burrows

  • Just the hands. Close shot of the hands.
  • Repetition, subtle, soft movements.
  • Black and white to showcase lighting and intimacy.

Early Works of Trisha Brown

Post minimalist period
Activity where the dancers mount on it, and find ways to go inside the clothing and nest in it, and hang for a minute or so. Then they begin again.

  • Using multiple dancers to mimic mirror like sequences. 
  • Tight frame, different shots.

Becky Edmunds – Recall

Talking about dance. Tight frame, eyes closed, going through the movements.

Note: Could have Isabel face, and another frame is another body part, and another frame is another body part.

Rosemary Butcher – Hidden Voices

  • Fading into black to show the duration of time.
  • In and out of the light. Sort of like a frustration with the activity
  • Consider using repetition, focusing on different body parts
  • No sound

Rosemary Butcher – Body as Site

Shooting overhead, different kind of perspectives.

Underline by Surjit Nongmeikapam Bon

My favourite work out of the other films. In this video, the body becomes the architecture.

  • Using real sounds
  • From shoes to barefoot
  • Doesn’t have to be ‘the typical language of dance’. Works really well with the space



60 sec dance
60 seconds dance contest:

Condense a film to 60 seconds


More dance research (Dance Styles and Film Techniques)

Welcome Home by Spike Jonze (Contemporary Dance)

  • Interaction of the human body with the interior, environment
  • Expanding of frames
  • Use of dance double, mirror

Delicate by Joseph Kahn (Contemporary Dance)

Changing of frames – Transition from one place to another

Most of the works that Susan provided me to reference are relevant and useful. I could extract small ideas and details from each video and experiment. 

Framing Dance: An Interview with Susan Sentler

The very next day after meeting Isabel, I went down to LaSalle again for an interview with Susan Sentler. 

Susan Sentler

Susan is a choreographer, teacher, researcher, rehearsal director, and performer. In New York, she trained at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance to become a performer in the Martha Graham Ensemble as well as a teacher of the faculty.

She has worked in higher education for over 20 years, in numerous institutions globally, most notably serving as Senior Lecturer with Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

She has collaborated with Dr Glenna Batson on imagery research and presented at numerous conferences. She has performed for Tino Sehgal and for Candoco Dance Company in a work of Jerome Bel.

Her personal work focuses on durational installations, using the body, objects, sound, moving/still image and has exhibited in the UK, Ireland, USA, Italy, Portugal, Netherlands, and for the online symposium Waterwheel 2014.

Research Interests
  • Interplay between the Still Image and that of the Moving Image – the Idea of movement in stillness and stillness in movement 
  • Varied avenues of imagery research


An Interview with Susan Sentler

What do you think of using frames?

I think it’s great. Within the frames, think of using tight frames. It will help the rhythm.

Why use a dancer?

Sensation reaction to, to relate to. A body is looking at a body. There is a quicker sense of relationship than a body to an object. To a body to a place. Sometimes the body to a place can lead to something but if there is a discordance, body to body. That’s how we are all related. We all have bodies. Get down to material of the dancer which is the body. It can lend a quicker and clearer possibility of a sensorial relationship. Not feelings, not emotions, sensorial. What I mean but sensorial? Smell, hearing, taste. It may trigger feelings and emotions but it doesn’t have to. It does however, triggers you as a human because you are seeing a body.

Also, there is something about the qualities of a dancers’ body. If they are directed, used well. That can allow more poignancy and amplification and directness into what you are saying because their tool and material is body instead of clay. If you are collaborating with a dancer who has an understanding of that materiality of the body then you are working with a clearer palette.

Embodiment – Mind and body become one. Embodied world. Our mind alert our body, our body alert the mind. When I shoot, I have a sensorial experience. The image comes from my reactivity with the environment. Comes from live to virtual to live. You can still devise an embodied sensorial experience from just the image and dancers have the possibility to trigger that. It can be used inappropriately. Hence be savvy about it, and sophisticated about it.

Why the change in gender?

A person entering into your memory. It’s coming from. You just want a gender perspective. I wish my body to be in it. It’s as if my body is their body. You want to send it through a female voice because I want to be open to any voice. Your sensibility of memory and memory always changes. When you remember something it is never going to be the same because it is never the same. By recollection, it always changes.


Dan: I was thinking minimalist, jeans and t-shirt. Or, the dancer could be dressed with flowy kind of outfit.

Susan: Watch out with the flowy. It is possible. But sometimes it can be read as dated.

Filming a lot from above, not sequential, tight shots. The sense of going in, the perspective that a normal person cannot get when they are watching. No sound but there is a rhythm to it. Play with footage and stills. Rhythm of stills acts as a counter-play to the footage. Conversation of the live body and the virtual body; in dialogue. Going through different spaces. The body becomes the material and losing the face.

Consider flipping the footage or crop the footage to ‘lose the identity’. Architecture has such a live bodily sense to it that can be coupled with the live body.

Play with reflection, play with the idea of movement.

Think of colour and tone. What your dancers wear. Post-production – Tone

Think conceptually. What are you interested in? Beyond the idea of rhythmic. Are you interested in the layers of the architecture of Singapore or the specific site in Singapore to be accentuated like the HDB? Maybe you just want something that is about concrete because concrete is so repetitive. Concrete of the old versus the new. Pattern of the wall versus the skyscraper of the buildings. Intimacy of the body. What is the underlying other things you want the film to negotiate or speak to. It doesn’t have to be loud and clear. It gives it a tone and holds it in one piece. Maybe on the water side, from the sea to inland. Representation of the body of the man versus the environment.

Talk to the dancer about activities or sensations. Vibrational energy. Sense of letting go and floating. That place and sense of metaphorical. Different ways of falling, going in of frame and out of frames of her falling.

Prelude is the space she is walking in. Space space space, and then the body enters. There could be chapters. Episode of first place, episode of second and then third.

Doesn’t have to be hand that draws the frame inwards, it could be just the movements itself. Think of it choreographically. If it is hand, it might appear too forced.

Could just be the pattern of the walls so it is consistency as you have to think of the picture of the whole. Think of frame within the frame. (Through the window)

Stills can use screenshots too.

Frames Dancing: An Interview with Isabel, Dancer

Artist Profile (Isabel Phua) Retrieved from LaSalle website

Isabel is pursuing a BA(Hons) in Dance in LASALLE College of the Arts. Isabel has been dancing ballet since the age of 6 and has experience in classic and street jazz, chinese dance and contemporary dance. She was taught by ballet masters Cheng Hsien Fa and Jeffrey Tan. During her time in LASALLE College of the Arts, she had solos in a full-length work, Iris (2016), by Christina Chan and Aymeric Bichon, Patterns (2017) by Albert Tiong and an excerpt of Silences we are familiar with (2018) by Kuik Swee Boon. She has also worked with international choreographers such as Barbara Matijevic (Croatia), Chey Chankethya (Cambodia) and Martin Schick (Switzerland). She has an interest in understanding the way nutrition affects the performer and intends to further her study in this area upon graduation. In keeping with this, she has been researching how to improve aerobic fitness in pre-professional Singaporean contemporary dancers through a fitness-training program that she designed. She wishes to use her research to educate dancers on the correlation between nutrition and the body.

We had an hour long conversation in Lowercase in LaSalle and I transcripted the interview. Keywords and important notes are coloured and bolded. 

Interview Questions (Isabel)

1. Can you give me a brief introduction in dance?
Commercial dances can be fast, and it can be slow too. It can be big, showy as well.
Non-commercial dance style is more abstract. It is more challenging and it deals with more emotions and more body awareness is needed. The dancer requires to understand their body better.

2. What are the few dance styles that are frequently seen in Singapore?
Contemporary, hip hop, ballet.
Ballet is more classical, standard, comes from French court dance. Very regimental, can’t go down to the floor. Upright and there’s a straight line. Ballet still has a fluidity, though lines are fixed, it is still very fluid. just that it’s a very fixed structure.

After time passes, ballet becomes modern dance, and it breaks what the classical dance is. Instead of being upright, they go to the fall. After modern comes post-modern which questions what dance really is. After post-modern comes contemporary: Breaking the rules.

3. Is there a specific culture and country that contemporary dance belongs to?
No there isn’t. Contemporary dance can be anything. Does not belong to any country or region. Depends on what they want to express, or trained in.

Korea and Japan has a vibrant contemporary dance culture.

In Singapore, our contemporary dance tends to be very much influenced by Chinese, Malay, Indian dance styles. Hence, the principles behind it, are somewhat low, grounded, spiracle and circular. A little similar to Taichi. Indian dance is always bent, grounded. Their movements tends to be lower and grounded. American would be more modern, and lines oriented. Still using a lot of ballet technique.

4. Is there a ‘better’ dance?
To each his own. Isabel loves ballet.

5. How does dance express one’s self individuality?
The dancer has to reach upon a maturity where she can express a state of mind. She is able to show what she wants to show. There has to be a lot of training, and self-awareness. Performances are usually more mentally drained than physically drained. Experimental work goes more into thinking, and what state you are in.

Note: Isabel was recently in Venice for a dance program. 24 preludes with different states and she taps into different states.

“When I’m angry, express anger on stage, I tap on specific body parts to channel energy. It becomes a physical kind of. Emotions are very physical. The state of your body can inform your emotional health.”

6. Do you think dance as an expression is able to bring out the mood/authenticity of a place? Eg. if we were to shoot you dancing in a place of opulence, how will the dance style and movements differ from, say in a quaint and quiet place like a kampong?
Yes, it will affect. If you want the dancer to be affected, you can. The dancer can contrast the dance mood against the background as well. Depends on the artistic direction.

7. Do you agree that a dance performance/expression should be seen live instead of on screen?

8. If the medium is limited to screen only, how would you advise the film/dance could be improve to bring out the expressions and emotions intended?
Facial expression connects with people better. Also incorporate more human movement. When she wants to express a happy feeling, she would do an open kind of gesture with much body movement. To show depression or depressive vibes. She can show more side view, more down.

9. Does the dancer require music in order to dance?
The dancer does not have to have music or move in the relation to the music. The challenges come when the dancers have to dance in silence or against the music. It’s not hard for experienced dancers. Dancers listen to their body and the energy that affects them. Just like how any other stimulus will affect you. There is a theory of how the audience affects each other. Look for images, sounds, words that would affect the dancers’ mood.
Research: Daniel Kok. Independent artist. Director of Dance Nucleus

10. What is one aspect of dance that you’d like people to know more about?
Anyone can dance. Dance is for the soul. I’d be dead if I cannot dance because I simply can’t live without dance. In fact, you’re dancing all the time in life. Anything can be a performance. If I can’t dance, I can’t move. Even simple gesture can be a dance. Even sitting on this chair, talking to you, I’ve been moving non-stop. That is dance. It makes you feel alive.

11. Do you think there is sufficient exposure for Singapore dancers?
Making dance a career is tough. The government don’t really care about the art as general and they use it as a political agenda. If you use art, it’s more political stable. Non-commercial dancers can’t do exactly what they want. If they want funding or grant, there is a certain quotas to meet, and certain outreach to do. Do pro-bronc. Community becomes very niche. In Singapore, art is curated.

I’d think that the public is already wired to see dance in a way. Non-commercial would not thrive. Public would think they still don’t understand. It’s art for art sake. There is a barrier in communication as they are not aiming the general public. In London, it’s almost always full. Singapore’s market is not big enough. In Singapore, the tickets are not very expensive. Black box, $20. Esplanade, $40-$50. $20 – $70. It is very accessible.


move rhythmically to music, typically following a set sequence of steps.
(of a person) move in a quick and lively way.

a series of steps and movements that match the speed and rhythm of a piece of music.

(Extracted from

This project could be an evolution in the understanding of dance. Based on the dictionary, a dance is understood as to ‘move rhythmically to music, typically following a set sequence of steps.” In my research, I’m trying to explore the execution of dance without a music stimulus. 

Following the interview, I accompanied Isabel to attend a dance class conducted by Susan Sentler. I observed that dance is not simply involve the literal movement of the body. It also require the dancer to gain a certain sense of understanding of their surrounding and how they are affected by various stimulus to execute a certain kind of movement. In actuality, depending on your definition of dancing, everybody can be dancing all the time.

This exploration became even more interesting for me because as much as I realised that a single movement can be considered as a dance move, sound notes strung together could represent music.

Framing Dance: Interview with Thorsten Bauser & Location Scouting (Germany)

I arrived in Hamburg, Germany on 4 May. The next day morning, I went down to University of Applied Sciences Europe (Hamburg) to share my learning journey for Media Art Nexus. 

Half of the students in the class were preparing for the visuals to be screened in Elbphilharmonie. They shared their ideas and most of them are using C4D as their main software. We exchanged various ideas and opinions and many students’ ideas were enlightening.

Right after the class, I scheduled a meeting with Thorsten Bauser.

Thorsten Bauer is the creative director of Urbanscreen, a collaboration of German artists and technicians who use architecture as their medium. Using projected sound, light and animation, they transform buildings like the Sydney Opera House, Leopold Museum in Vienna and Rice University’s academic quadrangle in Houston into spectacular temporary art installations. (Extracted from The New York Times;

We had an hour long discussion over the possibility of using dance as an element in the project/film and he showed me a few inspirations.

He suggested using close up shots of the dancer dancing and split the screens into diagonal forms.

Thorsten also advised me on

  • Lighting direction (Key light up and above, fill light on the side)
  • Choice of attire when it comes to shooting (Ideal to keep the dressing style minimal so as to not distract the viewers)
  • Choreographer (Make sure there is a choreographer directing the dancer so that I have the liberty to move and film in the studio without having to worry about the dance moves)

On the same day, I went down to the site itself to do some location scouting and to understand the architecture of the building and its surroundings.


The Elbphilharmonie with its impressive glass facade and wave-like rooftop rises up from the former Kaispeicher building on the western tip of the HafenCity. Accommodated inside are two concert halls, a hotel and residential apartments. Between the old warehouse and the glass structure is the Plaza – a public viewing area that extends around the whole building.

The Elbphilharmonie takes inspiration from three structures: the ancient theatre at Delphi, sport stadiums and tents.

Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron

(Extracted from

As I researched further into Elbphilharmonie, I became more interested in the ability of architecture, places, and locations in bringing people together to bond, interact and socialise.


The media wall is huge and I realised that when it is viewed from a distance, only the lower half of the screen can be seen. Also, the pixels and screen resolution is lower than that of the media wall. There are 3 major ‘blocks’ which I have to take note off when I execute the placement of the frames.

Frames Dancing: The Beginning

Through the past 3 years in ADM, the school exposed me to various art expressions, mediums and platforms. Starting from the basics of foundation drawing, product design, photography and film, I developed an interest in experimental film and I wanted to explore more in my FYP after taking the module, Media Art Nexus. I had a Skype conversation with Ina in America and I was told that the theme of the FYP could be music. 
This is a rough sketch of what I envision my project to be like. 
Idea: Exploration of Spaces. As seen below, the black shaded region on the left side is according to the specifications that I received from the ELMAN brief. I envision shooting a dancer moving through spaces. It could be shot in Germany and/or Singapore. As the dancer moves between spaces, she exits a frame and enters another. The frames could move as well throughout the video. This idea plays with more spaces, and concept.
I was particularly intrigued by a visual done by Yuge Zhou.
Yuge Zhou is a Chinese born, Chicago-based artist whose video and installation works explore urban environments as they are inhabited and experienced and the collective rhythms of human activities in these spaces. (Extracted from
This work is titled Underground Circuit
Underground Circuit is a collage of hundreds of video clips shot in the subway stations in New York. Station to station, the movement of the commuters in the outer rings suggests the repetitive cycle of life and urban theatricality and texture. The inner-most ring includes people sitting on benches waiting; the central drummers act as the controller of the movement, inspired by the concept of the Four-faced Buddha in Chinese folk religion, the god who can fulfill and grant all wishes of its devotees.
I proceeded on to research more on the artist and I realise that she have done other installation series that experiments with framing.

Deep Ends suggests a tension between carefree buoyancy, vulnerability, and inherent risk. Water on the edge of an urban landscape invites crowds, and shot from a long distance, the scene strangely oscillates between leisure fun and the aftermath of a disaster. Deep Ends is part of The Humors, a four-part video collage series exploring urban dispositions.

Soft Plots portrays a conception of urban living that is both group-oriented and discontinuous. In many ways, we live in big cities like we live in small towns—except that our communities are scattered across a dense network of other communities and other storied lives of which we only catch a glimpse. Soft Plots is a mental map of meaningful locations and (richly-inhabited) voids in between. Soft Plots is part of The Humors, a four-part video collage series exploring urban dispositions. 

Green play is a joyful orchestration of one of the great meeting places in New York City—Central Park, a utopian playground and repository shared by locals and tourists alike. The spliced footage choreographs a single summer Sunday and encapsulates an optimism that is central to American life. Green Play is part of The Humors, a four-part video collage series exploring urban dispositions. 

Social synchronization is a phenomenon where individuals within a group influence one another’s behavioral patterns. For Midtown Flutter, I shot a variety of architecture in midtown Manhattan, allowing passersby to interrupt the scene. By selecting and then composing the video footage according to the formal qualities of the architecture within the scene, the architecture in turn dictates the patterns and flow of the pedestrians. Midtown becomes a flattened, uniform construct for this play of texture, rhythm and interruptions. Midtown Flutter is part of The Humors, a four-part video collage series exploring urban dispositions.

Note on The Humors:

Ancient Greek philosophers wrote of four temperaments (or ‘humors’) that color all of creation: sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic. Urbanity is part of this creation, and also embodies versions of these dispositions. The Humors suggests urban behaviors and relationships, those of people and of the built environment itself.

As the project will be screened in Elbphilharmonie, and no music is to be used, I thought of incorporating the element of dance. Dance is one of the best visual representation of music and the movements and rhythm of the dancer is able to bring out the essence of music as a mood itself. The next step is to consider the kind of dance style I’d like to explore as well as the places I’d want to shoot the dance scene.