Coup de Grâce: A Review of ‘Kill Your Darlings’

"Kill Your Darlings," with Silver Yee and Jason Yap. Photo: Gary Ng.

Kill Your Darlings

Created and performed by Silver Yee and Jason Yap
Indicine, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre
22-23 July 2017


Review by Bilqis Hijjas

If there’s a rifle hanging on the wall in the first act of your play, Chekhov wrote, it needs to go off by the third act. So when you enter a theatre which has knives hanging from the ceiling, expect the cutting edge. Kill Your Darlings, the first full-length choreographic work from dancers Silver Yee and Jason Yap, doesn’t disappoint. The two performers cram expansive movement, a refreshing lack of sentimentality, worldly themes and cunning props into klpac’s compact and simply-lit Indicine space — and, yes, the knives come into play.

Unlike most Malaysian dance productions, which might begin with music, or experiments in the studio, or a vague desire to work together, Kill Your Darlings started with an idea, which the creators developed by distance, while Silver pursues an Masters in Taipei, and Jason works on a Bachelors in Hong Kong. And, unlike productions which may stray so far from their origin that the title ends up being about a different show entirely, Kill Your Darlings sticks to its very sharp point. It goes in deep, and penetrates from different angles. It is equally about the edict to authors, and to creative artists in general, never to get too attached to a character or plot point they have created, as it is about a widespread culture of casual violence, and about how love drives us to wound our loved ones and sometimes ourselves.

Silver Yee and Jason Yap in "Kill Your Darlings." Photo: Gary Ng.

Wielding the vignette style of tanztheater with verve and imagination, Jason and Silver play a man and a woman falling in love in less than honest circumstances. In the early scenes, Silver expresses her ambitions as well as her flaws, witnessed by the audience, who are arrayed in four sections around the central performance space, and by a mannequin of a little boy wearing a cap, t-shirt and shorts. The mannequin watches Silver and Jason meet cute, clad in a dress-up box parody of Chinese traditional wedding gear. When Silver realizes her disguise is concealing her real self, she dumps both clothes and man. Jason launches into an agonized solo, its rather orthodox emo style spiked by some surprising movement choices, including crashing into chairs. In apology, Silver offers an apple in a box, which Jason finds orgasmic—but then Silver returns with a knife, snipped from a wind-chime made of hanging blades, to skewer the apple in Jason’s open mouth. This petite mort is followed by a quiet, pensive solo by Silver, and Jason’s reentry wearing the mannequin’s outfit. Perhaps this is Silver’s dream come true, but after everything the audience and the little boy have seen, you know this isn’t going to end well.

The work’s confident theatricality often transgresses the boundaries of dance, but the artists also seem comfortable within its confines. They aren’t afraid to dance together in time with the music, or to use music to set the mood. Their three duets show a serious commitment to developing an inventive movement vocabulary out of a repeated motif. In the first duet, the two dancers face each other in an aggressive stance, one arm crossed at the wrist with their partner’s, like sparring swords. Their joined arms start to circle from the shoulder, their knees bend with the momentum of every cycle, and then the growing momentum shunts them across the floor. In the second duet, falling in love with a scarf wrapped around their necks, they perform a dizzying number of variations within this constriction, all relevant to the story. In the final duet, they return to a bouncing movement with arms swinging like scythes, which shifts into running, first facing each other, then in tandem, then around the stage across from each other, just as Chinese sword dancers circle an arena. In the last moment of the duet, Silver comes charging round the circle towards Jason. You expect him either to run away or to defend himself, but he seems to welcome her onslaught. As Silver leaps up to stand on his bent thigh, he crumples beneath her like a pole-axed ox. Death blow delivered.

"Kill Your Darlings," with Silver Yee and Jason Yap. Photo: Gary Ng.

Befitting something that calls itself Kill Your Darlings, the show doesn’t take itself too seriously. It offers plenty of whimsy as well as humour. In the final scene, Jason enters clutching an LED light in each hand. When Silver snatches off his cap, the agonized look on Jason’s face, as he realizes he cannot fix his hair because both his hands are full, is hysterical.

The unpredictability lasts until the final moment. As the performers dance with the lights in their mouths, it is as if we can see their beating hearts, their radiating souls. The tension mounts as they approach each other. This time, Jason has the knife. Primed by the scene with the apple, the audience thinks it can see what’s coming. But at the last second, Jason reaches his arm around Silver’s neck, and with the tip of the knife blade, flicks the light out of his own mouth. In the sudden darkness that followed, my surprise was equalled only by my utter satisfaction.

There are moments in Kill Your Darlings when the momentum ebbs, and there are elements that could still have been culled. But this is an exciting achievement for two emerging choreographers, and the show’s biting cynicism, coupled with a dramaturgical sensibility wielded like a scalpel, would be noteworthy even in the hands of established artists. It’s not just an impressive debut — Kill Your Darlings slays.

Jason Yap and Silver Yee in "Kill Your Darlings." Photo: Gary Ng.

All rehearsal photos courtesy of Gary Ng

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