[Dance Review] Cross-Cultural Epic

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Vinayaka

Bhaskar’s Art Academy

16 October 2016

SOTA Drama Theatre

Before the start of the show, an announcement informs the audience that we are about to watch the third iteration of Vinayaka by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy (BAA)—Vinayaka 3.0, so to speak.

The choice of the computing term raises an interesting question: With technology being able to create a very realistic Lord Ganesha on screen, why would anyone—especially someone who is not from the culture—want to watch a rendition of how Lord Ganesha got his elephant head told through Bharatanaytam and Javanese dance?

The physical presence of the body.

In fact, the more advanced technology becomes, the more treasured physical virtuosity is. And the physical control and expressiveness displayed by dancers from BAA and Sasana Budaya Art Troupe (SBAT) is absolutely exquisite.

Put together on stage, both dances play off each other really well. Bharatanatyam’s stamps of physical vigour or quiet strength are a counterpoint to the courtly elegance in the fluid tip-toeing or shuffling of the feet in Javanese dance. Choreographers Meenakshy Bhaskar (BAA) and Santi Dwisaputri (SBAT) bring this to the fore through the interweaving formations as each troupe seems to frame the other at one point or another, especially as the attendants to Parvati (played by Dwisaputri herself).

While dance often suggests movement, stillness is the most difficult to achieve especially when you have to get the depiction of the gods just right. In that respect, the stage presences of Senthun Bhima Nugraha (Shiva) and Santi Dwisputri (Parvati) are unmistakeable.  The former has to keep his body upright to accommodate his costume—which includes two artificial hands that form a mudra—while adopting two soft gestures with his own hands. Yet, when he moves across the stage, he exudes a masculine and regal presence.

While Dwisputri’s gentle and graceful gestures suggest the pure and feminine Parvati, all it takes is for her to turn to the back for the world to be destroyed in sheer anger due to the death of her son, Ganesha.  Her versatility in expressing gracefulness, sorrow, and rage is a sight to behold.

Sarenniya Ramathas and Shruthilaya Ramachandran as Ganesha do not pale in comparison.

Ramathas, as Ganesha before he was beheaded, treats us with a dance of youthful vigour. When Ganesha battles Shiva’s Pancha Ganas to prevent his father from intruding on his mother, Ramathas departs slightly from the traditional Bharatanatyam movements. Her facial expressions and strong movement vocabulary makes the battle exciting to watch. This is complemented by the strong and well-coördinated performances by the dancers portraying the Pancha Ganas (Miroshini Kannathasan, Nishalini Lakchimanathas, Priyadarshini Nagarajah, Tanuja Seran, and Usha Anbalagan).

Ramachandran, as the resurrected Ganesha with the elephant head, is the answer to the question posed at the start of the review. With a gentle swaying of her hand and a very slight movement of  her body, she intimates a lively image of Ganesha and his swaying trunk, as the mind vividly fills in the rest of the details.

The visual intricacies will be hollow without the music from BAA’s own musicians and Singa Nglras Gamelan Ensemble. The contrast between the musical forms mirrors the dances as well.

The carnatic music spans from the meditative to the rhythmic, while the various metals from the gamelan instruments enhance the rhythms and provide a wholesome resonance. A sense of grandeur envelops the whole theatre at the start and end of the show, when both musical forms come together, as we see the gods take the central dais, and are surrounded by the various dancers to form an impressive iconography.

Given the skilfulness of the dancers and musicians, I wish they were more ambitious in their art-making. The sections with Javanese dance with gamelan music, and Bharatanatyam with carnatic music, are a little too clearly delineated. The moments when both art forms intertwine are too few and far between.

The main impetus of BAA’s Traditional Arts in the Region series is to showcase the shared heritage among the traditional dances of Southeast Asia. While the differences between the dances strongly highlight the main characteristics of the respective dances, it would be a wasted opportunity not to see what happens if a dance embodies certain techniques or movements from the other.

All the more reason to look forward to BAA’s next collaboration and, perhaps, Vinayaka 4.0.

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Bhaskar’s Arts Academy’s Cross-Cultural Leanings

Bhaskar’s Arts Academy’s (BAA) latest production, Vinayaka, sees the troupe collaborating with Sasana Budaya Art Troupe (Indonesia)  and Singa Nglaras Gamelan Ensemble (Singapore) as part of their Traditional Arts in the Region series. To better understand BAA’s new direction towards cross-cultural collaboration, I arranged an email interview with Mrs Santha Bhaskar, artistic director of BAA .

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Mrs Santha Bhaskar

What made BAA decide to launch the Traditional Arts in the Region series?

In 1990 I was awarded a scholarship to study Thai culture at Chulalongkorn University. I think my most profound experience was the collaboration among the delegates of that ASEAN Exchange programme. The sharing of cultures from the representatives  made me realise how old and how much of a treasure our traditions are.

At the end of the course, we were expected to create an item to signify the unity of ASEAN in dance. Singapore is in a very unique situation because of its cosmopolitan nature and its multi-cultural tradition. My representation, being an Indian dancer, was a question that I had to answer to many and to myself. I knew I had to make my contribution “Singapore” in nature. It was difficult initially but in the end I created the evolution of man (through the avathars of Vishnu), finishing with the struggle to attain ultimate intelligence and symbolised this with Buddha (the enlightened one).

Again and again I have choreographed ASEAN epics such as Ramayana, Manohra and Vinayaka. With each production, BAA’s connection to the ASEAN region became stronger and that led to the launch of the series.

Earlier this year, BAA performed in Bangkok for the ASEAN plus Ramayana Festival. Has BAA been very involved in cultural events organised by ASEAN? If so, how has such encounters influenced the artistic practice of BAA?
In addition to my early encounter in 1990, many more ASEAN Ramayana performances have been staged in this region. BAA has been involved in several of them starting with the Ramayana Festival in Angkor Wat, Cambodia in 1994. Subsequently there were several others in Myanmar, India and Thailand. My daughter, Meenakshy Bhaskar, also spent more than a year touring the region with Realizing Rama — a production that brought together artistes from all around the region. These events did influence BAA to create an awareness of ASEAN traditional arts and culture, and foster collaborations with our neighbouring countries.

I noticed that the Southeast Asian Studies department at the National University of Singapore is listed as one of your collaborators. What is their role in this production?

Department of South east Asian Studies’ Gamelan ensemble is collaborating with BAA’S musicians to play joint compositions of Carnatic and Javanese music. It is a definitely a happy marriage of two happy partners.

Stay tuned for an upcoming interview conducted with the choreographers and musical directors of Vinayaka about the rehearsal process. 

Vinayaka

16 October 2016 (Sunday)

7:30pm

SOTA Drama Theatre

$25 & $30

Tickets: BAA website or enquires@bhaskarsarts.com

[Listing] Vinayaka by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy

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A newly metamorphosed Vinayaka is set to make its one-night only world premier here. The simple and familiar tale of how the Hindu God Ganesha came to have an elephant’s head will be  presented in a cross-cultural collaboration by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy, Sasana Budaya Art Troupe (Indonesia),  and Singa Nglaras Gamelan Ensemble (Singapore).

Vinayaka was first staged as a Bharatanatyam piece in 2003 and then again in 2005 by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy (BAA). In 2010, BAA reworked the piece with  Balinese elements and it premiered in Bali. In this iteration, Vinayaka has taken a new form that is expressed through Bharatanatyam and Javanese movements under the artistic direction of Santha Bhaskar, as well as choreographers Meenakshy Bhaskar and Santi Dwisaputri. The piece will be performed to a new and exciting score under the music direction of Ghanavenothan Retnam and Sambowo Agus Herianto.

“I have choreographed this work several times now but each time it feels so new. I connect with it differently each time and it is as if I transform along with the work” says Meenakshy Bhaskar, who is based in the US.

Because of the distance, collaborating with her Jakarta-based counterpart Santi Dwisaputri was not without challenges acoording to Meenaskshy, but they “clicked from the moment the conversation started” and at some points they “were completing one another’s sentences.”

Vinayaka is the first of a three-part series by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy that will present works under the umbrella theme of “Traditional Arts in the Region.” Exciting collaboration with other performing arts troupes from different ASEAN countries can be expected in the coming years.

Vinayaka

16 October 2016 (Sunday)

7:30pm

SOTA Drama Theatre

$25 & $30

Tickets: BAA website or enquires@bhaskarsarts.com

[Dance Review] Expressive Gratitude

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Na Mah

Bhaskar’s Arts Academy

16 April 2016

Esplanade Theatre Studio

16 April 2016, 3pm & 7:30pm

Before every rehearsal or performance, Bharatanatyam dancers are required to perform the namaskar. It is a ritual which expresses gratitude to Mother Earth, the deities, and their gurus who have brought them to where they are.

If Na Mah is anything to go by, these people, spirits, and elements have done an excellent job with Bhaskar’s Arts Academy (BAA).

In many ways, the repertoire on offer is an extensive namaskar. Deities such as Ganesha, Bhaskara, and Muruga are praised; the wonders of nature is an analogy of the nature of love; and the skill, precision, and presence on display testify to the wisdom and efficacy of the gurus.

In the course of this thanksgiving, the audience is reminded of how the body is a fantastic instrument for story-telling. The group numbers—especially Bhaskaraya and The Peacock’s Cue—are wonderful spectacles as the dancers come together to form distinct iconographies of the gods, or inject a certain energy in celebration of a deity’s divinity. This is achieved through the contrast between stillness and exuberant footwork. The slight variation in the way each dancer executes the gestures or facial expressions also present the multi-faceted nature of the deities.

That said, there are a couple of occasions when the dancers missed their marks by a hair’s breadth. But they are so minor that they hardly mar an otherwise beautiful performance.

The solo numbers prove that abhinaya (expressive elements) is a forte of BAA’s soloists. The exactness of the gestures, and the nuances of the facial expressions not only tell classic stories, such as Shakuntala searching for Dushyanta in Maaney, it also expounds on abstract concepts such as the nature of love in Vaanil Mukilodum.

The ability to portray an array of emotions, coupled with the different physicalities of the masculine, feminine, and animal within a split second indicates a high level of craftsmanship. From the feelings of joy and longing when one is in love, to seeing a series of flowers bloom with a mere flourish of the hands, it is impossible to take one’s eyes off the soloists.

It is important to note that the programme also includes two Kathak solos by Pallavi Sharma. While she brilliantly executes her steps in Shiv Stuti, the choreography does not bring out the enormity of Shiva’s cycle of nothingness to everythingness, and everythingness to nothingness. However, she is an absolute treat in And This is Love…. Sharma brings out the coy flirtation of lovers through motifs of looking and hiding, and slowly progresses into a series of spins which evokes the all-encompassing and thrilling feeling of love.

It would be remiss of me not to praise the musicians (Ampili Pillai, Arasakumari Nagaradjane, Ghanavenothan Retnam, TV Sajith, TK Arunkumar, S Harikrishnan, Imran Khan, Nasir Khan, Shakeel Ahmed Khan) for their artistry in enhancing the dances. From the meditative to the earthy rhythms of joy, the music is evocative, hypnotic, and potentially therapeutic.

It is unfortunate that we have no ritual of our own to thank the performers for the sacrifices that they have made. Perhaps, the best thing we can do is to show our continuous support and introduce more people to their work. And Bhaskar’s Arts Academy definitely deserves that.

Bidding a Home Farewell: On Space, Gratitude, and Spirit

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Stamford Arts Centre, April 2016

To many, the Stamford Arts Centre is a quaint building where art happens. But for Mrs Santha Bhaskar, artistic director of Bhaskar’s Arts Academy (BAA), it is more than a sum of the things that happen within it; it is home.

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Mrs Santha Bhaskar

It is home not simply because she spent half her artistic career there, or that she feels a surge of sentimentality with the centre’s impending closure. Rather, it is home because the space is sustained by a community and, in turn, the space allows for art to grow and evolve.  She explains:

“It was in 1988 that we moved here, and we were the first tenant. The National Arts Council (NAC) did not give us a grant to renovate the place, but we needed to convert some of the bigger rooms into smaller rooms on the third level for music classes. What my late husband, Mr K.P. Bhaskar, did was to borrow money from our students’ parents, wrote IOUs, and we returned the money when we made some profit,”

Another significance of the space is that it marked a new phase of development and growth for BAA and its training arm, Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society (NAS).

“Our group is in this place. When we were at the National Theatre and Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre, it was Mr Bhaskar and I who taught dance. We didn’t have any teachers. I taught most of the classes, and Mr Bhaskar handled all the administrative tasks. We only taught and performed Bharatanatyam, that is all. Coming here, we really grew and we brought teachers from India to help with the music classes. So all that happened here. The school has become big now.”

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According to an earlier interview, NAS  has around 2000 students learning a plethora of Indian art forms. Courses in dance (Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi), music (various instruments and Carnatic singing techniques), and visual art are offered. More importantly, NAS has its own syllabus for Bharatanatyam and students who complete it are awarded a diploma, and offered teaching and performing opportunities at BAA. “We are self-sustaining in the sense that we have our own pool of dancers and are not dependent on India. We have Singaporean dancers, that’s our specialty,” says Mrs Bhaskar as she beams with pride.

Courses offered by NAS.

Courses offered by NAS

But space and community are not limited to the boundaries within Stamford Arts Centre. “We are opposite two temples and there’s a lot of good energy for the space. So whatever we do, we offer it to the deities, the people, and the space around us.” She adds, “We have very good neighbours. Although we are near to a food court and HDB blocks, no one has complained that we make a lot of noise. We stay here with a lot of harmony.”

Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple which is opposite Stamford Arts Centre

Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple which is opposite Stamford Arts Centre

Nearby HDB Blocks

Nearby HDB Blocks

It is with this sense of gratitude that led Mrs Bhaskar to conceive of Na Mah as the first production of the year for BAA. “We will be saying goodbye to this building. It is my way of thanking the space, and the dancers who have learnt from me. While some of them have stopped, their presence and support have sustained the company.”

In fact, gratitude lies at the heart of her practice. “For me, it’s very important. I’m grateful to a lot of things which surrounds me. Even the dancers, they pass energy to me when they perform. I consider this to be my philosophy of performing and teaching.”

Mrs Bhaskar giving instructions to the dancers

Mrs Bhaskar instructing the dancers

The show mostly consists of Mrs Bhaskar’s favourite pieces that were performed by the company. “I can sit and watch those items for any number of times. Some people might get bored and say, ‘I’ve seen this already. Why are you watching it again?’ For me, it’s not like that.”

However, there are other pieces in the show that hold a deeper significance. Two pieces in the line up are from a previous production, Xpressions, which was performed three years ago. This was the last production that Mr Bhaskar watched before he passed away. “We had two nights, and he couldn’t watch the performance on the second night as he was unable to walk up to Esplanade. Three days later, he passed away,” recalls Mrs Bhaskar. “As these two pieces have not been performed since, I am putting them in this show to pay homage to him.”

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Mr TK Arun on the veena

Yet, long-time fans of BAA have something new to look forward to. Apart from the opening number, there is an item that is based on a contemporary Tamil poem. Mrs Bhaskar elaborates: “It is about love and anger between two people. Who is getting angry with whom? I am in love with this space, the clouds love the sky, and the flowers are also spreading their scent. But who is angry with whom?”

She also points out that the pieces are not connected together and audience need not be intimidated, if they are unfamiliar with the Indian epics, as they can be appreciated on their own. Thus, Na Mah is a tribute to those who have come before, and a celebration of the artistic trajectory that BAA has taken.

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Dancers in rehearsal

Despite the understandable sadness of bidding the centre farewell, Mrs Bhaskar is accepting of NAC’s decision. “Singapore is changing, and we have to change accordingly. The building is very old and its stability is a big concern for all of us. If it has to be changed, it has to be changed.”  To the best of her knowledge, the centre will be converted into a space for traditional arts.

While NAC has yet to announce any concrete plans, she hopes that the NAC and other government agencies are mindful of the centre’s surroundings. “I told them that we are opposite two temples, and a lot of devotees go there. I believe that there are a lot of energies around, both positive and negative. It is important that they consult both temples before going ahead with any plans. Personally, I believe that there shouldn’t be any tall buildings in front of the temples.”

Sri Krishnan Temple as viewed from Stamford Arts Centre

Sri Krishnan Temple as viewed from Stamford Arts Centre

Looking forward, BAA and NAS will be relocated to the fourth floor of Bras Basah Complex. The new space will host rehearsals for their next production which will be choreographed by Mrs Bhaskar’s daughter, Meenakshy Bhaskar, in collaboration with Balinese dancers.

Apart from new productions, Mrs Bhaskar is also looking at starting a research programme in the near future. It will introduce a systematic way of archiving, researching, and analysing the artistic practices of BAA. For a start, Dr Wong Chee Meng, post-doctoral fellow at Nanyang Technological University, will research on BAA’s upcoming performance of Ramayana in Thailand.

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Mr Ghanavenothan Retnam (flute), Mr TV Sajith (violin), and Ms Ampili Pillai (vocalist)

When asked for her hopes for the future, she has this to say:

“I hope the younger generation will take it seriously. Apart from dance, they should learn music, literature, and visual arts because these elements are interconnected with any traditional Indian dance form.

But the present situation is that they do not have time to learn other things because they are busy with their studies or work. They can only do that if they are a full-timer, but somebody has to pay them a decent salary. I don’t think Singapore is ready for that. So they have to resort to teaching, but the body will become lazy. You’ll think that it is enough and say, ‘I’m making a living already, so why should I do other things?’

If you really want to be an artist, you need a lot of willpower. I don’t know how the next generation is going to be as they are quite pampered. But maybe, someone will come forward.”

Hallway looking into one of the studios where music classes are held

Hallway looking into one of the studios where music classes are held

While the future may be uncertain, there is still a lot to be thankful for. “Mr Bhaskar used to say, ‘Although we didn’t make much money from practising art, we have a lot of good karma.’ We are able to give our students a little bit of knowledge about dance and music, and that itself is a big thing.”

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Directory of Stamford Arts Centre

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Catch Na Mah at Esplanade Theatre Studio on 16 April, 2pm and 8pm. Please contact Bhaskar’s Arts Academy at 6336 6537 to book your tickets.

[Listing] Na Mah by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy

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After years of rehearsals in the the nights, the walls of the studio at Stamford Arts Centre will witness the last major production rehearsals by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy (BAA). With this palpable air of nostalgia, BAA thought it apt to stage Na Mah, which is essentially a salute to the space they called their own for more than 25 years.

“We are so at home in this space. But now the final countdown has started. So many creations, so many laughter, tears and sweet memories are embedded in these walls. Soon, all these will be like a forgotten piece of art when its memory is nothing but dust,” shares Santha Bhaskar, Artistic Director of BAA.

Na Mah, which means salutation,  is a collection of repertoire items found in the vocabularies of Bharatanatyam and Kathak. It features 10 of BAA’s best Bharatanatyam dancers and our in-house Kathak soloist in demanding and exacting choreographies. All this work asks of you is to appreciate the visual beauty of movement, and the emotive aesthetics of abhinaya. Nothing more—no storyline, no characters, and certainly no complex philosophical concepts. Sometimes all you need is to see, feel, and live the dance.

Na Mah 

16 April 2016 (Saturday)

3pm & 7:30pm

Esplanade Theatre Studio

$20 & $25

For more ticketing information, kindly contact BAA at enquiries@bhaskararts.com

[Dance Review] Not That Magnetic

Magneta

¡Magneta!

Flamenco Sin Fronteras

13 November 2015

Goodman Arts Centre Black Box

13–14 November 2015

Spanning ten different items and six different palos (styles), ¡Magneta! strives to showcase the versatility and creativity of the company. Unfortunately, the attraction is not consistent.

The programme starts off with two weak performances. The first item plays on what the public would think of as flamenco music—Gipsy Kings. Against the sultry rendition of Volare by Toshiaki Konno, most of the dancers ignored the meaning of the song title as they dance with their wings clipped. Apart from Tilly Wong and Cheryl Ng who exude joy, the other dancers are extremely cautious and look as if they are counting the rhythms or recalling the next step. Thankfully, this feeble item ended quickly.

As the dancers leave the stage with a slight flourish, Saori Otsuka enters to perform the Cantiñas. While Otsuka is technically excellent, her guarded approach to the dance is puzzling given that she personally adapted the dance from a choreography by Alicia Marquez and Pilar Ogalla. Whatever attraction one feels to her strong and steady footwork is neutered.

To break the slumber, Toshiaki Konno bursts in with a barrage of footwork as he performs the Solea Por Bulerias. Konno exudes sheer confidence as he communicates with the musicians and the audience. Alternating between sleek moves and fiery footwork, he even finds time to toss a stray hair clip aside with nonchalance. The floor of the black box does an injustice to Konno’s dancing as it fails to convey the full timbre and musicality of his footwork.

Guitarist Sergio Muñoz lets us down gently from the euphoria of Konno’s performance with a heartfelt solo. As he strums and plucks the guitar strings, there is a sense of deep searching. In response, the faces of the audience light up. Unfortunately, this is not due to Muñoz’s virtuosity, but to their imbecility as they treat him like a street busker and fix their eyes on their phones. This selfish vigil also occurs in the latter half of the show when he performs another guitar solo.

Tilly Wong and Nobuyoshi Nakane kick the show up a notch as they take turns to perform different letras (verses) of the Alegrias. Wong radiates a quiet and infectious joy with her slight smile and her ease in handling the bata de cola (skirt with long train) as she sweeps across the stage. Nakane’s steely reserve serves as a nice counterpoint. His letra starts off quite conservatively as it consists mainly of ‘marking steps.’ He breaks away from that in his escobilla (series of footwork) with a lovely variation of the standard steps and takes more risks towards the end. The short duet in the end is wonderfully playful and the chemistry between both dancers is apparent. Wong and Nakane successfully capture the spirit of the dance.

Over the years, Carmen has become everyone’s favourite gypsy girl. Dark, mysterious, sensual, desirable, and exotic. Rather than presenting the usual seduction scene, Daphne Huang-Vargas (Carmen) and Pedro Simoni (Don José) take on the ambitious task of condensing the whole story into a few minutes.

Unfortunately, it is a few minutes too long.

Instead of using the language of flamenco to intimate what happened between the couple, Huang-Vargas performs a pointless scene in which she acts like a rebellious teenage gangster girl and asks us why we are staring at her in an exaggerated Singaporean accent. The script is as pointless as it is literal—later on, we see Don José saying how much he loves Carmen and asks why she has decided to leave him.

Any more literal and the stage manager will have to read the stage directions out loud.

Thankfully, Yuriko Kurose performing the Farruca returns us to something we can appreciate and enjoy. Attired in a red suede crop jacket, high-waisted black trousers, and hair tied into the ponytail, Kurose pays homage to Carmen Amaya (the Carmen we should all remember rather than the monstrosity popularised by Bizet). While Kurose does not have Amaya’s energy and magnetism, her Farruca is technically flawless which is enhanced by her crisp angular lines.

Mamiko Nakane’s Bulerias is surprisingly too short. However, she makes use of every single second on stage in giving a delightful performance. When the Zorongo started, I thought it was still part of the Bulerias. Despite the slight confusion, the synchronicity of the mantones (shawls) adds a certain visual spectacle as the show ends on a good note.

While the choreographies in ¡Magneta! are relatively traditional, it offers the audience a broad overview of the variety and colours that flamenco can offer. This is a small but important step to break flamenco away from the stereotype of it being merely about passion and sensuality.

[Dance Review] Capturing the Ephemeral

raw moves the fleeting moment

The Fleeting Moment

Teresa Ranieri & Raw Moves

5 November 2015

Goodman Arts Centre Black Box

5–7 November 2015

Choreographer Teresa Ranieri and I face a similar challenge in our respective endeavours. How do we capture an ephemeral experience and convey its impact in a way that others can experience it for themselves?

The first fleeting moment we see is dancer Kenneth Tan walking into a darkened room and behind a screen as a pastiche of images is projected onto it. A soundscape with repeated motifs fills the room as five other female dancers (Chiew Peishan, Neo Hong Chin, Melyn Chow, Liu Wen-Chun, Sherry Tay) emerge and observe Tan. Observation and mirroring dominate this piece as Tan navigates this mental and emotional landscape.

The ephemeral is suggested through the melding and separating of the dancers and media artist Bruno Perosa’s projection of the dancers’ images splintering. The amorphicity of memory is evoked through a repeated sequence of a dancer adopting a pose of another dancer while a third observes and reacts to it. Apart from the ephemeral, are there intimations of—as Ranieri puts it—instances that define our existence?

Throughout the course of the show, we see snatches of what could possibly be interpreted as death, rebirth, freedom, and struggle. Such vague terms, along with my qualification of providing possible interpretations, do not satisfy the reader and there lies the flaw of the show.

While there is a clear synergy in the way the dancers react to each other, they fail to achieve the “wild carousel of feelings and emotions” that Ranieri is gunning for. At times, this may be due to the guarded approach of the dancers. At others, the beautiful movement work simply fails to capture anything.

Ranieri also misses out on a couple of moments to develop on an interesting premise. At one point, the dancers suddenly split up as four square plots of light are thrown onto the space. I initially thought it is trying to evoke how we tend to compartmentalise our memory or emotions. However, no elaboration is provided apart from a couple of movement sequences and the dancers sliding into the square plots. This leaves me questioning my initial interpretation.

Fortunately, the show gains momentum in the second half which is signalled by a dancer tossing the paper cranes as the ensemble go on to evoke a sense of struggle. Perhaps, the most affecting moment appears towards the end as we see Kenneth Tan trying to gather the pieces of confetti while preventing another dancer from messing it up. He evokes a sense of pathos in salvaging the pieces of memory and emotions as he tries to make sense of it all.

While the choreography is sometimes conceptually hazy, The Fleeting Moment does offer glimpses of beauty that are worth waiting for.

[Dance Review] A Parley of Traditions

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Photo: Jean -Louis Fernandez

Torobaka

Akram Khan & Israel Galván

16 October 2015

Esplanade Theatre

16–17 October 2015

There is something uncomfortable about Torobaka. How is it possible for two dancers to collaborate on a show with the bull as its main metaphor when one of them comes from a culture which reveres the animal, while the other slays it?

“Anarchy” says the programme notes. The only solution is to go against tradition and come together as two dancing bodies.

The result: Two phenomenal dancers in a bullring that duel, complement, and play with each other.

One of the main impetuses of this performance is a response to a problem in most intercultural collaborations. Rather than digging deep by investigating the vocabularies and limits of both traditions, most performances are often a sophisticated version of dance school recitals. Both traditions are placed alongside each other and the audience is asked to draw up a list of similarities and differences between them.

Torobaka is definitely not one of them. In this work, we see Khan and Galván rolling up their sleeves, giving all that their traditions offer, and summarily tossing them out as well. In many ways, the dances are respecting their traditions in their truthful assessment of what they can offer.

The show starts off with both dancers performing moves inspired by both traditions but expressed in their own way. While Galván’s angular flamenco lines and Khan’s fluid lines are still somewhat discernible, the audience will be hard-pressed to tease out which moves belong to which tradition. And that is the point.

The performance then progresses to a series of solos where both dancers openly defy both traditions. If “purists” were seething at both dancers before, they will go into cardiac arrest this time.

Think Khan dancing with hands in flamenco boots or silencing the jaleos (shouts of encouragement) by the Spanish palmero (rhythm clapper), Bobote.

Aside from his usual fare of breaking the lines expected of a flamenco dancer, Galván’s ferocious and primal solos were ornamented with playful squawks and gestures. At one point, I gasped as he stomps on Khan’s ghungaroos (ankle bells) and performs a series of footwork. However, with the jingling of the bells to accompany his footwork, it feels as if he is performing a duet with Khan.

In other solos, it is clear that both men are going back to the roots as if to remind the audience of where they came from. The show ends with the dancers coming full circle by locking horns and combating each other in the only way that they know how.

If the choreography is complex, the music that accompanies it tops that. It is a wondrous amalgamation of classical kathak and flamenco rhythms that are lyrically guided by songs from western classical and folk traditions.

Percussion enthusiasts would revel in B. C. Manjunath alternating between vocalising kathak rhythms and counting in Spanish while playing the pakhawaj (percussive drum comprising two kettle drums tied together) or duffali (hand drum).

Vocal and choral lovers will enjoy the interweaving of David Azurza’s counter-tenor vocals with Christine Leboutte’s lower range. Add Bobote’s clapping into the mix and we get music that is profoundly meditative, dramatic, and playful at various times.

Torobaka puts creativity, energy, and passion back into dance as it excavates the dynamics of human interaction as well as forming new movement vocabularies. In essence, Khan and Galván show us how anarchy and tradition can co-exist within the realm of human expression.

Other Reviews

“da:ns Fest 2015: Akram Khan, Israel Galvan go mano a mano” by Mayo Martin, Today

“Duality in Harmony” by Germaine Cheng, The Straits Times Life! 

“Torobaka Review” by Five Lines

[Dance Review] A Dazzling Constellation of Bodies

NDT2

An Evening of Five Works

Nederlands Dans Theater 2

9 October 2015

Esplanade Theatre

9–10 October 2015

The youth wing of Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) graces the Esplanade stage again with five fresh works which premiered within the last five years.

The programme opens with Schubert and Some Other Time by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot. In Schubert, the choreographic duo mirrors the motifs of the music by creating motifs of angular and flowing actions that extend throughout the pas de deux. While it is an exploration of love, it refuses to fall into extremities. What unfolds is a meditative rumination of love that is enhanced by the beautiful lines and perfect control of the dancers.

Despite the monochromatic set design of Some Other Time, León and Lightfoot colour their dance with various movement vocabularies such as mime, contemporary, and ballet. The dancers are tasked to embody the feelings of oppression and breaking free set against screens being pushed around the stage which adds another layer of movement. The dancers showed superb versatility and flexibility as they coalesce into a constellation of bodies. At times, it is hard to pick out which represents oppression and which freedom because—apart from being too transfixed by the dancers—what constitutes either sometimes depend on one’s perspective.

Sharon Eyal’s and Gai Behar’s Sara opened the second segment as several dancers appear in nude tights while pulsating to trippy music. The set up consists of one girl mouthing the words of a song while the others forming a series of pseudo-tableaus but each dancer repeats a particular action like a cog in a machine. This is interspersed with synchronised movement sequences.  It is surprisingly wonderful that Eyal mentions that “[i]t springs from the subconscious, but is very humane at the same time” because there is a primal quality that emanates from the piece. Sara eludes any intellectual interpretation but there is a sense of it coming from a deep place in oneself that is seldom the focus of introspection.

To be able to seek and achieve mutual comfort requires a great deal of interaction. Edward Clug’s Mutual Comfort is like a physics experiment of how one body reacts when it comes into contact with another. The dancers handle the technical demands with aplomb and the crispness of their lines is something to behold. This piece presents the facets of human interaction at its most beautiful.

NDT 2 pulled out all the stops to ensure that the show ends with a bang. Cue dazzling lights, sixteen dancers, synchronised movement sequences, and baroque music at its most dramatic. These elements come together to form an extravagant presentation of…

Cacti.

An earlier review of this piece says that Alexander Ekman’s ability to be genuinely funny through the medium of dance is an achievement. Unfortunately, that sentiment is myopic. Ekman’s genius lies in the ability to satirise one’s art form and yet the audience will still takes what he is doing seriously after having a good laugh. Cacti is a riot of fun which showcases not only the physical abilities of the dancers, but their creativity as well. The voiceovers which include a monologue expounding on a supposedly profound fact and the running commentary of the silliness of the dance moves show how the production elements can really enhance the dance. More importantly, it also boasts of the dancers’ non-kinetic talents.

Rather than just being a showcase of five recent works, NDT 2 offers an exposition of the potentials of contemporary dance and the human body. One can only hope they formulate their next exposition as soon as possible.