[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] A Parley of Traditions

torobaka

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

[Review] Pagés Breathes Life into Carmen

I carmen

I, Carmen (Yo, Carmen)

María Pagés Compañía

17 October 2014

Esplanade Theatre

Run: 17-18 October 2014

 

To declare one’s identity, one may choose to stomp the ground and yell out who you are. But with wisdom and self-confidence, María Pagés chooses to gracefully present what it means to be a woman and embrace its humanity in all its manifestations.

I, Carmen is a lush blend of music, dance, poetry, and tongue-in-cheek complaints. Rather than negating all that is not, Pagés offers a positive and soulful expression of womanhood. By incorporating the  meditative potential of contemporary dance, her choreography ranges from a quiet but profound contemplation to one of strength and passion. I realised that half of her choreography consists of basic steps that any flamenco student would be familiar with. It is very easy to dismiss such steps but to execute it beautifully, as her dancers have done, is no mean feat.

Beauty in simplicity is definitely the order of the day as Pagés uses artistry as her needle to weave beauty into the quotidian. I was surprised to see a scene of all the dancers were doing housework which can be read as a re-establishment of traditional gender roles. However,  she turned it into a celebration of the everyday by taking all the rags and tying them up to form a manton (a shawl used in flamenco).

Yet, life has its moments of sadess and vulnerability too. That  is where Pagés shines the most. Ever hand movement, every crinkle in her face, and every turn is a process of digging deep and expressing the most moving of emotions. Even in stillness, as she examines herself in the mirror and donning the height of traditional Spanish fashion only to take it off again, one remains transfixed. I cannot help but notice two sides of her; the one in the flesh and the one in the mirror.

I would do this show an injustice without mentioning that it achieved something rare in dance: incorporating poems as another layer of the dance without privileging the latter. A sound recording of women reading works by female poets in the original languages was played as the dancers danced to it. Here, Pagés displays a rare sensitivity in respecting the text. The rhythms of the poem was incorporated as the driving beat of the dance and the stresses of the words replaces the palmas (hand clapping) that usually accompany the dance. Though it must be said that the surtitles are slightly  distracting.

Finally, due credit must be paid to the production elements. As a response to Bizet’s Carmen, most of the music was an adaptation of the original score to flamenco guitar. A great deal of thoughtfulness went into the arrangement as the frenzy during the climaxes of the original score is re-expressed into a sense of quiet joy. Those with a keen ear would be in for small treats as the musicians occasionally includes motifs such as the chime of a clock tower before the housewives scene to represent the passing of time.

While Pagés’ costume designs seemed simple enough with bold lines running across a skin coloured dress, the wonderful injection of light often creates the illusion of the dancers wearing different costumes. In one number, the reddish-brown wash from the side booms mixed with the bold lines on the dress gave me the impression that the dancers were wearing a different dress with two colour blocks. I was pleasantly surprised that they were wearing the same dress as the lights changed for the next number. Clearly, artistry does not begin and end with the dancing in this production.

It is worth noting that María Pagés started her career with Antonio Gades who, in his time, created the flamenco version of Carmen that is still based strongly on Bizet’s opera and all the loaded implications that come with it. With I, Carmen, Spain can truly say that she has reclaimed Carmen for herself.

Brava Maria, Brava.