[Dance Review] Busloads of Fun

Back of the Bus
Java Dance Theatre (with local artists)
15 March 2020
Various places in Bukit Panjang
14‒22 March 2020
Part of Arts in your Neighbourhood 2020

In the dreariness of our lives, some of us might wish that life could be a musical or a dance piece, even for a brief moment. New Zealand-based Java Dance Theatre grants such a wish to their audience, as we wonder how much dancing one can do on an ordinary moving bus.

The repertoire on this journey consists of character dances in relation to bus rides, contemporary work that takes place outdoors, and endearing moments of human-to-human connection which is part of the company’s ethos.

In this whimsical ride, we get a trio of dancers. Choreographer and performer Sacha Copland brings in the laughs with her rambunctious energy; her effort to pretend to struggle on the bus while ensuring she could actually balance is no mean feat. She also throws in a couple of surprises that are simple, but creative.

With her striped top and breezy movements to French music, Lauren Carr evokes the bliss of the French Riviera. While her movements are fluid and free-flowing, they are anchored by a certain precision in her extensions.

As a counterpoint, local dancer Adele Goh’s staccato movements relays the tension we feel on public transport in peak hour. In another piece, we see her display her contemporary dance pedigree in a heartfelt duo with Carr that seems to hint at longing and connection.

The pieces which sees the trio dancing together not only entertain but impress as the dancers perform athletic feats on the bus.

All this is complemented by local accordionist, Syafiqah ‘Adha and a cheerful host, Sabrina Sng.

The tour brings audience to various parts of Bukit Panjang which they might not know about. While the pit stops are relatively familiar to me, it allows one to look at the place in a fresh perspective.

While much more can be said about the planned bits of the show, the unplanned elements of the show do add to the experience.

The occasional honk of a car or scampering of a passer-by alerts one to the contrast between the performance and the quotidian. But it also emphasises what more can be experienced if one is simply open to the rhythms and atmosphere of wherever one is.

Throughout the trip, I have lost count of the number of drivers who stopped beside our bus, but their eyes were dead set ahead; completely oblivious to the seeming mayhem and wonderment that is happening right beside them. If only they looked up.

So it turns out that one could do a whole lot of dancing on a moving bus. And, to borrow a comment uttered by a French audience member, “c’est magnifique!”

 

[Dance Review] Complexities of Spaces and Bodies

Photo: Crispian ChanComplexnya
Dance in Situ and P7:1SMA
30 May 2019
Hong Lim Complex
28 May‒2 June 2019

It may be a marketing cliché to say that a place has everything you need all in one place, but Hong Lim Complex is one such place. With a hawker centre; an array of businesses; and several blocks of flats linked together with various walkways, it is a labyrinth. It is a no-brainer that Dance in Situ and P7:1SMA would choose to create a dance work to respond to the space.

In response to the built environment, Norhaizad Adam’s choreography emphasises the organic quality of the dancers’ bodies.

At the start, we see the company crawl backwards, as if being slowly sucked into a vortex. The dancers coalesce around a pillar. Suddenly, like a star burst, the company scampers in all direction save for one dancer, holding on to the pillar and wriggling her fingers as if she has been infected.

Whether it is an embodiment of contagion or accepting and rejecting someone within a group, different sort of relationships seem to be at play throughout the show.

The dynamics of human relationship is best encapsulated in a sequence between Chia Kok Kiong Jason and Muhammad Sharul Mohammed. Staged on a metal structure with several storeys and Chia is one storey above Muhammad Sharul, we see both dancers reaching out to each other from staircase landings, but never quite touching. As the parley develops we see both men mimic each other’s movements, move away, and finally supporting each other. The synchronicity, especially when they ascend and descend the stairs, is amazing.

Billed as a performance walk, the main conceit is that there are no ushers and the audience must interpret where to go based on the dynamics of the performance. As such, there is a repartee between the dancers (Chia Kok Kiong Jason, Ow Wei Tian Jonit, Xie Shangbin, Zunnur Zhafirah Sazali, Hasyimah Harith, Muhammad Sharul Mohammed, Nah Jie Min, Syarifuddin Sahari) and the audience.

There are times when the dancers stand still by a stairwell, which clearly signals to us to go up or down the stairs. There are times when no clear signal is given and the dancers look at the audience only to suddenly move in a certain direction at the last moment. The repartee also extends into leaps of faith, as there moments that requires the dancers to dart through the crowd without any warning. And the kinaesthetic responses of the dancers are excellent.

The most inspired moment of the show occurs when we arrive at the commercial area of the complex, and there is a dance school on the second floor as well as the first. One thinks nothing much of it apart from it being an appropriate reference. But as we watch a group of middle-aged ladies participating in a line dancing lesson, Muhammad Sharul dances to Chong Li-Chuan’s throbbing soundscape. The ritualistic atmosphere of Muhammad Sharul’s dance contrasts with the leisurely dance lesson below, as a couple of ladies stop and wonder why there is a group of people looking at them.

Suddenly, the rest of the ensemble assembles on the ground floor, and starts exploring the topography of the space, as Chong’s soundscape continues to be an undercurrent for 夜来香 (Ye Lai Xiang), which is the track that the ladies were learning how to dance to. This sequence ends with the whole company converging on the second floor and performing an energetic group choreography that appears tribal. In many ways, the congregation of the company is not unlike the group of ladies dancing below.

There is an odd sense of defamiliarisation that occurs, and this contrast casts a new light on an activity one would simply ignore if one were merely passing by. It is then that we see how Complexnya truly responds to the life of the place—the built environment that contains the human traffic, and the human activities that go on within the complex.

The only issue I have is the decision to let the audience wait for 20-odd minutes before the first sequence. If it is to let us take in the everyday sights of the complex, it is simply too long. If it is to wait for latecomers, and there were a few who came at the tail-end, there should be ushers to bring them to where the performance was taking place. If it is to coïncide with certain activities that will happen in the complex, then there is reason for the show to start a little later.

Fortunately, the performance more than compensated for the time wasted with beautiful sequences that showcases the dancers’ dexterity, and the messy relationships between the place and the bodies that inhabit it.   

 Other Reviews

Complexnya, a movement love letter to Singapore – review” by Valerie Lim, Five Lines 

“Review: Complexnya by Dance In Situ x P7:1SMA” by Bak Chor Mee Boy

[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.

Other Reviews

“Raw moves: Immerse in the moment” by Lisabel Ting, AsiaOne (originally published in The Straits Times Life!)

[Listing] The Fleeting Moment by Raw Moves

raw moves the fleeting moment

Italy meets Singapore in Raw Move’s latest contemporary dance production, The Fleeting Moment.

Italian choreographer Teresa Ranieri, who has worked widely throughout Europe, will be in Singapore for a 6-week residence with Raw moves to collaborate on a new creation that explores the meaning of dance and life.

Ranieri’s concept is inspired by a quote from Merce Cunningham: “…dance gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.”

Through a collaborative creative process, Ranieri’s exploration of ephemerality seeks to direct the audience to, as she puts it, “observe closely this complex  mechanism of surrendering, non-acceptance and maybe get a step further in the art of mastering the challenges of life. Or simply witness a poetic act.”

Ranieri’s The Fleeting moment journeys into the recesses of our emotion and mental landscapes in search of meaning: The meaning of our daily existence; the meaning of this moment that passes; the meaning of our lives. It promises a stimulating blend of styles and ideas set to provoke and challenge the way we look at dance and life.

Catch The Fleeting Moment from 5–7 November at Goodman Arts Centre, Black Box. For ticketing information, please visit  Peatix.