[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!)

[Dance Review] Stunning Life Cycles

Photo: Ng Yuan Jie

Returning
Goh Lay Kuan
14 August 2015
Drama Centre Theatre
13–15 August 2015

Ostensibly, Returning shows the life cycle of a school of salmon and the trials and tribulations they face. Artistically, I see a life cycle of a tree—drawing nutrients from the roots of tradition before bearing fruits that are expressive and confident.

The dance piece is divided into five segments with the first three segments portraying the salmon developing from an embryo to a smolt and the final two showing the salmon returning to the streams to lay eggs.

Choreographers Meenakshy Bhaskar, Jenny Neo, and Osman Abdul Hamid drew on the movement vocabulary of the Indian (Bharatanatyam), Chinese, and Malay dance traditions to chart the developmental stages of the salmon’s life cycle.

As the embryos become alevins, their movements are limited and they struggle to make sense of the environment. The structured and grounded Bharatanatyam movements , conceived by Bhaskar, lends a firm but quiet energy to the piece. The striking facial expressions and footwork of the dancers exudes the eagerness of the alevins that are full of potential.

Neo’s light and youthful Chinese dance choreography captures the energetic fry as they zip around, avoid predators, and pick up the necessarily survival skills. Despite the perilous situation, the dancers punctuate their quick movements with a momentary pose and let out a playful kiss—the fry call out to one another to ensure that they stay together.

The fry become fingerlings and the process of smoltification soon occurs. After this transition, the smolts emerge with a silvery coating. This appears to be a rite of passage and the Malay dance choreography by Osman Abdul Hamid celebrates the fulfilment of the rite. A sense of joy fills the air as the dancers sway gently and gracefully to the lush tones of the accordion.

Reaching maturation and confident of survival, the smolts navigates and overcome all sorts of obstacles with aplomb. This is mirrored by the dancers as they—gaining all the needed technique and strength through their traditional dance training—come together and showcase their versatility in Osman Abduls Hamid’s contemporary choreography. All of them are consummate dancers as the audience is treated to a sequence that is engaging and dramatic. The swirling blue rays of the intelligent lights, designed by Dorothy Png, evoke the tumultuous depths of the ocean which heightens the tension.

The final choreography by Low Ee Chiang continues the drama that culminates in all the dancers taking to the stage. Their synergy is palpable for the renewal of the next generation of salmon depends on them. In one striking moment, they all fall to the floor as the lights goes out. The meditative sound of the flute creeps in slowly as the dancers emerge from their foetal position. The process is consummated and life begins again.

Despite its structure, Returning does not feel segmented and kudos to Mdm Goh Lay Kuan (artistic director) for ensuring that all the choreographies coalesced into a cohesive whole.

The same commendation must go to Julian Wong (music director) for the same achievement with the music. In fact, the structure of the music complements the dance as well. In the first three segments, music from the Indian, Chinese, and Malay traditions take their respective centre stage and instruments that do not typically belong to the tradition serve as accompaniment. However, in the final two segments, composer Ho Wen Yang really brings out the best in all the instruments as they chorus as a wondrous whole.

For us—the younger generation—whatever is known of Mdm Goh’s legacy is probably through interviews and books. With this latest offering, she beckons us to relook at the artistic roots and the possibilities of dance with fresh eyes.

We cannot help but follow her on this journey of return.

Other Reviews

“‘Returning’ Delivers Visual Delights” by Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, Blouinartinfo

“Goh Lay Kuan’s ‘Returning’ is a Flawed Return to Traditional Dance Forms” by Nirmala Seshadari, Straits Times Life!