I was going to assume my usual screwball authorial voice in this entry, but given that I actually received a comp for this show, and that we’re probably the only non-campus-based news source covering it, I figured I’d try and restrain myself.
(Which means my joke about a college where everyone wears platform shoes is kind of wasted. Sigh. Another time, perhaps.)
However! “Platform Campus” is a really great initiative. Putting up pairs of tertiary-level student dance groups with professional choreographers, homegrown and international, is probably one of the best ways to introduce mass numbers of people to modern/contemporary arts. It’s not just an inspiration to the dancers (who are at what’s probably the point in their lives where their strength and flexibility and ability to commit is at a maximum, after all); it’s about the audiences of BFFs and frenz 4ever who’re in attendance, and this gigantic affirmation to younger Singaporeans that yes, you matter to the arts, thus hopefully the reverse is true.
That said, not all the shows in this quintuplebill have the unadulterated flavour of excellence. Here, I’ll give you a tour:
scene 1: “Night Stalkers… Resist of Succumb”
Fresh Elements – ITE College East Street Jazz Club
Choreography: Celeste Theunissen
Oh dear. I mean, oh gosh, because the dancers really are quite boomz: a crowd of teenyboppers in multicoloured clubwear (think early Britney Spears videos) running up and doing all these slick, sexy dance moves, good synchronization and ensemble work, headed by a grinning young boy in a blue jacket and a grinning young girl in a green dress, hip yet wholesome as hell…
BUT OH NOES HALP because the stage is suddenly invaded by EMO GOTH KIDS IN BLACK, about six of them, mostly male and kohl-eyed, undulating slowly to punk rock and solo ballads about loneliness. (Technically, these guys were fine. Stylistically, their style was so exaggerated and misplaced that it looked campy.)
Then of course the two sides clash. At first I thought this was going to be a “West Side Story” thang, because the goths and the teenyboppers are dancing with each other, albeit slightly combatively, yet still celebrating dance, and then the girl in green is seduced over to the dark side through a ritualistic dance. But then the goths actually start KILLING the teenyboppers, as in carrying them off and leaving them motionless on the floor, which is really a little harsh on the take of alternative club cultures, doncha think?
And we’re left with the teenybopper in blue, trying valiantly to save his friends as they’re swallowed up by the dark hordes, and then running away down the aisle to escape…
What could have been a strong but simple dance of celebration instead became a ludicrous mock opera about angst, perpetuating some parental rumour that wearing eye makeup turns you into a minion of Satan. Ms Theunissen, this was enjoyable, but it also really looked pretty silly. You could have dramaturged it much better.
(But props to the student rock musicians backstage, who performed Janet Jackson’s “Free Xone”. Live music scores high points.)
scene 2: “MESSAGE”
Choreography: Dan Kwoh
I’d heard that SMU dance groups were good. The opening of this piece actually seemed to involve showing off: an incredibly tall gangly boy was suspended on a platform (campus!) by other dancers’ brute strength as he scribbled equations with chalk on a blackboard. Then down again, for the group to disperse in a mess of gravity-defying athletic spins and acrobatic handstands, accentuated by uniforms of black pants and unbuttoned black jacket (no shirts for the guys).
And yet, Mr Kwoh, I have reason to complain. First of all, you have pushed this troupe slightly beyond its capability – which is great for growth in theory, but what we’ve ended up with is a series of violently beautiful dance movements which simply are not being done in sync. Many gestures just look sloppy – flourishes and not enough grace.
Then there’s the cliché. My gawd: for accompaniment, you’ve chosen the Knee Plays from Philip Glass’s opera “Einstein on the Beach”. Yes, it’s beautiful and postmodern but it’s also ridiculously overused – I’ve seen it in corporate retreat advertisements, for crying out loud. And there’s the triteness: your dancers reveal that the source of their longing is their thwarted need to communicate (the blackboard reveals a sappy love letter to someone named Sharon), and fulfill their desires by inscribing sappy messages saying I MISS U/I <3 U/ME TOO on the backs of each other’s jackets with chalk. (Admittedly, this is a creative move.)
I think I’m also bothered by the fact that this angst just doesn’t add up. Your dancers just don’t look oppressed by the tech world; they are not of a generation that actually pines for the days of handwritten letters and paper greeting cards. The way it looks, they’re executing vigorously beautiful dance forms not because they’re suffering, but because it’s their NATURE. Once again, dance to celebrate, not to mourn imaginary diseases.
scene 3: Beyond Sight, Within Sense
Dharma from Republic Polytechnic
Choreographer: Fathurrahman Said
Now we’re cooking with gas! Who says Singapore doesn’t have tradition to balance with the contemporary, ‘cos we’ve got your tradition right here: Dharma is RP’s Tarian group, and it draws on Malay dance tradition to create distinctly contemporary work, full of the turmoil and angst of modern living. (Hesitate to use the words “urban” or “21st century” or “late capitalist” for reasons I’ll explain later.)
And you can see the difference a tradition makes: as the dancers urgently writhe and jerk and groove, there is a standard vocabulary to their chaos, giving the work unity and elegance. Moreover, the costume – sarongs and tunics – combines with the movements to give the impression of rural life gone haywire. Why? Transmigration/urbanisation/heroin? We don’t know. But there’s a continuity here, an identification with a timeless setting throughout the lands of Nusantara, that makes the unease so poignant.
Mr Fathurrahman, you da man. I haven’t even got to the main visual leitmotif of the piece: conical farming hats made of straw, which these manic villagers keep at their sides, until the pas de deux of the boy and the girl trying to reach out to each other for contact, him pleading, her rejecting, then suddenly discovering the hats as masks: two conical hatface monsters, poignant as noh masks, dissolution of human individuality as the other villagers advance similarly masked, and the faceless body needs must be expressive through arms and torso and feet. These sinister hats which suck their faces in, which seem to hurt to remove like a vacuum cup, and which remain nonetheless their only ticket for interaction.
I can’t define what it means, but you must realise this is one of the keys to dance: if you could say it, why would you go to the trouble of dancing it?
scene 4: Conversations Too
NUS Dance Ensemble
Choreographer: Zaini Mohammad Tahir
Music and Video: Rafi Dean
This one may be my favourite – I honestly don’t know. Because if “Beyond Sight” had rasa Nusantara, this little number is Singaporean to the hilt.
The company appears on stage, similarly, in sarongs – but they’re all the colours of the rainbow, shimmering and solid, paired with uniform black T-shirts. Rather than bucolic, the dancers look regimental in their formation: a Southeast Asia that’s been denatured by the forces of mass production.
Their gestures quote various Asian dance traditions: a twist of the hand recalls Malay dance; a stance of the legs recalls bharatanantyam. And yet they’re trapped – they boogie within set individual grids: hybridised but paralysed. Or not quite paralysed, because as the performance continues we witness the stiffness loosening, the dancers moving from group formations into solos, running shirtless across the stage (and running back backwards), moving towards a culture that gives them both functionality and (ever so eventually) freedom.
And all through, the splendorous multimedia: screens of Roman/Hangul/Chinese/katakana/Devanagari/Thai/Arabic letters/syllabics/ideograms/abjads, shuttling through endless permutations of nonsense. Voices babbling in idiolects and creoles. Life-size videos of the performers in the self-same costumes, multiplying a chorus line into a mass-dancing platoon, or else focusing on single dancers who end up doing pas de deux with themselves; multiple soloists stepping forward before fading into the darkness, and then next movement, again.
This is our culture: bastardised, schizophrenic, a little repressed, technologically mediated to the point of perplexity. Yet not unbeautiful. Yet problematic. Yet worthy of pride.
Thank you, Mr Zaini. And I’m not just saying this ‘cos I was in your Creative Arts Programme workshop back in 1998, when you presented your hopscotch piece. (Remember? I was the one who’d seen you in Singapore’s first-ever production of “Cats”.)
scene 5: All These Private Things
Choreographer: Lee Mun Wai
Oh. Oh. And a great way to close the evening: a quartet of students drawn from different institutions, directed by a young choreographer from THE Dance Company – Elle Low and Wiing Liu Peiying from RP, Joshua Yao from SMU, Muhammad Hirzi from ITE East.
The multimedia screen is raised, allowing us the see the bare back wall of the proscenium stage and its ambient architecture. A girl lies on the floor in a white dress, barefoot. A boy in blue shirt, boxers and short slowly descends via the spiral staircase.
There are two doors in the stage wall, and thus the dance centres on a game of exits: the two men (both dressed alike) and the two women (also dressed alike) swinging and bandying each other across the stage, only to retreat behind the doors on occasion. The two couples are reflections of each other: one man becomes the other.
Again with the THE Dance Company style: as in “O Sounds”, the girl is something collapsed, something the boy has to breathe life into again, convincing her to remember her strength for one last gavotte about the stage before closing.
Against the naked backdrop, it becomes a moving valediction for Victoria Theatre: she is the fifth player in the piece, this vanishing reservoir of culture, to whom Mr Lee is saying goodbye.
And that’s the end of the evening! Criticisms of the critic are welcome. Went on Thursday night, by the way, and I heard that Friday was way more fun, with audiences of fellow students coming out in strong support – a big rowdy auditorium, with woohoos and wo men yong yuan hui zhi chi nis ringing through the rafters.
That’s the way high culture oughta be. And if Platform Campus endures, hopefully that oughta be can turn into an is.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Cantonese Opera Showcase from Nanning, red demon
Shall I buy a ticket for “Red Demon”, which is selling out fast?
Or shall I accept a comp for the opening night of “Cantonese Opera Showcase from Nanning” at Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre?
It’s also part of the Arts Fest, like the Esplanade’s Flipside, but it’s an underpublicised bit. They’ll be showing Mu Jianlian the first night, which organiser Alice Ho tells me hasn’t been staged in Singapore for over 10 years. She says Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre has invited so many troupes that they’re maxed out the entire province of Guangdong, which is why they’ve moved over to Guangxi. And they’re having something different on every single night they’re there!
On the other hand,I don’t speak Cantonese, and there will be only Mandarin surtitles (English synopses of the scenes will appear at the beginning of scenes, though).
Also, “Red Demon” would be a radically new experience,
Dates : 8 – 13 June
Time : 7.30pm
Venue : Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre
Ticket Prices : $50, $40, $30, $20, $15
Sale of tickets commences at Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre Box Office from 29 May, 12pm – 8pm
Tel: +65 6222 3972
UPDATE: My mum, who does speak Cantonese, has agreed to accompany me. ”Mu Jian Lian” it is.
It’s the last week of the Arts Fest, and this is my last press conference! Phew! It’s also one of my less necessary interviews, given that Makhampom Theatre has such great documentation on its website.
But director Pradit Prasartthong is a great guy to listen to: he does community theatre, contemporary theatre, traditional theatre, even organized the first Bangkok Theatre Festival – and though his company hasn’t performed here before, he’s graced the Singapore stage three times, with appearances in The Necessary Stage’s “Boxing Day” and “Mobile” (I forget the third iteration).
He’s also fascinating enough that I forgot to take a photo of him, blast it. We’ll make do.
This is an edited transcript of the interview we did, we being myself and Sharon aka Ui Hoon from the Business Times. It’s a long one, so for your reference, we talk about Likay, Red Demon in its various incarnations, the Bangkok Theatre Festival, community theatre and Singapore audiences.
Sharon: In your own words, what is Likay?
Pradit: Likay is a kind of folk play. It’s very avant-garde, the costume, the makeup the movement, and Likay is created by farmers in the old time, by farmers by everybody, the royal family picked up some Likay artist troupe and create their own version, so in the past Likay has been developed and performed in different stages.
Likay is a kind of folk operetta, it is an opera based on improvisation. So the director just give you the character to the story, tonight I’m going to play the prince of blah blah blah and I’m going to fight the kingdom to get carried to the process, so the first scene I have to tell the audience what is going to happen, what I am going to do. So the director is going to tell me scene by scene. I don’t know the whole story, I just know what to do. And I follow that, what do you call, practice for many years.
And for myself I love Likay, I spent more than 10 years studying this kind of performance, and then I keep on producing this kind of theatre form, to give this theatre form to the middle-class people in the Thai city.
In Thailand when we talk about contemporary theatre they talk about Western thing, but I say no, we have our own contemporary thing.
Sharon: And did you learn Likay in Bangkok?
Pradit: Yes. First I saw a lot of productions of Bangkok, because I understood that I can not find any Likay performance in Bangkok, and I found all that there are a lot of Likay performances in Bangkok every night. So the more I learn about Likay, the more exciting for me. Because we are like another group of people, we don’t know what another group of people is doing every night.
So I drive every night to see a new Likay performance to get to know Likay artists, hang out with them, to see what they do their work, after their performance what they do, so you learn so much from those artists.
Sharon: When did you first see Likay?
Pradit: I saw Likay since I was very young. During childhood, all the child must see Likay at the temple, somewhere, but when we grow up, we are in the modern life, go to Europe, far away form our origins, we just run away from our roots, and once I start working with my company, we have to go back to our theatre roots.
We would like to introduce the young people, the middle-class people, to know what we have in our own country. Sometimes they’ve heard about it but have never seen it. But most people can sing the melody of Likay. It’s very easy to catch up. When someone sings they can go, “Okay that’s a Likay melody.”
When someone sings, they can sing in Western musical style, the audience will enjoy it somehow. But once I sing it in Likay melody, oh, (claps hands) it touch people. Even if someone doesn’t sing it every night.
Sharon: So Likay is alive?
Pradit: Very alive and strong. Some politicians even perform Likay in some occasions.
Sharon: They sing?
Pradit: Singing and then narrating. First ting you must sing. If not you are not Likay.