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Thursday 12 May 2011 7.15pm / Review by Jun Zubillaga-Pow
Attending a contemporary theatre performance is like partaking in a ritual of play and make-believe. At least for this reviewer, this show felt like a long period drama set between 1898 and 2000 with everything compressed within the two-hour outdoor grandeur. (Hot!) So there is really not enough time to sink oneself into the melodrama of small town friendship or the vexation of wartime catastrophes. One scene tails another with contrast as the sole teleological criterion.
We began on the seafront as the 37 actors (including 11 from Singapore) danced their sacred ritual with gestures of knitting and towing. Coiled in a bent posture for most of the opening scene, their choreographed synchrony was just as good as or even better than our annual NDP (National Day Parade) formations. After some knee-lifts and tip-toeing, the characters with all their faces painted white, quasi a derivative of traditional kabuki, started to tell their tales.
Scripted mostly in a question-and-answer format, they tossed personal narratives among themselves: “Where are you? Who are you?” The replies came without hesitation so atypical of Asians when asked about these facts. On this point, the acting came through as stale. Despite the enrichment of the theatrical misé en scene, the tales of growing up and starting a business or family have failed to convinced this reviewer of their sincerity in sharing intimate details. It felt as if the actors have merely regurgitated the life stories of their estranged compatriots.
Perhaps there is a good excuse that the characters are all Japanese immigrants who have sailed along the ‘Black Current’ at different times of the last century and settling down in obscure locales like Saipan (USA), Benguet (Philippines) and Pulau Morotai (Indonesia). The accompanying music was nevertheless more coherent. I spoke to the musical director Kasuhisa Uchihashi (who will also be playing the daxophone at Blu Jazz Cafe on 18 May!) at the Festival Village Tuckshop and he concurs that his one-man-band was not out to re-create the politically-correct sounds or music of the ethnic people. Instead, what one hears throughout the 120-minute ‘soundscape’ (as one Royston Tan calls it) is a pervasive tussle of your heart-strings.
The music is powerful and so is the choreography, such as that of the twelve maidens welcoming people home with their totemic hand gestures, at times wriggly, at times subdued. Their involvement acts like ephemeral transitions, weaving in and out of major scenes with them chanting a polyphonic onomatopoeia of what the troupe calls “Osaka Rap”. At least for this evening, their impeccably crisp delivery stood out best among the cast. All in all, the show title best sums up this work of art; Absurdism has established itself in East Asia.