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east & west: side by side & in between

stephanie burridge: da:ns festival singapore

Dr Stephanie Burridge is a Singapore-based Australian. She is a dance critic, lecturer, writer for numerous publications and Series Editor for Routledge’s Celebrating Dance in Asia and the Pacific books including Shaping the Landscape: Celebrating Dance in Australia (2011).

Sylvie Guillem, Bye, 6000 miles away Sylvie Guillem, Bye, 6000 miles away
photo Bill Cooper

Most of the artists have appeared in Singapore before and somewhat incongruously, the procession of Spanish soloists and companies continue to tread a well worn, albeit illustrious path to Da:ns Singapore with artists Israel Galván and Ballet Nacional de Espana featured this year. Several broad themes—east and west convergences, cultural synthesis and the deconstruction of traditional forms—underpinned the performances. This year, Hofesh Shechter’s radical Political Mother—with a timely revitalisation of folk dance traditions, complimentary ear plugs and ear splitting music—provided controversy while Sylvie Guillem’s poetic new show gave it virtuosic class and emotional depth.

sylvie guillem

The most outstanding work was undoubtedly Sylvie Guillem’s 6,000 miles away, a tribute performance to the Fukushima victims featuring works by a triumvirate of great choreographers—William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian and Mats Ek. Guillem is a consummate artist at the height of her career. Her personality, rapport with the audience, transformation in roles and styles as she reinvents herself with each work shows curiosity, courage and risk-taking. Forsythe’s Rearray must be among the most complex and technically demanding works she has recently danced, requiring angles and body mapping that only Guillem could achieve with her liquid flexibility and strength. Complex deconstructions of phrases in this duet were punctuated by a series of blackouts that allowed the dancers to begin anew in a new space. Nicolas Le Riche danced superbly adding intricate balletic beats, small jetés and off centre turns—a perfect foil for Guillem’s extensions, arabesques and articulate language of the ballet that constantly dissolved and reformed. Intricate and intimate, it folded and opened out, viscerally dissecting the space. David Morrow’s abstract composition framed the movement yet gave it space, adding an independent voice.

27’52” took Kylian on a road less travelled to trace a relationship in reverse from lovers to childhood playmates. Dancers Aurélie Cayla and Kenta Kojin reminisced, stripping back the layers of children at play. Semi-naked, innocent and joyful before the complications of adult love, they sketched the journey through suspended lifts and protective interactions as she curled foetally in towards him. Ek’s Bye was whimsical and a dramatically exposing solo for Guillem expressing a vulnerable woman facing change. Her extraordinary performance (not to mention the headstands in the yellow skirt) must make her a veritable shoo-in for the next Woody Allen film. Although Ek apparently demonstrated all the steps, it was essentially the image-based concept that drew out the character. Guillem interpreted the images with soulful artistry and a mix of lightness, humour, provocation and some pathos as we recognised the inescapable humanity of aging and change.

pichet klunchun

Black and White, Pichet Klunchun Black and White, Pichet Klunchun
photo Tony Lewis
Choreographers working with tradition (including Galván) had a platform titled Shift in the Esplanade Theatre Studio’s black box. Pichet Klunchun’s Black and White was a festival commission and an absorbing experiment in abstract, non-narrative based dance inspired by the traditional masked dance, Thai Khon. A projected battle scene from the Ramayana in black and white greeted the audience while Chinese guqin musician Wu Na strummed out the dulcet moods of this instrument and four male dancers emerged wearing contemporary versions of traditional Thai Khon costumes—black and white with silver embellishments and masks. Their movement was angular, precise and measured as they set out geometric battle lines inspired by the projected scene. Later choreographer/performer Pichet Klunchun joined the group along with the only female performer Kornkarn Rungsawang in a white lace body suit—her foot-long silver fingernails being the only part of her costume echoing the traditional garb of Thai female dancers. These two appeared to be the guardians of tradition.

After an introductory section whereby the parameters of Khon were established, the first four male dancers stripped to flesh coloured briefs. Fluidly sliding out of their statuesque Khon positions, they deconstruct the form by exploring the possibilities of their bodies and the space. They interacted in mock battles, created pyramids and shapes that referred to their training as Thai Khon dancers and the thematic balance of the Ramayana epic which seeks equilibrium and the victory of good over evil. Masculine and innovative within the context of eastern dance forms where the story usually predominates and dancers rarely assert their individuality in performance, Klunchen creatively pushed the boundaries of his tradition. Nevertheless, at this point, Black and White is like a draft where the dynamics of the choreography have yet to be explored.

jecko siompo

Jecko Siompo and company, We Came from the East Jecko Siompo and company, We Came from the East
photo courtesy Esplanade Theatres on the Bay
Playful, fun and constantly engaging, West Papuan choreographer Jecko Siompo makes appealing work that has an instant connection with the audience. Through his innovative mix of animalistic gestures and larger body movements that combine contemporary and street dance, he takes us on a journey through the origins of hip hop in his latest work, We Came From the East. His grandmother told him it all started in West Papua and why not? Many of the traditional dance steps from the region are mimetic, inspired by observing animals as they move suddenly, can freeze instantly and move body parts in isolation—just like popping and locking from hip hop. Jecko has named his unique dance language “animal pop.” The animalistic movements include paw-like hands, crawls close to the ground, articulate “talking” feet and lithe, swift movements with the body taut and ready to spring. These were performed with great energy and enthusiasm by the dancers with room for improvisations. However, as the dance wore on it ran out of ideas and became predictable with a disappointing clichéd ending.

next generation

Next Generation was a showcase for the local dance institutions of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and LaSalle—they represented the east and west of ideologies with NAFA showing an Asian line-up of choreographers and LaSalle predominantly American and western influences. At NAFA, Korean Sun Ock-Lee’s Zen Dance: Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form II was a meditative work combining eastern dance forms and philosophies and Peter Chin’s Syncretitude (Jamaica/Canada) used the rhythms and gestures of the east combined effectively with western movement.

Yet the highlight was Dia Dao Cu Chi by the only student choreographer, Amanda Tay. It transported us to the Cu Chi Tunnels under Ho Chi Minh City where thousands lived during the war. Apart from a cheesy beginning with tourists wandering around snapping the site, it incorporated powerful dance theatre imagery. At LaSalle In the Middle of it, at the Same time (USA) by Loretta Livingston was a beautifully crafted work about spirituality that the dancers could relate to. Liz Lea rocked the east-west synergy in White Light, challenging the dancers with fast vocabulary from her toolbox of contemporary and Bharatanatyam moves to upbeat music. Local choreographer and ex-Cloud Gate dancer Albert Tiong just let them dance: his duo Vary 2, with Khairul Shahrin Johry and Muhammed Sufri Bin Juwahir, was thrilling as the two men powered on relentlessly in a physically tight piece about weight, momentum and balance. Watch out for these talented dancers as they make their mark on the international stage.

The festival seems to be primarily a commercial venture where big names and known quantities prevail over risk and uncertainty. Da:ns 2011 was enjoyable rather than reflective or challenging; after five years of undoubted success some new vitality is needed and it is time the curators expanded their vision to include dance from other countries, including Australia.

Singapore 2011 Da:ns Festival , Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, Oct 7-16

Dr Stephanie Burridge is a Singapore-based Australian. She is a dance critic, lecturer, writer for numerous publications and Series Editor for Routledge’s Celebrating Dance in Asia and the Pacific books including Shaping the Landscape: Celebrating Dance in Australia (2011).

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 8

© Stephanie Burridge; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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