Friday, December 23, 2005

(D) Nov 26, 2005 - Stuttgart Ballet - Bigonzetti, Scholz and McGregor

Bigonzetti, Scholz and McGregor: Choreography Created for the Stuttgart Ballet

Stuttgart makes high culture affordable and accessible to students. Pay only 7.90€ for a 63€ seat when you produce a student card - even one that reads in Malay, “Pelajar Universiti Malaya”. That’s subsidy for art education.

Sitting only four rows from the orchestra pit, Break-a-Leg got a good view of the performance but struggles with the German programme….

Works by 3 choreographers for the city’s ballet were performed – Mauro Bigonzetti (Kazimir’s Colours), Wayne McGregor (Eden) and Uwe Scholz (Siebte Sinfone). Tutus were banned in all three works.

Kazimir’s Colours

(Pix Source)

Stuttgart’s Corps de Ballet opened with Kazimir’s Colours, choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti to the Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Orchestra by Dmitri Shostakovitch.

The delightful costumes - square-patched multicoloured jackets and shorts - certainly hinted of Kazimir Malevich’s (1878-1935) movement.

Malevich was born in Kiev, Ukraine (under the Russian Empire). He introduced ‘Suprematism’ or, ‘supremacy of forms’, a study in “abstract” forms conceived in itself – non-objective and not related to anything except geometric shapes and colours. Suprematism sought to “liberate art from the ballast of the representational world.” It consisted of geometrical shapes flatly painted on the pure canvas surface.

Pas de deux formed the crux of this choreography for its 5 pairs of dancers. Though the dance does not have a storyline proper, Bigonzetti exploited the partnering technique to include some loose drama and humour into his choreography.

But the drama carried out by the lead pair, Bridget Breiner and Alexander Zaitsev at once denounces the essence of pas de deux where both dancers submit to cooperation. Either partner was unable to or refuses to accept the other. Was this a deliberate move so as to liberate dancers from the rules and techniques in the ballet world?

But as far as a duet goes, Breiner was confident, precise and technically sound, and Zaitsev, a strong partner.


(Pix Source)

{In the ‘new’ beginning…there was Dolly….}

McGregor sends a strong message of protest against cloning; against Man playing God. He said, “In this 20th century, religious thinking has been abandoned for secularism.” Indeed, it was a religious war for him.

A soloist, donned in white, animated ‘Dolly’. Her skin looked almost foetal-translucent under the dim stage lights. A single parched white tree stood at the centre of the backdrop. A platform-only elevator in front of the tree brings up Dolly-2, Dolly-3, and Dolly-n, at an alarmingly fast pace; the duplication process was smooth and quick. The ‘mass-produced’ dancers remained cold and emotionless, as they moved, almost robotic on the stage.

{The human body is limited. We need to upgrade.}

As advancements in technology fine-tune the clones, they look and behave increasingly human (now with clothes on and hair let down). The dancers were moving restlessly and constantly and they exhibited a kind of aggression in their demeanour.

McGregor pulled out all sorts of tricks from his technology hat. Stage technology, video art installations, lights and sound effects all augur ‘the future’ well. The music was urgent, intense and repetitive. But after a while, it was tiring to hear.

The on-going narrative (voice-over) was exciting – on the plus side, it tells us what the dance doesn’t; on the minus side, it tells us what the dance already does.

The concluding narrative packs a punch. The voice of a mother asking her baby ‘How was your day?’ and the baby in reply muttering something unintelligible, makes one wonder – is the baby real or an engineered one?

{The Prophet Jeremiah decided to build an artificial man.
He was perfect; was able to talk. Immediately he talked to Jeremiah:
“What did you do?”
“Well, look, I have succeeded.”
“No, no, no, it is no good.”
“From now on, when people meet other people in the street,
they will not know whether you made them or God made them.”
“Undo me.”
So that’s what Jeremiah did.}

Siebte Sinfone

“I would happily like to be considered as something of Cranko plus a little of Balanchine spat out a quarter of a century later.”

- Uwe Scholz

Siebte Sinfone, a classical contemporary dance, was the most ‘ballet-ish’ of the three. This ensemble item first created by Scholz for Stuttgart Ballet in 1991, had no intention for drama. It was simply pure dance and music. In fact, he seemed to be writing dance movements to Beethoven’s Sinfonie Nr. 7 A-Dur.

This skill of eurhythmics requires from the choreographer knowledge of dance as well as an astute understanding of music. Scholz seemed to have the gift for both. This treatment, which I have only read about but never seen, now danced before my eyes. Scholz visualises the score so well that the spectators could almost look into Beethoven’s mind. On stage, the ‘notes’ are dancing!

The set design was breathtaking – the backdrop was a huge white canvas with colours cascading from either side (looks like a modern art piece I saw at New York’s Metropolitan Museum in August this year). At the canvas’ centre opens an entrance for the dancers’ entry and exit.

As if the dancers in grey-white leotards were an extension of the painting, strokes of colours seem to spill off the canvas to coil around the dancers’ necks.

The male dancers, clad in grey bodysuits, looked somewhat like disciplined officers from a scene of Star Trek. True enough, Scholz’s composition requires disciplined and exceptional musicality of its dancers.

Unfortunately, the overall effect of this dance was marred by the lead ballerina, Diana Martinez Morales, who was obviously out of time and was not very confident of her steps. Playing the lead gives one the right to be different, but not the right to be indifferent to the metronome.

(Pix Source)
(German choreographer Uwe Scholz died on 21 November 2004 at the age of 46)

Friday, December 02, 2005

(M) Nov 12, 2005 - An Evening With Czech Composers

Skoda-ville at last! Frankly, I've never seen so many Skodas in one city (but of course....)

So, finally, this KTB (katak bawah tempurung) set foot in Prague (or Praha, as the locals call it), Czech Republic. And naturally, wanting to try all things Czech, I opted for an "Evening with Czech Composers" by the Kapralova String Quartet, touted as the top Czech string quartet.

The concert was held at the Narodni Museum (National Museum) which I also explored earlier the same day. I found the building to be more interesting than what it exhibits - stones and bones.

The pieces performed were Meditation on the Old Czech Choral, St Wensceslas (J. Suk, 1874-1935), String Quartet No.5 (B. Martinu, 1890-1959), and String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96 (A. Dvorak, 1841-1904).

Unfortunately, my memory fails me, now 3 weeks after the performance. However, I do remember appreciating the livelier movement in each piece...especially after walking the whole day.

The most shocking part of the performance was that we had to sit on the staircase. I paid the student rate of 11 Euros (300 korunas). For adults, the price is 450 korunas. Relatively expensive when I compare that with the price I paid for my flight ticket (budget airline) i.e. 20 Euros (before tax).

Well, as least i got my Czech evening :)

Friday, October 21, 2005

(T) Oct 14, 2005 - Pygmalion (a Limerick)

Break-a-Leg attempts her first limerick... (ampun ya!)

An Irish he was, George Bernard Shaw
Malaysians watched his Pygmalion raw
  A tale of language, class and manners
  “Hey, it’s what’s in the heart that matters!”
Then, KLPac’s classed-seats were a flaw?

Paul Loosley’s quirky direction
Made hybrid interpretation
  A British-Edwardian closet
  In Malaysian culture it set
Man’s values for contemplation

Cast of fourteen; orchestra six
Conductor-in-kilt, a cute mix
  Though composer and lyricist
  Anonymity they insist
All in, the audience they transfix

Both script and song in can’t-repent Manglish
Don’t Talk Like That One” was almost English
  So began the Overture
  Of an unusual nature
A prologue for Shaw worthy of relish

Kaki Lima sets the path for intros
To characters with impressive credos
  Prof Harun Higgins was lingering
  With Colonel Sankeran Pickering
Besides two Ladies, both screeching psychos

Young Freddy the taxi-getter
Knocked Lisa’s flowers, that bugger
  “I am just a Muddy Bunga
  She rendered in brilliant raga
For moneys’ sake, does pride matter?

Later at Higgins’ Laboratory
Work on Lisa was exploratory
  How could he not twitch
  with phonetics itch?
To pass her as Datin is victory!

Sponsor Pickering debates
“Should I ask for rebates?”
  “Ai Ah, Ah Doi, Ai Yo,
  “Ai Ah, Ah Doi, Ai Yo,”
Let’s see what fate dictates

He’s willing, and wanting and waiting to tell
That his Ms ‘Too’Little, he’s willing to sell
  But that Mr ‘Tew’Little
  His rhetoric a tad brittle
Too many a time his elocution fell

Some scenes with less articulation
Drew laughs with literal description
  “That’s where the racket is coming from
  While “dropped your ‘hand’ phone” is great sitcom
There’s plenty of room for great diction

To Mrs Higgin’s Salon
Lisa was brought to test-con
  Could she small talk?
  Or make guests balk?
Will her future be forlorn?

What a Great Success” this project
Surely marriage proposals she’d expect
  “Well here’s your slipper,
  You no-good fibber
I’m naught but an all-class reject

The musical was too draggy
The clock showed almost twelve pagi
  The climax came at last
  Where Lisa made a blast
At Higgins, who went rickety

The difference between a lady
and a flower girl in the alley
  Is the manner in which she’s treated
  Gentlemen, more respect is needed
Enough of ego, pride and bully

So what of language, class and manners?
So what if we better our letters?
  There’s really no need for snobbery
  Mr Kueh Teow pays cash for Camry
For Peroduas, we seek bankers.

Pygmalion plays 14 – 30 Oct 2005, at Pentas 1, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre. For more information, call 03-40479000 or email

p.s. Susan Yung (Village Voice)… you started it! :p

Friday, October 07, 2005

(D) Oct 7, 2005 - Jamu III - Dance Photography

Break-a-Leg took 11 photobugs to Jamu III and introduced them to the world of dance photography.

The 11 were from the newly launched
Lensa Malaysia, a community of practice for serious photobugs.

"Lensa" is the Bahasa Malaysia word for lenses closely related to photographic camera. They make no distinction between SLR or compact camera photographers. Anyone with an eye for capturing an enduring imagery is welcomed to join the community.

This non-profit portal is put up together by a group of serious hobbyists in photography from various backgrounds - people who have migrated from film to digital, from compact point-and-shoot to dSLR, and people who find marvels in simple pocket-size cameras.

One such pocket-size digital camera owner is yours truly... :D (Look for my Lensa psuedo laracroft)

Photobugs at Jamu III

Fumbling in the dark at first, the frustrated photobugs found that dance photography was quite a challenge - both light and object eluded them.

A beautiful dance photo captures the moment - the facial expression, the movement, the contours of the body, the colours, the interplay of light and shadow.

Here are some great first attempts by Lensa:

Leonard's Album

Alex Moi's Album

(D) Oct 7, 2005 - Jamu III

Freedom...Boredom by Gan Chih Pei
Pix by The Star

THEY saved the best for last – that was obvious last weekend when Akademi Seni Kebangsaan presented the third and final instalment of Jamu 2005 at its Experimental Theatre.

Jamu is a series of performances that began in 2001 as a means of providing critical exposure for contemporary dance in Malaysia.

While Jamu I and II (held in May and June respectively) featured three choreographies each, Jamu III offered six works by Gan Chih Pei, Mew Chang Tsing and Joseph Gonzales.

The two best pieces – Gan’s Freedom … Boredom and Gonzales’ 9 to 5 – sandwiched the other works.

Gan’s piece had premiered at the Surabaya Dance Festival in Indonesia last year. Lim Wei Wei, Amy Len Siew Mee and Tan Chai Chen did justice to the brilliant choreography. The three were dressed like Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Match Girl in brown hoods and rags with white splashes that resembled snow from afar.

The strength of this piece lay in its coherent structure as evident in the clear phrasing and the strongly etched character that each segment featured. Contrary to its title, however, the dance progressed from boredom to freedom.

The first part focused on individuality. Each dancer entered the stage in her own style: the first looked deliberate and mechanical, the second used smooth and swooping movements, and the third jolted about as if electric currents were going through her body.

Light was used brilliantly on stage – to create the illusion of a cage with bars among which one dancer amused herself, as if trapped by boredom; to form square boxes and rectangular pathways that gave the whole piece a futuristic feel.

After a dramatic halt when the three dancers dropped “dead” to the floor, came a beautifully juxtaposed contrast: one segment in which all the dancers moved slowly to fast music, and in another, two dancers moved in slow motion while the other was almost frenetic.

Gan also made full use of the space on stage. She plotted her dance from the front of the stage (downstage) to the back (upstage), moving the dancers backwards diagonally.

As each dancer “retreated” back into the style she used to enter the stage, the spotlight blinked off, as if snuffing her out. It was a dramatic end to a brilliant piece of work.

In Gonzales’ funky contemporary piece, 9 to 5, Kuala Lumpur’s top ballerinas, Elynn Chew (National Ballet Champion), Jessica Ho, Annie Liew and Lee Wen Yan, hung up their pointe shoes and tutus in favour of platforms and groovy, psychedelic-coloured micromini skirts. To complete the 1960s look, they also wore wigs and feathers.

Drama abounded in this work. The four dancers played model and walked to and fro on the “catwalk” on stage. Student extras were roped in to play journalists and photographers crowding the catwalk.

The dancers then played secretary, typist, tea lady, and other typical office work roles. Then they left the office, where they’d been serving others all day, and went home – where they were served by their male maids! This was the most fun and entertaining piece of the night, with the dancers showing that they can handle both comedic and classical dance.

Gonzales also restaged Windows and Walls, a piece he had choreographed for Azizi Sulaiman in 2002. This was a farewell performance for Azizi, who will pursue a degree in Dance Performance in Korea on an Art Major Asian Scholarship. Azizi gave the props as well as his imagination, not to mention his safety, a good working out as he showed the audience the many different ways there are to toy with a wooden frame!

Mew Chang Tsing and the dancers from her RiverGrass Dance Theatre restaged three pieces: Qi.v, Rose and 1+1. Qi.v stood out with a beginning that looked like an alien abduction scene. As the dancers swayed zombie-like amidst a whirl of dry ice vapour, they were dramatically backlit. Mew performed well in this piece that featured several difficult lifting sections and movements borrowed from classical Chinese dance.

Except for 9 to 5, all the pieces performed were old works. While the Jamu series has done much over the years to give contemporary dance a serious presence in Malaysia, it would be great if it could trigger the creation of more new works next year.

Monday, September 19, 2005

(D) Sept 18, 2005 - TARI '05

Magic Box
Picture From The Star

TALK about getting your money’s worth. Tari ‘05’s three-and-a-half-hour gala night in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday packed in performances from 15 performing arts institutions from the Asia Pacific region.

Hosted by Akademi Seni Kebangsaan and themed Dance in Tertiary Education, the weeklong Tari ‘05 welcomed over 115 international guests and 100 local participants. Seminars and workshops provided the intellectual platform. Performances by established and highly reputable performing arts institutions provided the magic, with the gala night showcasing both complete items as well as excerpts from performances held during the preceding week.

While most of the contemporary works on the night used improvisation as a starting point, Magic Box by Taiwan’s Tsoying High School (under the aegis of Tso’s Dance Association) stood out. The piece was inspired by Maurice Ravel’s romantic classical composition, Bolero. The duet explored the relationship between a “magician” and his “object” of manipulation. One dancer played the magician and the other, the object, in a unique, captivating, magical game that, mid-way through, had them exchanging roles to great effect.

New Zealand’s University of Auckland and Institut Kesenian Jakarta framed contemporary dance with tradition with the former offering Pacific Voices, a 'contemporary Sa Sa (Sa Sa - a Samoan dance form) and the latter performing Manuhara, a 'contemporary Legong (Legong - a Balinese dance form)'.

The Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts and Edith Cowan University presented Baraqoda, a ballet-based contemporary piece. The theatrical piece used a multimedia backdrop and had the dancers in 17th century Western costume.

The University of Philippines’ Department of Dance surprised many with its selection, the only neo-classical ballet item in the programme. The dance, entitled Mosque Baroque, had the boldness of Vaslav Nijinsky’s famed Rite of Spring – the lead dancer, for instance, deliberately flexed her foot when it was supposed to be en pointe and other characters executed movements outside the ballet vocabulary. With their flowing pastel costumes, these dancers certainly added colour and grace to the stark stage in Akademi Seni Kebangsaan’s Experimental Theatre.

While contemporary might have ruled the night, the classical was not entirely overlooked: Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University’s Department of Dance performed a classical Thai piece entitled Mekhala-Ramasoon while the Indian Council for Cultural Relations presented a piece entitled eponymously after its genre, Kathak.

One of the rarest treats of the night was Apsara, a classical Khmer dance presented by Cambodia’s Royal University of Fine Arts. This dance style was almost lost when the Khmer Rouge closed all educational, religious and cultural institutions in 1975 during their bloody, decades-long reign in that country.


Picture From The Star

Akademi Seni Kebangsaan’s Wirama concluded the night. An abstract of Ramayana, it is influenced by fundamental concepts of traditional South-East Asian dance known as wirama, wiraga and wirasa that have to do with the harmony, energy and patterns of movements.

All in all, it was a great night, capping an impressive week of dance-related events. Tari ‘05’s success has further established the academy’s position as the premier performing arts institution in Malaysia.

(D) Sept 16, 2005 - Stomp

Picture - From The Star

MOST of us have put up a home-made Stomp at some point in our lives. We just lacked the business sense to commercialise it. Well, good for creators Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas for cashing in on first-mover advantage. It is a great business model too – one fixed set, cheap props, basic lighting, no costumes, manageable labour cost, no royalty payments for music. And the audience pays (a lot) for innovation, creativity, wit and entertainment.

The show, ten thousand performances old, finally stomped into Istana Budaya Kuala Lumpur last Tuesday.

To put a foot down on what Stomp is, it is simply a combination of music, dance and theatre. The magic is in turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. American composer John Cage would be very proud of this production. While Cage had pioneered the use of non-music instruments to create music, Stomp made international success out of this concept. Percussion music is created by exploring the sound qualities of everyday items and a multitude of rhythms.

The dance borrows elements from the Wellington-boot dance most, such as stomping flat foot with boots and slapping the body to create sounds. Stomping is a common footwork across all types of percussion dance (tap, clog, flamenco, etc).

Then, weave in mime for visual comedy. The coordination between these three elements – and in good rhythm – is what’s most impressive about this show.

To begin, the performers swept the audience away with a bewitching broom dance. While demonstrating the many ways to sweep a floor, they also made housework look fun.

A delightful matchbox quartet ensued. The performers gently strummed, tapped, slapped and brushed their hands on their respective “instrument”.

The next item featured all eight dancers playing body percussionists. While the feet stomped, the hands slapped almost every part of the body to create sounds. The most amusing character of the eight was the Outcast, a short man who was the object of bully. This piece also included “the challenge” (typical of percussive dance) where each performer tried to outdo the other.

The creation of music now extended to the use of long rubber tubes of various lengths. When hit on the floor, it created a simple yet mesmerising melody.

Stomp’s noise experiment did not spare even the kitchen sink. It was a splash when four sink-bearing men displayed their mug-washing and sink-scrubbing antics.

Those antics gave way to a quiet but elegant piece featuring Zippo lighters. It was a well-coordinated light and sound show when the performers grouped together in the dark to flick the lighter open and shut.

On a more aggressive note, performers sparred in pairs with wooden poles. In another battle scene, two performers held dustbin lids (as shields) with both hands, mimicking gladiators.

Though entertaining and humorous at first, the element of surprise wore out towards the end when old tricks were repeated on different props – running out of noisemakers, the performers resorted to plastic and paper bags, pails and even newspapers.

The noise-level alternates between loud and soft but still, in an almost two-hour sitting, the ear can only tolerate so much. For those sitting near the stage, ear plugs may be necessary for some segments of the show. Otherwise, enjoy the racket and an evening of unique entertainment.

Monday, September 05, 2005

(D) Sept 2, 2005 - Angin & Kamu/Jij

It was love at first sight when an immigrant Indonesian girl (my mother) met blue-eyed, blond, Viking boy (my father) in the Netherlands,” said Gerard Mosterd, revealing his parentage.

The 41-year-old Netherlands-based choreographer presented two items, Angin and Kamu/Jij, in Kuala Lumpur last weekend. The show was presented by the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre and the Royal Netherlands Embassy, and supported by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage.

Mosterd studied classical ballet, contemporary and folk dance at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague for nine years. He also studied Tai Chi and elementary Javanese court dance. He then spent 11 years as a performing artiste with international dance companies before striking out on his own.

Mosterd constantly explores in his work the complexities and conflicts experienced in being raised Eurasian.

“I grew up in the Netherlands – my Indonesian mother indoctrinated me with Indonesian values like the concept of wayang (shadow). I learnt about humility and of ‘emptying’ myself by getting rid of my ego.

“This caused an inner conflict because my father taught me the opposite values – to be an extrovert and a leader, and to put myself in the limelight if I wanted to become successful,” he said.

His works reflect the twilight in which he was raised – between his mother’s “shadow” and his father’s “limelight” – and also the social environment in which he grew up in.

In general, there is a nostalgic feeling of love for Indonesia in the Netherlands because, as Mosterd puts it, “Indonesia was regarded as its beautiful daughter, who has to go her own way.”

In addition, the scars of history is still apparent amongst the Dutch East Indian society (the Indonesian immigrants forming a large Dutch-Indonesian community) in the Netherlands.

People of Dutch and mixed Dutch-Indonesian descent who were in Indonesia during World War II were particular targets of the Japanese occupation.

Angin is Mosterd and Japanese dancer, Shintaro-O-Ue’s, collaborative attempt to break the historical tension between the Dutch and the Japanese.

When Emperor Akihito visited the Netherlands in 2001, the Dutch East Indian citizens put up a fierce demonstration.

“I was motivated to answer the demonstration with an artistic statement to prove that as far as my (younger) generation is concerned, the war really is over. My plea was for them to enter a phase of reconciliation,” said Mosterd.

The 30-minute contemporary dance was performed by Singaporean, Amsterdam-based dancer Ming Wei Poon.

The Dutch East Indian society also has a profound influence on Dutch culture, particularly, Dutch literature. His latest piece, Kamu/Jij, premiered in the Netherlands April this year, is partly based on a famous 19th century colonial erotic thriller De Stille Kracht (The Hidden Force) written by Louis Couperus.

Couperus wrote, among other things, that there is a fundamental difference in world perception between Indonesians (Javanese) and Europeans and that both worlds would never be able to understand each other.

The piece, currently on tour in the Netherlands, focuses on the subject of double morality in the Indonesian community. It is Mosterd’s personal comment on a recent Indonesian law proposal to punish those caught publicly exhibiting affection such as kissing.

The performance contains the unique projection of translated ancient Javanese sensual Kakawin poems, reminding the audience of a time when public moral concerning affection seemed to be more relaxed.

The 60-minute choreography featured five dancers – Wendel Spier, Thao Nguyen, Loes Ruizeveld, Ederson Rodriguez Xavier and Ming Wei Poon.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

(D) August 21, 2005 - En-Body-Men

Picture by TVSmith

WEIJUN of Wj Powerhouse expanded his solo work, EN-BODY-MAN, to a piece which involves an ensemble of six. A good move, since this adds colour and character to the contemporary dance, now called EN-BODY-MEN.

In the hour-long full-length production at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre on Aug 18, Weijun, 27, proved that he might well be the embodiment of young Malaysian dancers and choreographers. To boot, he also composed the euphoric fusion music (pop, R&B, rock, jazz) for the dances.

Wearing street clothes and sneakers, contemporary dancers Eden Lim, Kiea Kuan Nam, Teresa Chian, Steve Goh and Loke Soh Kim burst onto the stage, which had the audience seated around it. Hip-hopping in a self-engrossed manner, they used the body as a means of expression. Life is so much more complicated these days and its pangs are eased through dance. The smiles on the dancers’ faces said, “Heck it. We're living life to the fullest.”

Moving into a circular position, they bent from the waist and let their fingers “run” along the floor and through thin air. And before they made their exit, they sidekicked and flung their limbs in all directions, as if unlocking and loosening their bodies.

Weijun, in red sneakers and torn jeans, hogged the red spotlight. This no-music solo section focused on the strength and grace of the body. There was more ballet and contemporary dance vocabulary in this part of the piece. With ease, he jumped and pirouetted, posed in what looked like a bird in mid-flight, and combined both staccato and fluid movements in his upper body.

There is a scene that allowed the dancers to show their individuality; each carried a personal item – tissue paper, pillow, jacket, lipstick, and an orange - and dressed in the attire of their choice. Eden made the stage her bed and “sleep-danced” away with near-impossible elbow stands, back bends, and front splits.

In an elegant voice-led segment, poetry became music. Teresa and Kuan Nam took turns to recite the verses, in English and Mandarin, while the other dancers reacted to them.

In the male duet (Kuan Nam and Steve) that ensued, a different choreographic process took place. The dancers created their own movements using a form of contact improvisation technique. The last “touch” or movement of a dancer triggered the movement of another (dancer). Steve, who is duet-trained, took the opportunity to incorporate some “lifting” moments. Weijun joined them, but too briefly. Hopes for a male trio were dashed as he broke into another solo as the others left the stage.

Two couples, arms on each other’s shoulders, criss-crossed like grapevines onto stage.

In interspersing homo- and heterosexual pairing, the dancers played tug-of-war until Loke, the fifth dancer, entered and introduced imbalance and entanglement into the sequence. The music then broke down like a broken record and the bodies contorted to that.

Finally, the dance ended with the same hip hop sequence that it began with. As simple and straightforward as it looked, marrying hip hop and contemporary dance, if not done properly, could have disastrous results.Their union in EN-BODY-MEN was smooth, giving birth to what Weijun called a “pop contemporary dance”.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

(D) August 14, 2005 - Scream - A Response to Munch

A PICTURE paints a thousand words (and movements). But can the same be said of the reverse?

Anthony Meh’s Scream – A Response to Munch is a contemporary response to The Scream, by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944). In Munch's Post-Impressionist work, the central figure appears to be locked in a state of terror. The silent scream reverberates within the painting and out to the viewer.

Meh’s dance made its debut five years ago, and was presented again last week by Dua Space Dance Theatre at the Malaysian Tourism Centre in Kuala Lumpur. The 70-minute production combines dance and installation art, and modern and traditional aesthetics to express issues which the choreographer feels strongly about.

A huge rectangular patchwork of batik is spread on centre stage, awaiting the dancers. Aman Yap, as the urban character in black suit, makes his way from the main entrance while Tan Yau Kent and Justin Wong enter from either side of stage to pick up the patchwork batik and form human frames for the artwork.

Tan and Wong wear “batik-looking” attire that complements their male physique. The outfits are made of orange and green stretchable fabric, sewn together into a short-sleeved and thigh-length bodysuit. Flower motifs are patched on. The costumes, designed by Akma Suriati Awang (costume designer for the movie Anna and the King) give the dance a local drape.

As the light switches on and off, the dancers play window-display mannequins with the patchwork batik. A different “display” appears each time the stage is lit. Finally, the urban character is seen stealing away with the artwork spilling out of a luggage he is carrying.

In the next scene, the focus is on a woman with a yellow Post-It on her forehead. The woman, trapped in the video projection, reacts in fear towards the dancers on stage who Post-It-assault her head. Consequently, with a head for notes, her image would have made a more relevant lead-on compared to the dumb-blond-and-snatch-thief drama that preceded the projected image of The Scream.

A physical portrayal of entrapment follows the video. Two dancers emerge briefly with two thick bamboos (held horizontally) stretching out several rows of metal clothesline that sun a laundry of yellow Post-Its. But when held vertically, the prop becomes a yellow wall. Meh, who also dances in this piece, darts in between the clothesline, unable to get out.

The build-up is slow and finally the “scream” gets louder. Meh combines modern dance and quasi Chinese Opera to make a statement against abuse of power. This part of the choreography features four dancers, one red Chinese dance fan, and a table.

Three dancers conspire against Meh so that he doesn’t get the fan, the object of desire. The three sit on the table, obviously a position of power, while Meh cringes below. The white table top, when adjusted to face the audience, reveals flower motifs that match the dancers’ costumes.

Moving forward, we see dancers in Afro wigs and bathing suits compete for towel space on a beach. The comical scene soon gives way to (video) images of destruction caused by the recent tsunami. The dance has a bouncy quality that matches the music. But it is not a happy piece. At least one dancer lies listless on the patchwork batik throughout this scene. The cloth is now a corpse wrap.

The piece becomes darker as Meh ponders on war, execution and death. The dance vocabulary is vigorous and aggressive. The dancers, with leaps and turns, conquer the whole stage as if claiming land.

Meh returns to the first scene where the urban character is stealing away from stage. The character is captured and defeated.

Insofar as the dance goes, Meh is able to paint pictures of what pains him. However, the involvement of installation artist Liew Teck Leong raises the question: at what point does set design, props, multimedia, and even lighting turn installation art? The point of differentiation and its place in this dance are not clear.

Friday, August 12, 2005

(D) August 12, 2005 - Penetrating the Rasa

The haze in Kuala Lumpur hid all the stars but one. India-based Odissi dancer Rahul Acharya shimmered on Amphi-Sutra at Sutra Dance Theatre’s Under the Stars 2005: A Season of Odissi last week.

Rahul performed a six-part solo repertoire – Penetrating the Rasa – composed by Guru Shri Durga Charan Ranbir, an important guru of the school, or parampara, of the late Guru Deba Prasad Das.

In Mangalacharan Shiva Charanamrita, the invocatory piece, Rahul offers flowers to Bumi, or Mother Earth, and pays homage to Lord Siva.

Sthai is a forte of Deba Prasad Odissi dance where dancers emulate the classical dance sculptures in Orissan temples. This outstanding choreography keeps to the strict style of Guru Deba Prasad but incorporates a new concept.

Usually, a Sthai would begin with a chowka (square positions), but instead, this choreography begins with Pranata, a phangi (a style representing a sculpture).

The Pranata can be identified by the infolded hands (palms together). While keeping that gesture constant, Rahul dove and manoeuvred his hands and body like a slippery fish.

The other main phangis are: Alasa – the body stretches out in all directions emulating a lady trying to break her laziness; Manjira – the thumb and forefinger are locked holding imaginary cymbals, while the arms are in hitting and swirling motions playing the instrument; Mardala – this is the drummer’s position where palms face the ground and hands are flexed.

The chowka marks the change from one phangi to another, while the tribanga (three bends of head, torso and hip) brought the “moving” sculptures to live.

Rahul feels and enjoys every movement in his body as he morphs into various sculptures. The constant changing of body weight and coming back to centre almost seemed easy.

Oriya Abhinaya – E Ghora Barasa Kale and Abhinaya – Mamiyam Chalita Vilokya are both expressive dance interpreting literature. The former interprets the composition of poet, Kabi Samrat Upendra Bhanja. Two protagonists, Anukula Nayaka (hero) and Prositabhartruka Nayika (heroine), are separated and the nayaka imagines how his nayika would miss him. The latter is based on an excerpt from Gita Govinda by medieval Orissan poet Jayadeva. In this unique rendition, it is Krishna who feels the pain of separation from Radha. Krishna is remorseful of his wanton ways and causing grief to Radha.

A member of the audience later asked Rahul: “How convinced were you of Krishna’s love for Radha?” If the abhinaya did not convince, his answer certainly did!

“In Gita Govinda, Krishna is not as important as Radha. In fact, Krishna asks for the lotus dust on Radha’s feet so that he can rub it on his head” replied Rahul. “It is also destined that Krishna and Radha belong to each other eternally.”

The pure dance item, Pallavi – Raga Shankaravaranam/Arabhi, was executed with tenderness and grace. In contrast, the concluding piece, Sivashtaka, was dynamic and masculine.

There are seven classes of Tandava (masculine stylisation) and Rahul dances the Kalasava Tandava, which is the toughest of the seven. With heavy foot accents and fearsome expression, Rahul was Siva at his fiercest, destroying creation.

Insofar as being the hotbed of Odissi in Malaysia, Sutra Dance Theatre ( has been successful in attracting and raising star-quality dancers.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

(R) Happy Birthday Break-a-Leg!

Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to mee-eee
Happy birthday to me!




Having a good fog may not be the best way to celebrate my birthday. Turning xx years old IS a state of emergency. The Government declared it so. I also confess to open burning - when I blew the candles, the API raised a few notch. I have to mask my disappointment when celebration plans have to be postponed. But well-wishes came on time, leaving me choking with emotion. Well, there's hope that the future won't be as hazy as today.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

(D) August 2, 2005 - Dance Criticism in the Dance Ecology

(That's why we're critics!)

“Dance writing in Malaysian newspaper is deplorable.” Krishen Jit’s voice at the dance seminar held during MyDance Festival (MDF) 2003 still resonates in my head.

He did not proceed to say how it could be improved, but being the only journalist there, I did notice that my made-in-Malaysia MyThickSkin bullet proof vest was suffering severe damage.

Instead of one local speaker, a panel of three foreign speakers presented papers on dance criticism during the Asia Pacific International Dance Conference held during this years’ MDF. This time, journalists from more than five vernaculars attended the seminar, which is a marked improvement.

Since braving the bullets two years ago, I sought to improve writing through research, trial and error before I stumbled upon the Institute of Dance Criticism, a dance criticism fellowship held during the American Dance Festival (ADF). The gruelling 3 weeks was worth it. I learnt about dance criticism and more.

The Fellows wrote reviews twice a week. And then, peer and facilitator (10 people excluding me) would tear the piece (and our egos) apart. We attended movement and choreography classes to experience first-hand (and appreciate!) that dance and creating dance may not be as simple as it looks. We also had the opportunity to meet and interview choreographers, dancers, policy-makers, and other key figures involved in the development of dance.

A dancer would take years to hone his or her ability in one dance genre. The dance critic is expected to describe and comment on all genres from article one. The dance critic is thus a dance generalist and the onus is on him or her to continuously read, research, and yes, even dance! A dance background would be advantageous - though it does not guarantee that one would write better, it does train the eye to capture and read movements.

Dance is a movement language and the critic needs to translate this language into a written one. I liken it to painting fleeting images with words.

It is no surprise that few dare to venture into this area of writing. Unlike painting, literature and sculpture, dances do not “sit still” permitting the critic to scrutinize them leisurely. The literary critic can stop at will to re-read a difficult passage; the art critic can examine a painting from various distances or walk around a sculpture several times; the drama critic often has access to a text; and the music critic has access to a score.

The dance critic must make do with a burst of sensory impressions. The challenges are seeing the movement clearly, remembering what was seen, and finally, describing what was seen in a manner that will be comprehensible to the reader. Mastering note-taking in the dark is a bonus.

In a dance review, descriptions are important as one must not presume that everyone has watched the work. Description is valuable because it establishes the reality of the dance, lending some degree of permanence to an otherwise elusive and ephemeral event. The cruel paradox is that the critic is doomed to lose the reader in a literal, moment-to-moment account of what strikes the eye and ear. So, to keep the reader’s interest, the critic needs to interpret the work and also discuss the issues that it raises - all that within 500 to 800 words. Performances are often at night and editorial deadlines can be as soon as noon the next day.

A review must be constructive and not destructive. Justification must be made on why a work succeeds or fails. For example, Niluksi Koswanage’s Compelling, Complicated Debut (17 July 2005, The Star) and Antares’ No Silk Purse (
are both well-written negative reviews. Comments on these reviews are good indicators that Malaysians are thinking and talking about dance.

The tone should be encouraging and not demeaning. One should not intimidate emerging talents nor destroy an artists' career. Some critics show off how witty or how well they write at the expense of the artists. Some serve to pass judgement as though they are the Almighty Critic who has descended upon the Holy Theatre. As it is, there are only a handful of dancers in Malaysia. The work (the dance) and the cause (promoting dance) are more important than an inflated ego. At the same time, dance critics must also uphold their journalistic responsibilities by being honest to their readers who may be potential ticket-buying audiences.

Dance critics are like artists in some ways. Our works are subject to public scrutiny. And so, feedback from readers could also intimidate emerging writers or destroy a writers’ career. And most of us are struggling, impoverished freelancers driven only by passion for dance.

But dance criticism pieces are by far too few. There should be more than one voice on a piece of work. While there are plenty of previews, these do not count because it’s publicity driven. Dance needs to be documented and this cause is greater than self. Historians would one day reference such articles as sources of a periods’ social and cultural environment.

Dance critics are part of the dance ecology. They keep dance visible in the media. They form the vital link in educating and creating dance audiences, which in turn would help drive demand for dance and dancers; and hopefully attract more sponsors to fund dance projects.

Should dance academics write? Sure. But, a dance academic’s first love is to research and to develop knowledge. Professor Dr. Mohd Anis Md Nor (Professor of Ethnomusicology and Ethnochoreology, University Malaya) attests this. Should dancers write? Sure. But a dancer’s first love is to choreograph; to dance. The desire to move, to dance, is entrenched in the the dancer.

Cliché as it sounds, I was a fallen dancer. One back surgery, months of physiotherapy, and packets of pain killers and nerve vitamins later, I’m back dancing. But this time, I poise my pen and “tap” on my keyboard.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

(D) July 13, 2005 - (ADF) Battleworks Dance Company

Assignment: Battleworks Dance Company
Deadline: 13 July 2005
Venue: Reynolds Industries Theater, American Dance Festival
Date: 11 July 2005
Title(s): Alleluia (2002); Strange Humors (1998); Two (1994); Communion (world premiere); Unfold (2005); Takademe (1998); The Hunt (2001)

Essay: Becoming Dancer, Choreographer and Teacher

Dear Ms Houlihan,

I’m done with Julliard. I always knew I would graduate! That said I am at once excited and anxious about my future. Will a dance company take me? What if others out there are better than me? Can I afford to pay bills? I’ve so many questions. Will you pray for me?

Your faithful student,
Robert (Dancer)

Robert Battle, founder of Battleworks Dance Company clearly understands that it is the deep religious fervor for the art form that drives dancers. At the Reynolds Industries Theatre, American Dance Festival, his company kicked off the seven-item program with Alleluia (2002). The dancers, dressed in pure white, flapped their hands like wings of angels, crossed their hands to form a crucifix, and lifted their hands in worship and thanksgiving to God. The life of a professional dancer can be unpredictable and hard. Income and benefits fluctuate. But poet Robert Frost described it well when he wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Dear Ms Houlihan,

I used to do a lot of dancing and very little choreography – now it’s the reverse. I miss my “primadonna-ship” but at least I have more control over what I want to do now! I love the process of discovery and making things happen. I hope my dancers understand me. It’s so frustrating when they don’t.

Your faithful student,
Robert (Choreographer)

Mature dancers want to find their own voice and realise their ideas and visions. This exciting period is marked with experiments. Over the years, Battle explored large groups (The Hunt, Communion), duets (Strange Humours, Two, Unfold), humour (Two), technique (Strange Humour), narrative (Communion), music (Alleluia, Two) and so on. And Battle has yet to cease.

Dear Ms Houlihan,

Did you see me on stage? It’s obvious I can no longer dance the way I used to. Age has crept up on me. More importantly, did you see my babies on stage? My priorities have changed. I think it’s important to teach the young everything I know. I am burdened to make America dance, just as you did. The audience gave us thunderous applause. I felt a warm glow when I saw my babies beam. They worked hard and they deserve this moment. I know you’re sitting there amongst the audience watching me. I was on stage giving my ovation too. I hope you know that that’s for you.

Your faithful student,
Robert (Master Teacher)

When Martha Graham said, “Only the Gods can make me great,” she clearly left out teachers. In the solo Takademe, the playful student doesn’t realise that the voice is not merely music. Dance teachers (classical Indian) use vocal percussion to guide speed, rhythm and movement. The importance of the teachers’ role is often overlooked because it is also the least glamorous. Teachers succeed when their students succeed. And that is how we create legacy.

(491 words)


The No-Mercy Peer Review

(They loved it!)

Sunday, July 10, 2005

(D) July 8 - 10, 2005 - (ADF) - The 10th Annual "Dancing for the Camera: International Festival of Film and Video Dance"

Break-a-Leg confronts No-Legs in "The Cost of Living" by director, choreographer and writer Lloyd Newson at the 10th Annual "Dancing for the Camera: International Festival of Film and Video Dance".

The Cost of Living
United Kingdom - 2004
Director, Choreographer, Writer: Lloyd Newson
Producer: Nikki Weston
Dance Company: DV8 Physical Theatre
Length: 34 minutes, 29 seconds

"The Cost of Living" is part dance film, part drama. The stories are told through a combination of stylized movement and dialogue. I was struck that the lead role is played by a man with both legs amputated. His muscled arms are his legs, and his palms, his feet. But he moved with amazing grace. And he danced with even more amazing grace!

In the film, he performed a sexy solo in a bar, moving on the counter as he tries to invite someone to dance with him. In a brilliant choreography, a group of dancers imitate his movements by also "walking" with their hands while the rest of the body drags along. The beauty is in the unison sway and the creation of a whole movement vocabulary that stem from a movement-limited body. And finally, in a dance studio scene, he performed the most beautiful duet with a (able-bodied) dancer. The smoothness and gracefulness in which he executed turns and in guiding his partner would put any dancer to shame.

We can't dance because we are too fat, too thin, too old, too young, can't jump high enough, can't split, have a bad back, broke a toe, broke a leg.... Try no legs.


From program notes:

- Douglas Rosenberg, Director and Currator

2005 marks the tenth consecutive year for ADF's Dancing for the Camera: International Festival of Film and Video Dance. In the ten years since the festival's inception, much has changed in the landscape of screendance. The festival's focus, however, has remained much the same. Each year the jury members, accomplished both as choreographers and as filmmakers, look not only for a synergy between filmmaker and choreographer, but also between films submitted for consideration. It can be said that ADF's Dancing for the Camera is a director's festival. The makeup of the jury is equal parts movers and photographers of movement, so as the jury builds a program, an esthetic tends to emerge in which dance and filmmaking share space equally on screen. Screendance in general has a tendency to be viewed or programmed as a choreographer's medium and it is often the choreographer who is foregrounded as the dominant force within the work. Dancing for the Camera programs work in which the film itself is foregrounded, which often means that it is the director as much as the choreographer who is shaping the work.

A director's film is one in which there is an objective distance between the dance and the cinematic articulation of it. The director's work is in the details of bringing a dance to life on screen; this process begins in the composition of moving images as the dance is mined for its cinematic possibilities. In other words, the director works in much the same way as an archeologist might: unearthing, revealing, and ultimately re-connecting the disparate parts collected at the site of the excavation.

As the process unfolds, the dance becomes its filmic self. Often, the movement the choreographer invented in studio bends to a new shape. In a sense, choreographic ego gives way to the emergent identity of the film. The process of making a screendance is much like direct carving, in which the sculptor removes mass until the form reveals itself. Somewhere within the social space of a film shoot, the work reveals itself. It may be in the shooting; it may be in editing; but it requires an openness to the possibilities of the medium to carve or compel its own form.

Screendance assumes many forms. Australian choreographer and filmmaker Richard James Allen best describes the form that audience have most often encountered in the ten years of ADF's Dancing for the Camera. The definition of screendance proposed by Allen and his partner Karen Pearlman is "stories told by the body." Stories told by the body implies that the corporeal body is present in the work, and that the body is the instrument of inscription, much as a pen on paper articulates other languages. It implies that the body is the center of the work, the focus, even as the body is writing simultaneously a kind of personal history or diary. The body telling stories through the medium of film or video is, at is best compelling and altogether distinct form the experience of concert dance.

It is the art of filmmaking that translates the liveness of dance in its indigenous form to the ofte-deadening space of the screen. It is in the space between the choreographer's eye and that of the filmmaker that the synergistic relationship betwen dance and the moving image is articulated. It is that synergy which produces a work for the screen that operates on a visceral, kinesthetic plane as well as on a logical, narrative, or abstract one. It is the body in motion that contextualizes the work, but it is the carnal predatory nature of the camera that enlivens the dance as it plays out on screen.

The philosopher Merleau-Ponty suggests that an action of the body has at least two outcomes.
He writes: "the body reveals itself to the world and to itself through the intersection of a tactile sensation that is on the outside and a kinaesthetic sensation that is on the inside."

The dancing body becomes known (to those who experience the body in motion) visually (or tactilely) as simultaneously it becomes known to itself. The act of moving in space has the outcome of transmitting information both outward and inward at the same instant. What an audience perceives as it witnesses the dancer dance is a kind of performative, autobiographical writing; writing in real, spatial, dimensional time. The audience perceives movement (dance) as the body gains insight into itself, all the while inscribing its narrative in an ephemeral social space. Creating a film form that ephemeral body-writing is a way of not only extending the metaphors of dancing bories, but also of producing an infintely viewable cultural artifact.

Another relevant metaphor can be found in the writing of dance critic John Martin. Martin has used the term "metakinesis" to describe the situation in which the viewer is drawn into the dance. He writes: "Because of the inherent contagion of bodily movement, which makes the onlooker feel sympathetically in his own musculature, the dancer is able to convey throught movement the most intangible emotional experience." Much has been written about the way in which we, the viewers, have a kind of sympathetic response to live dancing bodies. However, little has been written about how that sympathetic, kinesthetic sensation is translated to the screen. This is the challenge one must undertake when considering the creation of a screendance. This challenge is also to the viewer, who must forego preconceived ideas about dance in order to fully critique a screendance. More importantly, though, it is the challenge to the director of a screen dance to grasp Merlou-Ponty's "kinaesthetic sensation" and Martin's "metakinesis" and both migrate and translate those concepts to the frame.

I noted earlier that ADF's Dancing for the Camera is a "director's festival." While each jury defines its own particular esthetic, it is the tradition of this festival to look for work that extends the metaphors of dance into a new filmic space. In that transition from "live" to screen, the jury looks for work thet redefines and questions the language of dance while also interrogating the nature of the moving image and its relationship to dance. In short, the jury looks for that ineffable gestalt in which the whole is not only greater than the sum of its parts, but the parts are also transformed in the process. In the production of media, it is the director whose eye defines what we see. And while screendance is a collaborative art, there is one privilege point of view in the making of a film. It is trough the camera's lens that the meta-dance is built shot by shot, frame by frame. This method of construction is further articulated in the editing process. However, the accretion of danced moments as they are uneartherd and cataloged, archived and arranged, is the territory of the director. And while the choreographer and director may be one and the same, a set of outside eyes, an alternative esthetic, and a pre-existing relationship with the medium of film or video can often unearth something nascent or germinal in the dance. So, in 2005, as ADF's Dancing for the Camera marks its 10th year of screenings, we wish to honor (along with the choreographers) the directors of all of the films screened in the last decade.

(D) July 7, 2005 - (ADF) Compagnie Kafig

Assignment: Review Compagnie Kafig - free
Deadline: By 10am Thursday
Choreographer: Mourad Merzouki
Venue: Reynolds Industries Theater, American Dance Festival
Date: 7 July 2005
Title(s): Recital


French hip hop on American soil – it was clearly home ground disadvantage for Compagnie Kafig, a French hip hop company who performed Recital at the Reynolds Industries Theater, American Dance Festival 2005 (ADF 2005). The performance, which premiered in France in 1998, was revised for this years’ festival.

Kafig has a few things going against them though. Hip hop, which has African roots, was developed and commercialised by Americans, and hence the home team feels a sense of ownership for the genre. It is possible that some of the audience would bring their bias to court. And, hip hop is offseason – its glory days were in the 1980s and 1990s.

But the show goes on for choreographer and dancer Mourad Merzouki. Recital attempts to fuse hip hop with classical concerto - solo dance tamed for group unison. Merzouki puts five dancers in t-shirt and track bottom with music stands, violins and violin cases on the same stage - the match is odd and the clash, obvious.

Merzouki has moved hip hop from street to stage. He’s progressed beyond boom-box technology and cardboard boxes to using multimedia, stage technology, props and costume.

Lighting designer Yoann Tivoli let a bat-shaped light flutter above the stage and spotlighted the six music stands, one at a time, that were on the V-shaped catwalk outlined on the black floor. Using lighting effects and the black backdrop, Tivoli also made the mysterious hooded man at the valley of the “V” appear and disappear. By simply darkening the entire stage and having lights come out of violin cases, the genie-in-a-violin-case illusion was created when opening and closing the cases.

The performance did not progress well from here. Kafig’s hip hoppers in tuxedo coats and violins (and pretending to play it) looked little more than back-up dancers for classical pop artist Vanessa Mae. Recital hit a sour note when MC French Idol in spacesuit waxed piped lyrical into his talk box.

Thankfully, there are parts of the choreography where Merzouki strips down the spectacle to show more form and technique.

Retaining the element of rivalry in hip hop, the dancers get to improvise and outdo each other with freestyle hip hop, breakdance and street dance styles. The group proved themselves competent dancers, gymnasts and acrobats when they performed physically demanding feats (headspins, handsprings, body flips, etc.) and imitated robots (isolating body movements) with great ease.

But even this part became predictable after a while.

The whistle blows on them half time. Kafig needs to re-evaluate hip hop in today’s’ environment. But there’s still time for them to make good.

(456 words)
The No-Mercy Peer Review
1st para - 2nd sentence - replace "The performance" with "Recital"
2nd para - replce "them" with "it"; place "which has African roots" after " Americans" to change the emphasis; 3rd sentence - HH still lives!!
3rd para - end of 2nd sentence - can say "solo dance tamed for a unison group"
4th para - elaborate more on the cardboard boxes (eg. used on the sidewalk to spin on)
5th para - too much description on the stage - get to dance faster
6th para - in tuxedo coats and tails; looking
7th para - describe which parts of the choreography
8th para - "retaining" is a weak verb - try another; those robot-like movements are called "popping"
9th para - /
10th para - "at" half time; But there's still time "on the clock" for them.

Friday, July 08, 2005

(D) July 4, 2005 - (ADF) Brian Brookes Moving Company

Assignment: Review Brian Brooks in 500 words
Deadline: By 10am Thursday

Choreographer: Brian Brooks Moving Company
Venue: Reynolds Industries Theater, American Dance Festival
Date: 4 July 2005
Title(s): Piñata


Life is like a Piñata. You’ll never know what’s in it until you whack it open. That was the case with Brian Brooks Moving Company’s Piñata performed at the Reynolds Industries Theater during the American Dance Festival 2005. One must sit through the 70-minute dance (without intermission) to discover what’s in store for them.

While America celebrates 4th of July outdoors, a choreographed celebration took place inside the theatre as Brooklyn boy Brian Brooks humoured us with his colour-themed choreography. To kick off the night, Mr Donkey ‘Emcee’ Piñata stood under a spotlight and greeted us with a warm welcome speech. Brooks used these colourful little creatures more than once in his work and the audience loved it.

Starting off on a clean sheet, the introductory colour of the night was white. A Piñata dropped down and hung from the ceiling as two dancers enter the stage. One of the dancers, blindfolded, hits the Piñata with a stick and triggers a storm of white confetti.

Three more dancers joined in and they all dived into the confetti pool on the white square space on stage doing laps of backstroke and synchronised swimming to lively Latin music. The dancers’ clownish costumes - leotards, tights, ruffled or feathered collars and caps – were also white.

As the dancers got up hopped across the stage repeatedly in a diagonal fashion with arms extended dropping orange-coloured confetti, the gradual appearance of the colour was striking. At the end of this scene, the dancers left behind an orange ‘X’ path on the white floor.

The subsequent sections in the performance were more theatrics than dance.

Two dancers, head adorned with punk-style wigs, simply fixed themselves to the left-hand side of the stage rocked and rotated their upper body to Scissor Sister’s Laura.

A trio took over the stage. Two dancers played ornament support to the statuesque dancer that they held between them. The dancer in the middle made restrained leaping and turning movements while throwing huge pieces of green-coloured confetti.

A “running” duet ensued where the dancers “ran” throughout. One only knows where this piece was going by listening to the changing music that charted their journey – an industrial town, a nightmare, and in the woods.

With each change in scene, we found the dancers adding more colour to their costumes – red, yellow, blue, green, and purple. By now, all five dancers were colourfully dressed and they came out to parade. The procession moved across the stage on their butts and threw more confetti.

In the end, the dancers converted to black as if tired of all the colours. Both men and women dressed in black flamenco dresses stood rooted to the ground and let their arms and hands and Maurice Ravel’s Bolero hypnotise us. Lights cast in front of them created dancing shadows behind them.

Brooks’ Piñata was humorous and even eccentric at times. But like the Piñata, the fun is for the moment and the event doesn’t leave a deep impact on ones’ life.

(500 Words)


The No-Mercy Peer Review

1st para - The last sentence is superfluous. A number of shows have no intermission. And 'them' refers to?

2nd para - /

3rd para - Starting off 'with'. Inconsistency of tenses in 2nd sentence

4th para - /
5th para - /

6th para - Sentence can be shortened but the idea should be expanded.

7th para - /
8th para - /
9th para - /

10th para - The dancers moved...on their butts

11th para - Black is also a colour.

12 para - Conclusion is not consistent with the rest of the article. Need to justify the context of how it "doesn't leave a deep impact on ones' life.

Overall - Good intro and lead but need more meat in the middle.Too much description and not enough opinion. It's more reporting than illuminating.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

(D) June 30, 2005 - (ADF) Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company

Assignment: Review Brenda Angiel in 450 words
Deadline: By 10am Saturday
Choreographer: Brenda Angiel (Aeriel Dance Company)(Argentina)
Titles: Air-condition (Air lines, Air Force, Air Part, and South, wall and after)
Venue: Page Auditorium, American Dance Festival
Date: 30 June 2005

Be careful to use the expression “when pigs fly”. They just might (fly). Who knows what else Brenda Angiel would take to flight in her next aerial experiment?

Airborne works to her credit, the Earth-based Argentinean choreographer and founder of Aerial Dance Company has been invited to the American Dance Festival for the seventh time. This year she offers a medley of new and old choreographies.

The program, titled Air-condition, comprised of four works. These included two world premieres, Air-lines and Air force; and, Air part (choreographed in 2000) and South, wall and after (a 1998 ADF-commission).

Air-lines had dancers suspended on the wall in a plastered manner. Their movements, due to the short leash that held them, constricted them within a 360-degree sphere. Within this sphere, the dancers drew imaginary vertical, horizontal and circular lines with their hands and legs. The lighting formed an aura of colour around each dancer and making a palette of the wall. Like a painter mixing colours to find new ones, Angiel explores limited space, the resulting movements, and sensitivity of lighting to movements.

In the four-part Air force, the “force” was weak in parts one and three and it simply appeared as introduction and conclusion to part two. In this choreography, we get to peep into some sort of machinery. Five dancers arranged themselves in a single, vertical file in this section. Harnessed on long, inflexible cords suspended from above the stage, the dancers swung in horizontal directions like clockwork at a near-ground level. The original score for these three parts (the program did not provide the titles) composed by Juan Pablo Arcangeli and Martin Ghersa complimented the industrial, mechanical feel of the dance.

A couple, in their aerial rendition of tango emerged in the final part of this choreography. The intertwining tango legwork was executed with the couple upright as well as when suspended upside down. As if understanding this motion, the harnessed bungee cords also intertwined to connect the turning couple. A scene to remember is when the lady, effortlessly climbed onto her partner’s shoulders and glided down his extended leg with her knees.

Air part’s Fourth Part is more impressionable than its sedate title. It featured three women on the “rebound”. The Trinity (female lead in The Matrix) part-time doubles, in this fast paced piece struck poses in mid-air, leapt and ran in the air; and did a fair amount of “flying”. Persistent to this piece were the moving forward and spring back motions.

South, wall and after opened with a mood-focused duet with south-bound shadows. It was a birds’ eye-view of a couples’ romantic evening walk. In contrast, parts two and three oozed with playful momentum.

As the dance language increasing takes precedence over “flying”, Angiel and her art form is certainly one to look out for. However, a smooth take-off could be marred by the lack of organisation in the program. And, her pieces could certainly make do with more creative titles.

(494 words)


The No-Mercy Peer Review

1st para - People here don't use 'take to flight'

2nd para - "medley" is not the right word to use. It means excerpts of full works and combined into a piece

3rd para - work these facts in the coming para

4th para - 'plastered against the hall'. No need to mention all the details to the reader (part 1, part 2, etc.). Too taxing for them.

5th para - the reader won't know one part to the other; Avoid mathematics - 'horizontal directions' = use left and right instead

6th para - don't use 'lady', use woman

7th para - no need to quote "flying". We already know it is an aerial performance.

8th para - 'oozed' can be replaced with a better word

Overall - Need to keep to word limit.


John Rockwell, the editor for the arts section of New York Times was guest speaker at IDC yesterday. I've putting his review of the same show here strictly for an academic comparative exercise.

In Summer, Modern Dance Rises to All Occasions (Watch Out, Ballet)

Published: July 2, 2005, The New York Times

DURHAM, N.C., July 1 - In recent decades, ballet has come to dominate the American public's perception of dance. It has the big companies, it plays in the big theaters, it attracts the big audiences.

But in the summer, modern dance reasserts itself as the preferred American dance form. That is because the two big American summer dance festivals, the American Dance Festival here at Duke University and Jacob's Pillow in the Massachusetts Berkshires, both offer modern dance in all its forms. They attract attention through the quality of their programs, their venerable history and their packaging of smaller modern-dance troupes to rival the impact of the larger ballet companies.

The American Dance Festival dates to 1934, when it was founded by a quartet of American modern dancers at Bennington College in Vermont. It moved to Duke in 1978, already 10 years after Charles L. Reinhart became its director, and he leads it to this day. In addition to public performances, the festival oversees a teeming array of instructional courses for choreographers, dancers, critics and editors, along with a dance-film series and worldwide programs during the rest of the year.

For visitors from New York, festivals like these two present a fair number of familiar troupes. But even they are encouraged to present premieres, and there are always a few unfamiliar companies. This week promised just that in Durham. From Monday to Wednesday there was the much-spoken-of Emanuel Gat Dance from Israel. And starting Thursday came the Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company from Argentina.

Canceled and delayed flights kept this critic pinned down at La Guardia Airport on Wednesday, forcing him to miss Mr. Gat. That left Ms. Angiel, but she was definitely worth the trip.

Ms. Angiel can almost be called a product of this festival. Now 39, she studied here and in New York from 1988 to 1991, when she returned to Buenos Aires. She founded her company in 1994, and was back in Durham in 1997, 1998 and 2002. She has toured the United States and the world, but for some reason her company has never been seen in New York.

Aerial dance, meaning dancers suspended by ropes or wires or harnesses or elasticized tethers (Ms. Angiel's method), is a genre by now. It harks back delightfully to the suspended and hence extended dancers of the Baroque, French Romanticism and beyond. For dance purists today, this can look like acrobatic gimmickry. For the more theatrically minded - or for those used to the spectacle of Cirque du Soleil and other new circus troupes, or to computerized trickery in films - rigging like this can transform ordinary dancers into gods or fairies or superheroes.

Ms. Angiel consistently skirts the charge of circus stunt work; she is the most choreographically inventive aerial dancer I have encountered. Even though her company members are skimming the floor or suspended against walls, they are always dancing.

Her inventiveness does not extend to titles. Her program is called "Air-Condition" and consists of four parts: "Air-Lines," "Air Part," "Air Force" and "South, Wall and After." The parts date from 1998 (a festival commission) to 2005 (two world premieres), but except for one pause for technical reasons and one intermission, it would have been one seamless piece.

Most of the music is percussive, by Juan Pablo Arcangeli and Martin Ghersa, although Astor Piazzolla and Chopin were used in 1998. For the most part, Ms. Angiel does not play on her Latin heritage, but when she does, as in a tango for Ana Armas and Pablo Carrizo, the results are spectacular: sensuous and breathtaking. I had never seen a tango in which the woman, with utter nonchalance, stepped up her partner's arm, over his shoulders and down his other arm.

Most of the wall work involves striking synchronized solo movements. Particularly impressive is her command of ensembles: earthbound men and flying women in one segment, five suspended dancers of varying sizes in another, mostly floor-based but indifferent to gravity, in lovely groupings.

All the dancers are fabulous, but a few, like Ms. Ana and Mr. Carrizo and Leonardo Haedo and Natacha Visconti and Cristina Tziouras, stand out. And the three riggers, deftly raising and lowering the dancers and the lighting, deserve equal credit. A truly festive experience.

The Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company will be at the Page Auditorium of Duke University in Durham, N.C., through tonight. The American Dance Festival continues through July 23.