Monday, January 24, 2005

(D) December 21, 2003 - Homecoming

IF your perception of contemporary dance is jaundiced, you will be pleased to know that there are better offerings around the world. These were brought home by four internationally-renowned Malaysian dancers and choreographers from Dec 12 to 14.

Ng Teck Voon, Ong Yong Lock, Albert Tiong and Wong Thien Pau performed at the Malaysian Chinese Performing Artists (MCPA) Theatre in Kuala Lumpur. Homecoming is one of the best shows I have watched this year – at least where contemporary dance is concerned.

It was produced by Choo Tee Kuang and organised by the MCPA Alliance to raise funds for a new theatre floor. Ideally, a dance floor should be made of wood; at present, the MCPA’s floor is made of tiles covered with a black mat – definitely not safe or dancer-friendly.

The “black box” in which we sat had no mirrors and as the dancers warmed up in front of the audience, some of them made use of shadows to look at themselves, for want of mirror reflections.

It was hard to identify a favourite item, as I liked most of them, especially those before the intermission.
Excessive Space, Constricted Space had the audience enraptured right from the beginning with its upbeat music held together by the frantic sound of electronic lead guitars. The piece was conceptualised by Aaron Khek Ah Hock of Ah Hock and Peng Yu (AHPY), Singapore. Ix Wong Thien Pau was the choreographer, dancer (solo) and lighting and set designer.

The guitar music featured seems to be in vogue across the Causeway. A recent performance that I caught entitled Little Asia 2003: Melatonin 2 by Daniel K. at The Esplanade Theatres on the Bay also explored dance with such sounds.

In Excessive Space, I found the coordinated use of light with dance to describe space very authentically. The dance, with the exception of some parts, comprised a few repeated phrases. Wong travelled in parallel lines along and within the constricted space of the light-line created by lights from opposing sides of the stage.

The “running man” who ran away from or towards the light signalled movement into excessive space. On one occasion, he ran so hard that he went beyond space and suddenly found the light behind him instead of in front. He did not move from his spot; instead, the light behind him lit up while the one in front went off, hence giving the impression that he had gone beyond.

When he did travel or move around the stage, it was in clean, straight lines. At the end of the performance, a narrow ray of light shone down vertically and there was Wong standing in it, drinking in the light and allowing it to bathe his body.

Another splendid solo item was Act. Rest... choreographed and performed by Albert Tiong, a graduate of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Tiong joined the highly-acclaimed Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in Taiwan, after which he became the principal dancer of Odyssey Dance Theatre, Singapore. He’s back in Malaysia to promote dance education.

Tiong was obviously very comfortable with his body. With what little he was wearing, the audience could clearly see and enjoy the near-perfect physique of a dancer. As he danced, he revealed the contours of his body and muscles that moved along instinctively.

That reminded me of Body Worlds, the controversial anatomical exhibition of real human bodies by Prof Gunther von Hagens, which enabled viewers to understand the source of (motor) movements. And if I may refer to Isadora Duncan’s theory of natural dance, only a mature contemporary dancer like Tiong can identify the source of the body’s natural movement. After the action in Act, he sought sleep in Rest, lulled by a nostalgic Taiwanese song.

Ong Yong Lock’s literally blinding choreography, Sat Sa, paired Isaac Lim with Judimar Monfils (who was the better of the two). Ong focused on understanding the movements of Dao, a Chinese teaching that links the movement of the universe to ones’ body, mind and soul.

The movements were akin to a vast whirlpool constantly moving away and then returning to its source in the process of self-actualisation. The dance employed a large sheet of aluminium to enable viewers to identify with the ebb and flow of waves, enhanced by the thundering sounds it created.

As with most duets, Ong made the most of both symmetrical and asymmetrical motifs and poses, and several impressive lifts characterised by weight exchange. This founder and artistic director of Unlock Dancing Academy is based in Hong Kong.

Ng Teck Voon, now based in Holland, worked with up-and-coming local dancers Wei Jun, Eden Lim, Amy Len, Mun Lee and Lim Thau Cun in Different Flow on Mutual Ground. The same group, together with Steve Goh and Isaac Lim, appeared in his second choreography, Circle of Unity.

Different Flow was the better of the two. While the second piece was more colourful and lively, a few minor “accidents” with the prop hindered the otherwise smooth flow of the performance.

The show ended with Dance Dedication, an improvisational session during which the performers interacted with the audience. The Hands Percussion Team and a few local musicians were there to provide accompaniment for the impromptu dance session. If the government can invest in technology transfer, why not artistic transfer as well? With Homecoming as a shining example, the outcome can only be positive.

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