Tuesday, April 05, 2005

(D) April 3, 2005 - Finks by Leni-Basso

LAST week, Malaysian dance enthusiasts feasted on Finks, a critically-acclaimed contemporary dance performance by Leni-Basso, a Japanese dance company. The show was organised by the Japan Foundation, Kuala Lumpur, and co-organised by The Actors Studio Bangsar.

Akiko Kitamura, who is artistic director and choreographer of the company, created Finks along the theme of “communication by discommunication”. The hour-long piece, performed by Akiko and seven others, explored the possibility of communication in dance.

The choreography, which worked hand-in-hand with multimedia, did grasp some of the key concepts of communication.

Four cameras, supported by microphone stands, were positioned at the four corners of the stage. In the background were two huge screens, placed side by side. The stage was bare except for chairs that the dancers brought on and took off with them.

While waiting for the show to start, the audience were teased with pre-recorded images of an empty Actors Studio.

In line with the theme, I was reminded of two ideas expounded by media guru Marshall McLuhan: “the medium is the message”, and “the media are extensions of man”.

McLuhan’s first idea is based on the premise that the “content” of any medium is always another medium. If dance is the medium of the human body, then movement is its content.

Throughout Finks, we saw “hesitation”, “restraint” and “obstruction” in the dance vocabulary. When these movements persisted, “discommunication” was the result. Subsequently, the dance and dancers also became the content of the different media.

A pre-recorded dance sequence shown on screen was shortly actualised on stage. This teased the audience’s expectations. When the screen events were not played out on stage, they felt a sense of being denied. This technique dislodged our logical “cause and effect” thought process, resulting in a somewhat disorientating yet refreshingly engaging effect.

Concurrent events captured and projected on the screens were rare – this only occurred when dancers, one by one, went up to the cameras and looked them in the “eye”.

The “media are extensions of man” idea was evident in the interplay between the three mediums: dancer, lighting, and multimedia. Through these, the dancers were able to “reproduce” themselves in the form of shadows and video images.

Consciously, we knew there was one dancer. But our senses accepted the presence of three figures dancing on stage (dancer, shadow, and video image), in different sizes and densities.

The key to this piece was the cohesive effort of dance and multimedia to create expectations, and then block or terminate them.

Early theories that the mass media is an influential tool held true, too. No matter how “active” (as opposed to passive) we assumed the audience to be, the messages did not reach them on the intellectual or rational level. As such, they were susceptible to the emotional and intuitive effects the performance had on them. In Finks, there was no storyline, yet the audience could not help but be affected by the movements and collective visual effects.

The choreography itself was presented in several sections. In the beginning, the dancers entered the stage, acknowledged the presence of the cameras, then left. The first phase saw them accumulating energy in their bodies, which tingled and shivered with excitement. There was a sense of wanting to do more with this new-found power but the bodies were unprepared and self-conscious. Akiko’s style, in her solo part, had a sense of funk, executed in a restrained manner.

The next phase very obviously showed the dancers being released from this restraint. One could almost see them fly. The music was now furious, in accordance with the movements. With the energy released, the dancers found they could not contain themselves. They flung their limbs in all directions and thrashed about on the floor.

Once they gained control of this power, the dancers became selfish and possessive. This was depicted with some sense of humour – they clung to their chairs and refused to share them with others. A male dancer who tried to find his seat – or perhaps his place in society – was rejected, ostracised and mocked.

A “fink” is defined as a person you dislike. This could explain the hostility the dancers had towards each other in the final section. There was no sense of co-operation and affection among them and the dance eventually ended in violence.

The use of multimedia in dance is not new, even in Malaysia. However, the kind of cohesiveness between the two elements, as shown by Leni-Basso, has yet to be explored here.

The standard of the dancers in Finks is not exceptional. In fact, I’ve seen local dancers who can perform just as well, if not better.

But our choreographers could do well to exercise both the physical and mental aspects of dance.

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