Friday, June 03, 2005

(D) June 3, 2005 - Shoku

Shoku (the full version), a contemporary dance performance by Japanese Contemporary Dance Company BATIK, performed to full house at the newly opened Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KL-PAC) last week.

A sign on the Pentas 2 (the experimental theatre) entrance warned, “Audience must be 18 years old and above”. The sight of seven Japanese ladies “flashing” and sounds of panting and grunting, I later found out, made this an apt performance to “devirginise” the venue.

The choreographer, Ikuyo Kuroda, founded BATIK in April 2002. Shoku is Kuroda’s best piece – it was awarded the grand prize at the Toyota Choreography Award 2003. At the Awards, she also won the Choreographer of the Next Generation title.

The dance opened with a very high level of energy. Moving in rhythm to the deafening drums, the dancers grabbed their crotch and rocked their bodies back and forth, and then angrily flail their legs sideways.

A lengthy but memorable scene was that of the dancers repeatedly spinning and dropping to the ground. While this was happening in the rear, one dancer, spotlighted in front, amuses herself, like a little girl, with her imagination.

The dancers behind twirled themselves to oblivion; their presence degenerated into mere background visual and sound. This part of the piece was certainly beautiful but it was physically demanding on the dancers.

This piece touched on the subject of female sexuality. In the process of becoming a woman, one feels guilty about sensuality. A young lady would question, “Is it right to touch myself this way?” and “Is it right to touch someone else this way?”

Kuroda said: “It is the feeling of not being able to escape the ‘skin’ that surrounds us and that leaves us frustrated. I feel that, if I kept trying, I would find the light at the end of the tunnel.”

These inner feelings were translated into a dance full of angst described with external “touches” of pain and violent pleasure. The title of this piece, Shoku, simply means, touch.

Pain was self-inflicted, by deliberately falling to the ground, and inflicted, by hitting others. Violent pleasure was exhibited when the dancers put their hands in their panties and frantically groped themselves. However, this action was done is such a crude manner that it lost its eroticism.

The dancers each wore a sleeveless, red frock and white underwear (which was constantly exposed).The red colour symbolises the vixen they want to be on the outside and the white represents the state of innocence inside.

Towards the end of the piece, they shed their frock. Their semi-nakedness was not apparent as the lighting was done in such a way that the dancers were clothed in shadows cast on their bodies.

One of the more fun scenes was when four dancers danced before microphone stands. What looked like microphones on the stands turned out to be torch lights. These were used both as props as well as for lighting effect.

Light from the torches were made to disappear in two ways – by flooding the stage with light stronger than that coming from the torch and by pressing the torch against the body as if “snuffing” the light out.

The piece exhibited only a glimmer of ballet while the rest looked like random movements. Very little dance technique was required of the dancers. However, the dancers use the release technique when falling to prevent injury. There were very few dance sequence and dance was justified with numerous formations and good use of stage space.

It would not be surprising if some found this piece distasteful. Different people have different comfort levels pertaining to touch. And, spitting on stage was simply quite disgusting and unnecessary.

Not every part of the piece made sense. For example, while exuding frustration is relevant, the portrayal of madness did not fall in place with the theme.

Although there were some brilliant moments in this bold piece, in totality it failed to “climax” the audience. All in, it felt like a pretty a long 70 minutes.

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