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.