Friday, October 07, 2005

(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.

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