The studio was founded in 1997 by Malaysian dance artiste, Ellie Lai and China prodigy Zhou Gui Xin. The husband and wife team began a specialised dance studio in Malaysia, offering classical ballet courses from beginner level to advanced and performance levels, as well as courses in contemporary dances and authentic oriental dances from the provinces of China.
In conjunction with the launch, a dance production entitled Tapestry of My Heart was put up at the Securities Commission featuring classical, neo-classical and contemporary ballet items consisting of excerpts from ballet repertoire favourites, and traditional and folk Chinese dances.
The Chinese dances – Han, Tibetan, Dai, and XinJiang – were all choreographed by Zhou. It was a surprise to find that most of the performers were elderly ladies who were sometimes joined by the younger dancers from the Performing Arts Group. Although it was nice to see how sporting these ladies were, there were too many items by them in the programme.
Zhou choreographed seven pieces in all: A Tribute to Spring (Han), Chinese “Sleeves” Dance (Tibetan), Breaking of Dawn (Dai), The Jasmine Flower (Han), Journey (XinJiang), New Year’s Morn (Han) and Autumn Memories (Chinese Classical).
Just as Wong Kit Yaw, the Malaysian choreographer who specialises in dance for children, tackles the issue of unsure young bodies, Zhou had to choreograph within the capacity of bodies that are no longer supple. Zhou managed to do this quite well in most pieces except for New Year’s Morn where the dancers were made to leap, albeit mild ones. It looked most ungraceful and it only accentuated the performer’s age.
The other choreographic challenge was the merging of both elderly and young performers in A Tribute to Spring and Breaking of Dawn. All the stretching and flexing, which were left to the younger performers, juxtaposed quite well with the more simple and graceful movements by the elderly performers.
The younger dancers, who would have more aptitude for mastery, still need to perfect the art of holding and opening the fan in the Han Dance.
My personal favourite was Autumn Memories not only because the ladies were draped in beautiful Fall colours, but also because they moved like leaves, breaking off from the branches and falling in uneven spirals towards the earth.
The Chinese dances were interspersed with three ballet items – Sleeping Beauty (Classical), Obsession (Contemporary) and Graduation Ball (Neo-classical). These were performed by graduates and senior students of Ellie Zhou.
Sleeping Beauty, though it may not be Ellie’s best choreography, allowed her graduates and senior students to show off their prowess especially in the solo parts.
Obsession, choreographed by Alyzsa Lim, would have been more effective if the dancers could loosen their grip on ‘classical’ a bit more. However, Elynn Chew, who played the lead role in this piece, managed to wow the audience with her very precise turns. In this, and the other two items, she exuded stage charisma which had the audiences’ gaze fixated on her when she danced.
Graduation Ball, choreographed by Ellie, was the most delightful and entertaining item of the evening. Looping in guest dancers from Akademi Seni Kebangsaan, the item was a pleasant combination of both elements of drama and dance. Azizi Sulaiman, as the General, and Fairuz Tauhid, as the Headmistress with frightful golden locks and curtain dress were a hit as a couple. And Foo Siau Yin, as girl with stiff braids and blue ribbon was most commendable in her role.
The backdrop and lighting in this production was simple and minimal. However, most of their investment went to costume – each item had their own elaborate set.
Only one thing to note though – although I understand their enthusiasm, a Performing Arts Group should restrain their back stage cheering and let the applause start from the audience instead!
(Post performance hunger is best subdued with a burger Ramli ayam special WITH cheese, at Bestari nearby)