Monday, February 28, 2005

(D) February 20, 2005: Spellbound

THE Hindi word parampara roughly translates as an identifiable style of dance. For a Malaysian dance school to come up with its own distinct and identifiable style of odissi, the ancient Indian classical dance form, is pretty amazing. But that seems to be what Sutra Dance Theatre has done.

Sutra’s founder and artistic director, Ramli Ibrahim, has been pushing for recognition and affirmation of odissi’s roots in Malaysian soil for almost two decades. He’s worked at educating Malaysians about one of the most beautiful classical dances in the world, and has taken odissi performances around the country three times. This year’s Spellbound – Odissi Live is his fourth effort, and has so far appeared in Langkawi, Penang, Ipoh, Seremban, Johor Baru, and Kuala Lumpur; in March, it appears in Singapore.

From what I saw at Istana Budaya on Wednesday night, I think I can say that, after 18 years of hard work, Ramli can now lay claim to establishing his own parampara with a Malaysian identity that still manages to remain true to the dance form’s Indian origin.

Using Istana Budaya’s sophisticated stage to full effect, the production combined dance, music and imagery with the use of multimedia technology. Images of temples and sculptures from Orissa in India from where odissi originates were projected to mesmerising effect onto a screen at mid-stage.

Sutra’s set and lighting designer, Sivarajah Natarajan, created a wonderful see-through effect with the images so that, sometimes, dancers standing behind the screen looked superimposed on the projected images; on other occasions, the images seemed hollow and the dancers looked as if they were posing inside the temples.
Through these larger-than-life images, Ramli was trying to say that odissi from Orissa has indeed come to life in Malaysia, its presence duly seen and felt.

Spellbound was segmented into six parts: Mangala Caranam, Pallavi (Rag: Mukhari), Ashta Sambhu, Krishna Tandava, Ashta Nayika and Aditya Archana. During most of these segments, the stage was set at two levels with the inner part raised and filled with temple arches and columns.

Mangala Caranam is an invocatory dance dedicated to the Goddess Saraswati, goddess of revelation, song, myth, art and learning. The dance started off slow and sensual and surrounded with images of fluorescent, flying lotuses created by lighting in the background. This first dance is simple and introduces basic odissi movements such as sculptural poses, the chowka (square positions) and some bhava (expression).

The Pallavi was executed by four primary female dancers and one male dancer. This is mainly a pure dance exposition in which Ramli elaborates on the movements of odissi and the use of space. The poses in this segment were more challenging as they required the element of balance. Perhaps not quite warmed up yet, some of the dancers struggled to keep that balance. In a series of lyrical movements, the tribhanga (three bends of head, torso and hip) was observed when the dancers were in movement as well as when stationary. As if to show a contrast, arm movements were not only circular and fluid, but also angular and interruptive.

This was followed by Ashta Sambhu, a piece on the god Siva that unveiled eight-fold forms describing his divine attributes and recounting his triumphs. This piece utilised only a very small space on stage and, except for entries and exits, the dancers mainly moved within the confines of the spotlight that shone on centre stage. Ramli was the male lead and was supported by some of the younger Sutra dancers to support him in a piece that involved substantial drama in telling the story of Siva.

“This piece is very masculine,” explained Ramli after the performance. “The dancers I selected have not had more than one and a half years of odissi training, hence they are still very pure in their approach. At this young age, they are also not that aware of their femininity yet.”

Krishna Tandava is a composition by the late Guru Deba Prasad Das whose parampara Ramli had inherited. It is a work that celebrates the god Krishna. This piece is most colourful in terms of costume. Both the male dancers, Ramli and Praveen Nair, wore headdresses of peacock feathers just like the one that adorned Krishna’s head in the paintings that were projected onstage before the piece began. Krishna was depicted by lifting both hands to the right side as if holding a flute. Flautist Abhiram Nanda, part of the live orchestra accompanying the performances, led this piece and took the opportunity to shrill the flute excitedly.

“Ramli’s style is outspoken, masculine, filled with adrenaline, crisp and dynamic,” said Geetha Shankaran, one of Ramli’s former students and now a full time odissi teacher at the Temple of Fine Arts.

Ramli is aware that others share the same opinion, hence his decision to insert a sensual piece, Ashta Nayika, during which eight female dancers enact the dramatic situations into which nayikas (heroines or maidens) get themselves.

This abhinaya (expressive) item – which was mostly the work of January Low, another Ramli student who has made a name for herself – was rather lengthy, not to mention difficult. The dancers have to display their mastery over the various rasa (moods), especially sringara (the mood of love), and use an intricate language composed of facial expressions, hand gestures, and body movements to convey their meaning. In this piece, the dancers interacted with each other. Sometimes, two events took place simultaneously (related or not), one on the front of the stage and the other on the raised platform behind.

This item is best watched in Sutra’s open-air theatre in Kuala Lumpur where the audience can be close to the dancers. At Istana Budaya, much of the mood of this piece was lost on those seated too far away to see the dancers properly, much less connect with them.

The last item, Aditya Archana, broke away from the conventional moksha (final item in an odissi performance). In form, it was different but in meaning, it paralleled the concept of liberation in Hinduism. The form it took is that of Ramli’s parampara: odissi with an infusion of modern dance and ballet, forms in which Ramli was trained.

“The modern and ballet training helps to improve our posture and make our bodies fitter. It provides the muscular conditioning that is absent in classical training,” said Low. “It helps us with spatial understanding.”
The theme in this concluding piece centred on worshipping the sun. The modern elements were used well to model an image of flickering sunrays and the ebb and flow of the ocean on which the sun shone in mid-rise. While some movements were beautifully reconstructed and restyled, one part of the sun salutation act looked too much like a convenient cut and paste of an entire yoga warm-up sequence.

Overall, the dancers exuded confidence on stage and were well rehearsed – though, perhaps, balance, body alignment and synchronisation could be improved on.

Noteworthy were the Orissan musicians: Sukanda Kumar Kundu (vocalist), Guru Dhaneswar Swain (mardal), Abhiram Nanda (flute), Niranjan Biswal (violin) and Swapneswar Chakraborty (sitar).

Monday, February 14, 2005

(R) Kissed on Valentine's Day

(... by a 3-ton lorry no less, last year. Already maleless and flowerless, that incident also rendered the author penniless and carless.

This year, still maleless and flowerless, she resolves to stay home and maintain her NCD.

Happy Valentine's everyone! @;-- )

Thursday, February 10, 2005

(R) Letter from Inland Revenue

Dear Break-A-Leg,

We regret to inform you that we are not able to yet again tax you this year due to insufficient revenue on your part.

Kindly work harder and make yourself useful, and duly fulfill your long overdue obligation to give back to the nation.

Thanks and regards,

(The letter is true but rephrased.... Meanwhile, the author has set up the Break-A-Leg Poverty Eradication Fund. She welcomes ang pows especially this time of the year. Thanks and Happy Chinese New Year! :) )

Monday, February 07, 2005

(T) Feb 4, 2005 - Hamlet

Cerita Hamlet yang dipentaskan baru-baru ini oleh Actor’s Studio merupakan versi yang bukan sahaja dimodenkan malah dimuhibahkan; tetapi, yang paling berani, di“bahasamelayu”kan. Ini merupakan kali ketiga Faridah Merican mementaskan Hamlet dalam Bahasa Melayu.

Usaha ini boleh dikatakan “berani” kerana sudah kita tahu bahawa makna sebenar sesebuah karya akan mudah hilang dalam proses penterjemahan.

Dan “berani” kerana sudah kita tahu bahawa sesebuah puisi ataupun sajak yang dipena dalam sesuatu bahasa seringkali dihasilkan dalam konteks patos dan budaya tempat dimana penulis berasal.

Hamlet, dalam bentuk asalnya, diiktiraf sebagai salah satu hasil kerja Shakespeare yang paling masyur kerana kemahiran bahasanya. Beberapa frasa dalam karya ini merupakan yang paling popular dan paling banyak digunakan dalam teater ataupun dalam percakapan harian.

Misalnya, frasa “To be, or not to be: that is the question...” telah diterjemahkan sebagai, “Bertindak atau tidak? Itulah persoalannya” dan bukannya “Jadi atau tak jadi? Itulah persoalannya?” dimana “bertindak” adalah lebih tepat berbanding dengan “jadi” dalam konteks ucapan Hamlet tersebut. Namun demikian, terdapat juga beberapa bahagian yang tidak sempurna terjemahannya.

Jadi, bagi saya, orang yang paling penting dalam produksi ini ialah Penulis Skrip yang boleh membuat penterjemahan dan penulisan semula yang setepat-tepatnya dapat menginterpretasikan objektif dan makna disebalik pengarahan Hamlet dalam Bahasa Melayu. Tetapi, peliknya, peranan ini tidak dinyatakan dalam program.

Tugas Sobri Anuar sebagai Pelatih Dialog memang mencabar. Watak-watak utama – Hamlet (Gavin Yap), Claudius (Reza Zainal Abidin) dan Polonius (Patrick Teoh) - dalam produksi ini dimainkan oleh pelakon-pelakon yang lebih senang dengan Bahasa Inggeris. Selain itu, dia perlu melatih pelakon menutur Bahasa Melayu seperti yang ditutur oleh pelbagai bangsa – Melayu, Cina dan India.

Bimbingannya yang baik menonjol apabila pelakon-pelakon Hamlet cukup fasih dan lincar penuturan mereka. Gavin Yap, terutamanya, berjaya mengkagumkan para audien dengan persembahannya yang baik, manakala Patrick Teoh dan Christina Orow jelas menggagap. Oleh itu, kualiti penuturan dan sekaligus kualiti lakonan adalah saling menjejas.

Kebanyakan dialog diucap terlalu pantas. Kemungkinan besar penterjemahan yang tidak tepat menghasilkan ayat-ayat yang begitu panjang berbanding dengan bahasa asalnya dan untuk menghabiskan persembahan dalam masa yang suntuk, pelakon-pelakon terpaksa berucap dengan begitu pantas. Malah, ada juga babak yang dikeluarkan untuk memendekkan jangka masa persembahan. Malangnya, audien susah menikmati atau menghargai pementasan ini apabila dialog tidak dapat ditangkap.

Selain daripada itu, terdapat juga masalah dengan penggunaan bahasa. Sebaiknya, bahasa yang indah tidak harus dicemari. Misalnya, jika bahasa istana digunakan, maka seluruh ayat ataupun dialog tersebut haruslah mempunyai sifat tersebut dan tidak harus dicampuradukkan dengan bahasa rakyat.

Walaubagaimanapun, pengecualian diberi apabila penggunaan bahasa disengajakan untuk menghasilkan kesan kelucuan. Misalnya, apabila Si Penggali Kubur (Nell Ng) mencampuradukkan Bahasa Cina dalam penggunaan Bahasa Melayu.

Jika tidak disengajakan untuk tujuan jenaka, kelucuan akan tetap timbul tetapi tidak kena pada tempatnya. Misalnya, dalam babak terakhir dimana semua watak mati, Horatio, dalam penggunaan dialeknya telah menimbulkan kelucuan yang tidak sesuai dengan suasana tragis itu.

Contoh tersebut hanya merupakan salah satu daripada beberapa contoh yang menyebabkan Hamlet, yang sepatutnya sebuah “tragedi”, dikomedikan dan terus hilang unsur-unsur tragis yang perlu untuk melahirkan perasaan simpati terhadap watak Hamlet serta memberi rasa tragedi kepada pementasan ini.

Tidak salah jika memasuki unsur-unser jenaka dalam pementasan ini. Horatio (Wan Kanari Ibrahim) dan Pelakon-Pelakon Upahan (Joseph Gonzales dan Nell Ng) telah berjaya menggunakan jenaka dengan baik untuk menceriakan keseluruhan persembahan.

Dari segi perwatakan, Gavin sebagai Hamlet berjaya menimbulkan konflik dalaman yang dihadapi watak tersebut. Sharifah Amani Yahya yang mengambil watak Ophelia tidak dapat menonjolkan perbezaan yang ketara dalam wataknya sebelum dan selepas kematian ayahnya, Polonius. Cara percakapan dan sifatnya, serta jatuh naik nadanya hampir sama melainkan ia lebih kuat atau lebih cepat sahaja (selepas kematian Polonius).

Joseph nampaknya lebih sesuai untuk watak yang lucu. Tetapi sebagai ‘hantu’, dia gagal menimbulkan rasa seram dan serius dalam babaknya. Watak Horatio, yang dipegang oleh Wan Kanari Ibrahim, yang sepatutnya lebih intelektual. Ini tidak disebabkan oleh lakonan yang buruk tetapi kerana penggunaan dialek yang dengan tidak sengaja menyifatkannya sebagai seorang yang lebih kasar dan lucu.

Dalam teater moden, seseorang Pengarah sudah pasti akan menggunakan peralatan-peralatan moden untuk menimbulkan suasana yang sesuai untuk mengindahkan lagi pementasan. Oleh kerana teks Hamlet sudah kaya dengan kiasan, maka penghiasan pentas, pencahayaan serta kostum boleh diringkaskan.

Unsur-unsur moden tertera dalam penghiasaan pentas (pentas atas pentas yang bertangga dan putih), kostum (baju kontemporari) dan peralatan lakonan (senapang).

Muzik yang digunakan yang terdiri daripada pelbagai alat-alat paluan sesuai untuk versi Hamlet yang disesuaikan untuk rasa tempatan. Akan tetapi, komposisi yang sama diulangi dalam beberapa babak. Sudah nyata tidak banyak masa diluang menyesuaikan muzik dengan babak.

Pengarahan Faridah kali ini kelihatan longgar dan beliau perlu lebih prihatin dalam segala aspek produksi. Bagi kumpulan teater yang profesional, sudah tentu audien mengharapkan pementasan yang lebih bermutu.

Begitulah kritikan untuk Hamlet....

Jika tidak sekarang, kemudian datangnya; jika tidak kemudian, sekarang datangnya, namun datangnya pasti.”


(...nasib baik tak buang Kamus Dwibahasa you....)

(D) Jan 29, 2005 - Bharatanatyam Ipoh

AN arts connoisseur living in the Klang Valley can usually indulge in a veritable feast of visual and performing arts events throughout the year. Arts practitioners, too, have it pretty good: the population is large enough that there is a real demand for the arts, there is exposure to works of international standard, even enough money around for some artistes to work full time at their craft.

If you're trying to pursue your passion outside the Klang Valley, though, it's a different story.
Ask Sri Santiago Samathanam and Sudha Sasikumar, principals of Natyakalamandhir and Nritya Kalanjali dance schools respectively in Ipoh.

Santiago juggles a full time job, time with his family, and teaching dance and running the school. Sudha, who joined her husband when he was posted to Kuala Lumpur three years ago, travels north twice a week to teach her students.

These two principals' schools are among the more active of the handful of classical Indian dance schools in Perak with both teachers sending their students to Kuala Lumpur to take part in public performances, such as Alarippu to Moksha 2005. In its fourth year, this annual event organised by Ramli Ibrahim's Sutra Dance Theatre showcases students from classical Indian dance schools around the country.

It was a welcome opportunity for these students to perform, and a rare one at that. While there are opportunities to perform in Ipoh, of course, they tend to be limited to corporate and state functions, say the teachers. In a dancer's long journey towards growth, maturity and perfection, much more needs to be done and experienced.

They need events like Alarippu to Moksha (which, by the way, means “from the beginning to the end”) to give them sorely needed exposure to what's happening in their field so they can grow. This is the third consecutive time students from Santiago's school are taking part, and the principal says he has, indeed, seen tremendous improvement in his students.

“When my students watch students from other schools perform and interact with other teachers, they learn more and mature with the exposure,” he said.

Indeed, it was Santiago's students who gave one of the more innovative performances in this year’s Alarippu to Moksha. Keen to expand new ideas within bharatanatyam, he infused a Christian theme into the classical Indian dance form in a piece called Christubhagavatam.

His piece is an extension of the pioneering efforts of Indian dancer Dr Francis Barboza, who began exploring Christian themes through bharatanatyam in 1980 and created Christian hasta (gestures) for the principle figures in Christianity. These hastas were carefully applied in Santiago’s production, which detailed the life of Jesus Christ from birth till resurrection.

While Santiago's piece explored new gestures, Sudha’s focused more on expression. Bhavna (meaning “expression”), which showcased the young talent emerging from her rank of senior students, challenged the dancers' ability to express subtle nuances with composure and dignity.

Both pieces showed just why these teachers have made names for themselves in the northern region.

For Sri Santiago Samathanam, teaching classical Indian dance in Ipoh is a labour of love.Santiago, who has been teaching for 20 years, is now a guru to 35 students and hopes to establish a natya (dance) ashram where all dance enthusiasts can learn this divine art and transcend relifious, racial and language barriers.

Sudha founded Nritya Kalanjali in 1996 and has, over the years, produced some of the most promising young talents in the region, dancers who have won awards and accolades for their polished performances.

“Some parents still feel that dance would get in the way of studies. However, this is not true,” said Sudha firmly. “Dance, in fact, gives the child mental relaxation and physical fitness. A child who dances is very focused and disciplined. One of my older students scored seven A’s for her PMR last year. In fact, in India, it is not uncommon to find that some of the more established dancers are PhD holders and doctors,” she pointed out.

But things are changing, she notes, saying that parents are becoming aware of the importance of cultivating an interest in art and culture in their children.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

(M) January 25, 2005 - Classic vs Modern, Chinese Classical Orchestra

An interest in blow jobs led me to one of the most exhilarating experiences in my life – playing the Di Zhi (Chinese flute) for a wonderful 2 years with University Malaya’s Classical Chinese Orchestra.

Attending their concert for the first time this year after many years brought back fond memories. They have grown leaps and bounds, I thought, beaming a little with pride.

The orchestra was initiated by a small group of twenty students in 1967 who were members of the Chinese Language Society at the university. They were led by Mr Ng Chun Poh, a lecturer from the Mathematics department of the Science Faculty. Ng, a competent Erhu player, was both teacher and conductor to the small group.

As the years grew, the orchestra was recognised by the Cultural Centre of University Malaya and came under its wing in 1981. Besides the annual concert and Music Camp, their activities have extended to playing for other university events such as Orientation Night and Tanglung Festival. With its member base growing as well as its activities, the Chinese Cultural Society was formed last year (2004) to manage the orchestra better.

In the early years, the orchestra faced with many challenges. Not only did they not have proper place to practice, they also could not afford to purchase all the instruments that makes up an orchestra. Over the years, they’ve held concerts to raise funds, and have now managed to acquire most of the musical instruments. They now possess a complete range of string, woodwind and percussion instruments.

The availability of these instruments has many important consequences. First, more students have the opportunity to learn and they can select the instrument of their choice. Secondly, it allows the orchestra the flexibility to perform many more pieces that would otherwise not be possible with a limited range of instruments. This, of course, contributed to the growth and maturity of the musicians.

The Orchestra was certainly aware and took full advantage of this in their offerings in this years’ concert themed Classic vs. Modern.

The night began with the full-scale orchestra presenting four Chinese classical pieces: Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower), Muk Min Sin Ge (New Shepherd Song), Yit Jek Siow Niu (A Little Bird) and Ping Guo Fung Nien (Abundance of Apples).

For the first song, the musicians were probably not warmed up yet as the sounds from the Erhu was evidently slightly off-tune. Nonetheless, the gentle bounce that came with the plucking of the Erhu and the most beautiful sounds coming from the Yang Qin lead made this an overall pleasant piece.

In the second piece the Di Zhi was initially drowned by the excited Erhus but a soloist of the former instrument who managed to produce the sound of a horse neighing, more than made up for it.

The third song was festive, just like the upcoming Chinese New Year. The two Yang Qin players managed speed and accuracy well especially towards the end of this lively piece.

And the fourth song sees an interesting Di Zhi trio, each player with a flute of different key.

The Orchestra then retreated leaving behind the Strings - that comprise of a Cello lead, 2 Bass, 2 Yang Qin, a handful of Pipas and Ruans, and Erhus – to tackle two Western pieces. It was interesting to hear how the Classical Chinese instruments tackle pieces from a different tonal system from theirs.

They did not do so well with Danzez De Panama. The lack of collective precision of the Erhus made the sound drag unnecessarily. Canon, a safe choice, was opened by the Yang Qin and a Cello, and was later joined in by the other string instruments. The sharper sound of the violins was replaced by the more mellow Erhus. The net effect was quite beautiful.

The piece that truly impressed was Ching She (Emotions). It sounded as if it came out directly from a Zhang Yimou movie! A movie score in nature, the musicians successfully carried the storytelling and cinematic elements to great effect.

The last three pieces presented a different style altogether – Chinese Opera. This time, the Percussion and Woodwind team came out in full force in Wu Shou (Wu Shu), Chin Teow (Opera Tune) and Lan Hua Chau (Lan Fah Grass).

Although there is still more work to be done to hone the skills of the student musicians, kudos to the conductor, Stephanie Lem, who challenged them to attempt versatility and perfection with bravado.

(The author deliberately joined the Classical Chinese Orchestra to de-banana-nise herself. She is still half ripe….)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

(T) June 25, 2003 - Rashomon

As human beings, we struggle with the many perceptions of truth everyday. What then is "truth"? That was the timeless and uncomfortable question thrown at our face in the play Rashomon currently playing at the Actors Studio Bangsar.

Rashomon, written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa and adapted for stage by Joe Hasham and directed and produced by Faridah Merican, is a story about the murder of a samurai, the rape of his wife, and the confession of a bandit. The story explores man’s shortcomings with universal themes such as lust, greed, vanity, honesty, and cowardice.

The genius of Akutagawa, who is blessed with a keen insight into the complexities of human condition and the darker dimensions of human character, also left him a despaired and tortured soul, which resulted in him committing suicide at the age of 35.

He left behind a great intellectual literature in the works of Rashomon.

The play transpired at Kyoto's crumbling Rashomon gate, where several people sought shelter from the pelting rain and while waiting for it to subside, found conversation in discussing a recent crime.

Told through conflicting testimony of witnesses, including the spirit of the murdered samurai, the play demonstrated that facts could have many facets coloured by intentions and perceptions of individuals.

Faridah, who once played the role of the wife in a version of Rashomon staged in the 1970s directed by Abdullah Zainol, was inspired to bring to play to life again after watching a staging of In A Grove last year, a story also by the same author, Akutagawa.

She brought together actors and performers from Malay, Chinese and English performance art disciplines.

The cast include talents such as Ramli Hassan (voice of King Chulalongkhorn in 20th Century Fox's "Anna and the King") as Tajomaru the bandit, Ari Ratos (last seen in 'The Importance of Being Earnest' and 'Ubu Roi') as the Samurai, Merrisa Teh (most recently seen in 'Stories for Amah') as the Wife, and Lee Swee Keong (much acclaimed Butoh choreographer of Nyobah & Dancers) as the Monk. Equally capable are Ceacar Chong (the Court Officer), Terence Swampillai (Woodcutter 1), and Mark Wong (Woodcutter 2).

Joe Hasham's inspiration for his adaptation came primarily from Akira Kurosawa's film version of Rashomon and Takashi Kojima's translation of Akutagawa's original work.

He created an additional character, The Gatekeeper, played by Gan Hui Yee, who plastered herself to the remaining pillar of the crumbling Rashomon gates, while removing herself on and off to speak in rhyming couplets. Then we have the Monk's disciples played by Kiea Kuan Nam and Ian Yang who fleeted in and out of the scenes in a ghostly manner.

As the rogue bandit, Tajomaru, Ramli's performance was most commendable. In each of the four versions (of the narrations), he presented himself unmistakably as the same man but yet subtle differences. Though always a bandit, he was a bandit in love, a bandit with honour, a merciless bandit, or a bandit manipulated by the cunning words of the Wife.

Merissa Teh portrayed the Wife brilliantly. Her character varied the most from narrative to narrative. She is all that a woman chooses to be - wholesome, treacherous, sexy, sympathetic, shameful, or vicious. Seen from various perspectives, she is a victim, a manipulator, an innocent, or a vixen.

Ari, as the Samurai, was a tad too calm and emotionless as he watched his wife being raped by another man. Only his 'spirit' displayed some fiery emotions as he relayed his own death.

The character of the Monk was modified to give the whole play a more aesthetic twist. As the director and cast were exploring the characters during practice sessions, they found it more fitting that Lee coming from a Chinese background should bring out, rather than subdue his cultural and linguistic ability. Hence, the role of the Monk was fashioned as a scholar who speaks in Mandarin.

It does not matter that not everyone could understand the language - the gentleness and calmness of his speech, typical of a Monk, added poetry to the play.

And being a play of Japanese origin, the Japanese language was also used and spoken by the unseen Judge in the Court scenes.

The play began and ended with the Monk guiding his disciples in movements that seemed like a blend of Butoh (dance) and Tai Chi. Since these three actors are talented dancers in their own right, what better way than to exploit expression and story-telling than with graceful dance.

The manipulation of time sequence in the play was superb with the past and present seamlessly woven. Within a scene, the story unfolds, moving forward and flashing back at recollections all at the same time. This was done without change in the set but rather with the help of theatre lighting design by light maestro, Mac Chan.

There was no changes in the set, and that meant that the lighting was also responsible for the smooth transition from location to location. The audience was transported from the gates of Rashomon, to the Court, to the forest where the murder took place, and even briefly, to hell. The lights cast on the bamboo trunks not only created a semblance of leaves gently wavering in the wind, but also an illusion of movement as the Samurai and his Wife traverse the forest.

When it came to choice of colours, there were plenty of greens and reds lit at different levels of intensity. In scenes of conflict, Mac contrasted intense green and red on each sides of the bamboo, which also resulted in very strong shadows as well.

The permanent set was a blend of new and old, designed with the flexibility to be all of the above locations at any one time. Looming in the back is a curtain of bamboos and hidden mechanisms to create the special effect of rain. The impression of straight vertical lines created by the vertically hung bamboos and rain pouring downwards gave a contemporary feel to the set.

On the right, the remaining pillar of Rashomon's gate still stands whereas the other had fallen. The stage floor was scattered with dried leaves. The pillars and stage floor were coloured in fades of grey - a subtle reminder of ruin and moral decadence.

Live music was an important aspect of the play. Led by none other than the gifted Bernard Goh, founder of Hands Percussion Team, he brought the play to life with his original compositions. Like the traditional Japanese Noh theatre, he made the flute and percussion instruments key accompaniments to the play. The small ensemble, sitting by the stage, was made up of a guitar, an electronic keyboard, Chinese flutes (Di Zhi), a Gambang, and several Chinese percussion instruments.

The production took creative liberties with its costumes. The designs, although contemporary, were distinctly Japanese. Costume designer, Cinzia Ciaramicoli, took pains to create the beautiful Samurai’s costume whose long glittery robe flowed gracefully in fight scenes. The sleeves of the Wife’s costume ended with an oval shape held together by metal wiring, giving the outfit a futuristic look.

Overall, the play was put together very well. For its realism, some scenes may not be suitable for young children but it's a play every adult should not miss.

It is worth mentioning that, today nearly a century later, the story (written in 1915) lost none of its fascination or power. The universal and timeless theme of man's shortcomings still prevails and in this sense, Rashomon is a must-see classic.

It's definitely an enjoyable eighty minutes.