Thursday, June 30, 2005

(R) Institute for Dance Criticism, American Dance Festival 2005

Dear Break-a-Leg,

Congratulations! You have been accepted as a Fellow for the American Dance Festival's 2005 (ADF) Institute for Dance Criticism (IDC) funded by the National Endowment of the Arts.

As a participant in the IDC, you will be among a group of passionate but poverty-stricken journalists who are willing to immerse themselves in dance and writing about dance.

The Institute will be held from Saturday, June 25th through Friday, July 15th. Though you will only be at ADF for a portion of the season, the Institute's schedule is designed to maximize the number of performances you will see. These will include the Festival of the Feet (II), Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company (Argentina), Emanuel Gat Dance (Israel), Compagnie Kafig (France), Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and Battleworks Dance Company. Among the numerous other activities at ADF, you will also attend screenings of the 10th Anniversary of Dancing for the Camera Festival.

There is of course, no such thing as free lunch. After watching, you are expected to write a review of each performance. Be prepared to strip bare and deflate your ego for your work will be thoroughly scrutinised. Bring compact powder to cover-up red face.

In addition, we will also look at videos, attend lectures from a wide range of professionals working in the dance field, work with guest critics, hold discussions with choreographers in residence at ADF, attend rehearsals, and observe classes.

You'll get to experience (serve you right) movement and (serve you right again!) choreography classes. Beware - whenever you feel like a bad review, you may experience flashes of these appreciation classes.

A constant theme running through the fellowship applications was the desire to find a repriece from the isolation (which dulls the mind) in which most dance critics find themselves working, and to do this in an environment in which we are walking, talking, eating, sleeping, and dreaming dance. Note that your schedule will be quite full.

The workshop is a demanding experience so come rested and prepared to work your butts off.


The Facilitator

(Break-a-Leg is Malaysia's first dance critic and blogger awarded the IDC Fellowship by ADF. But damn it, a Singaporean journalist beat her to it 2 years ago! **A few changed were made to the acceptance letter.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

(D) June 19, 2005 - Jamu (II) 2005

The dance started with a gentle stir, just as a storm begins from deceptively calm conditions. Beginning close to the floor, it slowly built up into more explosive movements and exuberant leaps – just as a storm would build in violence.

The weather references are irresistible as Varsha, the name of the piece, means “rain”. Indeed, it was starkly clear that the dance revolved around the strength and fury of Mother Nature.

Varsha was one of the pieces created by Umesh Shetty for Inside Out, a music and dance event earlier this year that marked the debut of Inner Space, the Temple of Fine Arts’s newly formed professional performing wing founded by Umesh and three musicians.

Umesh, who is also a lecturer in Akademi Seni Kebangsaan’s dance department, presented the piece again at Jamu II, the second of three instalments of the academy’s contemporary dance performance series. In this second part, as in the first, the works of three dance lecturers were featured. This time, it was Umesh, A. Aris A. Kadir, and Loke Soh Kim.

(By the way, I felt Jamu II came along just a tad too soon after Jamu I, which was held only a month ago; it was heartening, however, to see that audience numbers had grown.)

Varsha, which started the evening off, had most of the elements of good choreography, including a good combination of solo, duet and group sequences. It was interesting how Umesh used different parts of the body to lead off movements. In one of the many jumps, for example, the elbow was lifted skywards first, almost seeming to pull the body after; a turn was led off by the head and then followed by the body.

The element of progression was used well: a dancer, or a row of dancers, would initiate a series of movements, which would be picked up by another dancer, or another row of dancers. In different scenes, this evoked beautifully the movement of leaves blown about by the wind, and of waves crashing to shore.

Also interesting was how Umesh, who trained in classical Indian dance, wove elements of bharatanatyam into this contemporary piece: the end of the “storm” was marked with a vibrant tillana (a series of quick movements set to a fast tempo) that eased gracefully into calmness.

Varsha was performed by some of the more experienced dancers in Malaysia. Strangely, however, the presentation last Saturday seemed almost messy. When synchronisation was obviously required, it just didn’t happen. I wonder what the story is behind that?

Dari Diri Dewi was choreographed by A. Aris A. Kadir. Using elements of Mak Yong (mostly dance and music, with a little bit of acting and singing), he attempted to present the feelings of a person under duress and experiencing fear and tension.

The dance was accompanied by live traditional music (rebab and percussion) played by the academy’s music department students. The lead dancer was dance department student Nik Nur Azlina Nik Ibrahim; she was supported by her classmates.

Dari Diri Dewi began with the Nur Azlina rendering a brief mengadap rebab (paying respect to the rebab, a Middle Eastern violin, and to the spirit of Mak Yong) followed by exaggerated Mak Yong dance movements. A multimedia segment followed with images of fireworks projected onto white cloths held by dancers that glided on and off the stage.

While that razzled and dazzled, I thought the best part of this piece were the mask scenes. Dancers, holding a mask and wearing one each, came to lure Nur Azlina to the “dark side”; finally, surrounded by these visually captivating masks, the dancer succumbed.

It seems Aris wanted to “reveal the individual at an emotional level”. Unfortunately, though, I feel the dance was more about the spiritual realm. It was heavy on symbolism specific to Malay rituals, which made it difficult for the layperson to appreciate the richer meaning it tried to convey.

Watermelon Juice and Durian In a Wheelbarrow by Loke Soh Kim simply delighted the senses. The choreographer successfully teased sight, touch, taste and smell with the fruit-inspired pieces. Both performances were characterised by humour, fruit-eating, and the horizontal line formation with which each began and ended.

In Watermelon Juice, the dancers were practically violent in handling the juicy fruit. Quite a number of watermelons were “sacrificed” for this performance as the dancers smashed slices of the melons onto their heads and the floor. They also drenched themselves in watermelon juice, turning their white shirts red.

In the second piece, the pungent smell of durians heralded the spiky fruits’ entrance in a wheelbarrow. The dancers moved slowly and gently. After all, thorny issues needed to be handled delicately.

At first, they savoured the fruit, but then they began to choke and “vomit”. The lesson the durian-obsessed dancers wanted to share was that being greedy has consequences.

This second instalment of the Jamu series was an improvement. I’m quite looking forward to third later in the year.

Monday, June 13, 2005

(D) Asia Pacific International Dance Conference

Conference Title: Asia Pacific International Dance Conference
Conference Theme: Global and Local: Dance in Performance
Date: 8th – 10th July 2005
Convener and Organiser: Cultural Centre University of Malaya
Co-Organiser: Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, MyDance Alliance and World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific
Conference Site: Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre

The conference is open to public and interested individuals are invited to obtain the registration form from the APIDC Secretariat, Cultural Centre, University Malaya. The conference fee of RM400 includes a copy of the published monograph, coffee breaks, and tickets to the Malaysian Dance Festival 2005 Performances (showcase and evening performance) at the KLPAC. For more information, please call 7967 3458.


This conference will situate and position the Cultural Centre University of Malaya as the premier academic and scholarly centre for dance studies in Malaysia and the Asia Pacific Region as it is set to offer undergraduate dance degree program from 2005. The present post graduate dance degree program will also benefit tremendously with the convergence of dance scholars in the proposed international dance conference. The Cultural Centre has set a good precedent as a dance studies centre when it organised and convened the first local dance conference Diversity in Motion in 2003, which was co-organised by the Cultural Centre University of Malaya and MyDance Alliance as part of the Malaysian Dance Festival 2003 and the World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific Annual General Meeting. A book containing all the papers presented in the 2003 conference was published by the Cultural Centre University of Malaya and has become an important resource material for dance studies in Malaysia.

The proposed international dance conference is aimed at internationalising dance studies in Malaysia pioneered by the Cultural Centre University of Malaya. It will also position the university as a regional centre for performance arts studies.

Objectives of Conference:

The Asia Pacific International Dance Conference is set to benchmark the standard of dance scholarship in the Asia Pacific region while enabling the Cultural Centre University of Malaya to become the centre for such discourses. It will also enabled the Cultural Centre to forge international linkages with international institution of higher learning in dance and the performing arts through the presence of international and local scholars in this conference who are members of the ICTM (International Council for Traditional Music), CORD (Congress on Research in Dance), WDA-AP (World Dance Alliance-Asia Pacific), SEM (Society for Ethnomusicology) and UNESCO.

The presence of an international interlocutor who is currently a Professor of Ethnochoreology and Ethnomusicology at the Cultural Centre will generate interest amongst dance scholars to participate in this conference, hitherto, positioning the Cultural Centre as an international centre for dance studies. The interlocutor, Professor Dr. Mohd Anis Md Nor, is the current President of the World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific and heads an international dance organisation with a constituent that embraces the entire Asia Pacific region. He is also the current chair of the sub-study group for Dance Ritual Complexities within the International Council of Traditional Music (ICTM) Study Group on Ethnochoreology and a sub study group member of Dance Iconography that engages renowned ethnochoreologists at the international level. As an international advisory board member for IWAI (Islamic World Arts Initiative) of the prestigious Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for Islamic Arts, he is well connected to invite scholars to the international dance conference. As the curator of the said conference, he will be in the position to link the Cultural Centre University of Malaya to international dance organisations and other regional institutions of higher learning to achieve the objectives as mentioned above.

To situate and privilege the Cultural Centre as the premier information centre for dance studies in Southeast Asia, a monograph containing all the papers presented in this conference will be published ahead of the conference date and will be launched at the opening ceremony of the conference. The monograph, which will be edited by Professor Dr. Mohd Anis Md Nor and published by the Cultural Centre University of Malaya, will add to the previously published monographs on dance. The earlier monographs are Diversity in Motion (2003), Asian Dance: Voice of the Millennium (2000) and Asia Pacific Dance Research Society Database (1999).

The convener of this conference would also wish to propose that this conference be included in the University of Malaya’s 100th Year Celebration in 2005.

Format of Conference:

The conference will run for three consecutive days from 09:00 hrs to 16:00 hrs at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre. Conference participants will participate in the Malaysian Dance Festival 2005 by attending dance showcase performances from 16:30 hrs to 18:00 hrs at the Kuala Lumpur Performance Arts Centre (KLPAC) and attend dance performance by local and international collaborators at KLPAC from 20:00 hrs to 22:00 hrs. All showcase and evening performances are to be organised by MyDance Alliance.

Three key note speakers will be invited to speak in a keynote panel. The key note addresses will set the thematic premise that frames the deliberations of the said conference.

There shall be panels presentation organised by the respective networks within the World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific namely, panels on Education and Training, Creation and Presentation, Research and Documentation, Status and Welfare, and Management and Promotion. At least three paper presenters will be solicited from each of the five networks while several independent speakers will join as paper presenters.

All paper presenters will be given 20 minutes to deliver their papers and 10 minutes for Question and Answer session. Each session will run for 1 ½ hour and shall consist of three papers being presented consecutively for the total duration of 60 minutes and a Question and Answer section for the remaining 30 minutes. A moderator will be appointed amongst the paper presenters to moderate paper sessions.

Keynote Speakers and Paper Presenters

44 international and local paper presenters will be presenting their papers at this conference. Due to the overwhelming response to the conference announcement that was sent out in August 2004, the conference will be conducted in parallel sessions to accommodate all the speakers.

Keynote Speakers:

Professor Dr. Mohd Anis Md Nor

- “Global and Local: Research Trajectories in Dance Studies” (Malaysia; Professor Ethnochoreology and Ethnomusicology University Malaya)

Associate Professor Dr Cheryl Stock

- “Cocacolonisation of Difference: Homogenized Diversity” (Australia; Head of Dance, Queensland University of Technology)

Sadanand Menon
- title to be announced (India: Writer and Critic of Performing Arts)


Dance Education: Policies, Politics and Pragmatics

Professor Susan Street - “Seizing the Moment” (Hong Kong: Head of Dance, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts)
Ms. Anna C Y Chan - “Is Hong Kong ready? An imperative for dance education” (Hong Kong: Dance lecturer, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts)
Mr. Jeff Meiners - “Dance education policies and pragmatics” (Australia: University of South Australia)

Education Panel: Taiwan

1. Professor Chung-shiuan Chang “Dance perspectives within new school curriculum in Taiwan” (Taiwan: Dean of Dance, Taipei National University of Arts)
2. Ms. Su-ling Chou “K-12 Dance programs in Taiwan” (Taiwan: Director of Dance, Tsoying Senior High School, Taiwan)
3. Ms. Heng Ping “Revolutionary era for dance education in Taiwan” (Taiwan: Instructor, Dance Dept., Taipei National University of Arts)

Creation and Presentation

Maggi Phillips “A narrative of structure” (Australia: Lecturer, WA Academy of Performing Arts, Edith Cowan University)
Ms Mew Chang Tsing “RE: Lady White Snake – A reflection of its growth on the 10th year anniversary” (Malaysia: Part-time Lecturer, Cultural Centre University of Malaya & President of MyDance Alliance)
Ms. Caren Carino “Globalization’s exciting adventure; Intercultural dance production (Singapore)” (Singapore: PhD Candidate, National University of Singapore)

Dance Notation

Professor Judy Van Zile “Tools of trade: We don’t need hammers and saws” (USA: University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii)
Professor Yunyu Wang “Looking into labanotation in Taiwan” (Taiwan: Taipei University of Arts and Collorado College USA)
Ms Ilene Fox “A language for dance” (USA: Director, Dance Notation Bureau, New York)

Cloud Gate

Asst. Prof. Ya-ping Chen “The eastern invasion: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s Smoke” (Taiwan: College of Dance, Taipei National University of Arts)
Asst. Prof. Yatin Lin “Re-examining Cloud Gate’s Tale of the White Serpent within its cultural milieu of the 1970s” (Taiwan: Taipei National University of Arts)
Professor Judy Van Zile “Lin Hwai-Min: Beyond Cloud Gate” (USA: University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii)

Creative and Children Dance

Asst. Prof. Lauralee Zimmerly “Dance/movement education: Building pathways of learning in growing brains” (USA: Dance Dept., Idaho State University)
Professor Emeritus Marcia L. Llyod “Creative dance for children: Local and global perspectives” (USA: Idaho State University)
Ms. Stephanie Glickman “Finding a new demographic: How Chunky Move cultivated a younger audience for contemporary dance in Australia” (Australia: Dance Writer for The Herald Sun in Melbourne and a contributor to InPress, Kinesis and Dance Forum)

Dance Criticism

Professor Basilio Esteban Villaruz “The job-of-translation: Choreography into criticism” (Philippines: University of the Philippines)
Ms. Shizuka Theresa Yasuda “To be influential or not to be influential: Criticism in Japan and France” (Japan: Dance Critic and Freelance Writer in Paris and Tokyo)
Dr. Sal Murgianto “In Search of New Paths: Reinventing Tradition in Indonesian Dance” (Indonesia: Dance Critic and Associate Professor of Dance at the Jakarta Institute of Arts; STSI Indonesian College of Arts; and Taipei National University of the Arts)

Individual Papers:

Alex Dea “Reaching Beyond Collaboration” (Indonesia: Performance Artists, Jakarta, Jogjakarta and Surakarta)
Asst. Prof. Dr. Chao Chi-fang “Dance as the local resistance: On the development of contemporary dance in Taiwan in the early 20th century” (Taiwan: Center for Aboriginal Studies, National Dong Hwa University)
Mr. David Mead “Dance company outreach and performance” (England: PhD Candidate, UK)
Ms Helly Minarti “Eurasia; Second Asia-Europe Dance Forum politic of mis/understanding” (Indonesia: Dance Critic, Jakarta)
Maria Darmaningsih “Artsuku, Nusantara Cultural Rendezvous” (Indonesia: WDA Indonesia President and Dewan Kesenian Jakarta)
Assoc. Prof Dr. Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan joint presentation “Dance as ritual, dance as celebration – Tradition and change amongst the Bajau of Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia” (Malaysia: Khadazan-Dusun Chair, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Kota Kinabalu)
Ms. Judeth John Baptist joint presentation “Dance as ritual, dance as celebration – Tradition and change amongst the Bajau of Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia” (Malaysia: Researcher, Sabah Museum, Kota Kinabalu)
Mr. Hanafi Hussin joint presentation “Dance as ritual, dance as celebration – Tradition and change amongst the Bajau of Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia” (Malaysia: Lecturer, Dept. Of Southeast Asia Studies, Universiti Malaya)
Assoc. Prof Dr. Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan “Dance and drumming amongst the Huli of the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea – The ethnosemantics, structure and change of group performance in a culture of individuals” (Malaysia: Khadazan-Dusun Chair, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Kota Kinabalu)
Ms. Patricia Ann Hardwick “Bridging the secular and the sacred: Movement, metaphor and meaning of the Tarian Menghadap Rebab” (USA: PhD Candidate, University of Indiana, Bloomington, Indiana)
Ms. Premalatha Thiagarajan “Male dancers in the Malaysian Bharata Natyam dance scene” (Malaysia: MA candidate, Pusat Kebudayaan Universiti Malaya)
Dr. Stephanie Burridge “...Re: A question of context...” (Australia: Scholar and Writer, Canberra)
Mr. Sunil Kothari “Global and Local” (India: Writer and Critic, Chennai)
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Urmimala Sarkar Munsi “Acculturation and the dance repertoires of the traditional world: Post colonial development within the Indian context” (India: Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
Mr. Yukihiko Yoshida “Dance Database on German Expressionism by Semantic Associative Search Spaces for Art Dictionary and Ballet Dictionary” (Japan: PhD Candidate, Keio University, Tokyo)
Mr. Zulkifli Mohamad “Performing ‘angin’ from ‘main puteri’ healing” (Malaysia: PhD Candidate Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi)
Dr. Julianti Parani “Victim of globalization: Besale ritual dance of the Kubu tribe in Jambi” (Singapore: Senior Researcher NIE and NUS)
Ms. Yukie Shiroma “Konashi and the art of letting go: Maintaining the past as living tradition” (USA: Professional Theatre Director, Honolulu, Hawaii)
Ms. Vivienne Rogis “Same but different: Globalisation and Identity negotiated through inter-cultural dialogue in dance” (Australia: PhD Candidate, Melbourne)
Dr. Adrienne Kaeppler “Dance, dancing, and discourse” (USA: Curator for Oceania, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC)

Conference Committee

Patron: Vice Chancellor Universiti Malaya
Advisor: Director, Cultural Centre UM (CCUM)
Conference Director: Professor Dr. Mohd Anis Md Nor (CCUM)
Secretary: Mr. Hanafi Hussin (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences UM)
Committee Members:
Puan Norliza Rofli (SU Bahagian Kementerian Kebudayaan, Kesenian dan Warisan)
Ms Sunetra Fernando (CCUM)
Ms Mew Chang Tsing (CCUM and MyDance Alliance)
Ms Rina Tung Abdullah (CCUM)
Ms Premalatha Thiagarajan (CCUM)
Ms Mumtaz Begum Aboo Backer (CCUM)
Mr. Leng Poh Gee (CCUM)
Ms. Chan Sui Pheng (CCUM)

International Advisory Committee

Professor Dr Mohd Anis Md Nor (University of Malaya)
Professor Judy Van Zile (University of Hawaii)
Professor Yunyu Wang (Colorado College USA & TNUA Taipei)
Ms Julie Dyson (Secretary WDAAP and Ausdance)

Monday, June 06, 2005

(D) June 5, 2005 - Mew and Her Muses

IT was dance as autobiography, a presentation in dance form of a life and career and the people who impacted on both.

It was an intriguing concept indeed that was presented in Mew and Her Muses earlier this week at the spanking new Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.

Dancer Mew Chang Tsing, in a pre-recorded narration, dedicated the pieces in the programme to her muses in her life: Teoh Wen Xin (her daughter), Teoh Ming-Jin (her husband), Madam Surianty Liu Chun Wai (her dance teacher and mentor), Faridah Merican and Joe Hasham (from The Actors Studio), the Kwangsi Association, and her students.

In the first piece, My Little Muse, Mew brought her daughter, Xinnie (as she is fondly known), out on stage because she believes that everyone is born to dance. It was simply, joyously, a mother-daughter bonding session.

I’m Waiting for Him, about a village lass awaiting her beau, is a delightful Chinese dance choreographed by Mew during her days with the Kwangsi Association. In this solo presentation, Mew exuded emotion as she reminded us of the happy, carefree and innocent days of youth.

Which made what followed particularly disappointing: Leaving. Together and Rose were, at best, mediocre. Leaving. Together was a duet by Mew and Steve Goh, while Rose was performed by her students who no doubt did their best but who have not blossomed as mature dancers.

Eslilin, a solo piece, was choreographed by Liu for Mew a long time ago. Eslilin means a particular type of ice-cream in Sundanese – creamy and sweet on the outside, tough on the inside. What astonished me was how well the choreography suited Mew’s persona. It takes an ego-less dance guru indeed to produce a piece that does not impose on the dancer only what the choreographer wants.

The concluding piece, My Way, a solo item danced to (and entitled after) Frank Sinatra’s evergreen song of the same name supposedly explained how Mew feels at this stage of her life. She chose this challenging piece that required balance, flexibility and technique because it reflects the inner strength that she has gained through the years.

Though this piece had been performed many times before, this is by far the most emotional and heartfelt presentation. The audience could share her frustration, hurt, determination and resolve, and finally, personal satisfaction.

Personal journey aside, some may not be too a-"mused" at having to pay RM30 for a show that comprised old works woven together. The show simply said to me, “I’m inspired and I’m back”.

Well, welcome back Mew! Hopefully this is just a teaser to a new production that screams, “Here’s my new masterpiece!”

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.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

(D) May 29, 2005 - Jamu (I) 2005

When contemporary dance emerged in Malaysia in the 1970s, the trend was to mix and match Western and Eastern dance forms and to experiment with multidisciplinary styles. In this new millennium, however, the emphasis is on our own culture.

It was to Malaysian culture that choreograher Wong Kit Yaw turned for inspiration in coming up with his contribution to Jamu, the annual showcase of works by dance teachers at the Akademi Seni Kebangsaan. The performances took place two weeks ago at the academy's Experimental Theatre in Kuala Lumpur.

Specifically, Wong turned to the myriad rituals found in Malaysia. While some dances in themselves are rituals (especially traditional dance), Wong's approach was to build rituals into dance using cultural symbols. And to his credit, he did it tastefully.

Ritual I explores the Chinese death ritual. Death, at least within Chinese culture, is a taboo subject. Yet Wong's choreography managed to challenge how we "see" death by using visually captivating movements, exotic costumes and interesting props.

The conventional stiff, white mourning grab seen at Chinese funerals was transformed into barebacked, long, flowing white dresses; the six female dancers each held a white chrysantehmum, the symbol of rebirth, in the mouth.

The dancers began by scattering "paper money" on stage, their nonchalant movements contrasting with the "stiff" taboo topic and, thus, injecting humour into the morbid theme. The choice of music was also interesting. In the midst of eerie drones, a voice rapped out a familiar Buddhist chant. The effect was a remarkable mockery of our perception of death.

Ritual II was a mix of Indian, Chinese and Indonesian dance styles and rituals. While this part had a stronger dynamic, Wong tried to incorporate too many different elements into it, resulting in an unclear theme.

Apart from Wong, two other choreographers presented their works: Choo Tee Kuang presented Butterfly Lovers and Suhaimi Magi offered Tanpa Judul.

In interpreting the well-known Chinese legend, Butterfly Lovers, Choo used a very straigthforward storytelling approach - the story was related in (in Chinese and English) words projected onto a screen.

By choosing to use the full-length Liang Zhu Pipa Concerto unedited - all 28 minutes of it - Choo had to decide which parts of the story would be related through dance and which through multimedia. And these different parts had to be coordinated with the score.

According to Choo, he chose Amy Len (as Zhu Ying Tai) and Steve Goh (as Liang Sahn Bo) as his lead dancers because they have strong backgrounds in ballet and Chinese and contemporary dance. Len was the better of the pair because she exuded the right emotions while exhibiting good technique. Goh, however, was not able to hold up his end as an actor, especially during his solo in Falling Ill.

Choo's creativity shone in Forced Marriage. He used liberal splashes of red (the colour of celebration) in costumes and props to contrast joy with Zhu's misery. A red cloth, commonly used during Chinese weddings, hung above the stage and was cleverly used to represent a swing, a bed and a rope. Zhu's movements revolved around the red cloth, symbolising that she was tied to her destiny.

Suhaimi Magi's Tanpa Judul was disappointing. The fact that the piece had no title and no synopsis seemed an indication that not much thought had gone into it. Strangely, it looked as if bits and pieces salvaged during the academy's construction (a rubbish chute, a piece of zinc roofing and rocks) were used as props; and the academy's cafeteria might find some of its missing trays returned in bad order....

Until all works are consistent in quality, I would not be too liberal with the phrase "award-wnning" on posters and promotion materials. The mark of progress is continuous improvement and not complacency with past achievements.