Monday, September 19, 2005

(D) Sept 18, 2005 - TARI '05

Magic Box
Picture From The Star

TALK about getting your money’s worth. Tari ‘05’s three-and-a-half-hour gala night in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday packed in performances from 15 performing arts institutions from the Asia Pacific region.

Hosted by Akademi Seni Kebangsaan and themed Dance in Tertiary Education, the weeklong Tari ‘05 welcomed over 115 international guests and 100 local participants. Seminars and workshops provided the intellectual platform. Performances by established and highly reputable performing arts institutions provided the magic, with the gala night showcasing both complete items as well as excerpts from performances held during the preceding week.

While most of the contemporary works on the night used improvisation as a starting point, Magic Box by Taiwan’s Tsoying High School (under the aegis of Tso’s Dance Association) stood out. The piece was inspired by Maurice Ravel’s romantic classical composition, Bolero. The duet explored the relationship between a “magician” and his “object” of manipulation. One dancer played the magician and the other, the object, in a unique, captivating, magical game that, mid-way through, had them exchanging roles to great effect.

New Zealand’s University of Auckland and Institut Kesenian Jakarta framed contemporary dance with tradition with the former offering Pacific Voices, a 'contemporary Sa Sa (Sa Sa - a Samoan dance form) and the latter performing Manuhara, a 'contemporary Legong (Legong - a Balinese dance form)'.

The Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts and Edith Cowan University presented Baraqoda, a ballet-based contemporary piece. The theatrical piece used a multimedia backdrop and had the dancers in 17th century Western costume.

The University of Philippines’ Department of Dance surprised many with its selection, the only neo-classical ballet item in the programme. The dance, entitled Mosque Baroque, had the boldness of Vaslav Nijinsky’s famed Rite of Spring – the lead dancer, for instance, deliberately flexed her foot when it was supposed to be en pointe and other characters executed movements outside the ballet vocabulary. With their flowing pastel costumes, these dancers certainly added colour and grace to the stark stage in Akademi Seni Kebangsaan’s Experimental Theatre.

While contemporary might have ruled the night, the classical was not entirely overlooked: Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University’s Department of Dance performed a classical Thai piece entitled Mekhala-Ramasoon while the Indian Council for Cultural Relations presented a piece entitled eponymously after its genre, Kathak.

One of the rarest treats of the night was Apsara, a classical Khmer dance presented by Cambodia’s Royal University of Fine Arts. This dance style was almost lost when the Khmer Rouge closed all educational, religious and cultural institutions in 1975 during their bloody, decades-long reign in that country.


Picture From The Star

Akademi Seni Kebangsaan’s Wirama concluded the night. An abstract of Ramayana, it is influenced by fundamental concepts of traditional South-East Asian dance known as wirama, wiraga and wirasa that have to do with the harmony, energy and patterns of movements.

All in all, it was a great night, capping an impressive week of dance-related events. Tari ‘05’s success has further established the academy’s position as the premier performing arts institution in Malaysia.

(D) Sept 16, 2005 - Stomp

Picture - From The Star

MOST of us have put up a home-made Stomp at some point in our lives. We just lacked the business sense to commercialise it. Well, good for creators Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas for cashing in on first-mover advantage. It is a great business model too – one fixed set, cheap props, basic lighting, no costumes, manageable labour cost, no royalty payments for music. And the audience pays (a lot) for innovation, creativity, wit and entertainment.

The show, ten thousand performances old, finally stomped into Istana Budaya Kuala Lumpur last Tuesday.

To put a foot down on what Stomp is, it is simply a combination of music, dance and theatre. The magic is in turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. American composer John Cage would be very proud of this production. While Cage had pioneered the use of non-music instruments to create music, Stomp made international success out of this concept. Percussion music is created by exploring the sound qualities of everyday items and a multitude of rhythms.

The dance borrows elements from the Wellington-boot dance most, such as stomping flat foot with boots and slapping the body to create sounds. Stomping is a common footwork across all types of percussion dance (tap, clog, flamenco, etc).

Then, weave in mime for visual comedy. The coordination between these three elements – and in good rhythm – is what’s most impressive about this show.

To begin, the performers swept the audience away with a bewitching broom dance. While demonstrating the many ways to sweep a floor, they also made housework look fun.

A delightful matchbox quartet ensued. The performers gently strummed, tapped, slapped and brushed their hands on their respective “instrument”.

The next item featured all eight dancers playing body percussionists. While the feet stomped, the hands slapped almost every part of the body to create sounds. The most amusing character of the eight was the Outcast, a short man who was the object of bully. This piece also included “the challenge” (typical of percussive dance) where each performer tried to outdo the other.

The creation of music now extended to the use of long rubber tubes of various lengths. When hit on the floor, it created a simple yet mesmerising melody.

Stomp’s noise experiment did not spare even the kitchen sink. It was a splash when four sink-bearing men displayed their mug-washing and sink-scrubbing antics.

Those antics gave way to a quiet but elegant piece featuring Zippo lighters. It was a well-coordinated light and sound show when the performers grouped together in the dark to flick the lighter open and shut.

On a more aggressive note, performers sparred in pairs with wooden poles. In another battle scene, two performers held dustbin lids (as shields) with both hands, mimicking gladiators.

Though entertaining and humorous at first, the element of surprise wore out towards the end when old tricks were repeated on different props – running out of noisemakers, the performers resorted to plastic and paper bags, pails and even newspapers.

The noise-level alternates between loud and soft but still, in an almost two-hour sitting, the ear can only tolerate so much. For those sitting near the stage, ear plugs may be necessary for some segments of the show. Otherwise, enjoy the racket and an evening of unique entertainment.

Monday, September 05, 2005

(D) Sept 2, 2005 - Angin & Kamu/Jij

It was love at first sight when an immigrant Indonesian girl (my mother) met blue-eyed, blond, Viking boy (my father) in the Netherlands,” said Gerard Mosterd, revealing his parentage.

The 41-year-old Netherlands-based choreographer presented two items, Angin and Kamu/Jij, in Kuala Lumpur last weekend. The show was presented by the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre and the Royal Netherlands Embassy, and supported by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage.

Mosterd studied classical ballet, contemporary and folk dance at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague for nine years. He also studied Tai Chi and elementary Javanese court dance. He then spent 11 years as a performing artiste with international dance companies before striking out on his own.

Mosterd constantly explores in his work the complexities and conflicts experienced in being raised Eurasian.

“I grew up in the Netherlands – my Indonesian mother indoctrinated me with Indonesian values like the concept of wayang (shadow). I learnt about humility and of ‘emptying’ myself by getting rid of my ego.

“This caused an inner conflict because my father taught me the opposite values – to be an extrovert and a leader, and to put myself in the limelight if I wanted to become successful,” he said.

His works reflect the twilight in which he was raised – between his mother’s “shadow” and his father’s “limelight” – and also the social environment in which he grew up in.

In general, there is a nostalgic feeling of love for Indonesia in the Netherlands because, as Mosterd puts it, “Indonesia was regarded as its beautiful daughter, who has to go her own way.”

In addition, the scars of history is still apparent amongst the Dutch East Indian society (the Indonesian immigrants forming a large Dutch-Indonesian community) in the Netherlands.

People of Dutch and mixed Dutch-Indonesian descent who were in Indonesia during World War II were particular targets of the Japanese occupation.

Angin is Mosterd and Japanese dancer, Shintaro-O-Ue’s, collaborative attempt to break the historical tension between the Dutch and the Japanese.

When Emperor Akihito visited the Netherlands in 2001, the Dutch East Indian citizens put up a fierce demonstration.

“I was motivated to answer the demonstration with an artistic statement to prove that as far as my (younger) generation is concerned, the war really is over. My plea was for them to enter a phase of reconciliation,” said Mosterd.

The 30-minute contemporary dance was performed by Singaporean, Amsterdam-based dancer Ming Wei Poon.

The Dutch East Indian society also has a profound influence on Dutch culture, particularly, Dutch literature. His latest piece, Kamu/Jij, premiered in the Netherlands April this year, is partly based on a famous 19th century colonial erotic thriller De Stille Kracht (The Hidden Force) written by Louis Couperus.

Couperus wrote, among other things, that there is a fundamental difference in world perception between Indonesians (Javanese) and Europeans and that both worlds would never be able to understand each other.

The piece, currently on tour in the Netherlands, focuses on the subject of double morality in the Indonesian community. It is Mosterd’s personal comment on a recent Indonesian law proposal to punish those caught publicly exhibiting affection such as kissing.

The performance contains the unique projection of translated ancient Javanese sensual Kakawin poems, reminding the audience of a time when public moral concerning affection seemed to be more relaxed.

The 60-minute choreography featured five dancers – Wendel Spier, Thao Nguyen, Loes Ruizeveld, Ederson Rodriguez Xavier and Ming Wei Poon.