Tuesday, July 04, 2006

(D) July 2, 2006 - Choreography for Non-Choreographers

THE arts? “Oh, they're only for the arty-farty lah,” many people would say. Well, they shouldn't be. The arts need to be accessible to everyone, otherwise it's all just artistes being horribly precious and performing for themselves and a handful of pretentious fans.

Marion D’Cruz firmly believes in making the arts as democratic as possible. She began doing that by working with people who were interested in dance but who were not dancers, introducing them to movement and demystifying what happens on stage.

After years of putting non-dancers on stage, she thought about the next step: “If I can make non-dancers perform, I should be able to make the process of choreography accessible to non-choreographers.

“Basically, it’s a way of opening up the ‘sacred realm’ of the choreographer. It’s one more step in the democratisation of creative space.”

Her Choreography for Non-Choreographers is the second workshop in the Krishen Jit Experimental Workshop Series 2006 organised by of the Five Arts Centre.

Concluding the workshop two weekends ago, 11 participants put up a five-minute performance each at the mobile-phones-allowed makeshift performance space between Central Market and the Liquid Room dance club in Kuala Lumpur. Bravo! The average “Central Market Jo(han)” now has access to such performances.

So there were two levels of democratisation: choreography for non-choreographers and a performance for a “non-audience”, i.e., people who wouldn’t normally go to a dance performance. It's access, in other words.

D’Cruz was quick to qualify that this event was not about dance but choreography – perhaps she was a tad wary that the performance would be judged on dance techniques.

Although the word “choreography” can be applied in situations other than dance, the workshop blog at www.boxspots.blogspot.com revealed that Choreography for Non-Choreographers was about dance-skewed choreography. It included conceptualising ideas, finding inspiration, understanding and expressing emotions (pain, anger, etc), communicating meaning and messages, understanding quality of movements, forming floor patterns, exploring improvisation, and making others execute your vision.

In her dance creation for non-dancers, certainly technique was not the prime concern. Because dance is not always about technique, why renounce it altogether? At the end of the day, what did the average Central Market Jo(han) see? Certainly not choreography, but dance - dance as they’ve never seen before and will never pay to see.

Not all trained dancers become choreographers. Most are merely executioners. The point where they start to become a choreographer is when they start to think.

So, were the 11 workshop participants able to think? Did they “get” choreography? Well, some more than others.

Indie film director and part-time photographer James Lee’s piece, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, was a good choice with which to kick-start the performance. Performers shocked passers-by by telling them very rudely to keep quiet. This form of audience interaction effectively grabbed people’s attention and made them stay on to watch.

Throughout, the performers had to say, “Will you please be quiet, please?” Travelling across the stage, animated, they told each other to shut up in various ways – begging, shouting, whispering, and screaming. The appeal of this format was the comforting familiarity of repetition and the oxymoron of individuals telling others to keep quiet when they themselves aren’t being very quiet!

24 Minutes in Kuala Lumpur, 64 Minutes in Jakarta was a study of greed and consumption. This piece by NGO worker and theatre practitioner Gabrielle Low was certainly entertaining and fun. The skinny labourer (Mark Teh) works hard to feed the capitalists. It’s a glutton’s dance – one that saw the performers stuffing themselves silly and getting bloated. Finally, they are bowled over, constipated.

Kakiseni.com editor Phang Khee Teik choreographed Hallelujah, an emotional piece that celebrates the right to love. Although the pace was a bit slow, the piece demonstrated that, regardless of the type of relationship (man and woman, man and man, woman and woman), we all experience the same thing: happiness and hurt, fights and make-ups.

Actor Mark Teh's piece meant to disturb – and its title obviously not meant to be understood! What on earth does Buang Ruang Kurang Kurung atau Tiap-Tiap Hari, Khabar Angin Lama, Surat Khabar Sama (Space Displace These Fears Erase aka Every Day, Old News Maker, Same News Paper) mean?

Title aside, I would say this was a great piece that described Malaysia all in one space. Malaysians live in denial: someone shouted, “There is no crisis.” Malaysians are shoe-polishers: someone shouted, “Yes, boss.” Malaysians are obsessed with celebrities: someone shouted, “Erra Fazira. Siti Nurhaliza.” Malaysians are hysterical: someone screamed bloody murder. And so forth. For the slap-in-the-face ending, the performers all grouped together and waved mini Malaysian flags shouting, “If they are not happy, they have to leave!” before putting the flags in their mouths. This is Malaysia, so swallow it.

The More We Get Together by assistant theatrical producer Kiew Suet Kim explored the touchy issue of showing affection in public. She asked, “How far can the hands of the State probe into our personal lives?”

Unrequited by advertising consultant and theatre practitioner Vernon Adrian Emuang, made one feel the agonising pain of unrequited love – though I’m not sure if that was also because the piece just felt too long. The performers walked in a dazed group from one corner to another, playing follow-the-leader. Although the point where a girl dropped “dead” and is carried by a saddened man was good drama, it was not a good call to have her walk on the other performers’ backs (forming stairs). Her fear of falling disrupted her focus.

Cita-Cita Saya by biologist (and frequent stage manager) June Tan tried to depict ambition but instead spewed over-optimism and over-confidence before nose-diving into sad reality.

According to the programme, Damaged by Five Arts Centre’s Adrian Kisai was followed by In One Piece by (theatre company) Dramalab’s Wyn Hee. I couldn’t tell that by watching as it wasn’t clear when Damaged ended and when In One Piece started – it seemed like both were actually one long piece of work. It sort of made sense: While one damages and the other puts back into one piece.

There was very little difference between Don’t Wake Me Up, I’m Sleeping by journalist Hari Azizan (who works at The Star) and A Sleepwalker in Transit by Universiti Teknologi Mara graduate Myra Mahyudin (aside from a big alarm clock in the latter). The execution was similar and after watching, one felt like asking, “So what?”

So what? Even professional choreographers sometimes produce choreographies that are not up to par. The point is, D’Cruz did make choreographers out of these non-choreographers.

However, this group of participants are not strangers to theatre in different forms. Wouldn’t it be interesting to try this workshop on an entirely different set of people, say, a mathematician, a bus driver, a nurse, a computer programmer and a chef?

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