Monday, May 15, 2006

(D) May 14, 2006 -

WHAT creases a piece of cloth that is flung into the air? What shape do those ripples describe? Something that is there, yet cannot be seen?

Choreographer Mew Chang Tsing used soft, golden cloth to great effect in trying to capture qi, the energy that surrounds us invisibly. The cloth took on the form of anything with substance, be it a dancer’s body or the qi around the dancer – thus, shapes outlined by the cloth in the air.

This was, the sixth in Mew’s series on qi, presented in Pebbles 3 at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre in Kuala Lumpur last weekend.

In this version, the dancers try to heighten their sensitivity to surrounding energies by being lightly blindfolded. By reducing the sense of sight they hoped to increase their sense of touch. Standing around a swath of the cloth encircled on the stage, they tried to draw from the qi chang (arena of energy). They stood relaxed and allowed the qi to gently sway their bodies. Two dancers, Kiea Kuan Nam and Liu Yong Sean, continued in this meditative state throughout the performance, even as they climbed the “stairway to heaven”, which comprised “steps” created entirely by lighting. In contrast, Gan Chih Pei seemed to be in turbulence, travelling across the stage, fighting the energies. Only Amy Len “became” the cloth, bent and swayed by the surrounding pressures of qi.

Kiea, Liu, Gan and Len are some of Malaysia’s more matured and accomplished dancers.

Unlike the earlier Qi.v that drew its vocabulary of movement from Chinese dance, this version offers a South-East Asian interpretation of qi.

Mew created motifs with gestures, adding subtle texture to the otherwise purely improvisational technique used by her and fellow dancers. But in this interpretation, I noticed a clash: – entering rasuk, a trance (a common phenomena in several South-East Asian dances), is not the same as being connected with qi. The former is a state of unconsciousness while the latter is a state of consciousness. In the end, Mew spins and spins in confusion, and finally hurls the cloth over her body. Symbolically, qi escapes her – and then, black out! The dance ends. is set to hauntingly beautiful gamelan music composed by Sunetra Fernando and Michael Veerapan for the album Rhythm in Bronze. However, the power of this piece leaves a gap the dance struggles to fill.

Pebbles 3 also featured two other performances, Catch That Thought and 1+1.

Catch That Thought comprised three items, presented by students from Mew’s Children’s Creative Dance classes – Picture Comes Alive (by children aged four to six), Look at Me (by children aged four and below) and Mark My Moves (by children aged eight to 12). 1 + 1 was an improvisational dance in which the dancers starts off in a position determined by the audience.

This production was aimed at raising funds to allow dancers of to perform at the Global Assembly of World Dance Alliance, which will take place in Toronto, Canada, in July. The dancers, who also make up the committee members of Malaysia’s MyDanceAlliance, will also bid for Kuala Lumpur to host the Global Assembly 2008.

(Break-a-Leg spent a year studying Qi Gong with folks double her age. Undoubtedly, they are all healthier than she is!)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

(D) April 30, 2006 - Fire of Anatolia

NOW, did I watch Irish dance show Riverdance or the Turkish effort Fire of Anatolia at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre on Wednesday?

It was supposed to have been the latter (previously a production called the Sultans of the Dance), which comprises a mosaic of folk dance and music from the historically and culturally significant region of Anatolia in Turkey.

However, those elements were weaved seamlessly into the mainly soft-shoe Riverdance (Irish folk dance) technique that Anatolia’s general art director, Mustafa Erdogan, had adopted. Confusing, not to mention disappointingly derivative. Each dance, whether it started out Turkish or Western (ballet and modern dance), to my disappointment, ended Irish and (without fail) with shouts of “Hey!” from the dancers. While big-bang endings are fine, quiet moments can have a very powerful effect in dance.

The chance for this was wasted in the piece called A Lament, where life ebbs away from the migrants as they travel the hard road into Anatolia. (The region has seen much migration over thousands of years as it has been populated by a host of peoples, including the Hittites, Phrygians, Cimmerians, Greeks, Romans, Lydians, Persians, Goths, Kurds, Byzantines, Seljuk, Ottomans, Turks and even Celts.)

The dancers in white, spinning upwards towards God, beautifully and accurately depicted the affirmation of death. But the impact of this scene was short-lived with the insertion of a template ending.

A Lament. Pixsource: The Star

The dearth of information in the RM20 programme did not help the audience appreciate Turkey’s rich culture and history. What were the types of folk dances featured, from where did they originated, what was the significance, if any, of the costumes? What were the instruments used? Who were the mythological characters cast in the story and why are they significant in Turkish history?

Their claim to being Dionysian (the act of worshipping Dionysus, god of law, wine, freedom, passion and fertility) was best reflected in the first scene that comprised a series of fiery dances of fire worship, flame flicker and sun formation. Although faultless in going through the motions, the dancers have not quite mastered what American dancer Isadora Duncan was particularly good at: emanating the spirit of worship.

The best part of the show was, of course, the belly dancing. Who can resist the vision of beautiful, midriff-baring girls with “vibrator” hips? The movement vocabulary was that of isolation – most pervasively of the hips. Isolation of the shoulders, head, and hands and the undulating movements of the torso interrupted with contractions were also used in the choreography.

Although culture and history were not explained, we saw a glimmer of Turkey through the snippets of folk dance performed in traditional costumes, and during the traditional drums performance.

Essentially, the success of the production relied more on mass synchronisation, formation and colourful costumes for spectacle, and less on choreography and artistic direction.

But then, this is just an armpit’s view of the show, seated just four rows from the stage. Fire of Anatolia did receive thunderous applause at the end of it.

To digress, I must say that the seats at the convention centre’s Plenary Hall were more comfortable than the crammed-together seats at KL’s Istana Budaya. Of late, big foreign productions seem to be moving away from the latter venue and heading towards the convention centre, which opened to much praise last year.

Fire of Anatolia, which is Erdogan’s brainchild, was first staged in 2002 and has since performed on several continents. It ran for three nights at the KLCC, beginning on April 26.

The show was brought to Malaysia by Jewels Events & Consultancy (M) Sdn Bhd in collaboration with Turkey’s under secretariat for defence industries, the Turkish Embassy, and Malaysia’s Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry.