Friday, August 25, 2006

(D) Dream'n Butterfly - Aug 20, 2006

Pix source: The Star

JACK Kek Siou Kee performed Dream’n Butterfly, his first solo, to a packed Experimental Theatre at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre last weekend. He also did the choreography.

The 29-year-old Trengganu-born lad (who was raised in Kuala Lumpur) was introduced to dance at 19 – he watched Lady White Snake by Mew Chang Tsing, principle of RiverGrass Dance Theatre. The performance spurred him to take up theatre and body movement classes with Woon Fook Sen, a theatre supporter and activist, and subsequently, contemporary and folk dance with Mew.

In 2002, Kek was offered a scholarship to pursue dance studies at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, where he majored in Chinese dance and took tap and contemporary dance as electives.

“I majored in Chinese dance because as a Malaysian-born Chinese, I want to discover my roots. Hong Kong is the best place for multi-cultural exposure. I learnt a broad scope of Chinese dance encompassing folk, classical and even acrobatics. If I were to study in Beijing, I would have to specialise in one pure Chinese dance style because the schools there follow a very systematic syllabus,” said Kek, who graduated in July this year with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) in Dance.

Dream’n Butterfly is a full-length contemporary Chinese dance based on a poem by Zhuang Zhi (369-286BCE), who describes how he dreamt of a butterfly, but woke up wondering if the creature had also dreamt of him.

“When I stand on stage as a performer, I make people believe that I am someone else. Offstage, I’m another person. Who am I? Through this dance, I want to make people wonder the same thing. “I chose this poem because Chinese poets rarely reveal how romantic they are. Most of them write about philosophy. If they do say anything romantic, they would not be so direct “Also, in Chinese culture, the butterfly is symbolic of something significant in life. For me, it’s a dream fulfilled – going to Hong Kong to pursue dance. The lifespan of a butterfly can be as brief as two days; as such, life is very precious and very fragile. I sacrificed all my money and time not knowing what the returns would be. But I really want to do this and I am savouring every moment of my dance pursuit,” Kek added.

Dream’n Butterfly reflects the “it’s-my-last-day-on-earth” attitude that drives him towards excellence.

In the first part of the dance, he portrayed a “man” surrounded by butterflies, as well as a “butterfly”. He toyed with illusion, the way magicians David Blaine and David Copperfield do: without leaving stage, he made both “man” and “butterfly” appear and disappear by interchanging his roles seamlessly.

He fashioned his own butterfly (usually represented by the middle finger touching the thumb with palm facing downwards) using hand gestures. He explored Chao Xian (a type of Korean dance) to depict the starting point of a butterfly’s graceful flutter. He used its breathing techniques to coordinate his body movements as he attempted to follow the erratic flight of the butterfly.

Kek tapped the water (or long) sleeve dance, Han folk dance and Chinese martial arts as the basis for his movement vocabulary. We watched his slow transformation into a butterfly as he first donned a costume with one long sleeve, then a bolero with two long sleeves.

The segment in which he wore one long sleeve was infused with a sense of torment, as if he was lost and unsure about his identity. He wet his sleeves in a makeshift gully filled with water that dripped continuously from the ceiling. He twirled the sleeve to form a “rod”, which he then used to hit several rows of metal rods hanging on the left of the stage, causing them to clash noisily.

The moments of torment passed and he ended with a multimedia segment filled with peaceful images – quite a contrast to the earlier scene. The dancer had found peace with his new identity – a white butterfly.

He assumed this new identity with confidence. With two long sleeves at his disposal, he showed his mastery in the water sleeve style. Like a reptile catching its prey with its tongue, he unfurled his sleeves, then retracted them with lighting speed. He displayed control by using them to form ripples, creating images of water flowing down a stream.

Pix source: The Star

Showing a touch of improvisation, Kek turned his sleeves into square handkerchiefs, the prop used in Han folkdance. Interestingly, he performed to tribal-sounding drums in this routine, giving the piece an uplifting feel.

In the final scene, a backdrop unfolded across the stage from left to right, revealing three layers of white vertical panels. He shed his wings and fled behind the panels, which were strongly lit with white lights.

Occasionally, his hands created a butterfly that appeared inbetween the panels, or as a shadow behind them. And then Kek, as man or butterfly, left the darkened stage. The butterfly was gone.

Dream’n Butterfly evoked a feeling of the surreal. What’s real is that Kek has proven his mettle in contemporary Chinese dance.

Friday, August 11, 2006

(R) Happy Birthday to good old me - August 11, 2006

Dear God,
I thank you for this day that you've given me,
for giving me life and for moulding me into who I am.
I thank you for your blessings, especially my loved ones.
And my dog :)
Amen.

Monday, August 07, 2006

(T) August 4, 2006 - Wangi Jadi Saksi

Dalam hasil teater Wangi Jadi Saksi, U-Wei Hajisaari (Pengarah) menjemput penonton memikirkan siapa sebenarnya wanita yang bernama Dang Wangi ini. Ya, nama yang ditinggalkan dari zaman kegemilangan Kesultanan Melaka yang kini lebih dikenali sebagai salah satu stesen perhentian LRT di Kuala Lumpur.

Kisah penderhakaan Hang Jebat dan pertarungannya dengan Hang Tuah tak habis-habis didebat di alam academia dan tak jemu-jemu dijadikan bahan teater. Sejarah menjadi saksi bahawa kontroversi dan skandal laris. Isi kandungan media hari ini buktinya.

Produksi ini mempunyai set yang kontemporari dan serba ringkas. Kononnya, U-Wei berfikir, tidak perlu membazir berjuta-juta seperti PGL. Kos yang dibelanjakan untuk menghasilkan set tidak penting; yang penting, keberkesanan penggunaannya.

Saya mendapati kekurangan dari dua aspek: monotoni dialognya yang melesukan pendengaran dan penggunaan ruang pentas yang kurang variasi yang membosankan mata. Malah, saya hampir tertidur ketika menyaksikannya.

Yang menarik ialah pendekatan feminisme yang digunakan untuk menyoalsiasat sejarah yang dicatat dari perspektif patriaki. U-Wei, bagaikan Jebat yang menderhakakan sistem patriaki, kini mengetengahkan suara wanita yang dahulunya tidak terdaya bersuara. Inilah yang menjadikan interpretasi adegan yang dijumpai di kedua-dua buku Sejarah Melayu dan Hikayat Hang Tuah itu segar lagi provokatif.

Wangi Jadi Saksi menceritakan kisah Hang Jebat yang dikhianati dan dibunuh, seperti yang dilihat dari sudut pandang kekasihnya Dang Wangi yang menjadi satu-satunya saksi peristiwa tersebut. Justeru, Dang Wangi menghadapi Patih Kerma Wijaya yang dianggap pembunuh suaminya. Kisah ini diceritakan dalam dialog antara Dang Wangi dan Patih Kerma Wijaya yang diselangi dengan penceritaan imbas kembali.

Dang Wangi menjumpai Hang Jebat cedera ditikam dari belakang. Abang Tuah tidak kelihatan. Yang ada cuma Patih Kerma Wijaya yang mengatakan bahawa Hang Tuah sudah pergi selepas menikam Hang Jebat.

Dalam berkabungnya, Dang Wangi berfikir – sanggupkah pahlawan terunggul Melaka menikam lawan yang tidak bersenjata apatah dari belakang?; sanggupkah Taming Sari melimpahkan darah bagi pendekar pengecut? Jawapannya jelas.

Dalam kontroversi yang tidak luput ini, yang pasti, kita jadi saksi: Tak Melayu Hilang di Dunia kerana berani menuntut hak rakyat membantah ketidakadilan. Suara yang kecil, betapa "wangi" (merdu) pun, ditelan masa, dilesap sejarah.

(D) July 28, 2006 - Adorations

Pix source: The Star

COULD you love someone you’ve never known? That was what solos Vidhya Pushpanathan (20) and Jagatheswara (17) grappled with in Ramli Ibrahim’s Adorations (Second Flush), held at Amphi-Sutra, Kuala Lumpur, over the last two weekends.

Adorations, first staged in 1985, fleshed out movements and philosophical ideas behind Odissi. This piece was a dedication and a tribute by Ramli to the style of Odissi propagated by his guru, Deba Prasad Das, who died in 1986. He was one of the revivalist pioneers of Odissi.

The guru role played by Mano Maniam was that of Deba Prasad Das.

While Pushpanathan and Maniam portrayed the more convincing teacher-disciple relationship, overall, the lack of rasa (feeling) and bakti (adoration) in both dancers were primarily due to the fact that Deba Prasad was not the guru they knew. Unless the young dancers-cum-actress/ actor can pull off a Grammy, it would be better if Maniam had played Ramli, the guru they can directly relate to.

While the “guru” that is represented could change, the parampara (school) of Deba Prasad Das should rightly prevail in the repertoire. Here we see the perseverance of Deba Prasad’s style, which is noted for its strong balance between the vigorous and the gentle, the masculine and the feminine. His style also combines elements of folk, classical and tribal dance.

“When you watch, you learn,” said Maniam as guru-ji to his disciple. “That was exactly what Adorations served to its audience – an enlightening “Odissi for Dummies”.

The performance began by introducing the basic steps in Odissi (chowka and tribanghi), then moving on to emulate four temple sculptures (veena player, the indolent maiden, cymbals player, and the drum player) or sthai, reprising the tale of Siva’s eight-fold forms, and concluding with moksha, the final dance of joy and release.

Some of the more enjoyable moments came from Maniam who read beautiful poems that inspire dance with verses such as “?things standing shall fall but the moving shall ever stay”. Maniam slipped into the dhoti-clad guru-ji role like a duck to water.
He stressed the need to maintain the essence of purity in the traditional dance form. “None of the kush kush stuff allowed,” said Maniam, as he angled his disciple’s arms into a perfect square shaping the chowka. “The line between the sacred and the profane is thin. We must not vulgarise nor prostitute dance.

“Bakti is adoration. The body itself is nothing. It must be made into the finest instrument dedicated to God. The dancer’s body is the perfect creation of God. The dancer must learn to adore his body. Not until the body is bored of a movement can you speak of freedom. Devotion to one’s art is adoration. It is through bakti that dance becomes yoga.”

Did the disciples bear any semblance to God’s perfect creation? Not quite yet.

Jagatheswara made his Odissi debut in this performance. When he first moved on stage, it looked very obvious that a body nurtured for Bharatanatyam was trying hard to adapt to Odissi, a totally different style.

Although I admired his attention to detail, the high-level of energy and the clearly accented movements, his style was too brisk and not fluid enough for my liking. His movements were still bound by consciousness to technique mastery and less on rasa.

Pushpanathan was evidently the more mature Odissi exponent of the two. Her soft, continuous and graceful movements embodied how the body should “melt”. She is on the verge of “freedom” (from technique) and is clearly showing signs of adoring her body. She was also much more focused in reprising Siva’s eight-fold forms (compared to Jagatheswara), where she tackled each form with fierce intensity.

Odissi is a dance traditionally dominated by men (Odissi was originally performed by Gotipuas, men who dressed themselves like female dancers). Thus, I found it interesting to observe how the dancers took on opposite gender roles and how they approached Odissi.

Jagatheswara was not as comfortable depicting the indolent maiden as Pushpanathan was with depicting the fearsome Indian gods. Was it a matter of shyness in the former dancer or merely lack of mastery in abhinaya (expression)?

Jagatheswara’s approach was clearly aggressive (tandava) whilst Pushpanathan took a combination approach; both tandava and lasya (soft and graceful).

Well, performing solo is no easy task. Often, it takes a charismatic dancer to keep the audience engaged. As the “chosen ones” for Adorations, Ramli clearly saw the solo potential in them. With more honing, they will certainly come to realise their full potential.