THE regulars in the audience at a RiverGrass Dance Academy production know not to expect professional dancers on stage, except for the academy’s founder herself, Mew Chang Tsing.
After founding the academy in 1996 and staging several productions, Mew developed a strong belief that anyone can use dance to explore and discover his or her own identity.
Out of that belief came the Pebbles series that allows all the students at her academy as well as at other dance and theatrical schools to perform on stage before a live audience.
Hence, Pebbles 5’s loosely structured and heavily improvisational programme with the younger students performing dances called Fairies, Hula Hoop, and Water Hyacinth and with Mew’s older contemporary dance students presenting Lady in Red.
What we saw on Monday night at the Actors Studio Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, was essentially raw material and spur-of-the-moment dance creation. I especially liked the attempts made by the young ones to “feel” the music and be moved by it.
Associates of MyDance Alliance added variety to the programme while the Nanyang University Alumni Social Dance Group led by Mew’s mother presented two items, Golden Hip Hop and Line Dance. They showed everyone that even the old are happening, groovy, and fashionable.
Silat by Astana 7 was a choreographed performance featuring silat exponents moving to music with exciting drum beats. Like break dance, there was always a “challenge” component in it. The Elsa Dance Company presented Flashy, a belly dance performed by two sexy ladies in flashy Middle-Eastern costumes.
The highlight of the evening, though, was Mew’s performance, a new solo work entitled Tunnel Through Time: A Study of a Woman’s Spine. Thankfully, her piece was not as long as her title! In quiet and still contemplation, Mew literally profiled a woman. The side projection cast a melancholic silhouette on the wall as Mew danced within the confines of a small space.
The study saw Mew in various poses akin to those featured in calcium and osteoporosis advertisements. The side-view position that she took gave us a clear outline of the spine being depicted. Her deliberate slouches formed the shape of an “old” spine and then, in a quick reversal of “time”, she squatted and wrapped herself in a foetal position, depicting the growth of the “young” spine.
There is no happy ending for this bony body part as the tunnel through time only shows a sad conclusion at its end. Mew’s slow-moving, weighty movements mirrored the spine’s inevitable painful deterioration over time.
To me, it was a simple yet moving performance that showed just how important the thought process is a successful improvisation piece, as the dancer needs to have an idea or a basis for improvisation. Otherwise, it would just be meaningless movements on stage.
While this work reflects Mew’s personal journey along her own ageing process, the Pebbles series, on the other hand, is a platform that encourages the growth of her young dance students.
I hope great things will come of this small little stepping stone.
Photos by KAMAL SELLEHUDDIN / The Star