Wednesday, April 01, 2009

(D) Conquest of the Galaxy: Mars

Conquest of the Galaxy: Mars
By Condors
19-21 March 2009
Pentas 1, KLPac

I’m always happy to spend an evening entertained by men. Thus, I had no resistance at all to the idea of a Friday-night conquest for Japanese testosterones that promises to be ‘sweaty,’ according to some reviews, and offers liberal use of shitck. I’m talking about the all-male Japanese contemporary dance troupe, Condors, founded by Ryohei Kondo in 1996, performing in Malaysia for the first time.

Apparently, wherever they go, Condor performances always send their audiences spinning with amazement, shock, and laughter with their trademark school uniforms, comedy, parodies of local clichés, and the use of overblown video imagery. It seems they are attempting to create a new form of dance and to push its boundaries for the 21st century.

Joseph Gonzales, a veteran figure in Kuala Lumpur’s dance scene, has been researching the meaning of ‘contemporary’ in its application to dance in Malaysia and to date, he admits, that a concrete definition remains elusive. It is a frightening coincidence, in my observation, that Gonzales choreographs similar works these days and also claims to be ‘pushing the boundaries.’

It would by hypocritical to rave about Conquest of the Galaxy: Mars (CGM) and disapprove of Gonzales’ Random (choreographed for Jamu 2008). Although high in entertainment value, I was rather disappointed with both works.

While Random was not to my liking, 9 to 5 an earlier work in similar format by Gonzales certainly rank amongst my favourites because of its excellent dance and entertainment value. Marion D’Cruz is the first person in Malaysia, to my knowledge, to seamlessly weave theatre into dance (sometimes more theatre than dance) without short-changing the audience of dance. Bravo! She had also put up numerous performances choreographed and performed by non-dancers. So the idea of putting stiff men on stage is nothing new. If CGM is the benchmark for contemporary dance, then these works by our Malaysian choreographers are certainly more deserving of a global tour.

Some may share my sentiments that we cannot fully appreciate CGM as a form of contemporary dance. I would appreciate contemporary dance as more dance than theatre, video, puppetry and contests; if not, then these other elements should add value to the quality of the dance performance in its’ totally, and not distract the audience away from dance. Anything less and the dance-going audience would feel short-changed. CGM was, to me, little more than an entertainment piece. You watch, you laugh, and you go home.

A noteworthy item in CGM was the concluding dance piece depicting a day at the beach. Here, Kondo displayed his ingenuity in using the human body to form objects (toilet bowl, surf board), and to illustrate the character of waves. Two men bundled up together to form a turtle laying eggs – a gem! Another burst of creativity was displayed in a football field scene - a man curled up into a ‘football’ and when kicked by the striker, he rolled in his curled up position, into the goal post.

The intermittent dance scenes were nothing to shout about. The choreographies featured some wannabe boy band-ish backup dancing to too-loud rock music and poor remakes of dance scenes from High School Musical (in fact, High School Musical was better).

Humour was abundant throughout this show but after a while, the formula becomes old, cliché and not so funny. For example “101 things to do with a toilet pump” was funny but the subsequent “101 things to do with a French loaf” in France, projected on video, was lame. Rotten Street, a mockery of Sesame Street was what it intended to be – rotten.

A friend in the Japanese dance scene told me that in Japan, Condors is defined as an “entertainment contemporary dance” company. The director, Kondo, appears in television programmes and so forth to reach out to a new target audience for contemporary dance (and not only to the culturally-inclined), and therefore his works are important.

Did Condors push the boundaries of dance? No. Did they reach new audiences in Malaysia? Judging from the packed theatre, I think the obvious answer is yes.

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