Sunday, July 26, 2009

(D) Lepas: Tetap Menari

Lepas: Tetap Menari
17-19 July 2009

Lepas: Tetap Menari can be loosely translated to mean ‘Over: But Still Dancing.” It is an expression of disappointment towards the indefinite postponement of TARI ’09, the much-anticipated international dance gathering and performance offerings originally scheduled for 14 to 18 July 2009. TARI is a contemporary dance performance held every two years and is organized by the Dance Department of the National Arts, Culture and Heritage Academy (ASWARA). The festival was expected to bring in nearly 160 international participants.

Joseph Gonzales, Dean of the Dance Department expressed his disappointment following the school’s decision recently amidst pressures from authorities ‘higher up’ to curb the H1N1 disease.

“However, such are the challenges in life and we must carry on. We are still going to stage a simple show from 17 to 19 July for us here in Kuala Lumpur and the best medicine is to put our best foot forward and dance! The show will be free to the public as we just want to celebrate the talents and the gifts that we have received”

And put their best foot forward they did with eight pieces of work from both local and international performers and choreographers.

James Kan, who left to further his degree on a scholarship with the Taipei National University of Arts in September last year returned on his summer break and presented Dreams, the most stylish and an engaging group choreography of the evening. The work displayed seamless and superb transitions with dancers, moving from frame to inter-frame structured by large grey tables propped up like tiles; rolling in and out of stage swapping roles and positions; and using the colours of costumes, from white to black, depicting the change of thematic moods, from a pleasant dream to a nightmare.

The five dancers in white, magnetised to the table, tossed and wriggled, grappling with the attraction. They finally submitted and displayed shameless affection towards the prop with hugs and stylish poses. The tables converged into a wall to hide all the dancers save one (played by Jessica Ho, one of Aswara’s best students). Left alone, the sole dancer backed up towards the wall and inched slowly from one end to the other shivering with fear and confusion. Two mysterious, fluttering hands that dropped over the wall, trailed her as she moved. As she reached the end of the wall, the two hands strangled her and pulled her body behind the tables, symbolizing the ‘death’ of the first scene. As soon as she ‘disappeared,’ dancers dressed in black appeared taking on darker personalities.

The staged blacked out and all attention was diverted to the right where a small stage was constructed. A sketch of thick barb wires on the wall seems to encase the dancer as he tries to escape the uncomfortable entanglement. When the stage lit up, we see visually neat lines where the dancers sat upright at the edge of the tables. The exploration of space above and below the tables was brief and as the dancers ditched the tables and move backwards, they continued till fade, exploring the space around them, some with angular, and some with circular arm motions. The brilliance in Dreams is in the tight choreography displaying random images resembling those that fleet in our minds.

Other group choreographies include Tapak 4 (Shafirul Azmi Suhaimi Magi), After Duet (Vincent Tan, Batu Dance Theatre), and Line (Mohd Naim Syah Razad Mohd Zin).

The Red Rose, choreographed by Kim Jungyeon (South Korea) is an intermedia piece combining dance and video projections. The piece intends to re-interpret a classical ballet Le Spectre de la Rose, based on a poem by Théophile Gautier, and choreographed by Michel Fokine. The classic first premiered on 19 April 1999 by the Ballets Russes and the dancers at the original performance were Vaslav Nijinsky as the Rose and Tamara Karsavina as the Girl. The story is about a debutante who falls asleep after her first ball. She dreams that she is dancing with the rose that she had been holding in her hand. Her dream ends when the rose escapes through the window.

Red Rose

The video projection toys with the idea of rose petals, stalks and leaves represented by orange colored paper shredded, rolled, spiraled, and folded. At the top right corner of the screen, a hand stirs the ‘petals’ in poetic fashion. Then, we watched the steady fall of ‘autumn leaves’ as it carpets the ground softly. A black and white projection that hints of Asian origami followed. The rigid nature-symbolic shapes of paper blown by a strong wind tumbles violently. The scene was played in slow motion as if to romanticize the severity of a tragedy. In contrast to the rusty, filmic qualities of these visions, another set of projections take on a futuristic feel with shades of aurora colors, repeated designs and an almost impressionist trajectory.

The Girl (Kim) moves in gentle swaying and rocking motion to the melodic and peaceful sound of a clanging bell. The feel was rather monastic especially with Kim wearing her head bald. The movement expression was also poetic, mimicking the image of the ‘petals’ stirred by the hand in the video. Liu Yong Sean, who is also back for summer break from the Korea National University of Arts, plays the Asian Rose making movements from Indonesian dance and Shadow Puppet Theathre (Wayang Kulit). Kim and Liu have wonderful stage chemistry; when the Girl glided down the body of the Rose, we could almost feel the passion and tenderness in the very convincing pas de deux (duet). This interpretation of the 18th century Romanticism maintains the Romantic ideals while integrating the zeitgeist of contemporary aesthetic experience using picturesque visions with a unique Asian taste. What impressed me was Kim’s research into dance literature and history and the thought she put into the reinterpretation, showing us that choreographers are indeed society’s thinkers.

Rasa, choreographed by Sharip Zainal, a multitalented lecturer of ASWARA, combines the music (heavy metal and blues), vocal, dance and theatre disciplines, putting his skills in the four areas to good use. The storyline was so simple yet entertaining, telling us how we all feel (or rasa) the effects of ageing, putting on weight, and decreasing libido. Despite these signs of mid-life crisis, he’s ever the optimist and has a solution for every problem and shows everyone that ‘he’s still got it.’ This piece was absolutely hilarious and effectively conveyed the messages it intended.


Wendy Rogers from the University of California performed Duet En Plein Air with Jennifer Twilley. Rogers premieres her new duet that continues her exploration of dance as an ‘architecture’ of action; and investigation of the ways people shape place, and the ways place shapes human movement and interaction. However, what I saw, rather, was an exploration of how humans, through movements, emulate the shapes of abstract objects in the environment. The hypnotic strumming of the two strings in The Sonata for Harp and Guitar OP.374, Parts I and II playing in the background helped conjure up an image of a gentle drizzle, where the two dancers ‘became’ the shape-shifting droplets of water suspended in mid-air.

Duet En Plein Air

Shakti, another duet, was a site-specific work, which drew inspiration from the story of Adam and Eve, with apples included. The audience was ushered to the floors above the site so when we lean over the edge to watch the performance, there were several moments when our eyes were tricked into believing that the floor was actually the wall. The direction in which the bench was placed, and the dancers’ movements around it, created the intentionally confusing perspective that served visual suspense and excitement. Dancers Shafirul Azmi Suhaimi Magi (and choreographer) and Mahani Izzati Suleiman, clad in sarong, splashed about the wet gravel in the confines of a small rectangular space. The non-stop action and to-the-point choreography exudes a sense of tribalism and a kind of rawness that befits the story of man’s Beginning.


Solo works are a bit tricky in that it not only relies of the merits of the choreography but also the charisma of the dancer. Both solos presented here, Only Me, by Mohd Fairul Azreen Mohd Zahid from ASWARA, and Filled and Spilled, by Angela Goh who is on a dance residency at Rimbun Dahan, displayed both these characteristics.

Mohd Fairul proved to be a powerful dancer reveling in jumps and turns, running in sprints traversing the stage and even showing off a burst of floor gymnastics concluding with a full split. Strong spotlights marks the floor in a vertical line and Fairul enters each, basking. Plainly, this narcissist piece had ‘only me’ written all over it.

Goh’s piece was quite the opposite in its treatment. It featured very soft dynamics and gradual disclosures of her body and the dance. The lighting design shaped an empty glass on the floor that was gradually being ‘filled’ with light inching its way from ground up. The dainty, uncertain footwork graduated to confident arm and body movements. Though the ‘filled’ aspect of her work was obvious, the ‘spilled’ portion is still underdeveloped in this work-in-progress performance.

This production may be small but the people that made it happen were big in spirit, motivated by the drive to continue dancing, regardless.