Sunday, August 15, 2010

(D) Balik Kampung - 8 August 2010

Exciting show by trio on brief balik kampung

Three Malaysian talents show exciting potential at a show designed to welcome their brief return.

Aug 4-5,
Experimental TheatreAkademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan

ASWARA’s Faculty of Dance, supported by MyDance Alliance, recently produced a contemporary dance performance to celebrate the Balik Kampung of its diploma graduates. The three, now full scholarship holders for Bachelor of Arts programmes, are home for the summer holidays and what better way to let the public glimpse their potential than through a performance.

The works are not about “returning home” but a series of solos and group works created by the young artists about themselves.

On that note, it would seem that Liu Yong Sean’s works, Uncertain Love and A Million Kisses to Your Skin, implied that the young man faced a relationship problem, though I could be wrong.

The former is a male solo, and the better work of the two. Uncertain Love opened with an aura of mystery with traditional singing matched by Liu’s contorted movements and hand gestures that lent only a hint of Khon or traditional Malay dance.

It was not clear if a cross-cultural schema was intended as those gestures did not reappear. For most part, Liu maintained his position within a horizontal line backstage. And when he finally left his comfort zone, he motioned his hand as if opening a door into another world.

Exploring a whole new space, he included little details into the dance that filled up every moment and pleasantly engaged the eye. At the end, he even threw in bits of acting with a fearful expression and used his hands to ward off something unseen at face level.

In this piece, Liu proved the strongest dancer of the evening, having fulfilled the criteria required of a solo artist – technical competence, grace, strength and charisma.

Choreographically, the piece conveyed uncertainty in the new world of love and fear of commitment.

A Million Kisses to Your Skin mashed a million ideas into one dance.The piece attempted to explain “something that’s not meant to work”, ironically, through a choreography that didn’t quite work.

The performance featured snippets of Fame, High School Musical, J-Pop club dancing, Michael Jackson’s Thriller MTV and even Malay theatre. Liu used text to explain away the trouble with the world today, and further illustrated choreography with cooking – that one can’t cook something that pleases everyone. Although the piece was fun to watch, it was conceptually puzzling.

The best choreography of the evening was Jame Kan’s Utopia. The word was coined by Sir Thomas Moore for his 1516 book of the same title, to describe a fictional island with a perfect society. Of course, Moore was utilising the concept as allegory and did not consider such an ideal place/society to be realistically possible.

Kan’s Utopia was simply a ray of light barely squeezing itself into a miserly spotlight at the front of stage. Throughout the dance, one or two dancers, hungry for a dose of hope, would make their way towards the spotlight, only to return, whether by force or by self-persuasion, to the group or “society”.

The conformist and the rebel are evident in society, as can be clearly seen in formations where one dancer is always isolated from the group. Kan orchestrated the group work like a well-timed musical fountain, maintaining group musicality with the constant crouching and rising movements.

The dancers took the mid-height as a place of retreat after rising or stooping, either individually or in unison. The middle ground that they took relayed the strength of the conformist position. Holding their stomachs and gyrating in pain, the dancers moved backwards disappearing into the darkness, as they hush-hushed any dirty secrets into oblivion.

In Utopia, I was convinced of Kan’s maturity as a choreographer, the way he used dance as a social voice.

His second piece, She, was somewhat underdeveloped and overly prop-dependent. Supposedly “a story about her”, the choreography actually reveals very little about the supposed subject.

Kan got it right by using a strong red theme in both costume and prop. The red cloth is symbolic of celebration in Chinese culture and it decorates the home on auspicious occasions. I liked the idea that “she”, dressed in red, is a celebration of life. However, as the dance went on, the relationship between “her” and the red cloth failed to be autobiographical in any way.

Lee Wen Yan’s rather ambiguous -ing, was a female duet that mostly walked and jogged stiffly side-by-side in circles. The dancers, looking like cone-headed aliens in their red hoods, were emotionless and somewhat mechanical in their demeanour. The dance ponders where one is going and seems to be lost. Although it gets the message across, the lacklustre approach diminishes its entertainment value.

Besides the graduates, Aswara students Fione Chia Yan Wei and Denny Donius presented noteworthy choreographies.

In Shape, a solo performed by Kan, Chia questions whether we, as humans, shape events or is it the other way round. The answer is both.

Chia first choreographs movements defined by shapes (circle, square and rectangle) created by lighting. In the circle, Kan moves in graceful, circular motions, which are sometimes reminiscent of tai chi. His eyes are fixated on his hands, which lead his movements.

In the square, Kan drew straight lines by flexing his body and rolling about, outlining the shape of the box. In the rectangular box, he ran from one end to the other, while stretching out his hands and legs – attempts to reach both ends of the rectangle.

In the conclusion, all three shapes appear at once, but Kan dances outside them. Finally, we see deliberate movements that are not defined by shapes.

This was an enjoyable piece with thematic clarity, poetically performed by Kan and easily understood by the audience.

Denny Donius danced his own choreography, Hometown, a melancholic and nostalgic solo. He created the right mood and expressions and used his body entirely and wholeheartedly to speak of the love and memories of the place he calls home. As he disappeared backstage into the darkness, a sense of longing lingered in our minds long after this beautiful solo had ended.

I was very excited about our home-grown talents and the potential they showed. But will they balik kampung when they graduate, or will they find appeal and better prospects on the international stage?

Well, I have yet to hear of talent-drain prevention programmes here.

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