Visual by Robin Chee
12 December 2010
One might ask if a theatre practitioner with an interest in actor training could offer anything constructive to an understanding of a dance performance, especially when the writer is not considered a dance professional? Honestly, the opening question is a reminder to myself, consciously identifying myself as a spectator/writer; or, to be really honest, finding a reason; or ,to be more specific, trying to formulate a common thread of thought which an actor and a dancer could speak effectively with each other, allowing me to speak to the work presented in the evening. In my thinking of this question, the artistic director of T.H.E Dance Company Kuik Swee Boon’s word used in the post-show dialogue earlier this evening “moment” came trickling in my mind, for it is a common word used in all areas of performing arts, be it in music, drama and dance. The word “moment”, derived from Latin word “momentum” ( a state of constant movement within a time/space), indicates a very brief period of time; “in the moment” : instantly in the present time. In theatre, actor bodies (I believe it applies to dancer bodies too) inhabit the “moment” in every part of the bodies’ performance narratives. In dance, dancers strive to move from one of point of movement to another making sure that the body in every point of the narrative is – for a lack of a better descriptive word – “full”. As much as there are contestations in the a body’s state of being in the moment as opposed to being alive on stage in performance discourses, largely unresolved, I am going to gloss them over focusing on just first principles of the definition of being in the moment as I attempt to engage the 3 dances presented by (in order of presentation) T.H.E. Dance Company, Frontier Danceland and the Singapore Dance Theatre through an informed audience view on whether a dancer is engaged in every moment he/she is in in this piece of writing.
Reading a body in a specific moment should be separated from judgment on one’s technical competency, for both are entirely independent entities. Being in the moment requires investment, most of it personal, in engaging the time and space of a specific now. It doesn’t require technical excellence. Everyone could do it, provided that one has personal investment in them. Similarly in the area of criticism, writers of contemporary art should have a stake in all forms of art of the day. This is precisely why an outsider of the dance scene has equal stakes in claiming a space in Singapore dance criticism. It is this kind of political-intellectual debate a critic should be involved in, even he or she is not involved in the area of technical excellence in the performing arts form. In the same vein, the engagement of a moment when a moving body is on stage in a performance narrative is universal for all persons involving in negotiating the presence of bodies on stage, regardless of which performing arts form they are practicing in. It is in this spirit that I find extremely rewarding in appreciating dance on stage.
First off, T.H.E. Dance Company’s Water Bloom, choreographed by its artistic director Kuik Swee Boon. Tonight’s viewing wasn’t my first. I was blown away by dancer Zhuo Zihao’s control of his body in his leopard flight into the wings the last time round. This time round, having known “the surprise’ before hand, the effect was greatly reduced. Short bursts of surprise might leave a deep lasting impression, but those one-time experience in short moments usually cannot be replicated again to the same effect the second time round. Hence what’s most important, or I should say, in allowing an audience to have an immediate, personal response to the piece of work is every dancer’s commitment to doing the fullest in each and every moment. Yarra Ileto has successfully achieved this in this production. Every accidental trip and fall, whether deliberately as explained by Kuik Swee Boon in the post-show talk, or purely accidental, Yarra Ileto exhibited great reactive movements in responding to the happening of that time-moment. There is richness in fluidity. Conversely, the male dancers seemed to have paid a little too much attention in getting the technical aspects right in terms of strength and timing. Too much attention has been given to this aspect, resulting in bodies lacking presence in the present moment. Hence, pieces with male bodies seemed deliberately choreographed.
However, Gordan Lai’s effort in paying attention to his movements seemed to have conveyed the needed messages in Albert Tiong’s choreography of Second Chance, representing dance company Frontier Danceland in the evening’s work. It was the second piece of presentation in the evening. However his less apt control of his body movement, coupled with some minor technical restrictions, have limited his intention to further convey/represent the choreographer’s intention, especially in his intention in contrasting fast and slow movements in tighter and sharper tempos. Another, Dancer Seow Yi Qing deserved special mention for her having a full devotion to the different moments in Albert Tiong’s choreography. The quality of body movement exhibited on stage is testament to her acute artistic and emotional sense in responding to the requirements needed by the piece in a specific time-moment. Albert Tiong’s choreography of Second Dance displayed a sense of imaginative freedom in allowing dancers to present themselves, within a specific boundary, space and tempo-wise. This might be a good strategy in encouraging imagination within the bodies of the dancers, but it might become a bane to those who might lack rich imaginative movement vocabularies.
However, rich imaginative movement vocabularies could also be a burden to dancers. This could be seen in the seemingly under-rehearsed piece Oneiros, choreographed by Adrian Burnett, representing the Singapore Dance Theatre. Contemporary ballet has a rich history, from its supposed beginnings in George Balanchine’s works to the contemporary ones by Nacho Duato and William Forsythe, where reconsiderations to the classical ballet were radically done to present new possibilities. From the very aspect of deconstructing the ballet system to find new vocabularies, it promises new discoveries to the traditional form of classical ballet. In Oneiros, however, the choreography which might bring about new perspectives in contemporary ballet has not been fully realised, possibility due to inadequate rehearsals. Dancers were not sure of their placements on stage, having to watch others in order to find the next moment in the performance narrative. This is a great distraction to an attentive audience trying to follow the performance narrative line. Other slips include male dancers losing their centre and balance in duet parts, only having to try to patch them up quickly using convenient movements.
Indeed, 3 from Singapore is an excellent platform allowing different companies to share an evening of dance together. It is also a test to participating dance companies’ encouraging them to push their dancers into the critical light, as audiences could freely make comparisons among participating dance companies in the evening. Besides having to contend with the different claims levied on the performances – this piece writing is example of one of them – companies will also have to initiate conversations with their publics. For me, comparisons made on dancers’ technical dexterity might not be necessarily meaningful, but comparisons that give rise to questions on the political-intellectual relationship between the differences in artistic direction and styles of the companies is of great interest to me. If 3 from Singapore has been earmarked as a collaboration platform for different Singapore dance companies, it will have to find a collaboration strategy in establishing the accepted structure of collaboration among these companies. This might be difficult, especially in collaborations without pre-set thematic tropes. Even if the most fundamental common denominator – the human body – were to be set as the common point of departure for all companies, it would be a huge challenge to re-train (or re-accustomed) respective dance company dancers to fit the style of any of the choreographers. Different companies have different pre-trained bodies. Un-training them in order to be trained by others might be unproductive, and training a body to accustomed or acquire another form of body might be too much of an effort for a dancer. What it seems is lacking is a structure of training for the imaginative mind. For an imaginative mind keeps the body alive, moving, propelling with responses, as seen in Yarra Ileto, Gordan Lai and Seow Chun Ying’s bodies. But those are momentary bouts of consciousness, flashes that come and go, not in permanence. Perhaps these imagination strategies could be used as collaborative tools, complemented with external technique classes by different choreographers in order to reduce potential conflicts between different bodies in a one dancer’s body. This could also probably be a common conversation point among companies with different artistic styles in initiating new collaborations.
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