>FOUR WORKS by Singapore Dance Theatre

>reviewed by Malcolm Tay

>date: 10 jun 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: kallang theatre
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


This year's Arts Festival offering by Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) sounded rather promising. In addition to the usual entry by Goh Choo San, the collection of four contemporary works also included a piece by six SDT dancers with live accompaniment by three musicians.

Given the company's reputation for creating quirky yet satisfying works for SDT's annual season of BALLET UNDER THE STARS, the world premiere of this local creation was brimming with potential. Indeed, last year's successful collaboration with the NUSS Singapore Opera Orchestra and the Philharmonic Chorus alone made it worthwhile to watch the nation's first professional dance company in action. As it turned out, a delightful evening of music and movement met with some minor disappointments.

Choreographed to Joyce Koh's 'IX Lives of a Cat', 'E-Man-cipation' was created and performed by six of SDT's male dancers, all but one of whom have choreographed for the company before. Koh's music may have been inspired by pictures from 'The Artful Cat' by Stan Eales, but one might not safely assume that this dance was about cats, for all six of them were dressed in gauzy black leotards of different styles. 'Cats'? No. 'Chicago'? Maybe. To their credit, the dancers moved with the athleticism and agility of their feline counterparts, performing leaps and cartwheels with a feral instinct, tempered with the elegance of their classical training. However, for all its idiosyncratic nuances (the rehearsal-like atmosphere in the sixth movement; dancer Ricky Sim's inauspicious "meow"; mass uttering of lines in the eighth movement), the dance failed to endear and left one somewhat unsatisfied. In a more intimate space, perhaps, the unique relationship between musicians and dancers could have been better explored without neglecting the audience.

If the opening piece seemed rather disturbing to some, then the ethnic footwork of Boi Sakti's 'The Lost Space' might have alleviated some of the leftover discomfort. With the dancers dressed in sarongs, phrases of loud and boisterous steps were layered with sections that seemed to linger with grief and sorrow. As an interpretation of loneliness in the city, loneliness was not depicted as an individual state but part of the larger human condition: one dancer passed an imaginary substance from one pair of cupped hands to another, a process of sharing that was both sad yet ironical - the feeling of being alone despite being physically surrounded by people. The creative use of four benches, arranged in various patterns by the dancers who occasionally performed on them to create different levels of space, was perhaps representative of the structure of urban life that fostered this loneliness. Nevertheless, this dramatic work certainly struck a chord with its contrasting imagery and silat-influenced posturing.

>>'Despite the presence of some minor setbacks, this was an enjoyable performance that left the audience with smiles on their faces'

Edmund Stripe's 'Nexus', which was presented after the interval, served as a showcase for three of SDT's most featured dancers. The formulaic pairing of Kuik Swee Boon and Xia Hai Ying, with the added maturity of Jeffrey Tan, formed the basis for this ballet, which involved "a single identity divided into three elements, each with its own identity". In matching skin-coloured unitards, the trio twined in and out of the space between them, their bodies linked in a tight ring by their undulating arms, with Xia as the main bond between the three dancers. As each took turns to break away from the human chain, each alternated partners for the seamless series of dreamy pas de deux that followed. This inevitably led to a duet between the two male dancers, with Tan sturdily supporting Kuik on his shoulders, as he would have with any woman. Enhanced by the eerie strains of George Crumb's humpback whale-inspired 'Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale)', this piece alone dazzled with its intensity and understated showmanship.

After another fifteen-minute interval, the company ended the evening with Goh Choo San's 'Fives'. Danced by five men and ten women, some of Goh's stylistic trademarks were present: angular lines, complex patterns and dynamic partnering, among other traits. Performed to the majestic and vibrant score of Ernest Bloch's 'Concerto Grosso No. 1', the company seemed mostly comfortable with the demands of this piece, but the occasional mistiming in their execution marred the overall asymmetrical line. On the other hand, the women displayed compelling ensemble work, resonating with their own volition as they danced to passages of silence, with sequences of running pas de bourrée that were light and airy, yet forceful and weighty in their collective pointe work. It worked as a decent finale, but compared to some of Goh's other ballets, 'Fives' was not particularly outstanding.

Last year's GISELLE may have shown strides of improvement in the company's treatment of the quintessential classical ballets, but this year's Arts Festival offering has proven that contemporary works are still the forte of the homegrown SDT. Despite the presence of some minor setbacks, this was an enjoyable performance that left the audience with smiles on their faces.