>FRESH FROM THE OVEN by Dance Dimension Project

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 4 aug 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre, the substation
>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.


Organised by Dance Dimension Project (DDP), FRESH FROM THE OVEN is a ten-month long training programme with budding choreographers and dancers in mind. Comprising lessons in ballet, contemporary dance and dance composition, it provides participants with a comprehensive level of dance training and yet allows them to retain their day jobs. This performance not only featured the choreography of DDP dancer-in-residence Choo Leh Leh and project dancer Tee Guay Chiou, but more importantly marked the first batch of graduates from this programme - NUS undergraduates Koo Yuan Hui and Sabrina Foo, psychologist Ho Yan Yin, remisier Koh Irene, researcher Koh Shio Theng and Internet engineer Loh Yuk Sun.

There seemed to be no single governing theme for the ten short pieces of this show and this allowed for a variety of emotions and ideas to be materialised in movement and space. And with half the evening's programme dominated by solo works, audiences witnessed an assortment of quality and style across the range of individual efforts. The choreographers themselves performed their respective pieces, save one solo choreographed by Choo Leh Leh.

'Sanctuary' was a compelling piece by Koh Irene about the search for inner peace and enlightenment. Koh brought to the stage a living being that seemed to be in intense agony, athletically thrashing her body against the floor while struggling to fight gravity and stand on her feet. The eventual discovery and use of a stage exit, illuminated to represent the "haven for the soul in despair", ended this piece on a predictable yet gratifying note.

>>'Audiences witnessed an assortment of quality and style across the range of individual efforts'

Immediately following was 'Discovery' by Loh Yuk Sun, which possessed a totally different disposition from Koh's creation. About a girl's finding and recognising her Creator, its overall bright and cheery mood failed to sit well with this writer, partly due to the performer's inability to communicate this effectively. Loh's facial expression, perhaps intended to convey a sense of amazement and wonder, was more likely to draw cringes than empathy. Christian leanings were highlighted with the use of sacred choral music in one phrase, a welcome break from the cheesy synthesiser score that mostly accompanied this piece. There was also little to see in Koo Yuan Hui's oddly titled (an infinity sign?) energetic solo, aside from its being about "something far, endless, speechless", and its making use of a white sheet of fabric and Vanessa Mae's "Red Hot" to liven things up.

On the other hand, Choo Leh Leh's 'Zero Degrees' proved that less is more with its economic use of movement and floor space. Performed by Ho Yan Yin, the dancer wore a wig of long raffia that covered her entire body. She was thus transformed into a "frozen and formless being", writhing and wriggling in the confines of a stage exit, only to emerge from this shapeless form towards the end. Sabrina Foo's 'Entrapment', the last solo to be performed, was a dramatic performance about being trapped and consumed by memories of lost love, symbolised by rose petals falling from the ceiling into a mound. Sprinkled into a pattern on the floor by Foo, the scent from the rose petals gave this dance the added dimension of smell.

The only duet for that evening was Koh Shio Theng's 'Blite', which sounded like an misspelling of a similar sounding word but was actually a combination of "black" and "white". Danced by Ho Yan Yin and the choreographer herself, the two dancers displayed sufficient chemistry in this sombre pas de deux about the conflicting sides of human nature. At times they were fused as one erect figure locked into an embrace, with rippling arms and flexed hands cutting various shapes. On other occasions, they were separate entities grounded in the earth, extending and contracting their bodies on the floor.

The remainder of the programme consisted of works for groups of three to four dancers, beginning with Choo Leh Leh's 'Echo'. As the opening piece, it started the evening well with its employment of repetition and variations in its movement vocabulary, danced by a trio of white hooded dancers and accompanied by echoing choral music. In 'I Want To Sleep...!', Tee Guay Chiou's look at the frustrating effects of insomnia was somewhat amusing, yet nightmarish at some points. The image of four T-shirt-clad dancers clutching pillows and tossing around restlessly was undoubtedly familiar, but desperately shrill cries of "Mama!" only heightened the sense of hopelessness that one may feel on a sleepless night. In contrast, Ho Yan Yin's 'Siren' was a pleasing combination of balletic and contemporary techniques, driven by the wailing vocals of Tori Amos and danced for its own sake.

Capping the evening was 'Kaleidoscope', a result of improvisation and composition sessions between DDP's artistic director Lim Chin Huat and the FRESH FROM THE OVEN participants. The only piece that featured the all-woman gang of six, this was perhaps the best display of group dancing for the evening. Breaking in and out of pairs and trios, the subdued lighting momentarily transformed the performers into faceless spirits, dancing in silence interrupted twice by Beethoven's piano (and telephone) classic "Für Elise".

With auditions for the second course of FRESH FROM THE OVEN scheduled for this month, it is good to know that one need not go far in order to fulfil that elusive dream of choreographing and performing for a live audience. However, it was indeed a shame that there were no male participants apart from DDP's Lim Chin Huat and Tan How Choon, who served as mentors to some of these promising choreographers. Nevertheless, this was an admirable effort on the part of the participants, some of whom will go on to the next level of training under DDP's guidance, as well as on the part of DDP for taking the initiative to train aspiring dancers outside of the usual mould of professional dance programmes.