>HOT WATER by Robert Wilson

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 20 jun 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: singapore institute of management
>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.


The three kids opposite me probably enjoyed themselves more than anybody else. They laughed themselves silly, had fun mimicking the dancer's weird moves and gave appreciate "oohhs" when they decided they were suitably impressed.

From start to end, HOT WATER defied easy categorization and confronted the audience with its curious mix of classical piano playing and theatrical man-puppet show. Coupled with video-projections on the four transparent walls encapsulating the pianist and dancer, the audience was treated to a multi-disciplinary show courting them simultaneously with the visual and the audio. When Robert Wilson talked about using the visual to contrast the music, he aimed to create a sense of tension on stage.

But energy cannot be evoked by merely using the music to decorate the movement on stage - it would be more interesting for the audience otherwise. Rather Wilson advocated: "go against the music - that's the power!" While the movement did indeed form an antithesis to the music at various times of the night, the result was not as Wilson envisioned. Rather than heightening the texture of the production, the jarring quality of seemingly unrelated materials juxtaposed against one another gave the production an overwhelming sense of ennui. Mutilated body parts, cute miniature trees and wooden horses flashed before the audience's eye while the music ran amok at a tangent.

Interesting? Not really. Tedious maybe. At the same time, the stylized movements of performer Arco Renz created a flux of movement but conveyed little otherwise. Prancing around in his knee length coat, his movement pieces stood defiant in face of the music vibrating from pianist Tzimon Barto's furious poundings. As a separate entity divorced from the music, the movement had little resonance beyond the surreal. These movements only achieved volition when they actually flowed with the music as they did sporadically, achieving a gleaming sheen of the life force that gave meaning. Other than that, the video projections on screens faced the same quandary as Renz in its failure to yield any external meaning other than the self-conscious need for segregation. During the last few etudes, the projections soon became a mesh of colours and incoherent designs which showed little and spoke even less.

>>'the night dragged limply while the audience soldiered on bravely'

The few times that the different mediums actually worked were when they converged rather than keeping their distance. In the six etudes, the screen showed a window from the exterior of a house. Slowly the image retreats and reveals more of the house but ultimately showing even more demonic-looking windows. As the Escher image grew, the audience was confronted with a plethora of windows staring out at them rather than them looking in. The music wove into the vision effectively as it soared with the expansion of sight, heightening the sense of terror as in a Hitchcock movie. The other instance was a meditative study in the changing terrain of the land complete with astronomical seasons. The moon moving from crescents into slivers and finally back to fullness reflected the passage of time while the needle-like monument below grew erect with the tune of the score. The four projection screens showed rushing water, bubbling at the edge. The combination of the music and the sparse but efficient visual element created an enchanting dreamscape that dazzled with silent intensity.

Both instances created opportunity-rich moments where the audience could have gone into intellectual frenzies trying to ascribe some equally abstract meaning to it. Yet Wilson made it painfully clear that the experience of seeing was more essential than the search for understanding - "What is it? Forget the labels!" However other than the two precious moments, the night dragged limply while the audience soldiered on bravely.

Running on empty, Wilson obviously didn't realize the irony when he said that most productions were so poorly designed that the audience's eyes "will go to the exit sign because it is the brightest". Not the brightest sign that night but eyes fled there anyway.

Perhaps the biggest problem was that while the idea of playing the music against the movement was fresh and commendable in theory, it didn't translate as well it should in reality. Instead of tension what the audience got was boredom. Instead of counterpoint movements bouncing off opposing melodies, what transpired was cacophony. Instead of chaos blending into a synchronized medley of randomness, there wasn't any beauty in the bathos.

Slamming the final nail in the coffin was the cold sterile machinery that alienated even further. Long waits and eerie creaks at regular intervals made the experience unnerving while this intrusion of technology heightened the dichotomy between the visual overload and music even further.

Near the end, Renz suddenly flew across the ceiling in a moment of Icarus allusion. At such a moment of theatrical gesture, the audience watched with awe and nobody dared as much as to breath.

That was until the three little devils laughed their heads off screaming "bird-man". To them all this multi-media hot air had been but the Emperor's new clothes - projected by video, magnified by audio, stylized by dance and captured by photography.

And maybe these three little brats were right.