>REMEMBERING JESUS by tammy l. wong dance company

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 12 feb 2000
>time: 5pm
>venue: 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.


Technical difficulties delayed the first matinee performance of "Remembering Jesus" by almost twenty minutes, which made an impatient crowd with an alarmingly large number of children restless. While fidgety children made several attempts to barge through the doors, the mass of people was finally admitted into the Guinness Theatre after fifteen minutes of waiting in somewhat stuffy conditions. After an additional five minutes of waiting in air-conditioned comfort, tammy l. wong dance company presented the audience with an exuberant piece of dance. Or was it?

While the definition of dance has considerably broadened over the years, this full-length work by Tammy Wong was treading precariously on an extremely thin line between dance and drama. With its incorporation of coherent speech and singing, this piece went beyond the usual grunting or wheezing that may well be heard in other dance performances. This was apparent at the beginning of the dance, which opened with Wong's rendition of a song of praise while being seated on a swing in semi-darkness. Apart from talking about the comforts of 'calling out Jesus' name', Wong's pre-recorded voice could also be heard narrating a Bible story in the background, while dancer Elaine Chan supplied two Christian ditties in a staggering pitch. Such forms of oral communication may have assisted the audience's viewing experience, but their respective vocal performances made it clear that both Wong and Chan should stick to their day jobs. Darren Oh, however, delivered a steady version of perennial Sunday school favourite "Jesus Loves The Little Children" in a scene about a 'really dark' man who came to know Jesus, only to refer to a white box as 'Jesus' moments later.

>>'The distracting vocals failed to undermine the graceful, yet athletic moves that took place'

Fortunately, the distracting vocals failed to undermine the graceful, yet athletic moves that took place. Performed to an assorted mix of gospel, traditional and soaring classical tunes, the main cast of six dancers carried out a range of fluid, sweeping and erratic movements that included many elements from ballet. Aside from turning leaps, chaînés and lots of footwork on relevé, quirky arm and finger actions with wide use of the upper torso made for unusual choreography across the floor. A particularly intriguing segment with the entire cast involved moving in circles at varying speeds until one dancer would say 'falling', which prompted the rest of the other dancers to support her to standing. Through their intimate duets and brief flirts with contact improvisation, the dancers conveyed feelings of assurance, comfort and anxiety from worship with a personal god. The set amplified the expression of these ideas, with vertical white beams hedging the walls on both sides, which not only served as sources of fluorescent lighting but also as entrance cum exit points. This created an almost sterile setting of white and gray that blended with their all-white costumes, but contrasted nicely with the asymmetrical lines of their dancing.

The abrupt ending, however, provided an unfulfilling end to this honest showcase of staccato and willowy dance. The slight hesitations in execution, the unwanted noises from patting, slapping and other actions, and the extra five-minute pause in the middle disrupted the pace and rhythm of the dance. Not to mention the hasty entries and exits made by the dancers throughout the entire piece, of whom some were noticeably twitching while they waited for their turns by the walls. Shortcomings notwithstanding, it was indeed a shame that in "Remembering Jesus", much of its subject matter was delivered by way of song, speech and even music. Perhaps Wong might want to consider relying less on direct verbal communication, and more on a developed vocabulary of movement in her future creations. After all, the beauty of dance lies in its physical interpretation of ideas that would otherwise be constrained in words.