>SPRING DAY by PAPPA TARAHUMARA

>reviewed by ma shaoling

>date: 11 jun 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: victoria theatre
>rating: ***1/2

>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.
 

>>>>>A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

For two Summer nights, we were challenged by Pappa Tarahumara to a dream of spring. The five performers presented theirs using butoh, mime, contemporary dance, and theatrical expressions, while we as audiences imagined ours with eyes and ears ... For audiences who expected to enjoy a dance that was dance per say, they were treated to a myriad of such and much more.

For audiences who expected to enjoy a conventional dance of grace and entertainment without communication and introspection, well, how disappointed must they be. Simply put, SPRING DAY was what many postmodernist theatre companies hope to achieve - a blend of art forms, an display of human emotions, and perhaps a search to answer the many unanswerable questions. And yet, SPRING DAY must not be simply put in a neat little box, because that would not only be an insult to the creativity of Pappa Tarahumara, it would also strive to define an art that simply cannot be defined.

Although the company's works are characterized by the eastern sense of time and motion, SPRING DAY adds on a sense of Blakean beauty and existential tragedy. The stage set was simply but cleverly designed with four clumps of 'grass' sprouting at various points of the stage. At times, the dancers hid behind them, at other times, they glowed with red lights and swayed in the wind. Most of the time, they were just left alone, standing still amidst the buzzing activity, a reflection of the loneliness of mankind.

The performers transited in and out of the stage, faces painted white to depict fictional characters who moved back and forth between reality and fantasy. They fleeted across the carefree pastoral scenes to the more garbing urban life, and then returns to the peaceful pastoral feel again. The transitions were smooth, with splendid use of sound and light effects, but the expressions were deliberately jerky. This was to show that whereas what goes on onstage can be simple and cheerful, there is an underlying sense of sadness. The performers layered the complexity of their works with their voices, for example, as one performer rolled off the stage, her guttural mutterings complimented the movement of her body. Subsequently, as male and female performers took turns to sing in clear, resonant and harmonious tunes, they were actually telling an illusionary love story based loosely on a Japanese novel. Just as onomatopoeia is popularly used in poetry, the rise and fall of their voices accentuate the monologue/dialogue of SPRING DAY. The performers were versatile and each of them stood out in their own ways. They imbued a delicate balance of self-indulging artistry and professional dedication. Thus even at times when the audiences were uncertain, we could simply relish in the performers' dramatism. From comical picture-freeze poses at a beach to frantic cries against the advent of technology and darkness, the performers carried our emotions on waves that rose and fell.

>>'SPRING DAY was brave to explore new techniques imbued with traditional Japanese ones.'

Symbolism played a major part in this production. The image of a horse on a screen depicts nature, while the surprising noises of cars and machines show the disturbances of technology. The images of hands, arms and legs on the screen parallel a line 'Am I truly human?', as though to echo the blurring of existence. When a male performer changed into a red dress, it intended to illustrate the duality of sexuality. The second last act of the performance when a cross was formed across the stage symbolized the entry into death and darkness. Playing with shadows and lights, that act created a powerful image of hell and fear. Lastly, love too was represented by symbols: circles, triangles, and squares. We do not know what exactly they stood for individually, but as the performers pasted the different symbols on each other, we understood that emotions can be confusing, and as in the words of the spoken monologue, 'Only those who feel love/ Will Only know the sign'. The words 'Who, me?' were often repeated by the performers. True enough, no one knew who they were, or even what roles they were playing. These ambiguities about 'self' and 'identity' remained echoing questions that challenge us in the throes of life. Except for the differentiation into those clothed in blue pants and those in red dresses, the performers seemed to represent everyday men and women. The fact that they were Japanese was not even that important, for they expressed issues regarding life, death and love that were universal.

The last scene was successfully climatic as it was struck by thunder, heralding the seasonal change from spring to summer. It also suggests a return to the field of wildflowers that set the first scene. Something important was indeed beginning. We do not know what, but as usual throughout the performance, we were left to imagine.

As a theatrical production, SPRING DAY was brave to explore new techniques imbued with traditional Japanese ones. It was visually and aurally stimulating. As a deeper venture into life's questions, SPRING DAY managed to set the audiences' minds working. However, there were times that we were forced to work too much; an entire length was performed in Japanese. Although an English translation was given with the program, it was impossible to read and appreciate its meanings during the performance. Much was thus left to guessing, and much of the significance was lost as a result of that. Only after going through the translations in detail and recollecting the entire production after it had ended would some interesting issues emerge. And it is sad to think that most of the audiences would probably return home after the performance and forget about it. I guess I am lucky to have to write this review as it gave me an impetus to truly dip into the mind of the director/choreographer. If SPRING DAY were to be judged on its level of communication with the audiences, I would reckon that certain parts should be clarified so as to avoid being dismissed as over-abstraction.

While many of the audiences looked mystified and bored, there were an equal number who never leaned back on their seats and almost never blinked an eyelid. This is perhaps the special spell that Pappa Tarahumara hoped to cast. For they did their job with passion, and the effect was freely left to the individual audiences. This is also what theatre is all about, for if art is to be consumed with crystal clarity and uniform interpretations, how boring it would be!

As I left the theatre, I knew that there were to be more dreams that seemingly peaceful summer night. This was my dream, what was yours?