>Y-JUNCTION by LASALLE-SIA Repertory Dance Company

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 18 may 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: studio theatre, LASALLE-sia
>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.
 

>>>>>THROUGH GLASS I SEE

The answer to happiness lies at the bottom of the glass, but which one?

Perhaps an absurd question, but nonetheless uttered by one dancer in the opening piece of Y-JUNCTION, an evening of six contemporary dance pieces that sought to explore the dilemma that people face in reaction to changing traditional values and cultural expectations in Singapore. Presented by the LASALLE-SIA Repertory Dance Company, this production attempted to look for the right glass: does tradition still hold an esteemed place in today's modern society, or has it been eroded to the point where it has become merely symbolic? Do cultural expectations constrain us, or give us the opportunity to create our own destiny?

With the exception of one or two pieces, most of the works were less than twenty minutes long, which implied that the choreographers had a limited amount of time to develop their ideas. 'Upon the End', which was also the opening dance, was one such piece that seemed to have suffered from this constraint. Choreographed by VCA graduate Joanne Lee, it was described in the programme as being 'the process of exploration, the discovery of identity, and a rediscovery of the inner child in all of us.' It nevertheless evoked amusing images of childhood innocence and naiveté with its use of fairy-tale stereotypes, like the prince, Rapunzel and a kooky wizard. The audience watched the cast of seven dancers graduate from primitive actions like hopping and rolling on stage, to hip-swivelling funk and contemporary steps while one dancer runs around frantically, shrieking for anyone who has seen her golden ball. Presumably the golden ball was meant to symbolise our identity or our inner child, but that thought was left unanswered. 'Yes...No...Wait...' was the other piece that felt under-developed, which pitted obsession against life and was supposed to be about 'the decision-making processes that can transform your life.' Choreographed by final year student Irene Yee, obsessive behaviour was depicted through repeated sequences of certain actions, like limbs rubbing against each other or the desperate removal of an imaginary substance from the face. How these bits of choreography were related to the all-important decision-making processes or the work itself, however, remained ambiguous.

>>'The manner in which the dancers weaved in and out of various patterns and groupings was effortless'

This being a production performed by students, the quality of their dancing was understandably rough around the edges, but its rawness lent character to two pieces that were satisfying blends of contemporary technique and pedestrian moves. 'All Things Said And Done', by final year student Jean Tan, allowed the audience to watch dancers Ebelle Chong and Vivenne Tan drag each other through falls and confident lifts, with occasionally bouts of contact improvisation. As a dance that dealt with the influence of other's expectations, the apparent lack of chemistry between the two dancers became purposeful in expressing the reluctance to be conformed to another image. Jamaludin Jalil's '1+1=1+1' used a rehearsal as a metaphor for life itself, with the dancers (Irene Yee and Jean Tan) as participants in the social process. Beginning by straddling sideways across the floor in unison, the two dancers then broke off to engage in an aggressive series of lifts and falls, taking turns at charging towards each other, complete with grabs and kicks as if in a fight of some sort. Punctuated with staring contests and lines like, 'What the hell was that?', this was obviously not your usual pas de deux, but a duel seething with rage and tension. At the end, one could not help but see Tan's huffed departure from the imaginary studio as an act of defiance, in response to the underlying strain of feigned tolerance and hypocrisy.

So if Y-JUNCTION was all about making choices, then 'Why Not!' by final year student Yang Mei was surely about rejecting the traditional ideal of the homogeneous family. The longest work in this production, the first two parts in this three-part piece seemed like statements on single parenting and homosexual coupling respectively. The first part featured Yang Mei herself and six little girls, who were lead into singing nursery rhymes and other activities. Reminiscent of Frontier Danceland's presentation of Loke Soh Kim's FALLING LEAVE (which used children with mixed results), the incorporation of children definitely went down well with the audience, judging from the number of exclamations of 'so cute'. This time, their spontaneity and uninhibited conduct on stage contrasted nicely with the understated strength of Yang's solo. The second part involved same sex partnering between two pairs of dancers, but nothing too provocative or suggestive. The third part, in comparison, would then seem totally incongruous with the issue of alternative family structures. What could be so alternative about pairing Yang with a male dancer (Russman Rahmat)? It was only until the ending, with Russman kneeling in her embrace while Yang looked up into the spotlight pensively, that the dance finally placed Russman's race into perspective, bringing forth issues of racial discrimination and interracial relationships. The uses of blackouts to separate each part, however, made every part feel like a distinct work instead of belonging to one whole piece.

Capping the evening was Keith Johnson's 'Someplace - Nowhere', which was admittedly a well-choreographed piece with dancers making numerous entrances and exits, to the point where the exact size of the cast was never known until the end. The manner in which the dancers weaved in and out of various patterns and groupings was effortless, resulting in a smooth and seamless dance that stood out among an evening of jerky and stilted moves. However, perhaps the problem was that it was too even and fluid for its own good. There seemed to be little or almost no variation in phrasing so that in time, it grew into a monotonous, almost mind numbing experience. The same could be said for Dowid Darling's music.

If the title was anything to go by, perhaps the feeling of languor and tedium was Johnson's objective. If there were anything to learn from Y-JUNCTION, it would be that the idea of choosing one road to take while at the crossroads of life, with choices clearly divided into two routes, might never be as simple as it looks. Still, this was more than just a platform for individuals with much to offer to the local dance scene. Irene Yee, who also happens to be hearing-impaired, can take heart in knowing that she was as good as her peers and has been a source of inspiration to this writer.