>character study by michelle stortz

>reviewed by lin qifeng

>date: 27 sep 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre, the substation
>rating: not rated

>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.


One of the highlights of the Substation's Septfest 2001 was CHARACTER STUDY by freelance choreographer and dancer Michelle Stortz. The five works presented were the result of collaboration with writer Alfian Sa'at, dancer George Chua, musician Atman and choreographer Stephanie Burridge.

The first piece, entitled 'Fine Hats', was a monologue with Michelle performing to music by Atman. She played a woman recalling her family life in her life after death. Particularly poignant were the emotions she felt for her husband and daughter despite being hurt by them, because as she says, "people love people... that's what people do." Michelle displayed good theatrical skills here and her physical exploration accentuated her character further. All this done to music by Atman, the resonating echoes of his instrument emanating a spiritual and supernatural sense.

The second piece, 'Touch', explored that human act which people often (or seldom) perform. The text by Alfian was read by Stephanie Burridge, and Michelle and George gave it a physical dimension, frolicking, rolling and wrestling on the floor. The nuances of touch between different subjects were examined: the paternal touch, the maternal touch, the touch between siblings and enemies. Atman lent his fine musical talent to this piece, mirroring the emotions of the dancers. Unfortunately, due to the loud music playing over the system, the narration of the poem was hard to follow at times.

>>'CHARACTER STUDY showed how dance can be serious and enjoyable at the same time'

'Semiotic Girl' was also a text and dance piece, with Alfian narrating his own text this time. Michelle played a lady who had a one-night affair with someone she met at a club, and was left debating whether to call him after that. Alfian incorporated slogans in advertising campaigns which we encounter in everyday life, and all these influenced Michelle's character, showing how phrases used to appeal to consumers' sentiments influenced her as well. Michelle danced and mimed in this hilarious piece, reacting to some familiar cheesy slogan. The highlight must have been her very violent display of the demanding rites of love. Most delightful.

In 'Tread (work-in-progress)', Michelle danced in the space divided by three drapes suspended from the ceiling. She moved and danced to the voiceover expressing words that were hard to catch. But it didn't matter since Michelle was deeply involved in the moment and drew us into her space. The pace was slow, and after the preceding pieces it took quite some effort to digest this. The drapes, however imposing and hard they seemed, were still light and soft, and Michelle used them cleverly by pulling them, gathering them into a rope and veiling her face with them. Her movements were never dull.

The last piece 'Framed' was choreographed by Stephanie Burridge and was performed energetically and heartily by Michelle to the music of Nino Rota. She appeared on stage dressed glamorously for a function. The entire dance, with a few costume changes on stage, showed what was happening in her mind, like her inner-self let loose, presumably during some social function. And so her emotions ranged from excitement (dancing fanatically cabaret-style) to disappointment and shame (shades shielded her eyes) to self-reflection. After all this emotion-venting, the audience was drawn into her down-to-earth intense feelings, and finally she picked herself up again in the first dress she wore.

With all the variegated movements one always expects from dance, CHARACTER STUDY showed how dance can be serious and enjoyable at the same time. Pity it was a one-night performance. Would "Encore!" bring Michelle back to the stage?