>silent song by the necessary stage

>reviewed by sherrie lee

>date: 4 aug 2001
>time: 3pm
>venue: the necessary stage black box

>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.


I can't tell you what SILENT SONG is about. And for sure, the publicity material about a dialogue between the living and the dead won't help much. There was a sense of the mechanical versus the lyrical, action versus emotion, but I have to say these were merely senses. A potentially symbolic and powerful piece of work, SILENT SONG had startling moments, arresting images, but alas, was lost to a mess of disjointed and incongruous scenes. It's not so much the fact that all four performers have different training and performance background - maybe a little to do with the fact that it was partly choreographed and partly constructed out of improvisation. But perhaps it is more to do with it's being overwhelmed and overtaken by the subject matter - Life? Death? I'd call it Dealing With Inner Demons.

Opening the piece was a large cloth with slits across the stage. Chant-like murmurs filled the black box, eyes appeared through the slits, haunting you with their intensity. Arms would shoot out through the slits, hands gesturing, interacting with neighbouring hands, sometimes reaching out towards the audience as if trying to grab something. Thank goodness for the cloth. While it brought attention to the performers' eyes staring at the audience, it also shielded us from their whole bodies and thus their total confrontational selves. So in this way, the tables were turned against us and yet we were just as intent at turning it back against the performers by staring back at them.

>>‘I found myself wondering throughout the performance, "Just what are you trying to say?"'

The disturbing and provocative opening was however, not matched by the subsequent scenes except maybe towards the end. For the most part, Kuo Jing Hong was doing her own thing, descending from a wall and eventually onto the stage where she danced her own melancholic series of movements, always somehow in contact with paper which was the main prop (great lengths of paper were used for the performers to wrap themselves in). In the meantime, three cartoon-like figures (Joavien Ng Bong Na, Mohd Fita Helmi and Ng Leong Sim) would burst into the space like wound up toys with pre-configured movements and sounds, banging into one another, doing tricks like rolling across the ground. Jing Hong's character would interact with the other three but when they did so, the three were clearly out of wound up toy mode.

Towards the end, as all four characters became united in their quest to battle with the paper that had to be tamed and in the end punctured with fists and arm strength, a singular vision seemed to appear, like in the opening scene, where all the performers were intent on breaking the fourth wall between audience and performers. It seemed that only when all four were in choreographic unison did the piece start to make sense again.

Throughout the piece, the alternation between hyperactivity and solemnity was striking but it seemed to go on a little too long without development. I hate to ask the question 'What Does It Mean?' since in an abstract expression, an existential attitude matters more than a fixed meaning. But I found myself wondering throughout the performance, "Just what are you trying to say?" But this is a subjective thing, whether or not you get something out of it. During the feedback session, it was clear that there were people who were acutely sensitive to the sense of dehumanisation and intense emotions displayed.

But I stand by my observation that SILENT SONG lacked coherence. There were ideas, stories, moments, but no through-line to string them together to be truly impactful.