A Sombre Evening Remembers a Departed Friend
Was it just me or did the NUS Dance Ensemble's The Next Wave 2005 feel especially sombre? Almost every piece on its line-up - including the requisite hip-hop routine - seemed to register some form of loss. There's a good reason for this: this one-night-only concert paid tribute to the memory of Ernest Chen, a cherished alumnus whose sudden demise earlier this year left his family and friends bereft.
While I never knew Chen personally (I heard the news too late to pay
my respects), I could easily pick him out during a performance. As
a dancer, he was unmissable; video clips of him in action, screened
towards the end of the show, merely hinted at his technical facility
and stage presence, which were pretty generous for someone who had
started dancing late at 17.
Happily, Zaini's latest creation emerged as one of the evening's highlights. His Human Behaviour found a comfy home in the grand and spunky soundworlds of vintage Björk. Pouty men in preppy office gear strutted downstage in rows before women, similarly clad, wheeled in on swivel chairs. Familiar patterns dug into the ground with a cool, swaggering edge. Soon, they were walking downstage in their underwear while staring accusingly at us. Never did youthful rebellion look so good.
Shahbirul Zaki Ahmad, a faithful alumnus who often choreographs for
the Ensemble, also pitched in a gem that gleamed on its own terms. Crash was
a modern-balletic ode to love and community. Over 15 women chased its
wind-blown paths, skimming on the highly charged songs of Anna Malick,
Vienna Teng, and Tori Amos. The dancers were wonderfully spry, even
when their swirling currents seemed a little too Zaini-esque at times.
So the veterans held up their end of the sky. Three choreographers, all new to the Ensemble, furnished the rest of the evening with perishable stuff that was not entirely bad. The all-female cast in Bryan Lee's Requiem for a Dream recalled the jilted spirits of Giselle, their gauzy hair accessories falling over their faces like wedding veils. Lost love made them clutch their heads in pain, though it could have been anything.
Syed Hamzah's hip-hop-driven Need felt strangely balletic in its constant orientation towards the audience. Not that this is abnormal, but here, I was more aware of it than usual. When the men massed in columns facing us, they appeared merely decorative. At least the duets and enacted quarrels were more convincing in describing estranged affections.
Opening the programme was Huang Zheng's His Joy Her Smile; Your Death My Tears. Women tracing folksy circles and lines suddenly broke into two warring camps, ending with a funeral for a fallen mate. Then they decided to play a weird, possibly forbidden game. "Shhh," went the girls, throwing their long skirts over themselves and clumping together. I was stumped. Thankfully, the night got better.
Ratings out of 5, based on
Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent /