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Production

Dance Me to the End of Love

Company

theatre du pif

Reviewer

Deanne Tan

Date

16/09/2006

Time

8.00pm

Place

The Esplanade Theatre Studio

Rating

***1/2

Love Calls You By Your Name

Inspired by Herman Hesse's Siddharta and the songs of celebrity Buddhist Leonard Cohen, Dance Me to the End of Love fused together dance, theatre and music to chronicle prince Siddharta's quest to find "the answer" to human suffering. With only three performers and the barest of sets, Dance employed a minimal aesthetic to create a poetic, evocative work. There was a refreshing newness to the production, and its mix of abstract and literal symbolism was surprisingly accessible to the audience.

Dance adeptly used the modes of storytelling, acting and dance to convey how Siddharta left his family in search of "the answer", failed to find it as an ascetic, and fell into the trap of material joys, before finally discovering enlightenment. The spare narrative, which remained true to the elegant asceticism of Hesse's novel, let each uncluttered word sink into the unfolding consciousness of the audience. The narrative was delivered in turn by each performer (Bonni Chan, Aman Yap and Sean Curran), often with one performer narrating while the other two danced and acted. This freed the dancer/actor from the task of storytelling and allowed them to focus on the emotions experienced during Siddharta's quest. While diction was inconsistent among the three performers, this was a minor issue.

The strongest parts of Dance were the essential moments in Siddharta's quest, which were illuminated brilliantly in scenes that were almost ascetic in their simplicity, while emotion was concentrated in the subtle nuances of the performers. These moving tableaux were restrained, poetic, and rich with symbolism.

In one scene where Siddharta experienced his first frustrations with his quest, his character (played by Chan) gazed with confusion and disappointment at a wall on which was projected two shadows of herself. The double shadows and Chan's plaintive vulnerability spoke eloquently of Siddharta's struggle with the mortal and spiritual duality of his humanity.

Another pivotal moment was the metaphorical and literal seduction of Siddharta by the realm of worldly pleasures, symbolically realised in Siddharta's affair with the courtesan Kamala. As Kamala, Chan switched effortlessly into the role of haughty coquette. In the scene, she approached the unsuspecting Siddharta with a come-hither look and languorously rolled, giggling, just out of his reach. Her careless laughter, evoking all the sensual and material joys in her life, was a relief from the moody scenes of Siddharta's struggles, but it also foreboded the extent to which Siddharta would lose sight of his quest in the face of temptation.

Chan delivered with poignancy the disappointment felt by Kamala when she realised that Siddharta did not love her. When Kamala lamented, "Only the ordinary people can love, that is their secret," before she asked Siddharta "what is the secret?", she sent a keen reminder that Siddharta had lost his way and was still far from finding his "answer".

Director/Devisor/Performer Chan's craft in acting and dance was a pleasure to watch, and she illuminated beautifully the range of human joy and suffering from which Siddharta struggled to escape. In her hands, Siddharta's journey became an intensely personal yet universal quest that every man could experience.

For a "fusion" work that drew from popular as well as traditional cultures of the East and West, Dance was surprisingly enjoyable. A contributing factor to the effectiveness of the work was its consistent aesthetic. The unadorned minimalism belied the evocative poetry and rich emotions that developed during the performance. The intimate atmosphere also invited the audience to participate in Siddharta's quest.

However, this restrained style also underwhelmed the audience with an overall flatness that failed to sustain 80 minutes of showtime. (This was perhaps more so for the weary IMF/World Bank delegates in the audience, who packed the room but also shifted in their seats a fair bit.) Perhaps the pacing could be tightened, with moments of less symbolic importance edited out, for example the long "love-making" scenes between Siddharta and Kamala, and the many scenes of Siddharta's life as a rich merchant. I also had doubts about the juxtaposition of Cohen's pop songs with the ascetic, Eastern setting. The inclusion of Cohen's songs in certain scenes appeared as interruptions, with the surfeit of contemporary imagery in Cohen's lyrics clashing with the minimal aesthetic.

In short, the production could be pared down to greater abstraction and symbolism, to focus on the strongest aspects of the Dance.


"The strongest parts of Dance were the essential moments in Siddharta's quest, which were illuminated brilliantly in scenes that were almost ascetic in their simplicity"

Credits

Bonni Chan – Director / Deviser / Performer

Sean Curran – Deviser / Performer

Aman Yap Choong-Boon – Performer

Sylvia Chan – Set Designer

Cheng Man-Wing – Costume Designer

Lau Ming-Hang – Lightning Designer

More Reviews by Deanne Tan

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.