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Production

Hybrid Moves

Company

NUS Centre for the Arts

Reviewer

Stephanie Burridge

Date

15/09/2007

Time

8.00pm

Place

University Cultural Centre Hall

Rating

***

Eclectic Electric

Hybrid Moves, which showcases the National University of Singapore's (NUS) six student dance groups, was remarkable for the sheer number of dancers on stage. It reflected a passion for dance that seems to pervade Singaporean youth, from the hip-hop crews rehearsing in the underpass leading to the Esplanade to these close-knit university clubs.

This year, the groups were asked to present works based on the themes of "Peranakan" and "hybridity", and they chose to tackle these themes in the form and content of their choreography. Energy and commitment were abundant; technical skill was obvious in some items, but in others, the dancers just wanted to have fun. While some of the choreographers tried to tease out some deeper concepts and ideas, the showstoppers were definitely the mass-dance pieces.

In this respect, the NUS Dance Ensemble's Samsara, choreographed by Zaini Mohd Tahir, stood out with precise Balinese-inspired movements and lavish gold costumes. The women achieved the bent-back fingers, arm and head postures associated with Balinese legong, while the men had their moments to show off their skills. Their dancing achieved a high level of unison, though it lacked the spiritual basis and intention of the traditional form as it rushed through the series of dance steps. It was a lost opportunity for the dancers - and the audience - to dig below the surface to find a more expressive connection to the dance.

Ding Hong's My Homeland for NUS Chinese Dance and Rentak Funky (Funky Beats) by Patrick Loo for NUS Dance Blast! were amazingly similar in some ways. Each concentrated on setting dance steps within a loose narrative that remained in the background, the dancers grouping into various formations and enjoying the buzz of being onstage. NUS Dance Blast! featured a virtuosic hip-hop performer in white carrying a camera, lifting the energy of the group and giving the fairly lame setting (mannequins in a Peranakan museum coming alive) some focus. In contrast, Ding created quiet harmony using traditional Chinese dance steps and props.

NUS Indian Dance's From Where I Am Standing by Santha Bhaskar used Heng Siok Tian's poem Sayang Airwell as an inspiration for the dance, setting it in an airwell that is typically found in Peranakan homes. The dance began intriguingly with one dancer reciting the poem while another performed short phrases around the stage. This was followed by fairly standard Indian dance moves to contemporary music that worked better in some instances than in others. (Unfortunately, none of the interesting music used in the show was credited in the programme.)

In Fan Dong Kai's Passage for NUS Dance Synergy, a hair-combing ritual served as a metaphor for a matriach's journey through life. This image recurred throughout the dance and provided a "scene change" between sections in various styles. The last scene, showing old women crossing the stage, was both comic and poignant - it was well acted by the group.

Artistically, the most satisfying for me was Osman Abdul Hamid's Nadi for NUS Ilsa Tari, an evocative, beautifully-lit creation with layers of subtlety in concept and movement. Not only did it explore the theme of searching for soul and identity in some depth, but the dynamics, spatial and group patterns were also varied throughout the choreography.

While it was good to see so many dancers onstage, at some point, some of them may want to break out of the current concert-style formula and challenge themselves with more creative concepts. Across the world, universities have often been at the forefront of the creative expression of ideas in the arts. Each of the NUS dance groups has talented dancers that could extend themselves as performers and choreographers of the future. Singapore's dance scene would certainly benefit from such a move.


"While it was good to see so many dancers onstage, at some point, some of them may want to break out of the current concert-style formula and challenge themselves with more creative concepts"

Credits

Performers: NUS Chinese Dance, NUS Dance Blast!, NUS Dance Ensemble, NUS Dance Synergy, NUS Ilsa Tari and NUS Indian Dance

Choreography: Ding Hong (My Homeland), Fan Dong Kai (Passage), Osman Abdul Hamid (Nadi), Patrick Loo (Rentak Funky), Santha Bhaskar (From Where I Am Standing) and Zaini Mohd Tahir (Samsara)

More Reviews by Stephanie Burridge

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