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Production

Atma

Company

Maya Dance Theate

Reviewer

Stephanie Burridge

Date

26/10/2007

Time

8.00pm

Place

Esplanade Theatre Studio

Rating

**1/2

Hit and Myth

Balinese classical dance, south Indian bharatanatyam, contemporary dance, text and a composed score - all of these elements came together in a retelling of the story of the character Ravana from the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. To gather these parts together and make Atma gel as a whole was ambitious and difficult.

The performance was a case of many good ideas, some extraordinary moments and a lot of confusion. Alex Dea's score, evocative and appropriate, seemed to guide the performers through the choreography, giving some much-needed breathing space for interpretation. But there was simply too much to tackle in this dance.

The narrative explores an aspect of one of the greatest epic stories of all time, a tale known in India, to Bali, Thailand, Cambodia and beyond. It is revisited and interrogated by both oriental and occidental practitioners through film, drama, dance and art. For audiences at Atma versed in the tale, there is much to contemplate and debate in the interpretation of the characters and the intricacies of the storyline.

To help audience members just coming along for the dance, the subtexts of the plot could have been abstracted further. This would have highlighted the universal aspects of human frailty, such as the struggle between good and evil, weakness and power, lust and greed, the masculine and the feminine, and the search for the soul.

Although the text provided some insights into the plot and the main characters, it did not integrate into the performance enough to merit its inclusion. Actor Noor Effendy Mohamed did well nevertheless, physically combining the words with movement while maintaining a commanding presence throughout.

In the masked dance, I Nyoman Sura was superb as he taunted each of the performers attempting to capture their souls. It was a privilege to observe the great Balinese dancer almost turn his arms inside out when he danced to the text about hands that "opened and closed". Coupled with this, however, was a group of talented yet disparate performers with vastly different backgrounds.

Their technical differences became very distracting, particularly when they had to dance in unison in styles that they were not trained in. The production needed some trimming and direction so that the humanitarian aspects of the plot could be expressed clearly by all the dancers in a unified movement or dramatic style. Instead, the stylistic diversity broke the choreography into many scattered parts, dissipating the narrative.

Maya Dance Theatre nonetheless made some brave and commendable decisions, including commissioning an original score, assembling a group of quality performers and tackling the complex tale of Ravana. Yet it might take years of development and exploration to crystallise each moment of this dance-drama to make it read physically. Perhaps that is what is required of the Ramayana and other epic stories that exist in the canon of universal greatness.


"There is much to contemplate and debate in the interpretation of the characters and the intricacies of the storyline"

Credits

Choreography: Kavitha Krishnan and Juraimy Abu Bakar

Dancers: Max Chen, Huang Yuzhu and Khairul Shahrin

Theatre practitioner: Noor Effendy Mohamed

Indonesian performing artists: I Gusti Ngurah Sudibya and I Nyoman Sura.

Composer: Alex Dea

Set Designer: Lex Marcos

Lighting Designer: Hon Beng

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.