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Production

1000 Camels

Company

The Arts Fission Company

Reviewer

Stephanie Burridge

Date

21/03/2008

Time

8.00pm

Place

Esplanade Theatre Studio

Rating

***

Way Back Into Love

Like me, I am certain that many people in the large audience were intrigued by the title of this Arts Fission performance and fascinated by the true story of choreographer Elysa Wendi's marriage proposal from a Moroccan that included a dowry of a thousand camels. With the added inspiration of Sufi poet and philosopher Rumi, 1000 Camels embarks on a journey of discovery that explores transcultural issues as Wendi travelles to the Sahara Desert and revisits Arab Street in Little India.

The company opened up the stage by placing seats on two sides and revealing the bare walls of the space. Lying on the floor covered by huge silk cloths - the image immediately evoked the desert and the sands of time - the dancers suggested camels as they moved under the fabric. Then they wound the cloth together to make a tent and broke off spinning in a wild, joyous dance. This was a promising beginning that gave a sense of desert life, the fraternity of women and the rituals that revolve around life at a bazaar.

Metaphors and symbols were used throughout the choreography, and this created a sense of place and time while giving meaning to the narrative. These moments were often poignant and poetic. For instance, a stylised sharing of tea on a rug offered dancer Scarlet Yu and Egyptian musician Tarek Abdallah the opportunity to explore aspects of an inter-cultural relationship. As they drew closer to each other, he placed his scarf around her neck and then over her head; as she brushed it away again and again, it became a representation of living another sort of life in another culture. This moment, heavy with symbolism, was handled well by the choreographer and the performers.

Projections of camels on the walls represented another connection to the imagery of the dance - these are observed in many places in Arab Street on cloth, cushions, cigarette packets and the like. Cloth was a permanent feature of the production and it was used effectively throughout, particularly the bundles of cloth that the dancers carried, and those that covered them as they moved from place to place left a strong impression.

Such use of imagery punctuated brief sections of movement. But these became disappointingly insignificant as the dance progressed and the choreography was mainly reduced to long passages of walking around the perimeter of the space. Occasionally the dancers came together for some phrases of movement to give bodily expression to the narrative - these opportunities could have been explored in greater depth and with more dynamic and spatial variation.

When the piece began, the free-flowing movement was original and evolved from a new contextual approach to the choreography that was grounded in the choreographer's Middle Eastern experiences - it would have been exciting to see more of this. As the story unfolded, the mood became sombre and the powerful images of the opening were lost while the dance slowed to a slow, introspective, pace.

While a literal re-enactment of the events that inspired the choreography was not expected, 1000 Camels did not sustain the layering of complex imagery as a catalyst for personal reflection that was promised in the opening scenes.


"As the story unfolded, the mood became sombre and the powerful images of the opening were lost while the dance slowed to a slow, introspective pace."

Credits

Choreographer: Elysa Wendi

Musician: Tarek Abdallah

Sound design and composition: Philip Tan

Dancers: Scarlet Yu, Bobbi Chen, Yan Xiang Yi, Shirley Wong, Lynn Huang, Wu Yi Xin.

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.