>A-THE-BIRD by Dance Dimension Project

>reviewed by ma shaoling

>date: 1 jul 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the pavilion, far east square
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


The setting is already prepared for apparent flight as white clothes drape the airy stage that can be viewed from the top, front and sides. Curiosity mounts as one awaits the commencement of the performance; one is expecting an evening centred around the metaphor of birds; of flying; of freedom - themes that have always been popular in dance and theatre alike...

The idea for A-THE-BIRD was first conceived in 1993 by artistic director, Lim Chim Huat, and the first experimental performance was produced in 1994. Six years later, A-THE-BIRD is reborn, with extensive revisions in choreography, while retaining that sense of simplicity and directness.

The entire production evokes a single word - "mood". There is a different mood for every breakdown of the 5 scenes, namely 'People', 'Birds', 'Conflict', 'Harmony' and 'Loneliness'. Visually, the dancers blend and merge the transitions skillfully, ensuring a smooth flow from one mood into the next. In the first scene, four dancers appear as they are, walking, sitting, and engaging in the usual daily activities. A fifth dancer takes his place above that "humanistic" plane as he hovers on the upper level, flapping his arms, just as we have always longed to; our dream to fly without wings. Once the theme of freedom was opened for exploration, the first scene morphed into the second. The subconscious self that we witnessed before was transformed into the symbol of birds, and this was achieved with theatrical simplicity by the three pairs of white wings worn by the three dancers. The choreography in the second scene created a mood that was truly unique, with each move carefully detailed and naturally performed. There was no room for big superfluous movements and the three dancers did not just use their wings as props, instead, they were worn like a second skin; as a result, the image that they conjured up was, indeed, that of the graceful creatures in the sky.

>>'We can be sure that there will be more such meaningful flights from Dance Dimension Project'

It would, however, be superficial to interpret A-THE-BIRD as a mere flight of fantasy. For the next three scenes proved that there was far more depth to it. Also considering the seemingly grammatically awkward title, here, physical freedom does not necessarily imply actual freedom; a dilemma exists between the longing for freedom and an instinctive urge to protect oneself. 'Conflict' emerges in the third scene, as the five dancers become increasingly aware of each other's existence, and the set was transposed into one of run, hide, and seek. The pulling of the white cloth was creative and useful in creating the mood of chaos and transformation. Dashing underneath the layers of confusion, it was an apt metaphor for the disruption of a previously peaceful sky. However, it was a waste that the dance language was not further explored in this scene, for it could have better expressed the climax of the performance.

In the fourth scene, a wave of calm swept over the stage as the white cloth covered the four dancers. They emerged from underneath, tying themselves with the cloth, and in unison they shared the symbolic piece of peace. Reaching together into the middle of the stage, the four dancers moved while standing closely to one another. From there, the last scene, 'Loneliness' was directly juxtaposed against the previous scene as the stage stood bare and the dancers stood in alienation.

The play on moods had finally reached a most powerful ending, as musician Charlene Tan played for us a most unforgettable melody on her guitar. Lights were shone on one or two dancers at a time, while the rest stood motionless in the dark. A mood of quiet charm ironically made the loudest impact, even if in the end, nothing was left. No wings, no sky, and what exactly is freedom gained and lost?

The evening prompted a string of questions - after all, it is up to us to determine what it costs to face up to solitude after struggling to combat it. As ironic as it may sound, some people might have desired the dance to have a more complete and definite end. Or less sedate and sparse. For me, despite the shift in moods throughout the performance, I felt DDP exuded a prevalent sense of action in stillness. Each dancer was in tune with the theme, and even when a minor flaw occurred in scene four, the dancer in question did not lose her concentration.

A-THE-BIRD added another dimension to its dance with the incorporation of specially composed live music. While ballets have always been accompanied by live orchestral music, modern dance has the flexibility of fusing the visual with audio effects. In this case, the live instruments used, ranging from the synthesiser to the didgeridoo ,gave the evening's performance a colourful appeal. However, there were times when the music failed to emphasise the complexity of the atmosphere onstage, for example, during the scene of 'Birds', the monotone percussion did not compliment the layered movements of the dancers. On the whole, the live music performed by Charlene Tan and Samsudin Bin Majid proved to be an impetus for more such presentation in dance. With A-THE-BIRD, the dance is essentially about men, with or without wings. We can be sure that there will be more such meaningful flights from Dance Dimension Project.