>NEW DANCE LAB V - FACE 2 FACE by Frontier Danceland

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 1 apr 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the victoria theatre
>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.


Having started the New Dance Lab programme in 1998, Frontier Danceland has been involved in the search for a local identity for the past two years, with various choreographers invited to experiment with Asian and Western dance elements in a series of workshops. Performed by an all-female cast of up to eleven dancers, NEW DANCE LAB V - FACE 2 FACE is the fifth production from the dance laboratory.

The first in this showcase of four works was "Eastern Journey", which was choreographed by the company's artistic director Low Mei Yoke. This piece was a curious hybrid of its own: four Chinese female dancers engaged in classical Indian posturing to the jaunty strains of African music, complete with four flowing panels of sari as a backdrop. While less than fifteen minutes long, it was pleasantly upbeat and relatively effective in settling the audience into the rest of the evening. However, it was indeed unfortunate that unnecessary noises spoiled the dramatic use of silence in the opening phrase, which would have made an indelible impression had it remained quiet. Thanks to certain members of the audience, this auditory disruption was constantly present throughout the entire concert. Apart from the standard ensemble of mobile phone and pager tunes, the unwelcome addition of infantile gurgling prompted one spectator to make an astounding deduction.

"The parents should be shot."

>>'Layered with segments of slinky, hip-shaking movement and phrases of wild and flustered gestures, and you get a textured work that conveyed a whole range of emotions.'

The second piece, in contrast, was twice as long and employed an eccentric variety of mood and style. Choreographed by Low and guest choreographer Loke Soh Kim, "Falling Leave" began on a beautifully brooding note with five bodies lying supine across the stage, fluidly rippling their arms off the ground, accompanied by head-throbbing droning that resonated throughout the theatre. With their backs turned to the audience, each dancer executed a fixed pattern of actions at varying paces, facing an eerie backdrop of seemingly idol-like figures (which later turned out to be merely a wall of trash bags). Yet, there was also a sense of frustration when the same set of actions was suddenly performed in unison at a much quicker pace, thus creating a scene of worship simultaneously fraught with devotion and uncertainty. Layered with segments of slinky, hip-shaking movement and phrases of wild and flustered gestures, and you get a textured work that conveyed a whole range of emotions. However, whether this scope of emotions was related to some kind of emotional struggle or not remained unclear, with the deluge of falling 'leaves' in the latter half being too predictable to make an impact. The incorporation of children in this piece, while refreshing, also proved to be a burden. Their lack of discipline on stage drew laughter and exclamations of 'so cute' from the audience, while a little girl was badly shaken after taking a nasty fall towards the end.

The remaining two pieces appeared to have dealt with very real issues, but somehow left audiences hanging in mid-air, almost as if to suggest that these issues were still in progress today. In Fan Dong Kai's "I Remember - The Love and Spirit of Home" the influence of male dominance, as represented by guest dancer and sole male performer Deng Yu, over its victims (represented by the female cast, who were dressed to resemble Chinese peasant women) was portrayed as pervasive and deeply-rooted in the Chinese context. Initially disguised as a seated figure wrapped in white cloth, Deng's clean and athletic moves were the perfect foil for the women's delicate grace. However, the pacing of this dance could have been better. A poignant scene involving one lone woman, who was unravelling the fabric around Deng by staggering in a circle around him, seemed to have lost its momentum after the first few rounds. On the other hand, the issue of conflict in female gender roles in Low's "Vanishing…" might have deserved a little more attention. In this lively and catchy finale, dancers in long-sleeved shirts, ties and black pants stripped their shirts to reveal shiny halter-tops underneath, in exchange for embroidered sheets of red cloth. The shirts were later retrieved in total silence, which were worn by some and clutched by others, leaving one dancer to linger over her shirt as the curtains closed. Insightful? Yes, but were the kids quiet? No.

By now, attempting to create a meaningful compromise between the East and the West is not something new in the local dance arena, where previous endeavours have met with mixed results. Nevertheless, the road to formulating a local identity in dance is a long and treacherous one, especially in a nation where dance has never been a prominent part of the local culture. Despite the apparent lack of direction in this production, credit must be given to these three choreographers for making an effort to seek a balance.