>ODYSSEY TO THE SUBLIME Odyssey Dance Theatre

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 20 jan 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall
>rating: **1/2

>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.


Especially when your opening night audience included, among others, the chairman of the National Arts Council and Cultural Medallion winners from previous years. With so much pressure mounting from the seats below, perhaps it was no wonder that newly formed Odyssey Dance Theatre (ODT) was unable to rise to the occasion. For what transpired on stage was a brave, but unpolished effort that seemed to belie insufficient preparation and indicative of the company's lack of experience. As explained in the programme, "Odyssey to the Sublime" intended to depict "a journey in the search of one's most inner 'state of calmness.'" Despite such lofty concerns with culture and identity, it seemed rather aloof in presenting a new cultural perspective as it hoped to achieve.

Divided into three parts, this full-length work was danced by an all-female cast of seven. The first part, 'My Dream; My Journey', began with a lone dancer under the spotlight while the other six dancers stood behind her in the dark. Circling her arm while walking in a circle in silence, this pensive scene was a good opening for the dance, almost as if she was beckoning the audience to join her. To the haunting vocals of Yungchen Lhamo, the other dancers joined in at varying paces and levels of space. As one walked around aimlessly while another seemed grounded to the stage, the dancers seemed to represent various thoughts and personalities with one shared purpose in finding that elusive peace of mind. Unfortunately, this motif of individualistic exploration was repeated throughout the entire piece and as charming as it was in the beginning, it became predictable after a while.

>>'ODYSSEY TO THE SUBLIME was not presented as a harmonious fusion of East and West, but a befuddled mixture of elements'

This somewhat promising start, however, was deflated by the second part of this piece. As suggested by the title, 'My Emotions; My Fear' attempted to deal with the confrontation of feelings and uncertainties during the search for inner peace, but it did so without much variation or imagination in its vocabulary. Having watched some of them claw the air with their upper limbs, flail their long tresses (except for dancer Joey Chua who sported a short crop) with wild abandon, slap their foreheads and bellies and doing all this while breathing violently, one could tell there was some kind of emotional conflict going on but little else. The portrayal of human insecurity was thus limited to these actions, and this part of the dance seemed rather contrived in its approach. The last part, 'My Heaven; My Sublime', was somewhat better in expressing the tranquility upon reaching the end of the quest. Sadly, their ungainly handling of the lengthy strips of white cloth marred the initial feeling of serenity. As this portion of the dance borrowed heavily from the ancient Buddhist art of Dunhuang, the dancers did lots of gesturing and posing but only the ending position, with one pair of arms stretched out towards the heavens against a backdrop of extended arms, really held any attention in this section of the dance.

Nevertheless, what also went noticed were the technical hiccups and inconsistencies in the execution of this work, which may be attributed to opening night jitters. Because the accompanying music did not sound loud enough, it felt like the dancers were merely performing with background music that had no relation to the choreography. During occasions where they danced in unison, their jumps and leaps were barely in time and their pirouettes left much to be desired. Such instances revealed the dire need for cohesion and unity between the dancers as a company. This was even more apparent in their clumsy usage of the lengthy strips of white cloth, a prop that was under-utilized and only played a visible role in certain parts of the dance. Together with the music and the Buddhist influence in the third part, these appeared to be the only Asian elements that were incorporated in this piece. As a result, ODYSSEY TO THE SUBLIME was not presented as a harmonious fusion of East and West, but a befuddled mixture of elements.

Given its high profile and support from a distinguished panel of artistic advisors, Odyssey Dance Theatre has the potential to become a force to reckon with on the local dance scene. But for now, it should consider where it wants to go - whether to be a local contemporary dance group or a contemporary dance group dabbling with local concerns.