>RIVER OF LIFE by Radical Performing Arts

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 25 feb 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: guinness theatre
>rating: 2.5 (4 for effort)

>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: 5 : Transcendent / Rapturous. 4: Crystal / Appreciative. 3: Transmitted / Thoughtful. 2: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.


Make no mistake about this: this was a dance concert performed by total amateurs, not by full-time professional dancers with qualifications from recognised arts institutions and years of training behind them, which probably explained for their lack of fluidity and the occasional mis-timing. From full-time students to working adults, these were people from different walks of life who were united by their common passion for dance and a dream to perform in front of an audience. With most of them having little or no dance background to begin with, they make no apologies for their lack of talent and performing experience.

>>'credit should go to each performer for clearly contributing more than their fair share of effort'

Organised by Radical Performing Arts, RIVER OF LIFE was an honest, unassuming production with no lavish props, fancy costumes and complex lighting sequences to boast of. What it did have was original music by LASALLE-SIA scholar Philip Tan, whose purposeful compositions complemented the dancers. Divided into eight items, this was a full-length work that incorporated the styles of ballet, modern, jazz, funk and hip-hop to portray the variety and workings of everyday life, with a theme dancer representing the 'river of life' as a source of peace and harmony. Each section flowed into the next so there was a sense of continuity and progression of ideas, even without looking at the programme. However, instead of functioning as a whole, some items seemed to behave like separate routines altogether. This was apparent during sections like the second item ('After The Rain'), which had five dancers in matching pants moving to 'Because Of You' by boy band 98 Degrees. A pleasant item nonetheless but apart from one verse in the accompanying song, namely 'You're My Sunshine After the Rain', this segment appeared to have little connection with the previous item.

Among the various forms of dance that were put on display, however, modern dance was probably the most impressive of the lot, notably the third item entitled 'Nature River'. Accompanied by upbeat Irish tunes from 'Lord Of The Dance', six dancers in loose vests and pants moved gracefully and confidently in conveying the character of the natural river, not to mention the cartwheel on one arm that was thrown in by one dancer for good measure. With its rhythmic choreography, full use of the floor and all levels of space, this section was perhaps the most successful in putting across the ideas that were intended for this item. Unfortunately, the same may not be said for 'Intruders', a solo improvisational dance by co-choreographer Jewel Ling. Presumably, the audience was meant to experience feelings of distress, anguish and frustration. Her angst-ridden sobbing and loud screams of "I wash", however, only drew amused looks and stifled laughter from some members of the audience.

So with all its flaws, was RIVER OF LIFE a complete washout? Definitely not, if you consider how people were coming in even when the performance was already halfway through, the audience spilling out of their seats and onto the stairs. Nevertheless, credit should go to each performer for clearly contributing more than their fair share of effort in their respective roles. To them, making the show a runaway hit was not their main concern. More importantly, it was about seeing their hard work come to fruition, the camaraderie and the friendships that were made in the process.