>SEXING THREE MILLENNIA by City Contemporary Dance Company

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 4 jun 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: kallang 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.


Boasting lavish set designs, breathtaking lighting sequences and stunning costumes, SEXING THREE MILLENNIA can be considered to be a dance of epic proportions. After all, when it premiered at the 1998 Festival of Asian Arts in Hong Kong, Hong Kong starlet Anita Yuen played a guest role in this production by the City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC). Based on the tragic tales of the famous beauties from China's ancient past, this full-length work was not an attempt to re-tell the stories of imperial concubines from another perspective, but to uncover their lives in order to let audiences "freely associate what they see on stage with what they have learned from the historical accounts." As its choreographer, CCDC's founder cum artistic director Willy Tsao once commented, this four-act dance was not a feminist apparatus but also dealt with issues of power, appearance and beauty.

Yet, there seemed to be no single narrative running through all four acts that involved these issues. Instead, almost every scene seemed like a story on its own, with evocative names like 'Fawn on a Smile' and 'Pluck Flowers under the Dark Moon', undoubtedly direct translations from their Chinese origins. The only exception to this was the whole of Act III, which seemed to hold an entire storyline within its four scenes. The first and second acts appeared to be paying tribute to the strength and seductive powers of these legendary women, while the last two acts sketched the path of their eventual destruction. In addition, the first scene of Act IV was not a dance but a video projection that juxtaposed monochrome images of urban life in China with images of the Cultural Revolution, as if to draw a parallel between these two periods. Accompanied by Wong Sun-keung's atmospheric fusion of East and West, the fragile relationship between beauty and power was presented, with the women "always being the first to go" when the system is overthrown, according to Tsao. Nevertheless, every scene from start to finish drifted nicely into the next, with almost no disruption to the pace.

>>'Employing a potent mix of classical and modern techniques, the fourteen-member cast appeared to have thrown themselves into this technically demanding piece.'

Employing a potent mix of classical and modern techniques, the fourteen-member cast appeared to have thrown themselves into this technically demanding piece. The company excelled in playing their collective roles, such as The Beauties or as the frenzied bunch of Various Beauties, but the individual performers overshadowed the ensemble work with their virtuosity. If one had to isolate any one dancer, it would have to be Qiao Yang and Xing Liang. Against the scarlet hues of Act I, Qiao Yang's virile portrayal of Beauty with Nine Tails in scene 4 seemed like the perfect companion for the scantily clad, bare-assed men who danced as Inmates. Like many of the CCDC dancers, Qiao was remarkably supple and held her sky-high leg extensions for almost a minute - perhaps as a symbol of strength or an assertion of her individuality over the other characters. On the other hand, Xing Liang thrilled audiences with his physicality and textbook form in scene 3 of Act IV. Dancing the role of Beauty to be Executed, his restrained gymnastics within a cage-like structure quivered with resignation, fear and anxiety. Such was the mastery of these two dancers that their solo efforts left an indelible impression long after their performances were over.

The unmistakable centrepiece of this work, however, was Act III. Tracing the rise and ultimate downfall of one lone woman, China's imperial past formed the backdrop for a delectable pas de deux between Man Owning China (Dominic Wong) and Beauty Rocking China in scene 3, the latter being a role that Wong Man-chui danced with aplomb. Performed in total silence, their sensuous duet was a pleasing combination of everyday movements and conventional dance methods, walked around each other as they gazed into each other's eyes, removing the first layer of their flowing robes for each other. A long, passionate embrace between them seemed to speak volumes about the depth of their affection, and it felt as if the audience was drawn into the private world of two star-crossed lovers being reunited after years of separation. The sudden intrusion by the Rebels in scene 4 thus came across as a violent shock, the dancers marching in rows and surrounding the couple while they attempt to escape. With her head covered with her own cloak, Man Owning China is made to betray his beloved, his hands placed around her neck by the Rebels. No melodramatic writhing and squealing here, only a deep back bend to the floor and the once lithe body of Beauty Rocking China lay still upon the barren stage.

Tsao may have admitted to being unconcerned with investing "deeper philosophical meaning" in his choreography, but as unintentional as it may seem, meaning did exist on some level and those who did find something can give themselves a pat on the back. Credit must also go to the CCDC dancers who, with their skill and artistic sensitivity, injected emotional gravity into every phrase and sustained the audience's attention till the very end. In the hands of a less competent group of dancers, SEXING THREE MILLENNIA might have fallen flat on its face.