>SHARING I - THE COLOURED LADIES by Frontier Danceland

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 8 sep 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: The Drama Centre
>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.


Not unlike the recently completed New Dance Lab series, Low Mei Yoke once again shared the stage with three guest choreographers (the all-woman gang of Joey Chua, Kuan Hui Chew and Tay Hee Ngerng) in this latest offering by Frontier Danceland. SHARING I - THE COLOURED LADIES drew on colours to represent the hopes, fears, joys and tears of today's modern, multi-faceted Singaporean women.

Contrary to what was published in the newspapers, nine short works in total were put on display, with each work named after a specific colour or a combination of colours. Lasting slightly over an hour, the entire list of nine pieces was performed in a continuous stretch without any interval.

The evening began with 'Silver' by Joey Chua, which sought to explore "the closeness and the unexplainable magnetic forces and kinetic energy between female friends", perhaps alluding to the metallic origins of this colour. Combining classical and contemporary techniques with distinctly Asian gestures and stances, six female dancers in grey translucent dresses moved across the floor in groups of three, forming symmetrical figures and mirror images in rows. Set to Vanessa Mae's "Bach Street Prelude" and "Storm", this was a generally pleasant start that was marred by several miscues and the occasionally hesitant execution. Strangely enough, the programme notes stated that "Bach's masterpieces for violin" accompanied this piece, which was not true for "Storm" as it was actually Vanessa Mae's rendition of a movement from Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons".

Immediately following this was 'Brown', a charming solo by Kuan Hui Chew that was choreographed to the strains of "Slumber My Darling", a touching track by Alison Krauss from the popular bluegrass-meets-chamber-music "Appalachian Journey" album. Competently performed by Clare Tay Hwee Ling in a matching brown costume, this dance began with her walking onstage pensively in silence, cradling a sheet of batik cloth in her hands, which she gently spread onto the floor. As she folded and shaped her upper limbs to the music, Tay created an interestingly angular bodyline with her arms and active torso, coupled with her almost motherly handling of the batik cloth. 'Brown' thus seemed to represent the maternal, protective instincts of women. Unfortunately, Tay displayed a blank look on her face that seemed to imply that while she was physically involved in this piece, she was emotionally absent. In contrast, Low Mei Yoke's 'Black' was a brusque and wooden duet that stood as a jarring foil to Yo-Yo Ma/Bobby McFerrin's version of Bach's soothing "Air On A G String". Dressed in white long-sleeved shirts and black pants, the two dancers stilted their movements in a robotic manner, at times moving in unison while at other times, one seemed to be following the other. Despite the ambiguity of their respective roles, there was definitely some kind of tension that existed between the two characters, with each attempting to exert their authority in the form of terse grabs and lifts. Both of them faced each other by the end of this duet, only for one to walk away as if in bold defiance.

>>'...it was painfully apparent that colours were irrelevant to the subject matter'

Here, 'Black' appeared to be illustrative of the insidious manipulation that faced women at the workplace. But this was as far as THE COLOURED LADIES went. In an attempt to depict the demands of today's career women, Low Mei Yoke's 'Red & White' was disconcertingly humourous. To the tune of Yo-Yo Ma/Bobby McFerrin's version of Rimsky-Korsakov's frenzied "Flight Of The Bumblebee", "frustrations, anguish and stress" were represented in the form of calculated flailing of long tresses and limp arms across the stage, which provoked bouts of stifled laughter from the audience. Then came 'Green', a solo about lost childhood and belonging by Low. Danced by Linda Pang in a highly slit sarong and green top, she performed against a video projection of various images - flames burning a hole into paper, street chaos, rubble and injured people flooded the screen in the background. This may be in reference to a recent tragedy, but whether or not it was of any relevance to women remained unclear.

Equally mystifying was the predominantly green-hued 'Turquoise' by Beijing Dance Academy graduate Tay Hee Ngerng. Performed to a grating Chinese folk song that threatened to burst an eardrum, it was a cheery, fairy-like solo about looking forward to "a free and easy life style" amid a "flurry and strained society" that was essentially annoying but nothing else. Low's 'Blue' was just as confusing as its head-scratching description in the programme ("Trying to attain what she has lost earlier in life, she…"). Armed with a chair, a short skirt and a wind-up doll, the blue leotard-clad dancer did a lot of head nodding, head shaking and other similarly inclined movements that made this dance puerile and virtually pointless to watch. Joey Chua's 'Grey=White + Black', which sought to explore "the disparity in living in the real world (black) and the ideal one (white)", was a brave stab at melding video projection and live dance. Playing both choreographer and performer, Chua was perhaps the most competent dancer that evening with her smooth leg extensions and swift turns. But there was nothing fascinating about the "fascinating film footage", which began the piece with images of pedestrians outside The National Library and later, retrograded sequences of Chua's dancing. While the juxtaposition of live and recorded dance was interesting, whatever it had to do with the disparity between reality and utopia was yet another mystery.

'Yellow', jointly choreographed by Low and the cast to Yo-Yo Ma/Bobby McFerrin's hilarious version of Bach's "Musette", completed the evening's programme. Three dancers in the midst of doing their make-up walked onstage during the opening dialogue of the accompanying song, which virtually dictated how the dance progressed. As the music sped up, so did the dancers' movements in a comical albeit predictable fashion. Those who caught the 1999 season of 'Ballet Under The Stars' would have inevitably drawn comparisons with Ricky Sim's 'O' Ha-rinnggg...!!!', which used the exact same track but brought out its comedic effects more effectively.

To its credit, SHARING I - THE COLOURED LADIES avoided flooding each dance with its titular colour. For the larger part of the programme, however, it was painfully apparent that colours were irrelevant to the subject matter. Audiences were left guessing as to what one had to do with the other with no visibly sensible attempt to incorporate the symbolic value of these colours into the dances. The only exceptions were 'Silver', 'Brown' and 'Black', which were relatively stable creations on their own but sadly, the rest of the line-up failed to support this production.