>grizaille and the rite of spring by h art chaos

>reviewed by sherrie lee

>date: 1 jun 2001
>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.


The opening act of this year's Arts Festival, H Art Chaos filled the Kallang Theatre with minimal props and sets but maximum energy played out the all-female dance company. As their name encapsulates, their artistic vision is to "revolt against the comfort of status quo in search of an artistic heaven out of chaos" (H=Heaven, Art= Art, Chaos=Disorder). With "Grizaille" and "The Rite of Spring", heaven was offered in glimpses through the rough canvas of tension, grief and longing.


In "Grizaille", the 23 minute piece was performed by four women, each with wooden doors mounted on a mental frame, and later on, accompanied by mirrors at 90 degree angles. The music was made up of dissonant tones and snatches a ghostly melodic voice. To that musical backdrop, the four, dressed in thin white laced dresses, peered through the doors, slid in and out and performed gymnastic feats with the mental frame. In their movements where slick and quick alternated with the still and silent, they communicated across a message of being trapped and breaking free but inevitably bound to the wooden doors.

The title of the piece, however, lends a very different meaning to the work "Grizaille" is derived from 'grisaille', a painting technique that only uses grizzle tones. Artistic Director and Choreographer Sakiko Oshima explores the theory of the fictitious picture in that "our visual facilities are so well made we superimpose pictures unconsciously cast on the retina by our own imagination in blind spot where we cannot see." Hence the introduction of mirrors at 90 degree angles. As the four white willowy figures glided across the stage with their wooden doors, the mirrors instantly multiplied the image, augmenting the tension already meticulously crafted and unleashed.

Although mostly an ensemble piece, there was an interplay between one woman and the other three. It was as that one woman was the original and the other three images. When all four danced together, it then became a cluster of indistinguishable images. The expression of tension was made up of one dissonant phrase after another in terms of both music and movement. But however uncomfortable it became to watch them, you could not dispute their utter flexibility and strength

There came a point where I wondered if these lithe bodies would continue on in unresolved tension. As the music graduated towards a loud and hostile ending, a sudden hush fell upon the stage. These women in white have fought to the end were now buried underneath the doors of the collapsed frame. The music, however, picks up, this time collecting back the snatches of the ghostly voice to form a sacred song. The bodies then rose out of the doors and danced lightly, or at least, without the anguish prominent throughout the dance previously.

Finally, in a response to the accumulation of disturbing patterns and fractured images, a blinding orange light shone through one of the doors towards the audience. The 'original woman' then leaped through the frame and disappeared into the light. The moment was great because it brought relief, beautiful because it was precious.

>>'[in grizaille] The expression of tension was made up of one dissonant phrase after another in terms of both music and movement. But however uncomfortable it became to watch them, you could not dispute their utter flexibility and strength'

>>"The Rite of Spring"

"The Rite of Spring", in comparison, was twice as long, and twice as much of a spectacle as "Grizaille". Suspended chairs, a white bathtub, a fallen floor lamp and an overturned sofa made up the setting of this version set to Stravinsky's music. The original 1913 work by Nijinsky, along with the various versions that followed throughout the decades, have been based on the celebration of primitive forces of the earth and the death of a sacrificial virgin. Oshima's take on "The Rite of Spring" focuses on the sacrifice (performed by the renowned Naoko Shirakawa) - her anguish in varying degrees and forms, and how she fails to escape from her torturers - the mysterious men in black suits.

The setting of a room, albeit deconstructed with elements of a bathroom (bathtub), living room (sofa and lamp) and dining room (suspended chairs) all in one place, provided an updated context. Without the baggage of convention, our attention was placed on the vulnerable woman clad in white T-shirt and shorts. Not only our attention but also the attention of her torturers.

The four black suits crept in from the darkness and menacingly watched as she struggled to free herself from their gaze. The virgin tried to escape from her fate by clinging on to her surrounding objects. She dipped in and out of the bathtub where even the stretching of her legs became an excruciatingly painful movement. She violently grabbed the lampstand and switched it on and off. She hid behind the sofa.

Like the women in "Grizaille", the ensemble of suits displayed the same unreserved flexibility and strength. The precise and energetic execution of movements, stares and gestures heightened the unrelenting animosity towards the virgin sacrifice. The title, "Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors" came to mind (but without direct reference to the recent Korean film and Marcel Duchamp's installation piece on which the film was based on) - violence simply permeated the stage through mental and visual, and later physical assault. (The suits aimed swinging chairs at the virgin later on.)

Air-hanging, one of the stage effects H Art Chaos is well-known for, was introduced without becoming another spectacular device. The black suits swung about or simply hung in mid-air, poised but unremitting in their voyeuristic preoccupation. The audience, too, unwittingly or not, were riveted by the virgin's display of anguish through a mix of graceful and awkward movements, brought to perfection by Shirakawa's dexterity shaped by both classical and contemporary training.

The physical assault on the virgin culminated in the suits' attempt at drowning her in the bathtub. The virgin unleashed her counterattack by dipping her head into the bathtub of water and violently splashing it towards her attackers. It was nothing less than a terrifying experience to watch her hair flung forward and a large spray of water coming forth.

Soaking wet, the virgin was attached to the wire and suspended. Each attempt at jumping into the audience only resulted in being pulled back. Her silent cries as she tried to break free came to nought, especially in the final few bars of the music where there was the only significant lighting change - the whole stage became soaked in blood.