>in spite of wishing and wanting by ultima vez

>reviewed by sherrie lee

>date: 5 jun 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: kallang theatre
>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.


Where do I start with this multi-media and multi-modal work? Wim Vandekeybus produced nothing less than an explosive theatrical piece, especially with original music by David Byrne, co-founder of Talking Heads. There was dance, drama and film, each having its own life, and at the same time, developing the subconscious of a group of 12 men who were either arguing among themselves or falling into a deep sleep full of dreams. Bryne's brand of rock, funk and soulful soundscapes made the viewing of these male bodies all the more arresting. Then there was the stage and lighting. Stripped down to reveal bricks, metal bars and even the hose reel, Kallang never looked so naked. The rows of lights that hung in the background, when brought to life, filled the stage with an extra dose of raw energy. Vandekeybus had transformed a well-used stage into a playing field for 12 men to dig deep into their beings and flesh out their emotions.

The opening had two men come out to sit on chairs a short distance from each other with a rope between them tied round their necks. With mike stands in front of them, one had to jerk the other head away from his mike in order to speak into his. Never mind what the conversation was about (in Spanish, I think). Then other men came onto the stage, pretending to be riders on horses, galloping all over, snarling at one another, while Vandekeybus went around with his video cam to shoot "on-location" for the film version of IN SPITE OF. (This was the last staged performance of the show, the 106th time).

>>'IN SPITE OF won me over with masculine physicality.'

Then one guy stepped out to tell his childhood story about how his father introduced him to a wonderful thing called a sponge which originated from the sea. And so he goes on to wax lyrical (and it also somewhat improvisationally) about how he loved to feel the weight of the ocean with his body. In the background, physical theatre of controlled collisions and falls displayed the virtuosity of the all male cast.

Such instances of narrative were scattered throughout the beginning, and dance was noticeably absent. Perhaps the non-appearance of dance and the seemingly unimportant ramblings made the first few scenes unbearably tedious. The men argued over how one made use of another's words (and thus emotions) and tossed and tussled over the ownership and validity of their own feelings and emotions. "But these are MY words!" was the constant claim to individuality. But once it was revealed that the words were bought, a sudden realisation, or shock, fell upon them and thus led to the first dance sequence.

Silky brightly coloured sarongs covered the dancers waist down, revealing glistening pecs. It was thoroughly masculine, and with Bryne's ability to create the most appropriate and original music, moves were not only physically stunning, but also perfectly in sync. In contrast, another dance sequence featured 6 couplings in a slow dance. Before the coupling, each man had half of an orange and searched for their other half for the perfect fit. Once they found each other, heads were put together, feet shuffled, and bodies rolled around. As partners were exchanged, so were tender looks and gentle touches. I suppose one could do a homosexual reading of the scene but all vibes of sexuality were very mild. More sensual than anything else, the rare quiet and contemplative (but still engaging in physical movement) sequence was a welcome respite from the common frenetic pacing and the overall high energy.

The highlight of the production, however, had to be the short film in two parts that Vandekeybus himself made. Based on the short stories by Argentine writer, Julio Cortazar, the films, shown on a screen lowered onto the stage, are about a man who goes round selling emotions in the form of words, screams, sighs and shouts. Without this large-eyed dark-haired gypsy-looking prophet of sorts, the people simply cannot articulate their desires.

Through monologues, dance sequences, film and unforgettable scenes like when feathers (from pillows) started to fall onto the stage creating a visual lullaby, Vandekeybus had certainly dug deep to produce a rough collection of dreams and desires. Overly deconstructed and incoherent scene transitions at times, IN SPITE OF had nonetheless won me over with masculine physicality, an infectious soundtrack, and the revelation of how undefined and underrated our dreams and desires are.