>leitmotiv by les deux mondes

>reviewed by judy tan

>date: 11 jun 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: victoria 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.


War, revolution. These dire conditions of change and uncertainty seem to be a recurrent theme in this year's Arts Festival, especially in the Victoria Theatre, where immediately after the uprisings and revolution led by Dr Sun Yat Sen (100 Years in Waiting, presented by The Theatre Practice and The Necessary Stage), we see the pain and aftermath of war, as presented by Les Deux Mondes.

In the 21st century, man seems to find an implicit need to remember how to fight.

Watching LEIMOTIF reminds one of Dido & Aenas, by Controluce Teatro D’Ombre, that was hosted by The Necessary Stage in April this year. It boasts of the same breath-taking theatricality of what we know affectionately as Wayang Kulit, brought across by the manipulation of light, of the human voice and razor-sharp timing. In this case, LEIMOTIF goes a step further by incorporating video images and live feeds. So fascinating and intriguing it is that you find it hard to discern what is real-time from the virtual, pre-recorded images.

What starts out as an ordinary, minimal-looking stage set soon starts to reveal its hidden depth and pushes your envelope of belief. A lady perched on a park bench ("like any other", as she keeps repeating thereafter, which could in fact, have been a bench from any upgraded HDB void deck) opens a letter, obviously very excited. She begins to read it, voice trembling with emotion, revealing bit by bit the tragic story of love torn apart by war. The apparent flat, two-dimensional backdrop soon becomes translucent to reveal a layer of stars in a velvet night. I had to consciously contain my awe-stricken "ohhhh". Beautiful. Amidst shooting stars and gunfire, we realise that the narrator is actually an abandoned child, reading her mother's words to her in a letter of confession.

>>'LEIMOTIF allowed the poetics of time and space to come alive. Some productions tell a story and embellish it with technology, others use the technology to tell it. This is such. I must say I was adequately enthralled.'

As layers begin to develop and the simple story begins to draw you in, the set apparently warps, folds and dances to capture your attention and not to mention, imagination. The effect of the story told in retrospective, in a different time, is aptly portrayed, as the characters skirt around each other, never being in the same physical "time-zone" as demarcated by the curtains on stage.

LEIMOTIF seems to want to emphasise the everyman idea, especially where the narrator repeats the refrain " a world, like any other; a time, like any other; a place, like any other...” Yet the irony is in the telling of this very specific, very personal story- about individuals caught in a war, circumstances, causes and effects. An individual's experience that is really like no other.

The key to this piece is precision. The precision in craft- where the performers' movements, right down to the every writhe and blink that betray no excesses; the precision in directional choice- choice of the protagonist (Noella's) vocals, in place of words to explain her pain at losing her lover to the war, her child to life. The precision in responding to and complimenting (not competing with) the multi-media images. No unnecessary distractions to hoodwink you from the story it wants to tell. Yet a story so richly told.

The technical magician made silhouettes appear in the dark of the night, bathed the young lovers in eerie glow as they flirted, consumed them in dancing flames as they consummated their love, zoomed into Noella's frightened face and multiplied it onto larger-than-life projections around her and dripped dark, viscous blood onto her immobilised person, as she stood lost and petrified, against a wall.

He framed her in a train, running away to join the resistance, caught her lover jumping off a truck and deserting his post and subsequently lit him as he was caught and imprisoned, tortured. He showed their story mirrored in the black-and- white movies of a bygone era. The images fly into your consciousness smoothly, on wings, like a series of snapshots, like a Blair-witch movie taken with the requisite hand-held camera.

Visually stunning scenes flowed hard and fast. Perhaps at some point I questioned if the poignant plot line was being overly decorated with all these layering of different media. But I didn't really care. I was too busy giving my senses over to the creation of another time and place. A clue -- lest your brains fry, don't attempt to figure out exactly how every thing is done, as video images leap and fly, bounding off from one side to the other of the stage.

In the space of slightly over an hour, LEIMOTIF allowed the poetics of time and space to come alive. Some productions tell a story and embellish it with technology, others use the technology to tell it. This is such. I must say I was adequately enthralled.