>requiem by ea sola

>reviewed by ma shaoling

>date: 23 jun 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the 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.


Once in a while, there comes a performance when after the curtain has come down and the lights have come on, we hear applause meant for a beginning. Not an end, but the start of something passed on from the performers to their audience. And when that happens, indeed a requiem has begun.

REQUIEM is Ea Sola's last work of a cycle about memory that began in 1992 in Vietnam. Like many choreographers, Sola chose to return to her homeland so as to be liberated from her own memories, as well from the constraints of cross-cultural communication. However, unlike most choreographers, Sola reaches deeper into her soul, and in the process everyone else's, by extracting the most ordinary from anonymous people.

On stage, the 22 men and women spun a web of memories woven so tight that the 100-minute performance seemed to stretch over numerous lifetimes. They were not trained as dancers, and they knew nothing about western theatrical art forms. The only training they had was to engage in a deep creative process with Ea Sola, who encouraged them to work on their own memories. These Vietnamese used a simple dance vocabulary, like hitting their bodies with their hands, and touching the floor with a start-stop motion. It was this very simplicity that moved the audience, because it came from deep-down internalisations. What we saw on Saturday night was not some people trying to jump on the "avant garde" bandwagon. REQUIEM was so truthful it almost hurt.

>>'It was this very simplicity that moved the audience... Requiem was so truthful it almost hurt.'

Plotless and without characters, REQUIEM is a dance that explores the ideas of memory, tradition and modernity: an old man walked slowly across the stage, and each step signified a journey back to the past. In the background, the haunting strains of the traditional Vietnamese fiddle accompanied the uniform sways of the dancers. Frequently, one dancer would break this apparent peace with spasmodic jerks and flinging arms. The sudden scratches of the fiddle increased the tempo and enhanced the feeling of the disruption of an ancient civilisation.

One unforgettable scene in displayed the painful coming-to-terms with death. The dancers held up black and white photographs of dead loved ones while marching to the resounding beats of funeral drums. Their own identities seemed to have disappeared as memories of the dead effaced the life they still had. This atmosphere shifted when the dancers began to break free of the monotonous marching and swayed the photographs freely around their bodies. It was a healing process that confronted the inevitability of death, while celebrating the small but significant hope that life is left behind.

Towards the end, the performers shuffled their feet across the stage, carrying with them wooden boards and white strips of clothes. Each story became muffled in their attempts to be heard, as time levelled its firm hand upon man's passing fate. When the performers finally returned onto the stage, this time shouting a repetitive sentence, one sensed their ultimate release.

Ea Sola had not just transposed ethnic music and dance for presentation on a stage designed for the western theatre; she also strewed together the differing ends of eastern and western philosophy. While the former has taught the traditional community to overcome obstacles in shared combat, the latter has encouraged the emergence of individuality. Whether it was seeing the synchronised gestures of Sola's composition, or hearing the distressed call of one lone unit, the performers of REQUIEM evoked our memories by living through theirs.

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