>SHARING II - SOULLESS SOULS by Frontier Danceland

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 3 mar 2001
>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.


In this second installment of the 'Sharing' series, Frontier Danceland and Malaysian company Dua Space Dance Theatre came together to present a full-length work that aimed to "release the soul buried under the artificial world we have created." With choreography by artistic directors Low Mei Yoke and Anthony Meh, this collaboration was not only fulfilled on an aesthetic level, but also on a physical level as dancers from both companies shared the Drama Centre stage. Thankfully, SHARING II - SOULLESS SOULS was a considerable step forward from the weak and contrived 'Sharing I'.

While audience members were waiting to be admitted, the five members of Dua Space Dance Theatre crept into the lobby in street clothing and disturbed personas. As one giggled to herself, another sobbed and sniffed like a child, while another yelped and bounded around with wild abandon. Unfortunately, any impact that this tableau might have suggested was completely lost on a restless audience, comprising largely of adolescent students, whose only reaction to the proceedings were screams of "Scary, ah!" with cutesy attempts to avoid contact by cowering behind their peers. In addition to a lack of coordination between the attendants and crew members, a potentially dramatic experience was unjustly marred.

>>'Some segments remained a mystery and one could only second-guess their relevance to the work as a whole'

As the dancers made their way from the stuffy foyer into the theatre (while dragging a handful of horrified people along the way), they took their rightful place onstage, accompanied by an unbelievably eclectic mix of music, from Ricky Martin and Karen Mok to pounding tribal-like vocals to the synthesized coo-ing of Enya. Segmented into twelve sections, the cast of eleven dancers performed for almost 75 minutes without stopping, carrying out an uninterrupted process of movement that sought to bare the soul that lay buried under the deposits of materialism. This act of baring the soul was executed both literally and metaphorically, from the stripped-bare stage to the removal of outer clothing to reveal plain t-shirts and shorts.

With ten chairs assembled on stage, the pursuit of worldly ambitions was represented by the frantic struggle for chair space, a recurring motif that appeared in the beginning and at the end. Against the sound of synchronised clapping, the mindless, almost mechanised series of arm and torso movements that these dancers performed seemed to depict the meaningless nature of these materialistic pursuits, conveying a sense of losing one's individuality and identity. The two groups of dancers mostly took turns to perform alternate segments, with the Dua Space Dance Theatre members being somewhat more technically accomplished. Next to their intense physicality, clean body line and boisterous interaction in duets and trios, the women of Frontier Danceland held their own, though, with graceful passages of sweeping movements in unison.

However, some segments remained a mystery and one could only second-guess their relevance to the work as a whole. The laying of white cards on one side of the stage came across as a tribute or a reminder of something forgotten, while Aman Yap, principal dancer of the guest company from Malaysia, who was carried in on a pole in one section, seemed like a Christ-like figure. Yap, who has danced with CCDC and US-based Nai-Ni Chen, was certainly a strong dancer with a presence that commanded attention. But his solo felt like it was a few segments too long, occasionally lapsing into over-the-top expressions of grief, coinciding with an equally melodramatic track by Secret Garden.

By the end, the entire cast was left languishing in the same chairs they tussled over, while an unknown character appeared on the second floor with a video camera - a puzzling finish that seemed indicative of an impending follow-up to this production. Its thematic content was neither original nor emotionally groundbreaking, but SHARING II - SOULLESS SOULS was perhaps a sign of better and more focused efforts from Frontier Danceland.