>UNDERGROUND WORKS by Dance Dimension Project

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 9 mar 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: velvet underground
>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.


Comprising two short works at eighty minutes long in all, UNDERGROUND WORKS by Dance Dimension Project (DDP) is a rare and refreshing departure from its traditional preference for full-length productions. A site-specific project with two guest choreographers, the dank and smoky Velvet Underground provided the setting in which two very different dances interacted with a varied landscape of stairs, stools and platforms.

The evening opened with 'After 8' by Loke Soh Kim, founder and artistic director of Penang Dance Station in Malaysia. Set to an assorted soundtrack of unadulterated, everyday noises, the cast of five was dressed in hooded leotards and pointe shoes, perhaps a reference to the rigid balletic line as a metaphor for the strict sense of social conformity. With their exposed backs turned towards the audience, 'After 8' began as the dancers flexed their sinewy back muscles and rotated their bulging shoulder blades while seated, against a chorus of cricket sounds.

>>'Set to a rousing score by the Latin Playboys and Tin Hat Trio, the dancers were not functioning as an anonymous collective but as individual characters with contrasting personalities'

Spreading themselves throughout the less-than-flat space, the five figures executed a combination of slow and sculpted moves and static positions at varying paces, showing a supple torso that was unafraid to bend and twist out of alignment, with clearly extended arms like birds preparing to take flight. A solo by DDP stalwart Choo Leh Leh, a slender figure in a flowing black dress perched atop an assembly of bar stools, followed this segment. Moving precariously, yet gracefully in slow, pensive steps, this was a great contrast to the duet that followed. To the jarring racket of construction work, a side railing, which was momentarily transformed into a ballet barre of sorts, kept their abrupt series of sharp and terse manoeuvres within its constraints.

The once bird-like group of creatures returned to the dissonant atmosphere of random dialogue and traffic noises, only to perform a series of calculated moves across the floor, with a largely stiff upper body and held leg raises. As they wove in and out of formation on the tips of their pointe shoes, the group returned to their original positions, seated calmly with their backs turned towards the audience, contracting and rolling their backs once again till it darkened. In the background, the voice of a Hokkien-speaking woman who spoke of having no name, ended this stark, cold picture of urban life - a vicious cycle of discovering one's individuality, only to be absorbed and streamlined by the mechanised rhythm of modern living.

After the ten-minute intermission came 'UnderMine', Michelle Stortz's intricate blend of fluidly phrased full-bodied movement, pedestrian body language and spoken text. Dressed in peculiar exaggerations of everyday clothing, the madcap cast of six had a fine time harassing the audience in the lounge with their gibberish, distributing the audience evenly along all three sides of the performance space. Set to a rousing score by the Latin Playboys and Tin Hat Trio, the dancers were not functioning as an anonymous collective but as individual characters with contrasting personalities, revealed through their facial expressions, idiosyncratic gestures, and physical and spatial interaction with each other.

In the 'Bones' segment, five dancers were seated upright on bar stools, seemingly engrossed in the mindless mechanics of their occupation while Choo, in a vampish red dress, was the only deviant found to be cavorting recklessly on the floor. There was the dysfunctional couple, played with gusto by the seasoned Lim Peck Lee and dancer-in-residence Kon Su Sam, a relationship that was fraught with brusque lifts and bodies slammed onto the floor, with no happily ever after. There was the Sisters 3, three carefree single women with happiness literally plastered across their dolled-up faces and cutesy steps, but only as a mask for their fear of loneliness. Unlike 'After 8', 'UnderMine' was a full-frontal challenge to everything labelled "normal" or "standard", depicting the madness and lunacy that lay beneath every façade of composure and civility.

Despite the somewhat awkward seating arrangements, UNDERGROUND WORKS was, in all, a scintillating experience for both old and new supporters of DDP. Notably, pieces like 'UnderMine' have proven that the nearly five-year-old company, with its infusion of new blood over less than a year, is more than capable of handling a broader range of movement aesthetics. This production is, in all respects, much deserving of a second run.