>white songs by dramabox

>reviewed by sherrie lee

>date: 27 jul 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: singapore art museum
>rating: not rated

>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.


WHITE SONGS (the first presentation of The Blanc Space series by participants Li Xie, Celia Chang, Ho Yun, Lim Wee Bin, Doreen Toh and Melissa Wee) is actually a full-length play inspired by the legend of Joan of Arc. Friday's presentation of just three scenes was a result of nine months of training that comprised largely of intensive movement and voice workshops conducted by Grzegorz Bral from Poland and Niamh Dowling from the UK. In particular, the last three months were used to work on the three scenes - Prologue (The Birth of Joan), Scene One (Joan's Mission) and Scene Eleven (The Struggle).

Presented in Mandarin, WHITE SONGS did not deter non-Chinese and English theatre goers from satiating their curiosity about Dramabox's quest for theatrical truth. The evening was shrouded in a new agey air (candles lined the perimeter of the mats we sat on, as well as placed on stage to form a circle) tempered with self-awareness as Artistic Director Kok Heng Leun introduced The Blanc Space - an intensive 18 month training "to prepare actors as auteur-performers in local Chinese theatre." This was not before a display of a typical warm-up session where all six female participants of The Blanc Space "opened up" their bodies in a series of moves and counter moves, bouncing back an invisible ball by flexing their bodies, as well as through maximizing their bodies and voices for movement and vocal projection.

The presentation of extracts from WHITE SONGS was to show what has come out from the training and to engage the audience in a dialogue to find out their reactions and opinions.

>>'There were startling, maybe even horrific, moments as the performers produced an aural atmosphere of muttered curses and musical modulations, culminating in piercing screams.'

The length of the auditorium was used to good effect, with the stage as the main area of activity and the portion towards the entrance/exit as a secondary platform, even if we had to turn our heads now and then to check if anything was happening on the other end. Despite a modest theatrical space and set, the performers succeeded in creating powerful images through disciplined control of their bodies and voices. There were startling, maybe even horrific, moments as the performers produced an aural atmosphere of muttered curses and musical modulations, culminating in piercing screams.

It was obvious that the nine months of physical conditioning had produced proficient physical theatre performers, capable of both the overtly dramatic and intense subtlety. What was bewildering, however, was the text/story. WHITE SONGS is inspired by Joan of Arc and not a retelling of the famed legend. The point of departure was not explicit with scant programme notes. Even when presenting to an audience work-in-progress, detailed notes about the play would not hurt, and in this case, would have made the WHITE SONGS less mystical than it already was. We could catch references to Singapore daily life about how desperate the economic situation was but we were lost when Lim Wee Bin waved a red flag with such vigour, or when Ho Yun (who played Joan) starts engaging in dialogue with Li Xie, or when Li Xie hovers in the background while Ho Yun wanders around in a daze.

I'm sure I am exaggerating when I say things like "people wandering around in a daze" but the lack of understanding of the motivation behind the story makes the interpretation of Joan inexplicable. During the feedback session, both Artistic Director Kok Heng Leun and playwright/participant Li Xie admitted that the training focused on physical conditioning and not so much on text but promised that the following part of the training will rectify that. Some members of the audience were clearly frustrated with such negligence and brought it up, requesting for an explanation, but was steered back by Kok to a discussion about the physical aspects rather than textual issues.

The complete version of WHITE SONGS will be staged in mid-2001, and one hopes with nothing less than the standard of physical expression we witnessed and with greater development of the story they want to tell.