>passages by LASALLE-sia repertory dance company

>reviewed by ma shaoling

>date: 13 apr 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: LASALLE-sia studio theatre
>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.


Our local dance scene is yet to reach full maturity, but with the increasing popularity of local choreography, affirmed by events such as LASALLE-SIA's dance festival, PASSAGES, this year, one can be sure that we are at our burgeoning puberty. Showcasing 11 works dedicated to Carl Wolz, Founder of World Dance Alliance, and Tony Llacer, former Ballet Master of Dance Arts and Ecnad Project Limited (S'pore), PASSAGES was a gem for dance-lovers seeking artistic diversity all on one stage.

The programme opened with 'Scented Gestures', an arrangement that unfortunately did not serve well enough to capture the audience's attention. Russ Rahmat's eastern Javanese-style hand posturing and upper body movements seemed to be secondary to theatrical gimmicks such as the falling silver dust and the rather unnecessary orange cloth, which he wrapped around himself for almost half the duration of the dance. Sian-Tzu Casteels' motions of picking up the strewn flowers, though well paced and timed, made the Celtic New Age background music even longer than it already was.

'Spectre', a ballet choreographed by the late Mr Tony Llacer, was set in a Faustian underworld where dancers Donato Ferrer, cloaked in a black, represented fear imagined by Ravenna Tucker's character. Excessive dramatisation was fortunately forgotten during their pas-de-deux and Tucker's technical solo segment, when she executed sharp pirouettes, pas de courus, and numerous rond de jambe en l'air. Less could be noted for Ferrer, except for his high grande jete after which he left the stage. On the whole, 'Spectre' was an interesting piece of choreography, albeit one that focused on the ballerina at the expanse of her male partner.

Moving away from classical lines, 'Con Carino' ('With love, Carino'), could be enjoyed for its simple choreography and earnest partnering, if one were not looking for demanding executions. Caren Carino and Russ Rahmat danced to the elegant guitar rendition of Valse Criollo, as two lovers demonstrating their affections with easy lifts and light waltz-like turnings.

>>'If passages are meant to lead us somewhere, this one encourages us to dance along the way.'

The subsequent work, 'Which stop to heaven' choreographed and danced by Elysa Wendi, stood out as the night's most thoughtful and engaging performance. Wendi gave an honest portrayal of the human mind in interaction with the external environment, using repeating movements that frustrate and despair. The dancer moved at interspaces forward and sometimes back depicting a "revisiting and tracing of faith through memories". The spaces became an ontological search marked out by excellent use of lighting. When the stage was darkened and lighted again, Wendi would change to another spot in a comic 'freeze' pose. By squatting and hugging her legs close to her body, she depicted moments of extreme loneliness and isolation. A huge white wall stood at the centre of the stage, which, towards the last part of the dance, Wendi repeatedly knocked on. Exasperated and exhausted, the dancer's energy still was felt through the theatre. She stood up from the ground, walked to the back of the wall and opened it like a door, though which she walked and thereafter exited the stage. In the end, this signified a breakthrough and the fallibility of institutions and concrete structures.

'Birdy', choreographed and performed by Charlotte Boye-Christensen, increased the tempo and rhythm of the previous piece, though retaining a similar creativity. Instead of appearing in the spotlight, the dancer, dressed in white shirt and pants, walked onto the stage in the dark, staring first at the concentrated, lighted spot before stepping into it. Arms were held in tension high up, before letting them drop loosely to the side of the body. Boye-Christensen then moved freely to the other areas of the stage, in a rhythmic flow to the strings of George Crumb playing in the background. Floor movements were executed with the same sharpness, contorting her body to various angles. A disruption in the dance occurred when the melody of the music changed dramatically to frantic chaos. That was when Boye-Christensen returned to the spotlight, contracting and relaxing her upper body, extending her arms in the air. At that time, I realised the reason she named her dance 'Birdy', for she portrayed the way humans are always attempting flight despite having to fly without wings.

The first half of PASSAGES ended with 'Hot Fun', an entirely different piece with its youthful ensemble and dynamic music. Dancers Ledi Deans, Alicia Foo and Jerinne Teng were efficient performers with their jazz techniques and on-stage showmanship. Neat timing and a snazzy choreography appealed to the audience, as we were caught up in the trio's high kicks and spinning jazz turns.

'Shadow upon shadow gathers' could have been improved if the concept had been more sensitised and avoided being another piece enslaved to its use of props. A single stripe made up of white tattered paper marked the centre of the stage, and Ix Wong approached the audience while running on it. Sometimes lingering, sometimes looking furtively on his right, most of the time just jogging on the spot, one wonders if this dance was indeed intended to go nowhere. Using the same piece of music as 'Which stop to heaven', this piece was unable to reach the same clarity

The next piece, featuring Ravenna Tucker once more, was 'Pas à Pas' choreographed and performed by the lady herself. As pianist Mona Lim walked onto the stage, light shone on the ballerina sitting in repose at the piano, as if waiting for the ivories to chime before she could move. And when she did, it was a series of six-o'clock arabesque penchées by the side of the piano, before moving in petite allegro to the centre of the stage. Tucker showed amazing form, and it is great to have such a talent bringing her rich experiences from years in the Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Royal Ballet here to teaching in Singapore.

'Blue …(episodes 1 and 2)' showcased two other acclaimed artists, who have devoted their lives to dance. Jamaludin Jalil, Assistant Ballet Master of Singapore Dance Theatre, showed his usual virtuosity and expressiveness, whether it was in his solo executions of quick-paced allegros and grand échapées, or while partnering Stephanie Burridge in their pas-de-deux. In comparison, Burridge's solo was not as dynamically performed as Jalil's, though it was a more lyrical addition to Jalil's energy. Set in a night-club scene, the couple shared a few minutes of affectionate embraces before Jalil left his partner in pursuit of another, to laughs from the audience.

'Resilience', as the title suggests, was a dance testing the human mind and body, literally in the latter case as dancer Mei Chian struggled with a taut elastic band. Contorting in various positions on upstage left, she pulled in tandem and allowed her strong body to manipulate and sometimes be manipulated with the tension. Playing with the force, she then moved freely across the floor, still retaining the elastic band around her limbs. Overall, the piece worked well in expounding on the human body's form.

The last number by Nigeria dancers Anigbo Didacus Nonyelum and Nwoye Vincent Uchenna titled 'Unity Dance' was a tribute to African dances from around the African continent, a celebration of life and strength. Combining two segments, the dancers moved joyously in their country's rich tradition. It was a refreshing and eye-opening end to a night dominated by Western dance. However, one cannot help but wonder if the dance taken out of its ethnic context, was appreciated by foreign audiences solely for its being exotic. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful experience watching dance speak the language of cultural plurality.

On the whole, LASALLE-SIA's mixed-bill was enjoyable, and I believe they have certainly proved their intention of celebrating "Wolz's vision and Llacer's passion". If passages are meant to lead us somewhere, this one encourages us to dance along the way.