>dance reflections 2003 by the centre for the arts, nus

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 5 sep 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: the hall, university cultural 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.


An event like DANCE REFLECTIONS 2003 makes me think of tim sum: dance in various forms and styles served in small portions for an overall satisfying time, even when not every dish might appeal to you.

For two nights at the University Cultural Centre Hall, each of the National University of Singapore's six dance groups - their names all begin with "NUS" so that no one forgets - pitched in a piece or two before joining forces for the grand rojak finale. It was a tight, nicely paced programme that, for the most part, sat well with the appreciative audience.

When watching more than two groups at a stretch, one is tempted to compare them by their technical standards alone, and to forget that dancerly skill has more than one definition. Sure, the Chinese Dance performances could be more polished, but I'm not going to knock the Ilsa Tari dancers for not twirling on their toes like their Dance Ensemble counterparts. Communication and self-expression is their common goal, whatever their means.

'Time Within', the Indian Dance-Dance Ensemble collaboration, was for me the highlight of the seven-dance line-up. Two aesthetically distinct groups come together, swirling in fuchsia and orange, after presenting their own dances to the same rhythmic accompaniment by Cultural Medallion winner Santha Bhaskar and her trio of Indian classical musicians. Bharata Natyam, with its classical geometry and hieroglyphic hand gestures, shares the stage with the torso-swerving, ground-covering tendencies of the balletic-contemporary mode.

The Ensemble dancers - here in their usual fabulous form - make cleverly offbeat allusions to Bharata Natyam as if inspired by their Indian Dance colleagues. Their hands loosely curlicue into mudra-like shapes, pirouettes and piqué turns partner flat-footed smacks against the floor. This is one East-West experiment that I'd gladly see again.

>>'It was a tight, nicely paced programme that, for the most part, sat well with the appreciative audience'

Opening the evening were two Chinese Dance pieces, 'Chorus of the Drums' and 'Rhapsody of Dreams'. The former, abundantly pink and quaintly accessorised, was a lively starter with a strong whiff of Lunar New Year festivity. My heart went out to the eight male dancers who were assigned the dubious duty of twirling parasols in between their wushu-derived posturing; they deserved better.

The latter, an abstract rendering of the famous 'Butterfly Lovers' Concerto, was a simple, but more flattering, contribution. Working mostly in unison, more than 25 women filled the stage, forming a sea of sweeping arms drifting along the music's melodic line. 'Rhapsody of Dreams' felt soothing and unaffected.

Ilsa Tari, i.e. the Malay Dance group, gave us 'Akur' (Acceptance), which took a couple of stumbles along the way. Women cross the stage with traditional travelling steps and modern spiralling falls, a combination I had not seen until now. A mysterious kris-waving man, who appears at the start, returns towards the end, like a calming force of nature. It's great to see Malay dance breaking its stereotypical connection with meek village lasses.

In my experience, exclamation marks in company or dance names usually aren't good signs, so you can imagine how I felt on learning that two-year-old Dance Blast! was scheduled to perform a dance called 'Don't Fight Life! DANCE It!' Routines come one after another with drilled precision: two men popping and locking, one woman's tumbling act, mass displays in denim and army garb. Hip-hop may be a sure-fire crowd pleaser, but surely there is more to it than this.

Dance Synergy's 'Journey of Fortitude', which came second to last on the programme, felt like a behemoth stalking the land to the tune of 'Carmina Burana'. The red-clad dancers began by lurching down the diagonal, then resurfacing upstage from stage right to stage left, before filtering onstage from the stage left wing; this is reprised at the end with a slight variation. With two slower duets amid the circling group patterns, the dance had enough drama to qualify as a climactic finale.

But no. There was still the much-hyped conclusion, the finishing touch to tie everything together - 'Emotions of Life'. Dancers from the six groups, however, were lost in its whitewashed veneer; the action held a forced quality that wasn't present in the earlier pieces. Anthony Tan, who designed the costumes for this one, stuffed the poor Indian Dance people into hideous baby-doll get-ups that made them look stumpy. This mini-National Day Parade didn't seem necessary at all.

Nevertheless, I am making a date with the next DANCE REFLECTIONS outing. It's not often that such a variety of dance is presented on this scale, and you'd be a fool to miss it.