>le festin d'immortalite by singapore dance theatre and h art chaos

>reviewed by ma shaoling

>date: 21 jun 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: esplanade 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.


Watching LE FESTIN D'IMMORTALITE is like experiencing a picture in relief that brings out the elevation and shapes of figures constantly shifting. From our privileged position in the theatre, it takes a secondary mental process to realize how much the art in view actually demands the human body to go against its natural design. And so it is that with the demanding rotation and isolation of the muscles and arching of the feet, ballet creates some of the most powerful images. LE FESTIN indulges our craving for a beauty that overcomes physical limitations, yet we cannot be truly satisfied. Art has to pose the larger questions as well, although with its approach to issues of human subjectivity and the soul, this dance may have crossed the line separating truth and indulgence.

Singapore Dance Theatre, in collaboration with H Art Chaos from Japan, give their own interpretation of the infernal imagery that we are so accustomed to within the Western canon. Gelling deft pointe work with mid-air suspensions, the latter by now a trademark of Ms. Sakiko Oshima's choreography, LE FESTIN treats our eternal obsession with death to a caricature of life itself.

>>'LE FESTIN aims towards a "transcendence of the body", but it is actually most successful in segments where the theme is downplayed'

LE FESTIN opens with Guest Dancer Ms. Naoko Shirakawa's solo. Her body, bare and neutralised of archetypal beauty and sexuality, breathes and moves with such transparency that one can almost hear her blood flowing. She stands for both the Messiah and the Tempter, while the rest of the dancers, dressed in black suits, revel in the underworld portal where the feast is being held.

LE FESTIN aims towards a "transcendence of the body" (programme notes), but it is actually most successful in segments where the theme is downplayed. The female corps, suspended on wires, forms a beautiful montage of relevé attitudes in synchronising heights appearing out of arched doorways. Their male partners subsequently join in with no less ethereality, and it must be said that SDT's corps de ballet is showing increasing strength in terms of technicality and dance internalisation. Although Shirakawa is undoubtedly the centrepiece of the choreography, other dancers share her success in capturing its imaginative essence. Mr Mohamed Noor Sarman, as he conveys the feeling of agony in brief solo segments, has a particular sensitivity within his dance vocabulary. Ms Xia Hai Ying dazzles in another memorable scene that sees her suspended from wires in the middle of a pas de deux as if the energy gathered from a previous series of pirouettes has enabled her to defy gravity.

Unfortunately, the performance gets too caught up in symbolism at certain parts. While the use of blood-red lights and red petals violently ripped out from the dancers' bodies manages to create a morbid carnality, in later parts of the dance, it fumbles towards hollow kitsch. The overabundance of signifying props and gestures, when crowded together with biblical references, makes one wonder if they are pointing to anything at all. Perhaps if LE FESTIN had ended with the entire corps falling into repose after spasms of futile resistance amidst the sound of amplified breathing, the performance would have concluded more sublimely. Instead, LE FESTIN chooses to make a final attempt at becoming a sweeping epic. Shirakawa rises to the top of a flight of stairs in a crucifix pose, between two other figures on a lower level. The rest of the dancers resurrect and arch up towards the three figures resplendent against the dark backdrop. The hint could not be more blatant.

On the whole, the banquet is still worth attending, for in celebrating life over death, perhaps one cannot be too harsh with human folly. Judging from the audience's enthusiastic response, choreographer Sakiko Oshima's unique vision, albeit ambitious and at times overbearing, nevertheless leaves us with an unforgettable taste.