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The Next Wave 2004


NUS Dance Ensemble


Malcolm Tay






The University Cultural Centre Hall



Dancing Life, Dancing Dreams

Every time I watch the NUS Dance Ensemble, I struggle to find new words to verbalise what its dancers do onstage: their repertory, their energy, and their enthusiasm. It's tough. And I haven't been watching them for that long.

Not that they've been around for ages; other dance groups managed by the National University of Singapore's Centre for the Arts are twice as old. But, while Chinese Dance and Dance Synergy have gone through several tutors over the past two decades, Dance Ensemble's founder/tutor and in-house choreographer, Zaini Mohd Tahir, has been leading the troupe since he started it 12 years ago.

The continuity it enjoys shows in the consistently high standard of dancing that it presents, even when the material isn't so hot. And it helps that Dance Ensemble has very loyal alumni, who frequently return to perform with and choreograph for the group.

For The Next Wave 2004, Dance Ensemble premiered new works by three locally-based choreographers - Albert Tiong, Xu Jie, and Ryan Tan - who were new to working with the group. SDT resident choreographer Jeffrey Tan, alumnus Shahbirul Zaki Ahmad, and Zaini (of course) also contributed to the programme.

A former member of Taiwan's Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and Odyssey Dance Theatre, Tiong joins a long list of dancemakers who have tried to reinterpret Stravinsky's monumental ballet, The Rite of Spring. In this abbreviated and pared-down version, the dancers' usual flamboyance was restrained in favour of angular, distraught shapes and ground-digging flow. It'd be interesting to see what how they would fare with the complete score.

A voiceover told us about the "dichotomy of the human condition" in Xu's Storming Rose, which swung between Spanish-tinged yearning and thumping techno grooving. The cast ably essayed these two extremes in mood, but otherwise, it lost me after a while. Ryan Tan's In the Park was an affable jazz-styled romp, thinly disguised as a spontaneous encounter. Anonymous characters dance by the street light, with some body percussion thrown in, as others watch and cheer. A definite crowd-winner.

In Jeffrey Tan's gloomy Sojournic Serenade, luggage-carrying peasant women (were they immigrants or victims of slave peddling?) visualised their doubts and fears while travelling by sea. Caught between home and an unknown destination, one desperate escapee was promptly shot dead. What an ending, and what a sharp contrast in tone to Shahbirul Zaki's Dream-like State. Neon-bright girls with grinning masks slipped onstage from under a bed, frisking the night away before a ringing alarm clock spelled the end of their games.

Vocalese was another of Zaini's group pieces that featured him in a solo. This time, pianist Toh Tze Chin and erhu player Dai Da were at his disposal, but he didn't make full use of them. Instead of having them accompany the entire dance, their meltingly beautiful score was rudely woven into an assortment of taped music. Whatever the reasons for this move, Vocalese felt like a case of squandered opportunities.

"The continuity the troupe enjoys shows in the consistently high standard of dancing that it presents, even when the material isn't so hot"

Previous Productions by NUS Dance Ensemble
The Next Wave 2000

The Next Wave 2002: Remembrance of a Decade

More Reviews by Malcolm Tay

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.