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The Next Wave 2005: Quintessence

The Next Wave 2005: Quintessence picture


NUS Dance Ensemble


Malcolm Tay






The University Cultural Centre Hall



A Sombre Evening Remembers a Departed Friend

Was it just me or did the NUS Dance Ensemble's The Next Wave 2005 feel especially sombre? Almost every piece on its line-up - including the requisite hip-hop routine - seemed to register some form of loss. There's a good reason for this: this one-night-only concert paid tribute to the memory of Ernest Chen, a cherished alumnus whose sudden demise earlier this year left his family and friends bereft.

While I never knew Chen personally (I heard the news too late to pay my respects), I could easily pick him out during a performance. As a dancer, he was unmissable; video clips of him in action, screened towards the end of the show, merely hinted at his technical facility and stage presence, which were pretty generous for someone who had started dancing late at 17.
But as Chen left behind few works, we're less certain about his choreographic talent. His Voices Within, restaged here by alumna Fannie Khng, was too short, too derivative of the churning group dances typical of Zaini Mohd Tahir, Dance Ensemble's founder-director. As a sentimental homage, though, I think it worked well enough - to quote a friend of Chen's, "We know it'll never be the same as seeing Ernest himself dance."

Happily, Zaini's latest creation emerged as one of the evening's highlights. His Human Behaviour found a comfy home in the grand and spunky soundworlds of vintage Björk. Pouty men in preppy office gear strutted downstage in rows before women, similarly clad, wheeled in on swivel chairs. Familiar patterns dug into the ground with a cool, swaggering edge. Soon, they were walking downstage in their underwear while staring accusingly at us. Never did youthful rebellion look so good.

Shahbirul Zaki Ahmad, a faithful alumnus who often choreographs for the Ensemble, also pitched in a gem that gleamed on its own terms. Crash was a modern-balletic ode to love and community. Over 15 women chased its wind-blown paths, skimming on the highly charged songs of Anna Malick, Vienna Teng, and Tori Amos. The dancers were wonderfully spry, even when their swirling currents seemed a little too Zaini-esque at times.
Then there was Juraimy Abu Bakar's Nirvana Requiem, which straddled two movement styles: the angular rituals of an Indonesian classical form, and a balletic-contemporary network of twists and curves. As the dancers crossed the stage in a grave procession suggesting the passage of life, Juraimy watched and wandered around them as though he stood beyond the grasp of time. Perhaps his soul was searching for peace.

So the veterans held up their end of the sky. Three choreographers, all new to the Ensemble, furnished the rest of the evening with perishable stuff that was not entirely bad. The all-female cast in Bryan Lee's Requiem for a Dream recalled the jilted spirits of Giselle, their gauzy hair accessories falling over their faces like wedding veils. Lost love made them clutch their heads in pain, though it could have been anything.

Syed Hamzah's hip-hop-driven Need felt strangely balletic in its constant orientation towards the audience. Not that this is abnormal, but here, I was more aware of it than usual. When the men massed in columns facing us, they appeared merely decorative. At least the duets and enacted quarrels were more convincing in describing estranged affections.

Opening the programme was Huang Zheng's His Joy Her Smile; Your Death My Tears. Women tracing folksy circles and lines suddenly broke into two warring camps, ending with a funeral for a fallen mate. Then they decided to play a weird, possibly forbidden game. "Shhh," went the girls, throwing their long skirts over themselves and clumping together. I was stumped. Thankfully, the night got better.

"This one-night-only concert paid tribute to the memory of Ernest Chen, a cherished alumnus whose sudden demise earlier this year left his family and friends bereft"

Choreographers: Huang Zheng, Syed Hamzah, Juraimy Abu Bakar, Bryan Lee, Shahbirul Zaki Ahmad, Zaini Mohd Tahir and Ernest Chen
Stage Manager: Pierre-André Salim
Costume Designer: Anthony Tan
Lighting Designer: Iskander Abori
Publicity Designer: David Lee

More Reviews of Productions by NUS Dance Ensemble
The Next Wave 2000
The Next Wave 2002: Remembrance of a Decade
The Next Wave 2004

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.