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Whose Voice Cries Out?


Singapore Dance Theatre


Malcolm Tay






The Esplanade Theatre



Voicing Their Pain

“I had a good nap,” said a friend about Singapore Dance Theatre’s Whose Voice Cries Out? It was Japanese choreographer Sakiko Oshima’s second full-evening creation for the company after the 2003 Le Festin d’Immortalité, and while I didn’t snooze through it, I don’t know when an SDT production left me as flat-out drained as this one. Still, I managed to fight the urge to follow those who fled their seats early on opening night.

I’m hard-pressed to find something that separates this piece from other dances that express disappointment with society. Its bleak tone registers in the steps, stage design and mish-mash score. Some of its images stay in the mind. Otherwise, nothing very interesting happens. Oshima has her own take on how technology has distorted human communication, but her ideas seem buried under a string of strange stage pictures.

Neither were the programme notes of any help: “In today’s world, laced so richly with mechanisms of desire that inflate our self-consciousness beyond need, we lose day by day the true outline of the self, a self that would lend us a proper equilibrium,” blared the crimson text in uppercase. There’s more concerning “a world of realities that has lost its sense of reality”; I’m too dense for any of it.

That world happens to be dark and dank. The bare stage is stripped to the bone before it turns into a misty dungeon and then, finally, into a spooky morgue. The cast of 14 live in this troubled space, their bodies often racked with doubt and imbalance. They cackle and sob to themselves; they struggle with their mouths gaping. So relentless is their oppression that the few segments of fleet, lyrical dancing sweep across you like a cool breeze.

Wires figure in Oshima’s choreography, not as tools for chanelling Peter Pan but as expressive devices. Here, the dancers hang upside down in mid-air, dangling like carcasses in an abattoir, twisting slowly like mobiles. When their feet eventually touch the ground, they spin and spin like ice skaters, something they can’t normally do onstage without the cables’ added support. They’re airborne, yet they’re helplessly trapped in their harnesses. But sometimes the wire stunts lapse into cliché. Having Xia Haiying play the unreachable sylph – she swinging away from Jeffrey Tan’s grasp, he chasing her – just doesn’t cut it.

One of the show’s oddest scenes is set to the Queen of the Night’s fast, high-pitched warbling from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The dancers wheel out tables and candelabras, toasting one another with goblets as though partying at a banquet. Later, the tables are pushed together to form one long table, topped with silver trays. Six women crouch low enough for their heads to hover just above it, their ghostly faces sculpted by stage light bouncing off the trays. Are they suggesting talking heads? Or disembodied minds cut off from the physical world? It’s your call.

"Oshima has her own take on how technology has distorted human communication, but her ideas seem buried under a string of strange stage pictures."


Choreographer, Art Direction, Set Concept: Sakiko Oshima

Assistant Choreographer: Naoko Shirakawa

Technical Director: Takashi Hojo

Costume Designer: Shinjiro Asatsuki

Lighting Designer: Hisashi Adachi

Dancers: Xia Haiying, Natalie Clarke, Sakura Shimizu, Kellie van der Ploeg, Liu Xiaomi, Chihiro Uchida, Alexandra Sklavos, Jeffrey Tan, Mohamed Noor Sarman, Fu Liang, Zhang Jun, Jacek Bres, Robert Mills, Chen Peng

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.