Moving… On – LASALLE College of the Arts 2017

8 April 2017

Moving… On is LASALLE College of the Arts School of Dance graduation performance, which was held at The Singapore Airlines Theatre in the basement of their campus.  The performance included five dance pieces.

The first was The Loop, choreographed by Barbara Matijevic (Croatia/France) and, I assume, the dancers involved as well. This piece took place in the area outside the theatre, stretching from the toilets to the entrance of the theatre. It consisted of seven individual stations, each with a large sign which presented the task’s title.

By taking turns in the roles of teachers, students or choreographers, they approach pedagogic practice as a performative act in its own right. The Loop presents the body as a repository of different skills; as well as an ensemble of our attitudes towards those skills and how they operate in the world dominated by logos.

–  Taken from the programme booklet

The entire performance space was large enough so that audience members had to move physically from station to station to hear and watch what the performers were doing. Every few minutes a bell would ring to signal the end of one section and the dancers would then move one spot down in the cycle.

Many things were happening at the same time: one station was labelled Dance Tutorial, one was labelled The Thing I Cannot Do, another had two people teaching and demonstrating self-defence techniques, another had a roundtable discussion where performers had microphones and wore name tags of famous figures in modern and contemporary dance.

The tasks at each station were very interesting, and when matched with the short few minutes given to the performance at each one, I couldn’t help but think how this format really works for spectators who were ‘millennials with the attention span of a goldfish’.

The gallery format and the constant moving of the performers created this (almost literal) cyclical pattern that emerged as the piece progressed.

While the tasks themselves were interesting enough to watch, what I found even more fascinating were the moments when the performers had no audience at their station, or just a few people watching them. The change of energy and projection in their performance and that occasional awkward eye-contact or that typical staring-into-the-distance-when-there’s-someone-right-in-front-of-you is quite funny.

Another funny moment was when a performer at the Roundtable, wearing the name tag that said “Lin Hwai-min” said that her (his?) first choreographed dance work was Legacy, which is unfortunately untrue. Personally I especially enjoyed this station. There were the name tags of Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Mary Wigman, Pina Bausch, Lin Hwai-min and some others that I didn’t manage to catch. Once each performer put on the name tag, they would begin to talk (and sometimes even behave) as if they were speaking from the point of view of that particular person. They spoke generally about each artist’s beliefs and background, but already there is so much to unpack! What drew me in at first was not the content of what they were saying, but that I could see that they were mimicking the body language of the artists. For example, the performer playing Lin Hwai-min sat tall in her chair, not leaning on the back of it, and had her arms crossed while nodding in agreement with what someone else had said.

This is a work waiting to happen! But because this is a structured improvisation, and only one of the seven stations (of which most require talking directly to the audience), many details weren’t given greater attention. The content of the text, the way of delivering the text, the body language, the way of responding to what others are saying, how to arrive and how to leave the table etc.

In fact I felt like this piece could easily have been a full-length work, but which instead ended up becoming something like a Buzzfeed ‘Seven Things All College Dance Majors Have Experienced’.

Then we were ushered into the theatre for the next piece, Equal choreographed by Lee Jae-young (Korea).

Everything is different in terms of body, skin, age and sex. But as a human being, we are all equal.

–  Taken from the programme booklet

I felt like this was a piece that was trying to make different people do the same thing, which is already a disaster waiting to happen.

To be fair, I felt fine till the first big musical accent (i.e. BOOM), and I even smiled a bit after that, because I love loud beats in the theatre (so sue me). But it soon crashed for me. The choreography followed the tempo to a tee, which was way too slow for a fast piece of music, it actually ended up looking like group aerobics. And because the dancers were not neat, there wasn’t much to look at either. I liked the chest isolations and the movements themselves were fine, but the regular beats were so slow that I felt the dancers were always waiting to perform the next movement, and NOT in the sense that there was tension in the waiting.

When unison movements aren’t tight and together, it is really off-putting. And because I come from a classical Chinese dance background, unisons have a special place in my heart. So… do them justice people!

There was a lot of walking across the space in the piece too, and some dancers had swag, some did the contemporary dance walking-with-intention, some were doing a pedestrian walk…. it was like, do you even know why you are walking and how you contribute structurally and dynamically to what is already onstage or not? And I feel like these things have to be pointed out by the choreographer or the rehearsal director, because its hard for dancers to see the whole picture.

Then the next piece was Yarra Ileto’s (Singapore) Elite Ramblings.

When I saw the costumes, my first thought was “Oh I can borrow those for performances next time” because they were Chinese palace maids/concubines-inspired. Oh my gosh but this piece was so politically loaded for me, especially because I’m a Chinese dancer right?

There was one male dancer among the other female dancers, and it took me half the piece to figure out if he was the Head Eunuch who trains the new palace maids or the Emperor. Turns out he was the king. He’s a good dancer with great elevation in his jumps and he’s also careful with his transitions and details, but he performs quite effeminately/femininely. Which is delicious to watch! But not knowing whether it was deliberately performed in that manner made me quite confused. Maybe he’s just a gay emperor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_history_in_China)?

The movements in the first two-thirds of the piece was a bit messy, but it was still quite energetic and dynamic, and with that costume there was this added swishy thing which accentuates that. I can’t help feeling though, that if there were more attention paid to the unison movements being performed at the exact same time (i.e. that the dancers initiate and end the movement at the same moment), it would look even better and the overall visual and energetic effect of the dance would be much tighter and therefore greater!

At this point, I must say that the dancers (whether it is because of a lack of foundation or fatigue) did appear quite weak, with many of them losing their balance in movements which required them to stand on one leg. As a dancer I get how hard that is (my teacher used to call me an ice-skater in class), but I also know that if I can’t even stand on one leg without shaking, its very hard to be respected as a professional dancer, no?

I did not like the white flower, I thought it was too symbolic, almost like something one would see in a Chinese dance drama. I would be interested in different ways of performing ‘a loss of innocence’ through dance/movement/performance though.

The sections were titled with such big words! I remember Cavalcade but I don’t remember the rest. I did like the last section though, because everything quietened down and here I saw attention to detail and tension in the air. Paired with the video projection (I preferred the second video, because the dancers weren’t looking directly at the screen), and the women-taking-over-the-emperor thing going on, I really enjoyed it.

Side note: dancers should really work on their faces more. And voices, if they die die must talk (I hate it when dancers talk, sorry). Anyone can just look at the camera and do what they’re supposed to be doing, but what are you looking at the camera for? Are you really looking at the camera or the person you perceive to be watching you? Your face is also your body you know, I’m quite sick of seeing the typical contemp poker face or intense face when there’s no specific reason for it. Its literally a face that doesn’t exist in reality, or outside the performance space. Or does it?

Then was Footprints with Dance, choreographed by Selina Tan (Singapore). The beginning was interesting, with the instruments that the dancers manipulated with their hands. They made nice sounding rattles and clicks. Then they began talking. About why they fell in love with dance.

I know this is a school production but can we leave all this ‘passion for dance’ and ‘dancing is my dream’ themes for SYF?

Can we have a deeper level of thinking? It doesn’t have to be that deep either, I could do with ‘a moment in your dance journey where you felt like quitting dance’ or even the transition from an idealistic new dance student to someone who is about to formally enter the dance industry as a practitioner and has to strategise his/her pathway in order to balance practice and income.

Then they began doing the same set of movements in different structural patterns.

I recently saw Admiralty Secondary School’s SYF item and it had even more complicated structural patterns than this.

The last piece was Patterns choreographed by Albert Tiong (Singapore).

It is always a joy to watch Albert’s work. This is completely a personal preference, but I have several reasons: he always picks the strongest dancers, not just because of preference but also out of necessity, because his pieces are technically difficult and physically exhausting to perform. His movement style is usually clean, strong, grounded and juicy. He also often complements the music and tempo, playing with them, not just with the timing of the steps but also through using different dynamics within the movement sequences.

I really liked the costume as well! This standing tall in a large second position is such a nice, strong shape!

Most of the dancers got really tired at the end of the piece and it was a pity, because when the movements lose their detail and variety in texture, there isn’t a lot left to watch.

It isn’t fair to make a comparison (because some dancers performed in multiple pieces tonight), but I will do so here because I want to commend the NUS Synergy performers. Albert created the piece Double for NUS Synergy in their recent performance FUSE(D) on 10th March. It was a lengthy duet and as usual, physically exhausting. The two dancers, however, kept their energy going and were able to perform explosive dynamic movements all the way till the end of the piece. They were not professionally-trained dancers, and I was very impressed with the quality of their performance, especially when it was not an easy piece to perform: with a lot of repetition, points of contact and of course, movements performed in Albert’s movement style. I found myself wishing I could move as well as Zong Qi could!

Anyway, on the whole it was an enjoyable night! Graduation performances always are a bit magical because there’s this energy that the dancers give off. For some it might be the last time they get to perform on such a stage. For some it might be the last time they get to dance with their fellow class/schoolmates. Its like that song in Lion King:

Can you feel the love tonight?
You needn’t look too far
Stealing through the night’s uncertainties
Love is where they are

Whether it is love for their fellow dancers, love for the stage, or love for dance… that cheer at the end of the last graduation showcase says it all.

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