Stephanie Burridge

This month T.H.E Dance Company staged a triple bill featuring three Asian choreographers. The nature of contemporary dance often precludes the restaging of works that are made specifically on dancers in a company who have also contributed their personal voices and stories; transposition to new bodies and aesthetic sensibilities can be lost in translation so it was interesting to see how the remounting of two pieces from 2012 worked in this programme. I also checked in on Flamenco Sin Fronteras where artistic director Antonio Vargas fused Kathak, contemporary and flamenco forms in Journey in Time. Cast lists have also just been announced for the May season of the English National Ballet tour to Singapore with Le Corsaire generating much excitement and anticipation.

  • T.H.E Dance Company: Triple Bill – Nexus, Sun Shang-Chi (Germany/Taiwan); As Is (2012), Xing Liang (Hong Kong/China); Remains Remain (2012), Jeffrey Tan (Singapore)
    April 2, SOTA Drama Theatre
  • Flamenco Sin Fronteras: Journey in Time
    April 26, Chijmes Hall
  • dans series: English National Ballet in Le Corsaire
    May 14-17, Esplanade Theatre
Nguyen Chung and Zhuo Zihao in Sun Shang-chi's Nexus. Photo Bernie Ng

Nguyen Chung and Zhuo Zihao in Sun Shang-chi’s Nexus.
Photo Bernie Ng

T.H.E (The Human Expression) has established itself as a regional contemporary company that is slick, stylish and always pushing the boundaries. Relentless and intensely physical, the choreography is often accompanied by disturbing soundscapes, hard hitting lighting design with androgynous costumes and aesthetic sensibilities. Reflective moments are few; sensual sexuality and facial expressions rare – with hair swishing over their faces they dance on without looking back. Amongst these large generalisations a quiet moment, a dancer speaking softly, or a heartfelt gesture certainly stands out.

Jeffrey Tan exploited  this in the reworking of his 2012 Remains Remain, created in response to the Japanese tsunami. A poignant reminder of what is lost and what remains.

The choreography was eloquently danced by Wu Mi (吴觅; 吳覓) who showed his balletic flair in the long lines and multiple turns that do not often find their place in T.H.E choreography. Although dancers Evelyn Toh and Kei Ushiroda were elegant and supportive, the strong thread that bonds a group of survivors of such harrowing experiences as they find fragments of meaning and the impetus to move forward is missing. The work borders on the melodramatic and the setting, that includes a projection of letters of poetry dripping from a background of the sea, needs to be contrasted by weightier performances. The dancers pull at each other to find solace but rarely reach an emotional state of sublime tenderness amongst the ruins.

As Is (2012) by Chinese choreographer Xing Liang (邢亮) was certainly worth another look. In an evocation of the moments when fragility and vulnerability are exposed, the dancers manipulate each other through gentle pushes and shoves to gain supremacy; there are sharp, angular frameworks created by limbs thrust aggressively outwards only to fold in again to a personal, introspective space.

As Is was held together by a wondrous performance by Lee Mun Wai who combined whimsy, grace and a dramatically spoken text about love… “You want me to give you up?…Haven’t I given you enough?…” He anchored what seemed to be a chaotic, spontaneous world where the dancers are immersed in a game of symbolic musical chairs. They build precarious stacks of them, move them frantically to another place, or hide them in small spaces that are safe havens only to knock them apart and start over again.

As a metaphor for a search for self and meaning in an overwhelmingly, out of control world, the imagery is superb. The constant shuffling about was contrasted by Lee’s poetic solo that slowed the pace with a reflective, nuanced character study. The 2012 production evolved into many voices where the dancers took turns to impose their individuality in this bizarre space where more seemed to be lost than gained in their search for love and a deeper spiritual connection. On the SOTA stage this was diminished and they became subsumed in a dark void where voices and personas were somewhat drowned out.

Nexus by Germany-based Taiwanese choreographer Sun Shang-Chi (孫尚綺) is a show stopper. Audacious in design with constantly changing lighting by LIVE and a screeching sound track by Georg Friedrich Haas, it distilled everything that is special about T.H.E.

Although it begins simply by a dancer appearing in the audience then sitting on the edge of the stage staring and laughing at us, it rapidly progresses to a maelstrom of shifting boundaries and stages of uncertainty. New company dancer Nguyen Chung and Zhuo Zihao began by balancing sinuously on each other, hip to hip, in a sustained synergy that virtually melted into more complex partner work and eventually expanded the spotlight to include other performers.

In the flux of meetings and partings echoed by the rising and falling of lighting bars, a sense of journeying forward through a series of snapshots emerges. The photographic frames of the choreography embodies the duality of time captured in brief moments and is juxtaposed with a progressive eternity where events become significant as they are stacked together and serialised. The choreography captures this in its structure and the integration of time and space as a fluid partner to the action. A vivid red line of light along the back of the stage reinforces a sense of continuum.

Nexus is a beautifully crafted, mature dance that becomes disturbing as the distortion of the constantly changing sound and light confronts the dancers and audience with unpredictability.

T.H.E’s work is always innovative, risk taking and current. This programme was more of a continuation of the company style and ethos rather than a striking new development. Yet although all the elements were in place for a high quality triple bill it rarely touched us; and to me, some feeling of empathy and emotion was missing. The performers become almost robotic as they worked through frenetic choreography that is largely faceless. Their skill in performing this style of work is exceptional; however more reflective moments and nuanced engagement with the audience might bring the dancers closer to us and allow the choreography to resonate with implications for our lives.

Bernice Lee, Mamiko Nakane and Ponnamma Devaiah in Journey in Time.  Photo Flamenco Sin Fronteras

Bernice Lee, Mamiko Nakane and Ponnamma Devaiah in Journey in Time.
Photo Flamenco Sin Fronteras

Journey in Time is a combination of flamenco, contemporary and Kathak devised by Flamenco Sin Fronteras artistic director maestro Antonio Vargas. Now residing in Singapore, Vargas and SIF challenges ways of presenting flamenco and engages the local community by crossing boundaries and opening up new partnerships and choreographic platforms. Rather than adopting a ‘concert style’ approach the company works from a creative, often narrative base to incorporate the flamenco genre into performances. As a multidisciplinary company in Singapore it is unique in giving equal space to music and dance as essential partners in the performance.

Adhering to the flamenco tradition, it would be inconceivable to perform the piece without live music and for this show pianist and composer Pablo Ruben Maldonado and flamenco gypsy singer Antonio Fernandez from Spain worked with local composer/violinist Yong Kai Lin and  tabla extraordinaire Nawas Mirajkar. Bharatanatyam/contemporary company Maya Dance Theatre joined forces with Flamenco Sin Fronteras and Ponnamma Devaiah and classical Kathak dancers from India/Singapore.

The passage of our past, the present and the future are intertwined on a journey of the three different cultures: Kathak, flamenco and contemporary. Much has been researched and written about the common roots and aesthetic links between Indian classical forms of dance and flamenco so the show was a logical progression and a provocative concept to explore in the Singapore context which has a large Indian community. Although there are some lyrical transitions between the distinctive genres as the respective dancers entered and exited, integration, convergence and shared moments could be exploited further. The meeting points are tentative and brief and it appeared that the intensity of the dancers became dissipated as they transgressed into another form out of their comfort zone. This was in sharp contrast to the group of musicians whose rhythmic conversations, repartee and improvisation traversed all styles and instruments without a problem. Dance can learn something from this shared energy and ‘in the moment’ expression.

Nevertheless there were some extraordinary performances in particular by flamenco dancers Mamiko Nakane and Toshiaki Konno, Kathak exponent Ponnamma Devaiah and Bharatanatyam/contemporary dancer Shahrin Johry who transcended the restraints of their form and delivered powerhouse choreography with virtuosic elements and compelling expression.

Alina Cojocaru in Le Corsaire.  Photo ASH

Alina Cojocaru in Le Corsaire.
Photo ASH

As part of the Esplanade dance Series, English National Ballet brings the full version of Le Corsaire to Singapore in May. The role of the dashing pirate Conrad and his harem lover Medora has been a showcase for the virtuosic talents of the very best dancers in the world. Leading men like Nureyev and Baryshnikov gave the role a new spin and there is a constant updating of the spectacular acrobatic leaps and multiple fouté combinations. Medora is portrayed with seductive sensuality and is one of the most overtly erotic roles in the classical repertoire. Featuring Hollywood inspired sets and costumes Bob Ringwood of Batman, Alien 3, Star Trek Nemesis, A.I. and Troy fame and staged by Anna-Marie Holmes after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev, the performances will feature the company’s world class principals. A full review will be included next month.

For cast lists and information: