Stephanie Burridge

This month just spills into September to include a report card to the dance events at the Singapore International Arts festival. Also this month: a review of Maya Dance Theatre’s “Angst Angel Returns” and a preview peek at an open rehearsal of Frontier Danceland’s new work by Taiwanese choreographer Liu Yen-Cheng, “A Piece of Temporary Chaos”. This will be premiered in the company’s upcoming production, “Milieu 2014”, 14th and 15th November, at SOTA Studio Theatre.

This month:

  • Danang Pamungkas and Alex Dea’s “Angst Angel Returns”; Singai Tamil Sangam, Roof Top, Little India
  • Open rehearsal of “A Piece of Temporary Chaos”; Frontier Danceland studio, Goodman Arts Centre
  • Singapore International Festival of the Arts (SIFA):
    – Richard Move/MoveOpolis!: “Martha@…The 1963 Interview”; SOTA Drama Theatre
    – Mamela Nyamza and Mojisola Adebayo: “I Stand Corrected”/”Hatched”; 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road
    – Jérôme Bel and Theater Hora: “Disabled Theater”; SOTA Drama Theatre
MAYA Dance Theatre in 'Angst Angel'.  Photo © MAYA Dance Theatre Ltd

MAYA Dance Theatre in ‘Angst Angel’.
Photo © MAYA Dance Theatre Ltd

August 22. Created by solo Indonesian based choreographer Danang Pamungkas and composer Alex Dea (Indonesia/USA). Angst Angel Returns” was reworked from a 1994 version. Specifically it physically explored the emotional state (Angst) through the characters and moments from the Asian epics — Ramayana and Mahabharatha. Sita (the princess), Rama (the prince), Arjuna (the warrior), Draupadi (a fallen queen) and Lord Krishna.

The story board for the show was conceived by composer and creative director Alex Dea who played several instruments and was the link to all the components of the performance. The production included several innovations such as making an Asian work based on traditional stories site-specific for the company studio in Little India, probing four central characters in depth, incorporating a number of aesthetic dance trainings in the choreography, and working with a contemporary composer to explore new phrasing and nuances for dance expression through music and sounds.

Shahrin Johry as Prince Rama transited both the physical grandeur and emotional lover of Sita in his solo that incorporated his own training in Bharatanatyam with the Javanese aesthetic. The large studio area divided the lovers allowing space for each to assert their characters before uniting in a duet that challenged Sita’s devotion. The audience then followed the musician upstairs to two spaces where Arjuna and Draupadi performed. The restricted space for these solos limited the powerful persona of Sufri Juwahir playing the warrior and the defiant dance of the rebellious Draupadi performed by Sheridan Newman. However the final rooftop dance under the stars where Lord Krishna met his court was magical. The gentle control of Javanese expert Danang Pamungkas swaying to the haunting sounds of the flute gave “Angst Angel Returns” a resolution that was firmly anchored in an Asian narrative context and aesthetics.

Frontier Danceland in rehearsal for Liu Yen-cheng's 'A Piece of Temporary Chaos'.  Dancers (foreground to background): Christina Chan, Adele Goh, Adrian Skjoldborg, Joy Wang, Wayne Ong and Hwa Wei-An. Photo © Frontier Danceland

Frontier Danceland in rehearsal for Liu Yen-cheng’s ‘A Piece of Temporary Chaos’.
Dancers (foreground to background): Christina Chan, Adele Goh, Adrian Skjoldborg, Joy Wang, Wayne Ong and Hwa Wei-An.
Photo © Frontier Danceland

September 2. Frontier Danceland is fast becoming the local company known for slightly whacky, off-beat choreography. They are a tight team whose repertoire is built from international collaborations and their own ‘in-house’ choreographic development projects. From this rehearsal it was clear they have been given some free reign to improvise and input their own ideas and material within the larger framework of Liu Yen-Cheng’s “A Piece of Temporary Chaos”. However, Lui maintained a structure that juxtaposed these individual eccentricities against larger group tableaux; or they preceded a rhythmic section danced in unison, albeit with exaggerated body postures and funny walks. Slated to be performed in November, the preview gave an insight into how this young Taiwanese choreographer develops a working process with the company.

August 21-September 3. Dance at the Singapore International Arts Festival was thin on the ground. In keeping with the direction towards avant-garde, highly theatrical work the three shows all involved text as a predominant means of narrative. There was almost an absence of dancing that possibly reflected the theatre and inter-disciplinary aesthetic preferences of the new festival artistic director and established Singaporean theatre doyen Ong Keng Sen. Although the three productions were strong, pertinent and superbly rendered there was room for some variation on the textually driven “Martha@…The 1963 Interview” created and performed by Richard Move; “I Stand Corrected and Hatched” featuring actor Mojisola Adebayo and with dancer/ choreographer Mamela Nyamza; and the brilliant Theater Hora in “Disabled Theater” conceptualised by French provocateur Jérôme Bel.

“Martha@…The 1963 Interview” was a recreation of a 1963 interview between Martha Graham and the journalist/critic Walter Terry. Lisa Kron played the man (Walter Terry) in response to Richard Move playing the woman (Martha Graham). Their rapport, repartee and understanding was the essence of the show. Although Graham’s persona and her physical appearance complete with piled up hair, mask-like make-up and red lips may lend itself to a camped up parody this was certainly not the case.

Lisa Kron and Richard Move (front) with Catherine Cabeen and Suzzzanne Ponomarenko in 'Martha@...The 1963 Interview'.  Photo © Chong Yew

Lisa Kron and Richard Move (front) with Catherine Cabeen and Suzzzanne Ponomarenko in ‘Martha@…The 1963 Interview’.
Photo © Chong Yew

Move was deeply respectful and almost too reverential in explaining the legacy of the diva. Focusing on her portrayal and creation of the famous female characters of her ‘Greek’ period, she also included a portrait of Joan of Arc from “Seraphic Dialogue” (1969) and the bride from “Appalachian Spring” (1946). Dancers Catherine Cabeen and Suzzanne Ponomarenko danced excerpts of these works without music, which I felt to be a weakness. Samuel Barber’s score for “Cave of the Heart” is integral to the performance, synergizing the rapid contractions and footwork of the dancer superbly with the accents of the music. Graham fans could reproduce this solo where Medea grapples with her demonic desires. Yet “Martha@…The 1963 Interview” brought important aspects of her to life to a new generation but importantly placed her as one of the most important female artists of all time.

Mamela Nyamza is a versatile, creative and brilliant dancer with a unique movement vocabulary – but that is not what she is concerned about in her choreography. While her body is imprinted with her experiences as a mother, daughter, and black South African woman who is a divorcee and a lesbian, she has an unmitigated purpose for her performances. Her work is underpinned by a belief in the power of dance to tell stories, jerk us into action and remind audiences that there are tough agendas to present.

“I Stand Corrected” (choreographed by Nyamza, co-created with Mojisola Adebayo) is the story of two gay women attempting to travel to England for their wedding who are confronted by South African prohibitions on gender and sexuality – they are in danger of being ‘corrected’ through rape and abuse. It is scenario experienced by countless others in a homophobic society and one that the performers bravely expose with sensitivity, strength and often wry, ironic humour. For audiences, it was an emotional roller coaster with a force rarely seen expressed through movement.

Mamela Nyamza in 'Hatched'.  Photo © Chong Yew

Mamela Nyamza in ‘Hatched’.
Photo © Chong Yew

After a much needed one hour interval the audience returned for “Hatched”. Although the focus was more towards movement and imagery many similar themes to the first came through.

“Hatched” work exposed an underbelly of poverty and hard labour portrayed through the struggles of a single, black mother and artist trying to support her son. The stage was bisected by a symbolic washing line that created a reality of a woman straining against this enslavement. While she hung out the washing en pointe in a tulle skirt overlaid with another skirt of pegs, she performed some spectacular movement to Saint-Saens iconic “The Swan”. Symbolically this duality embodied the confusion created by apartheid in South Africa. The last couple of minutes were the absolute highlight of the evening when Nyamza threw her troubles to the wind and simply danced. The rhythm started in her big toes as she discarded her point shoes then the rhythms rippled through every part of her body in joyful movement as the African spirit triumphed.

“Disabled Theatre” was also a triumph for the human spirit.  The troupe of eleven professional actors with disabilities from Switzerland’s Theater Hora was compelling with their honesty and profound in their ability to embrace life. Jérôme Bel structured this piece like a documentary of a workshop where the actors first appear individually on the bare stage before they all come together in a circle of chairs facing the audience. Taking turns to come to a central microphone they tell us their names and a bit more about themselves. One of the questions is…”What is your handicap?” Most have Down’s syndrome and tell us that they might be a bit slow, have certain mannerisms, are autistic or simply they hate being that way.

Theater Hora in 'Disabled Theatre'.  Photo © Kevin Lee, Singapore International Festival of Arts

Theater Hora in ‘Disabled Theatre’.
Photo © Kevin Lee, Singapore International Festival of the Arts

The highlight was their short dance solos. Finally they let loose with some high energy, innovative combinations that were echoed by the chorus of fellow actors sitting behind who knew all the moves and picked up the key moments – this was liberating and transformed the stage into a space where the force of the music and dance united us all in an intensely human experience. Many superlatives could be written about this deeply moving, emotionally engaging show by these remarkable performers.

Although dance lovers wanted more dance and variations on the textual theme, each SIFA production was superb portraying messages about the transformative power of dance; its purpose in exposing discrimination of race, sexuality, gender or disability. There existed an over arching shared humanity that ascends trauma, oppression and political agendas.