da:ns festival 2015 brochureStephanie Burridge

Packed houses, enthusiasts at workshops and hundreds watching free performances in the foyer each night, Singapore da:ns festival continues to create a buzz. Several broad themes like east and west convergences, cultural synthesis and the deconstruction of traditional forms underpinned many of the performances. Everywhere there is a collage of the traditional and the contemporary, superstars of the dance world and emerging talents, students and seasoned professionals. At the same time the World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific Connectivity Through Dance conference was held, bringing the regional dance community together to network, learn and share. Part of the conference spilled over into the da:ns festival giving a platform to a curated show of Asian independents and small companies in the Asia Pacific Dance Bridge and the regular tertiary showcase The Next Generation for local tertiary dance institutions LASALLE College of the Arts and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).

  • da:ns festival 2015
    – Sylvie Guillem Life in Progress; Esplanade Theatre, October 13
    – Cry Jailolo, choreographed by Eko Supriyanto; Esplanade Theatre Studio, October 15
    – Akram Khan and Israel Galvan in Torobaka; Esplanade Theatre Studio, October 17
  • World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific Dance Bridge 2015: Connectivity through Dance
    NAFA, LASALLE, SOTA and Esplanade, October 16-18
    – Various performances including: Asia Pacific Dance Bridge, Esplanade Recital Studio, October 18
    K’now Dance (Community Showcase), National Library Concourse, October 18.
Sylvie Guillem in technê. Photo Bill Cooper

Sylvie Guillem in technê.
Photo Bill Cooper

Sylvie Guillem’s legendary suppleness, strength, versatility and attributes that probably make her the best female dancer ever were aptly on show in pieces created by Russell Maliphant (Here and After danced with Emanuela Montanari) and the metaphoric Alice in Wonderland dance theatre piece, Bye from Mats Ek. Yet her legacy is quintessentially captured in Akram Khan’s techné. As she scrapes along the floor with knees bent, crawls and finally ungainly scrambles to get up before unfurling those incredible limbs, we are aware of her curiosity, her interest in new ways of moving beyond balletic elegance…of the possibilities for dance expression and shared universal humanity that the profound language of dance can bridge.

Khan’s ritualistic work involves circling a withered, abstracted tree dense with symbolism. The interpretation could range from the life of a dancer coming to terms with the passing of time to global concerns about the state of the planet. Like shedding a skin of memories, Guillem slowly reveals herself and crosses from the mundane to the majestic.

Ek’s Bye takes in the full spectrum of the dancer’s theatricality and filmic presence as she explores the line between the fantasy of the stage and what might be on the other side of the door. Projections of everyday people, a dog and crowds of people beckon and promise a transition to simplicity and mundane order. Bye is whimsical and a dramatically exposing solo for Guillem that reveals a vulnerable woman facing change…her extraordinary, human performance (not to mention the headstands in the yellow skirt) combines soulful artistry and a mix of lightness, humour, provocation and some pathos as we recognised the inescapable tugs of aging and change. When is it time to say goodbye and become part of the faceless mass in the street? As the crowds stand and cheer around the world it seems like a new beginning rather than an end – the rich palette of possibilities and bodily artistry on stage is juxtaposed with an ageless, inquiring mind that will take her in unlimited directions.

Akram Khan and Israel Galvan in Torobaka Photo Jean Louis Fernandez

Akram Khan and Israel Galvan in Torobaka
Photo Jean Louis Fernandez

After Akram Khan’s brilliant techné for Guillem it seems tough to say that Torobaka, where he performs the kathak counter puncher to Israel Galvan’s flamenco, skims the surface of possibilities rather than etching deeply layered textures as we have come to expect from his imaginative choreography.

The dance is a workmanlike, ferocious display of virtuosity between two masters of their art but creativity and artistry is left to the whimsical band of musicians. Like travelling players from across the steppes of the two cultural contexts for this work they ground the show and not only add their extraordinary musical talents; but humour, wit and sage wisdom to what looks like a boys own scrap through dance. Entertaining and full of praiseworthy rapid fire movement it does not evolve into the complex, deeply human pages we are used to seeing from Khan.

The discipline, energy and force of the young men in Cry Jailolo, choreographed by Eko Supriyanto, deserve the highest accolades. Their context is remarkable: day time farmers and fishermen unfurling their nets in Jailolo, a remote seaside village in Indonesia. Yet the intensity of their simple actions, the pride of their stamps and the depth of a rich cultural heritage demand attention. The endless passing of lines back and forth with military precision might wear thin as it constitutes the substance of the choreography; but just as it lulls us into a certainly, suddenly a new template emerges. A relentlessly twitching thigh muscle, a beat with a foot that endures, a startling formation achieved so rapidly…it was magical how the dancers arrive keeping time and their formations.

Over time, the dance becomes a riveting expose about survival as the context of the dancers/fishermen merge to those at the front line of global warming facing drought and ghost nets of dying fish. The poignancy intensifies as the region is blanketed in haze from Indonesian forest fires and farmers, such as these, are caught in one of the biggest catastrophes of our time.

Cry Jailola Photo Bari Paramarta Islam

Cry Jailola
Photo Bari Paramarta Islam

Javanese Court Dancers Photo courtesy Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay

Javanese Court Dancers
Photo courtesy Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

Meanwhile, in the Esplanade concourse, the gentle strains of the Javanese gamelan and elegance of the dance troupe demonstrating traditional forms was a reminder of the rich diversity of dance in Indonesia. These dualities provide multiple cross reference points about the region and are an essential focus for establishing the unique identity of Singapore’s da:ns festival.

Segueing between the da:ns festival and the World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific Dance Bridge 2015 was a performance event of the same name. This small company and independent artist showcase featured a curated programme of innovative dance from the region.

MACOBA Dance Company (Japan) opened with a refined duet, Life of Time. Inspired by the notion of the passage of time the dancers carve out the space through simple, everyday gestures combined with large arcs of movement. As the dancers left the stage, leaves were strewn over the stage in preparation for Poetic Motion-A Blooming Tree by T.T.C. Dance (張婷婷獨立製作, Taiwan). Long lines, clever interweaving of bodies and lyrical choreography inspired by Xi Murong’s (席慕容) poetry echoed the musical composition of Hsieh Wei-chin (謝瑋秦). Unfortunately the promised projections by renowned photographer Chen Chang-chih (陳長志) were not in place in this performance. It was clear that they would have enhanced the work evoking a three way conversation between the dancers, the music and the imagery.

T.T.C Dance (Taiwan) Photo Courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

T.T.C Dance (Taiwan) Photo
Courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

Singapore’s Frontier Danceland showed Christina Chan and Aymeric Bichon’s Midlight (reviewed in the August Scene) while Yvonne Ng (Singapore/Canada) was lucid in her storytelling work Weave – Part One. Underpinned by the poignant tale of her mother’s life, she explores the current context of women in society asking, “What has really changed?” The experienced performer layers her interpretation between harsh realities, humour and the local Peranakan context.

Fairul Zahid/ASWARA (Malaysia) showed the award winning choreography TWO in an exploration of relationships. Dancers Raziman Sarbini and Azizi Mansor were sensual and visceral as they intertwined. The choreography resonates with the building of trust whereby individual freedoms embrace a sense of belonging and stability.The showcase ended with a quirky, yet telling work about the ‘other’- an idiosyncratic character, a group, race or marginalised individual who always seems to be on the perimeter. His environment, group, family or society. Confronting the audience, choreographer /performer Lee Jung In from Modern Table Company (Korea) transits multiple personas in the narrative style play
For Sale where an ultimate sadness consumes the dancer in a plea for
compassion and acceptance.

Creative and passionate, Asia Pacific Dance Bridge expressed the voices of these Asian dance makers.

Meanwhile, other performers were sweating it out in the Singapore haze on the outdoor stage at the National Library in an inclusive programme, K’now Dance (Community Showcase), that featured experienced professionals, community and cultural groups exploring a range of styles. The mix of imagery, ideas and fearless energy of the performers encapsulated much about the identity of dance in Singapore and the ethos of the local scene. The ability to come together and enjoy each other’s dancing, contemplate and appreciate beyond hierarchical structures that often assume superiority of one form over another.

Bernice Lee’s experimental contemporary improvisation with violinist Kailin Yong; a sensuous duet from T.H.E. second company dancers created by Marcus Foo; flamenco fire from Flamenco Sin Fronteras and a love duet from M.S. Srilakshmi, Sri Warisan were showcased together with independent choreographer Max Chen, the hip hop youth energy from Gigi Art of Dance, Indonesia and local Indian dance schools. Male students from TNUA (Taipei National University of the Arts, Taiwan) were spectacular in their Chinese inspired dance that featured acrobatic choreography and dramatic lifts.

Local dance favourite Shahrin Johry, principal dancer of Maya Dance Theatre and recent winner of the inaugural Dance Singapore Dance, performed with the Down Syndrome Association dancers in a lively, collaboration. It was impressive not only because of what he was able to achieve through working with the group over time, but his own efficacy in simply taking to the floor with the dancers in an all-out Bollywood/ pop number that had the crowds cheering. As Yaar Panj-aab Phangra worked the crowd to join them in their Bhangra exhibition of ‘turn on the light bulb’ with one hand and ‘pat the dog with the other’ the music blared out infectious rhythms, K’now Dance gave cause to celebrate the transforming power of dance

For more about World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific Dance Bridge 2015: Connectivity through Dance events, visit http://wdas2015.com/