By Revathi Murugappan
Ever play a round of table tennis with your eyes? Yeah, that’s right, with your eyes. Audiences at The Kwang Tung Dance Troupe’s In Transit, staged at KLPac’s Pentas 2 (23 – 25 Sept) did just this – partake in some eye exercises while enjoying the performance.
Markedly different about this performance is that the stage occupies two thirds of the theatre space while only a third is reserved for audiences, who are seated in three rows against the entire longer wall of the rectangular black box. It features two pieces, Steve Goh’s Silent and established choreographer Loke Soh Kim’s In Quest of Genuiness [sic].
Steve’s Silent starts sans music as each dancer takes an introspective approach, searching for that elusive something. Beautiful lines by the respective soloists are neatly engineered as the dancers explore gracefully the space around and within them.
Then music is subtly introduced before it increases in intensity, blaring with strong underlying beats. The dancers tumble into a state of chaos, running across the stage with a sense of urgency. This is when your eyes resort to playing ping pong as you struggle to focus… left, right, left right… After a while, your eye muscles tire out and you quit concentrating. Too many dancers (11) darting and exploding across in high voltage makes it hard for even the peripheral vision to capture everyone. So basically, you never see the dance piece as a whole because of the wide stage area and its proximity to the audience.
The heat the dancers generate in their frenzied state is almost palpable but they don’t go overboard. They emanate a glow that gives them an air of being moulded by choreography. Steve even incorporates a very conventionally balletic pas de trios section comprising two guys and a girl. A mild affair, as the girl is carelessly lifted and roughly thrown about. Still, to his credit, the earlier pas de deux was more polished, with some wonderful, liquid transitions that intuit the whimsy and drive of Goh Lee Kwang’s pounding score.
Lee Kwang’s Unmotion Picture Soundtrack which Silent is danced to, begins promisingly with a catchy, dynamic beat but as the unvaried tempo is maintained throughout the number, it starts to get humdrum. Just when you think the dancers’ turmoil is beginning to diminish a little, snow flakes begin to fall; suddenly, a burst of jazz and an abrupt ending. Black.
A graduate of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, Steve is quickly carving a name for himself in the local contemporary dance circle. In Silent, Steve’s choreography is heavily dominated by linear movements, and the ballet approach reigns over the modern realm so what emerges is a strong contemporary ballet feel.
The clarity of Silent would be hazy if you try to decipher any hidden messages. If you do, you’ll find that Steve’s choreography, while it has its moments, would leave your thirst unquenched. Perhaps there is something there about the dancer who breaks out at the end with jazz, establishing her individuality with a vocabulary rather different from the rest of the performance. Perhaps it’s best to just enjoy the movement for movement’s sake. Then it becomes sheer joy to watch.
The second half of the evening proves much calmer. Winner of many Cameronian Arts Awards, especially in the lighting category, Loke Soh Kim’s In Quest of Genuiness is a work of flickering grace. Known for vibrant contemporary choreographies, Soh Kim takes a somewhat different approach in this work.
While there are semblances of contemporary and classical Chinese motif to many of the manoeuvres, the choreography is kept clean, simple; but it is not enough. The audience expected more of Soh Kim who bagged the Best Choreographer in the 2002 Boh Cameronian Arts Awards.
The lilting yet haunting voice of Yudi, who provides the live music, fills the air as she hums and strums on wind chimes. Pockets of movement emerge from darkness, holding on to balls of light. The all female dancers clad in white appear ethereal as they float in and out amidst a sea of a thousand balloons. But as they track their slow journey on stage, it is at times even painful to endure.
The title of the piece In Quest of Genuiness (that’s how it’s spelt) makes you ponder, though. Are the dancers searching for something? The movements and their serene expressions do not reflect this. In fact, they do appear to be probing for something in the beginning, but after they blow off their lamps one by one, they are each illuminated from the top by individual spot lights, appearing like angels in a heaven, each in a world of her own. One of them climbs a rope, swings around gently. A sense of tranquillity prevails.
Somewhere between the searching in the dark and the swinging on the rope, they must have found something. Maybe I am not intellectual enough, but I’ve no idea what they found. The individual’s search for something within, something intangible, is the constant theme in both the performances of the night. Whether they find it in the end or not – they obviously do in Soh Kim’s choreography – the process of this search is not successfully shared with the audience.
In some ways, the juxtaposition of the chaotic Silent with Soh Kim’s number lends an interesting contrast to the night. The evening starts off with a bang with Steve’s tightly furled patterns of energy in his choreography but the Soh Kim-Yudi combination closes it on a sedated scale. What begins with a sizzle ends with a drizzle.
This year marks Kwang Tung’s 25th anniversary, and since its inception in 1980, the association has trained hundreds of dancers by providing free training and dance education to the public. In Transit is the troupe’s silver jubilee present to contemporary dance aficionados and its followers.
It’s obvious that the Kwang Tung outfit, comprising a relatively young group (could be in their 20s) is technically proficient, being trained in both western contemporary and classical Chinese dance. They dance with their bodies, yes, but not (yet) with their souls. Perhaps in time. Still, abundant talent lies here in all shapes and sizes, just waiting to be discovered.
Revathi teaches pilates, yoga, jazz, tap, aerobics, journalism, and everything else. And she writes too.
First Published: 13.10.2005 on Kakiseni