Dancers' talent cause to mark Frontier's 25 years

Milieu was dramatic but unfocused.
Milieu was dramatic but unfocused.PHOTO: BERNIE NG

REVIEW / DANCE

MILIEU 2016

Frontier Danceland

Sota Drama Theatre/ Last Saturday

For its 25th anniversary, Frontier Danceland opted for a flashy showcase.

Artistic director Low Mei Yoke invited past company members to dance alongside current members and, for the entire hour, the dancers moved in unison, expressing fortitude and solidarity.

The performance includes a beautifully directed dance film. The set and lighting design were dramatic and eye-catching.

Yet, one came out of the show feeling rather hollow.

The intention to celebrate Frontier's 25 years in a grand way was understandable. But Milieu 2016 is a celebration that was awkward. It felt as if one were at a party where the well-meaning host offers good food and drink, but fails to get an engaging conversation going.

Dramaturgically, Milieu was tepid and unfocused. It banked on repeated movement motifs and choreographic patterns to churn out an hour-long work that was visually dramatic, but went nowhere.

The work began with Low walking chest up against a tide of dancers inching backwards.

Ceremoniously, she proceeded to a chair where she sat and began knitting a red scarf that extended beyond the stage.

Against this symbolic image of the maternal woman and her labour of love, the young dancers exerted themselves in performing the standard choreographic patterns of unisons, solos, duets and trios.

Fissures, however, began to show in the movements of the former members, who do not seem to adjust well to the company's current style of dance.

There was also little interaction between the former and current members, which was a pity for a work that wants to celebrate the coming together of past and present.

Another glaring issue was that the alumni dancers, including Seow Yi Qing and Jereh Leong, who are arresting performers and whose dance careers have advanced post- Frontier, ceased to appear in the second half of the show. Their appearance thus ended up looking like a cameo.

The current members gave the work more focus and one immediately saw the close-knit camaraderie between Adrian Ulrich Skjoldborg, Joy Wang, Adele Goh and Hwa Wei-An. They moved with an ease that was expressed not only physically, but also emotionally.

Kelvin Chew's dance film interrupted the work in the middle. It shows dancers standing among hilly sand dunes, falling, caressing and carrying one another as if braving the harshness of life.

The film was a bit of a cliche, but it had its memorable moments.

After the film ended, the projection screen lifted to reveal a jungle of steel trusses on stage while thumping, bass-heavy techno music played. The transition from the emotive desert landscape to a basement techno club was abrupt and confusing.

The ostentatious celebration of Frontier's 25th anniversary undermined its sincerity.

But if one looked closely, the strengths of the individual performers were palpable and their talent is cause for commemorating the company's 25-year legacy in the Singapore dance scene.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'Dancers' talent cause to mark Frontier's 25 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe