Dancing disconnected from the music

The Mazu Chronicle was a beautiful tapestry of compositions by Singaporeans past and present, filling the hall with Eastern melodies that resonated as Western sounds.
The Mazu Chronicle was a beautiful tapestry of compositions by Singaporeans past and present, filling the hall with Eastern melodies that resonated as Western sounds.PHOTO: THE ARTS FISSION COMPANY

REVIEW / DANCE

THE MAZU CHRONICLE: CROSSING

THE MARITIME SILK ROAD

The Philharmonic Orchestra

The Arts Fission Company

Esplanade Concert Hall/

Sunday

A voluminous red dress sits atop the gallery of the Esplanade Concert Hall, its invisible wearer, the legend- ary guardian of the sea Mazu, seemingly guiding the baton of Maestro Lim Yau, the co-custodian of the collab- orative venture between The Philharmonic Orchestra and Angela Liong's Arts Fission Company.

This is the second of their collaborations.

Similar to the previous endeavour, 2013's Rite Of Spring: A People's Stravinsky, the music is the anchor of The Mazu Chronicle: Crossing The Maritime Silk Road. It is a beautiful tapestry of compositions by Singaporeans past and present, filling the hall with Eastern melodies that resonate as Western sounds.

Threads of narrative are woven into the soundscape, voiced by the brave seafarers who helped to build Singapore's maritime industry. These pioneers play a version of their former selves on stage, stepping back into the roles they once played and held dear.

A police officer marching slowly on rickety legs, a shipbuilder admiring the work of his hands and a messenger delivering hope - these poignant portraits ride the wave of nostalgia on the occasion of the nation's Golden Jubilee.

An ensemble of senior performers, clad in various uniforms of workers on a ship, gesture enthusiastically to the familiar refrain of Dayung Sampan, which echoes the romanticism of Tian Mi Mi.

They are, however, seated at the far end of the gallery, making one wonder why they had not been featured more prominently. The transforming power of art is undeniable in the jovial performers of this scene and they deserve as much of the limelight.

Eschewing the conventional horseshoe formation, the orchestra is arranged in the shape of a boat with Lim at the bow.

The musicians flank a central area on which Liong's troupe is tossed and suspended by a continuous barrage of waves. The dancers venture beyond the stage to the choir gallery and the pipe organ loft, but the novelty of this innovation is lost very quickly.

Liong's choreography is comprised mostly of contemporary dance's falls and leaps and descends into a lulling monotony.

In fact, much of it seems to be ignorant of the music's delicious complexities and though convincingly performed, the dancing is plainly disconnected from what ought to be its impetus.

This raises the question of what a collaboration is and what it entails. While there are overt thematic overlaps in the work of Lim and Liong, it is not evident through the performance that the art forms they represent are able to coalesce seamlessly into a whole that is greater than its parts.

The afternoon's most memorable instance comes near its close, when dancer Edwin Wee, elated after a duet with his pioneer counterpart Thomas Tan, gives the latter a high-five and wraps him in a congratulatory embrace. This spontaneous, touching expression of love is what elevates Mazu from an ordinary artistic experience and one hopes to have seen this at its forefront.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2015, with the headline 'Dancing disconnected from the music'. Print Edition | Subscribe