Finding a Common Ground beyond words



Azpirasi Dance Group

Emily Hill/Last Friday

Coffee shop conversations can be diverse, stimulating and fodder for artists with a keen ear to the ground. Two such artists are choreographers Ismail Jemaah and Norhaizad Adam, who base their creation for Azpirasi Dance Group's developmental platform, Melentur Buluh, on an array of issues that people grapple with.

Sebungkus | Common Ground seeks to recreate the intimacy of such coffee shop conversations, with its performers leading audience members across two storeys of the Emily Hill bungalow. This intimacy makes possible penetrating questions and honest answers, but it is difficult to build between strangers over the duration of the hour-long performance.

The performers are personable guides through the performance, with the tall order of involving the audience through conversations about who they are and what they do.

The work shows these young artists examining dualistic concepts of the traditional and the contemporary, passion and obligation, and freedom and structure. With their arms outstretched as though in surrender, they make small shifts while trying to balance both hands on the horizontal.

This state of flux is a constant as the audience is moved in waves from room to room. The choreography is textured with waves, sending ripples through the mostly dignified, upright spines of Malay dance vocabulary. It imbues the rapid footwork of the folk form, ronggeng, with a gripping intensity as the dancers fling themselves at and ricochet off the walls.

Encircling the dancers, Nazerul Khairy Ben-Dzulkefli's live drawings show vertical braids which spiral off course, evoking the fluidity of Chinese calligraphy. Meanwhile, the frankincense he burns blankets the space in a sweet, woody fog.

Sebungkus | Common Ground posits a rigid dichotomy between the abovementioned themes, presenting them through debates between performers as well as conversation topics put forth to the audience.

However, in the artistic treatment of it, the artists show that there can be areas of beautiful overlap and that clarity is sometimes forged in the haze. It is only through art's abstraction that the work becomes textured with wavy flow and nuanced in ways beyond words can be.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2017, with the headline 'Finding a Common Ground beyond words'. Print Edition | Subscribe