Dance review: Frontier Danceland's artistic momentum continues unabated

With Sides 2015, Frontier Danceland continues to push itself artistically with a crammed but nonetheless eclectic showcase of works.

The show on May 15 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio got off to a slightly bumpy start with a clumsily programmed pre-show performance by the dancers of Pulse, Frontier’s training initiative. The performance itself was not the issue. In fact, it highlighted the young dancers’ strong training. It was the awkward billing that was the problem.

The impression I got was of a more casual dance to kick off the evening. But when it was performed, the nature of the work seemed to demand the kind of attention that one gives to the main program. During the dance, the audience was still in the process of taking their seats. This format definitely did not do justice to the dancers who were performing very intently.

That aside, the triple bill programme struck a good balance between exploring new territory as well as developing those that already exist.

Spatial ordering was a prevalent theme in two of the more engaging works. Company member Christina Chan revisited her 2012 work, Between, re-working what was originally a trio to become a dance for six performers.

The physical camaraderie among the six company members was palpable. The quintessential pulsating rhythm of Steve Reich’s Tehillim provided a musical energy that rocked their bodies from side to side constantly, making the group morph into different entities like a shape-shifting organism. Its presence was fluid and volatile.

The energy shifted the space, dissolving and dissipating in all directions and then amalgamating back together into one powerful unit. Together with an imposing wall of lights designed by Gabriel Chan, Between had an urban aloofness to it. Physical activity was rife, but eye contact was rarely made. When bodies came into contact, it was just casual brushes and perfunctory hugs. The people depicted in this work seemed brought together by chance, not by purpose.

Each performer had a confident yet detached presence.In Gabrielle Nankivell’s and Luke Smiles’ Order Of Things, space was dictated by the large forces of census and statistics. 

A clinical atmosphere was created with stark white lighting, a white dance floor and a wall projection of words and a countdown timer looming over the performers. Descriptions of a statistical nature, such as height, weight and age, were typed out in succession. With each description, the performers would rearrange themselves to present this information plainly – shortest to tallest, youngest to oldest for instance.

Through this concept, the performance space was ingeniously manipulated by forces larger than the performers, reducing them to mere laboratory data, but at the same time, revealing small instances of individual quirks. As the work progressed, the strict severity of statistical order gave way to an order that was more organic, like in nature.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the work had to be the countdown timer projected throughout work. It served as a chilling reminder that, in the order of all things, existences are ultimately finite. As the timer counted down its last 10 seconds, I felt a sense of mounting anxiety even though the final moments of the scene featured the dancers moving in a beautifully calm way, like a mobile gently swayed by a breeze. When it finally struck zero, the stage blacked out on an image still in progress. Time had run out.

The Rose and The Rhino was the oddball in the triple bill, a whimsically light-hearted collaboration by the six company members. Touted as the first time they have come together to create a piece, it was obvious that they needed a bit more time to distill coherence from their diversity. The work showed a democratic creative process, but it was a democracy that was disparate. The only thing that seemed clear was its whimsical element. Other than that, it was left so thematically open-ended that I found it confusing.

Over the past few years, Frontier Danceland has gained a visibly strong artistic momentum. It is my hope that this will not abate anytime soon.