Mixed bag of releases

Re:Path's (above) Kavitha Krishnan, Shahrin Johry, Sufri Juwahir and Sheriden Newman.
Re:Path's (above) Kavitha Krishnan, Shahrin Johry, Sufri Juwahir and Sheriden Newman.PHOTO: JING KAI

Choreographers had space to develop their work in Maya Dance Theatre's Release series, but not all the pieces shone



Maya Dance Theatre

Goodman Arts Centre Black Box/ Last Friday

The sixth edition of Maya Dance Theatre's Release series was a mixed bag.

Usually known for cramming its programmes, Release 6.0 definitely felt more succinct with only four works. Whereas previous editions felt like a sampling of a plethora of ideas, this edition gave the choreographers more space to develop their work.

The evening began with Rachel Arianne Ogle's Mandala. It was a work that spoke of cosmic connectivity. Clumped together in a small group, the dancers traced unending circular paths that grew in size and varied in speed.

Momentum, inertia and causality were foregrounded as dancers used the force created by the circular motion to generate lifts and other more complex spiral movements.

Mandala got off to a promising start. However, the choreographic design of the circles did little to heighten the experience of the viewer. After a while, it felt more like the viewer was stuck in a roundabout, never exiting on a tangent that might have brought him to new revelations or discoveries.

Eva Tey and Martina Feiertag's collaborative work, World's Best Culture, also presented numerous problems.

In this over-the-top work set in a boxing ring, cultures were pit antagonistically against one another, clearly separate, jostling for dominance. There was indeed validity in their representation. One thinks immediately of issues such as colonisation, for example.

But, perhaps, to use the literal analogy of a boxing match was too simplistic. Even before the fight, their bodies already presented so much cultural politics to unpack.

For instance, Tey's ringside solo was a mash-up of contemporary dance forms and bharatanatyam peppered with the occasional inflexion from Chinese dance.

In that short sequence, the viewer had already seen a Malaysian-Chinese body expressing itself using dance techniques from other cultures.

Was her body already being subjected, in expressing itself using a dance form from the colonial West? How do the leg stances from bharatanatyam figure in all of this?

There were already so many juicy aspects of cultural politics present in the piece, but instead they chose to work with the comedic pastiche of the boxing match. One-dimensional cliches were presented at the expense of meaningful dialogue.

In contrast, keeping its presentation style simple allowed Fairul Zahid's work, Draw-err, to expose a lot more. His was a dark work, lit cleverly with only one portable LED light panel.

In this fast-paced movement- driven work, the dancers took turns playing aggressor as they shone the light interrogatively at different parts of one another's bodies.

At times, one caught a glimpse of the dancer's charged facial expression. Other times, the hypnotic circulation of a forearm was brought into view.

Placing the light at different positions constantly highlighted and obscured different parts of the sleek and visually arresting choreography. It created a furtive atmosphere where one was piqued to think about that which was hidden away and not revealed.

The choice to close with Shahrin Johry's Re:Path ended the evening on a happy and reflective note.

Bringing back pioneer members Sufri Juwahir and Sheriden Newman, together with artistic director Kavitha Krishnan, the four of them put on a performance that showed the coming together of familiar friends.

Moving together, it was clear from their camaraderie that they had gone through a lot together. In their solos, they came across as confident individuals; as a group, there was unity.

Re:Path was easy on the eye and reflects Maya's continuing efforts in finding a way to locate bharatanatyam within a contemporary space.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'Mixed bag of releases'. Print Edition | Subscribe