Passages full of diversity



Goodman Arts Centre Black Box

Last Saturday

This year's Passages season opened adamantly with no less than 12 male dancers on stage. Planted smack centre and waving long wooden poles, choreographer Kinsun Chan's Sticks And Stones screamed tribal as the bare-bodied dancers pulsed through the work.

The decision to start the programme with Sticks And Stones was a strong one, demanding immediate attention from the audience by sheer virtue of its visual strength. But as the performance progressed, a slight sense of self-doubt seeped in. Throughout the first three works, it was obvious that the Singapore Dance Theatre was making bold strides, but there were also hints of this spirit wavering on several occasions.

Chan's aesthetic intentions were crystal clear - slick black pants and leather strips banded around lithe torsos suggested tribes that were urban. Shoulder shrugs performed on slouched spines released energy into the space.

Dancers manoeuvred the poles to form attractive images in canon. However, when performed against the familiar drone of Steve Reich's Drumming, the work presented a few problems.

Listening to a Steve Reich composition inevitably evokes an acute sensitivity to rhythm that, if not handled accurately enough, can overwhelm the physical body performing on stage. At times, some dancers seemed to be trying to keep pace. Midway, most got into the groove and the work picked up a few notches.

If the strength of Sticks And Stones was aesthetic clarity, this element became a burden as the programme moved into Gigi Gianti's Bliss and Max Chen's Incandescent Dream.

These two works attempted to delve into the realm of personal journeys. However, their deliveries stayed predominantly in the aesthetic realm, which is not to say that there was no merit, as their visuals were clear. However, after the pretty lines and lustrous languishes, where were their stories and journeys?

Gianti chose a cast of dancers who assimilated the accented dynamics of her native Indonesian movement forms well with the linearity of ballet, but I wonder if she can be heartfelt while maintaining sufficient space in the work for broader contemplation.

For Chen, images were conjured with the ingenious use of a big sheet of blue cloth. Principal artists Rosa Park and Chihiro Uchida proved that experience counted, with their effortlessly graceful lilts and gentle yet assured auras pervading the entire performance space.

With a group of dancers huddled underneath the fabric, they lifted Park, making it seem like she was floating through the sky. Limbs cheekily appeared from under the sheet, reminding one of children playing make-believe under blankets. But still, the choreography did not manage to speak straight to the heart.

During the closing work, Natalie Weir's 4Seasons, it was as if the company heaved a collective sigh of relief as it entered familiar neo-classical territory.

Decked out sensually in sheer tops, straight-cut pants and lacy dresses, the visually sumptuous work ebbed and flowed through the space with luscious movements displayed through meticulously choreographed patterns.

Special mention must be given to dance artist Stefaan Morrow, who stood a cut above most. A spirited energy emanated from him as he negotiated space with physical exactitude.

Passages continues to be an important season for SDT.

The continuing support given to local and regional choreographers who have been nurtured by the local dance scene (Gianti studied at Lasalle College of the Arts and Chen at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts) is indeed commendable.

What has been clear this season is the Singapore Dance Theatre's penchant for the aesthetically pleasing and its efforts to show diversity and range.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'Passages full of diversity'. Print Edition | Subscribe