Singapore International Festival of Arts

Too simplistic choreography

The Sardono Retrospective: Black Sun (above).
The Sardono Retrospective: Black Sun (above).PHOTO: KEVIN LEE



Singapore International Festival of Arts

72-13/Last Friday

The second of two dance performances in Sardono W. Kusumo's retrospective at the Singapore International Festival of Arts, Black Sun's symbolic reference to nature was strong.

It began with the performers crawling out while crouched under large wok-shaped metal bowl structures. Metaphors of protection and abode were prevalent. Images of insects and animals were also conjured.

One by one, each performer overturned his large bowl, enjoying the residual rocking motion. It looked like numerous living creatures being hatched in front of one's eyes.

Following this image of birth, they then balanced, spun and attempted to traverse the space by rhythmically rocking the bowls back and forth with their legs and the weight of their bodies.

Sometimes the bowls acted as shields, sometimes they resembled boats and, other times, they were destabilising structures in which the performers would try to maintain balance while stomping their feet precariously.

Midway, the work erupted into a cacophonic frenzy of wild, sweaty bodies writhing, panting and shouting, caught up in an intense situation that was part-crisis and part-manic ecstasy. Amid the chaos, a bearded, straggly-haired and shamanistic- looking character floated in one of the bowls in the centre of the performance space, a portentous calm in the middle of a very loud storm.

Sardono's choreography played out very directly and unabashedly.

Emotions were immediate, unhidden and had a sense of naivete. But this energy wore thin after some time. It was unrelenting, but did not expand past the immediate attraction of its visceral energies.

The lithe bodies of the performers were taut from so much violent action and throats were visibly strained from the shouting. Urgency was unfolding, but yet this reviewer could not quite feel the need for it.

In the programme booklet, Sardono said: "In contemporary urban life, performance is increasingly dominated by a visual culture and design." He then goes on to talk about returning to the fundamental act of seeing "the human body as it really exists".

But therein lies the problem - I did indeed see the marvel that was the human body. But there was no denying that this was also a discrete choreographic work. Hence, I would argue that the idea of design should not be completely eschewed, for design is an important consideration in creating an experience that can be delivered to its fullest potential.

Black Sun's constituents were powerful, but its simplistic choreographic structure trivialised the potency. If he had given it more dramaturgical consideration, the same elements would have come together with more fortitude and it would have helped shape the delivery of the performers.

Save for two hair-raisingly soulful singers who pierced the cavernous space with their haunting voices, the enigmatic shaman character, and one performer who took it on himself to inhabit an imaginative situation of longing, discovery and peril, the rest of the performers came across as mere agile bodies that seemed to be fussing about their agility and little else.

There were brief, precious moments of transcendence and wonder. But as a whole, the work was deflated.

Simple and impactful is great. But the process is often meticulous and complex if one wants to arrive at a "simple" that is also rich.

Sardono's Black Sun was less simple and more simplistic.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2016, with the headline 'Too simplistic choreography'. Print Edition | Subscribe