It was a night of imagination and comedy at Frontier Danceland's double-bill performance, Milieu 2014, staged at the School of the Arts Theatre Studio on Saturday. Two contemporary dance works - one by Israeli duo, Noa Zuk and Ohad Fishof, and another by Taiwanese Liu Yen-cheng - tackled the absurd, incidental and whimsical as the dancers manoeuvred themselves through a plethora of images, ideas and situations.
Liu's A Piece Of Temporary Chaos was pretty much what the title said it would be. The dancers began by standing spread out on stage with their backs facing the audience. After a long silence, dancer Christina Chan broke out in unbridled laughter from out of nowhere. Soon, a solo danced by Danish company member, Adrian Skjoldborg, followed. However, this solo was totally unrelated to what had just transpired. Skjoldborg moved with measured gestures that spoke of insecurity and discomfort. Eventually, the rest of the dancers joined in to form a tight group moving in unison to a build-up of rumbling beats. Huddled together, they squatted and crouched their way through the space suggesting a furtive sense of non-disclosure. Just as this strong image was developing, it was curtailed abruptly by a sudden change in atmosphere. The music turned into celebratory fanfare and the dancers started fooling around on stage in a series of silly gestures and parodied versions of court dancing.
Using this pattern of random interjection, Liu created a work that was deliberately jarring; and it was to be expected because after all, as his title suggested, he was trying to create a piece of temporary chaos. As the work progressed, situations became more absurd, the music started skipping, feet literally got shoved into the mouths of some dancers amid lots of shouting and screaming and the stage got washed in a gaudy mixture of yellow and red light.
At first, it did seem like Liu achieved his task of bringing chaos to the stage. But there was still something that failed to satisfy. For one, the choreographic structure became rather predictable. The darker scenes and the more whimsical scenes were swapped in regular alternating fashion. Chaos only extended as much as the situations happening on stage. It did not play a large enough role in shaking up the choreographic structure to present something more refreshing. Still, Liu's work was engaging and the situations depicted on stage reminded one of the many experiences of daily life. For instance, perhaps because Liu was Taiwanese, certain scenes triggered images of Taiwan's infamously colourful politics.
If one wanted a work that truly spoke of randomness and chaos, then perhaps Noa Zuk's and Ohad Fishof's work came much closer. Enigmatically titled, An Old Woman Picking Up A Stone From The Ground And Carrying It Back To Her House, imagination abounded in this work. There was an incongruous meeting of theatrical elements. Yet when viewed, something strangely coherent held the elements together. At one point, a sentence that described the idea of wanting to be someone as well as somewhere else was projected onto a black board. A Thai love ballad then ensued and three female dancers began dancing on a bare stage tinged with pale green light. This scene was so effective in transporting me to the vibrant streets of Bangkok. Other scenes also had this imaginative quality to them.
The presence of free association in the work was what made it so powerful and memorable. The movements gave enough information to be suggestive, but they also left a fair bit of space for the audience's minds to wander. However, due to the choreography's acute sense of space and time, one does not wander off course. Another thing worth mentioning was the fact that Noa Zuk used the Gaga dance technique in this creation. Not to be confused with the female pop icon, Gaga is a movement technique that involves using personal imagery and interpretation to create movement. Visually, it ends up looking energetically rounded and powerful but effortless. It was made famous by the Batsheva Dance Company and its artistic director, Ohad Naharin. Zuk was a long time dancer with this company. Though widely popular in the contemporary dance scene in other parts of the world, it has only recently begun appearing in the local scene. Thus, Zuk and Frontier have shared a very valuable learning experience with the local audience.
The two works would also have not worked if not for the strong ability of the dancers. Not only did they dance with commendable technique, they also brought their characters and selves to the stage, sharing them generously with the audience. Milieu 2014 has got to be one of Frontier Danceland's strongest performances to date.