Dance review: Frontier's short works are more polished than last year's

Preview of a dance show, Sides, by contemporary dance company Frontier Danceland. -- ST FILE PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Preview of a dance show, Sides, by contemporary dance company Frontier Danceland. -- ST FILE PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

This iteration of Frontier Danceland's Sides, the company's annual platform for short works, was definitely a more polished product than its first edition last year.

The triple-bill of half-hour pieces at the School of the Arts Studio Theatre last Friday highlighted the amazing physical condition of the company's artists, as well as the choreographic potential of its dancers.

Unfortunately, the night opened with the weakest piece of the three, Noa Zuk's After Chorus. The Israeli choreographer explored rituals, gestures and language through the pairing of nonsense syllables and movement.

The dancers moved and vocalised simultaneously; A bird-like twittering of "ti ti ti ti" was accompanied by a sharp, small gestures, while a "dak dak dak ummm" was three thrusts of the arm followed by a stretch.

It was fascinating to experience how sensitive the human ear is to small variations in pitch, intonation, volume and speed, and Zuk's pairing of sound and movement was so seamless that each movement felt like a translation and not an imposition.

However, the choreography soon began to feel monotonous, and did little to keep the attention of the audience. Also, while vocalisations were integral to the piece, the mechanic quickly felt overused - after the first 15 minutes, the cacophony of voices started to grate.

The second piece of the night, Akalika 7 by French-Laotian choreographer Ole Khamchanla, was much more riveting because of his unique choreography and the pure physicality of the performance.

Khamchanla is trained in hip-hop, contemporary dance and the Brazilian martial art capoeira, and all of these influences showed in his work. He pieced together the body isolation of hip-hop, the expressiveness of contemporary dance with the aggression and acrobatics of capoeira to create a fluid, frenzied storm of movement.

It began with a single dancer in the light, clicking his fingernail against the floor, one, 10, 50 times. That one, small twitch spread among the rest of the ensemble like wildfire, and from their curled-up positions on the floor, they each rose and fell, picked themselves up, and threw themselves onto the floor again. They never stopped moving, by the time the piece had drawn to a close, they were all drenched in sweat.

The eye was drawn by two dancers in particular: Hwa Wei-An was a tornado of movement, and seemed to have no bones yet incredible strength; and Wayne Ong, whose control and speed turned a simple solo into a viscerally frightening visual.

The final piece of the night, Jereh Leong's [SIC], was a breath of fresh air after the oppressive darkness of Akalika 7. Inspired by surrealists such as Haruki Murakami and Salvador Dali, Leong weaved together bizarre scenes with perfect pacing and a confident hand.

Odd motifs dipped in and out of each scene: Birds getting shot, submission grappling on the floor and a guitar, just to mention a few, but somehow we are drawn into Leong's rollercoaster world. Keeping a work fresh and cohesive at the same time can sometimes be a challenge, but it is one which Leong surmounted admirably.

The piece was also bolstered by Leong's creative use of props. As the lights came up, a pair of dancers glided in circles on a bicycle, and executed lifts while maintaining their pace; later on, a matador's cape was turned into a sort of vertical trampoline. The choreography was just as varied, with Leong throwing in back handsprings and one-handed cartwheels alongside cabaret moves.

The second edition of Sides was a lot more enjoyable than the inaugural one last year, and the works presented were of a higher standard. There were also three works compared to last year's five, which gave each choreographer more room to grow their creation.

The dancers were also physically pushed to their limit this time around, especially with Khamchanla's work, which really showed off their stamina and strength. Leong's quirky yet cerebral creation is also heartening, and marks him as one of the choreographers to keep an eye out for.

I am looking toward next year's edition with high expectations.

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