Exploring the evolution of man

Kinsun Chan's Sticks And Stones, a primal piece, had an all-male cast moving to a score of percussive beats.
Kinsun Chan's Sticks And Stones, a primal piece, had an all-male cast moving to a score of percussive beats.PHOTO: BERNIE NG

REVIEW / DANCE

BALLET UNDER THE STARS

Singapore Dance Theatre

Fort Canning Green

Last Saturday

The programme of contemporary fare presented by Singapore Dance Theatre at Ballet Under The Stars comprised a series of distinct pieces that explored different facets of gender and time.

Sticks And Stones by Kinsun Chan was a primal piece, with an entirely male cast moving to a score of percussive beats. They writhed and rolled and stomped their feet, arms hanging low to the floor like primates or, dropping on all fours, scavenged and hunted.

  • BOOK IT / BALLET UNDER THE STARS

  • WHERE: Fort Canning Green, Fort Canning Park, River Valley Road

    WHEN: Friday to Sunday, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $35 from Sistic (free seating, excludes booking fee, call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

It was a piece that evoked the early stages of the evolution of man - Chan explicitly references this at one point by lining up the dancers and having each one adopt a pose that progressed from crouching to standing.

The work felt like a museum diorama made flesh and one almost expected famed naturalist David Attenborough's voice to come echoing over the loudspeakers: "The pack is hungry; they will need to venture out and hunt if they are to survive the long months ahead".

However, Sticks And Stones never evolved past its basic hunter- gatherer tropes and an interesting concept became somewhat one- note, constrained in part by the tedium of a percussive soundtrack that went on for stretches with little variance in tempo.

Age Of Innocence sped us far forward to a more civilised era - the Regency era, to be exact, in this Jane Austen-inspired piece by Edwaard Liang. He took familiar ballet steps and used them to evoke the traditions of the period - anyone who has seen a BBC period drama will find the opening familiar.

Men and women were segregated in neat rows, bowing to one another politely before engaging in polite choreography. Liang hinted at the constraints placed on women in that time.

At one point, they stood demurely in first position, moving mechanically through port de bras like the countless women in drawing rooms rocking babies, doing needlepoint or playing the pianoforte.

He interspersed this rigidity with sweeping, emotional pas de deux that expressed the tremulous flushes of first romance and the conflicts of an unhappy relationship, with Kenya Nakamura a stoic, Darcy-esque foil to an emotive Chihiro Uchida.

The company kept pace with the demanding choreography fairly well, which included passages of fast synchronised movement and the challenging, acrobatic lifts that are a Liang signature.

An all-male pas de quatre was powerful and disruptive with its syncopated choreography.

In contrast, a piece by choreographer Nils Christe was unabashedly gothic in nature. Christe's organ concerto was set to Francis Poulenc's composition of the same name and it was the Emily Bronte to Liang's Jane Austen.

The piece was steeped in ritual and foreboding as the dancers, clad entirely in black, leapt, whirled and raced around the stage, moving darkly across in formations, with particularly compelling solo dancing by Etienne Ferrere.

The dancers crossed their arms over their chests and opened to second position, like a flock of ravens circling the rooftops of a cathedral.

In an evening that touched on the issue of gender, it was hard not to notice the gender tropes in ballet: strong men lifting graceful women as the latter dipped their heads back, their backs soft and pliable as they arched towards the ground while the music echoed around them as though in a strange ritual.

It brought the evening to an ominous closure, suggesting that whether sophisticated or savage, the human condition includes an undercurrent of darkness.

Correction note: The review is on Ballet Under The Stars, and not Masterpiece In Motion as stated in our earlier story. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2017, with the headline 'Exploring the evolution of man'. Print Edition | Subscribe