Dancing in Place 2016
Co-produced by MyDance Alliance & Rimbun Dahan
16-17 January 2016
Review by Kakibangku
Site-specific work. The phrase itself means that something is produced based on a site – created to exist within that site or space by the artist, and therefore logically to be consumed in situ. This means that the artwork is unique, one-of-a-kind and has been developed to portray a strong relationship with its surroundings, contextually, historically or physically.
Dancing in Place feels like a massive site-specific dance festival, albeit running for only two days. It provides opportunities for dancers and choreographers alike not just to experiment, but also to tease out ideas that may not be seen on a conventional stage.
The fourth edition of this unique dance festival, if I may call it a festival, saw producer-curator Bilqis Hijjas inviting thirteen choreographers to make site-specific dance performances – each running for no more than 15 minutes. Audiences were divided into two groups to watch these dance pieces performed in two sequences (A and B) with a short intermission in between the sequences. This intermission was important to allow for a breather, some clarity of mind, some much needed re-hydration, and to sample some yummy local snacks provided by the Rimbun Dahan staff. More importantly, it was to allow for audiences to switch sequences and for dancers to rest and reset to perform for another set of audience.
Exploring the grounds of Rimbun Dahan, the large kampung-esque home compound of architect Hijjas Kasturi and Angela Hijjas, was already quite a breathtaking experience for some, what more watching dance performances situated within it. There certainly was a fleeting feeling of curious voyeurism as audiences walked by foot from one site to another.
Some of the best site-specific work that I’ve seen, be it fine art or performance, allows the audience to observe the dialogue with which it engages its site and surroundings, almost giving the audience insider knowledge into the secrets within the piece. The creator of the work uses the surroundings to enhance, inspire, or sometimes be juxtaposed against, the work. In the case of Dancing in Place, it is in the choreographic movements and interactions of the dancers with the surroundings that audiences derive and perceive the messages of the dance, if there are intended messages at all.
Some of the dance pieces at Dancing in Place excelled in having such interactions. Various choreographers used elements of the sites chosen at Rimbun Dahan; in pieces like The Strip by Syed Haziq Afiq, Punctured by Rithaudin Abdul Kadir, Madu by Nadirah Razid, Via-mien (Travel Series 3) by Jed Amihan, A Dog Song for Caged Birds by Daniel Bear Davis, and Interactions by Rathimalar Govindarajoo and Edwin Anand. These pieces saw dancers interact with trees, swimming pools, walking pathways, cages, rooftops, armoires, beds and one particular expensive-looking outdoor art sculpture.
Madu stood out, in particular. Nadhirah Razid has choreographed a dance duel to tell the story of two wives competing for the affection of a husband in a polygamous marriage. One dancer employed outwardly aggressive actions and interactions with a dressing table, armoire and bed, suggesting a sexually manipulative young woman. The second dancer portrayed a docile but vengeful domestic wife, slicing onions at the start of the dance piece but later almost losing control of her own self security. Although this was the umpteenth staging of Madu by Nadhirah, it was the first in a non-conventional performance space. Nadhirah did very well to adapt an existing piece of work into a space that was most intimate with its audience – making the message of the dance piece very clear without being too obvious.
Some pieces like Punctured, Nature・Nurture by Alla@Azura Abal Abas, Situations I Find Myself In by Lee Ren Xin, The Corridor by Ming Low, Amplitude: Freedom of the Soul by Nitipat ‘Ong’ Pholchai, |Spirits><Places| by Haste Lertvimolkasame and Nitipat ‘Ong’ Pholchai, and Domestic by Seow Yi Qing and Lee Yeong Wen left audiences to interpret the messages on their own, to varying degree of success. I found that these more improvisational pieces produced many a discussion among audience members during the intermission session, which I read as a sign of a successful performance. One audience member read the pieces by Lee Ren Xin, and Seow Yi Qing and Lee Yeong Wen as being quite chauvinistic, as “the female dancers are always saved by the male dancers”. I don’t disagree with this observation, and the feminist in me argues that certainly the choreographers should have reflected on this. I thought that some of the pieces just went on for a little too long, especially when the audiences were not given visual markers of when they started or ended.
Via-Mien (Travel Series 3), A Dog Song for Caged Birds, and Forest Rhapsody by Lim Hooi Meng felt very much like the dance pieces were retro-fitted into their spaces at Rimbun Dahan. While they each presented good dancers who tried their best to interact with the surroundings, the dance pieces felt slightly removed from the rest of the programme, which was a shame. But perhaps it is during these pieces that audience members were able to blank out and just enjoy the sights and sounds before their eyes.
The Strip was a very literal dance-drama which showed the brutal victimization of a certain minority group (unexplained by the choreography or synopsis), concluding with the triumph of the remorseless bullies. There was no irony in this piece: one of the male dancers, who stepped on the stomach of a female dancer at one point of the dance, appeared proud and victorious at the end. The piece was live-scored with the sounds of an acoustic guitar by an emo-looking hipster in an Islamic jubah, albeit a modern looking one. The live soundtrack didn’t really add anything to the piece of choreography because I thought that the scene by scene action were already quite obvious. The choreographer chose to end the piece with the victims chased away or worse, killed. I can’t help but wonder whether The Strip was a metaphorical reflection of a power-crazed authoritarian government cautioning its peace-loving citizens not to challenge its position of power. Or if the choreographer had been personally empowered by this misguided notion of rightful privilege, and actually wanted to convey this warning through his dance piece. This left a bitter taste in my mouth.
I particularly enjoyed the highly participatory Interactions, which saw dancers and musicians responding to cue-cards held up by members of audience. There were moments of chaos when dancers could not see the cue-cards and continued dancing when they were not supposed to, or when the slippery ground messed up the dancers’ solo moments. However, the chance ‘build-your-own-performance’ element which Rathimalar and Edwin put together was definitely a crowd pleaser. Finally, I was also very taken in by The Corridor choreographed by Ming Low, where he had his dancers produce movements and shapes inspired by the architecture motifs of the place where the dance took place. Dancers formed lines that corresponded to the angle of the roof over the corridor, and they snaked from one end of the corridor to another to form ellipses which imitated the motifs of etchings on the floor (or the centre airwell of the gallery next to it).
The day that I watched this show, a member of Rimbun Dahan’s canine companions (adorably named Santan) invited himself into the performance, pacing in and out of the dancers’ choreography without disrupting the show. This magical unplanned moment is definitely one of the reasons why I continue to enjoy site-specific work.
All photos by Huneid Tyeb.
Kakibangku sometimes dabbles in writing and performing, but mostly just likes to sit at home and look after his cats. He is a member of the human race and loves going to art performances to feel smart and be among intellectuals (but secretly he’s just so-so aje).