Envisioned and created by Toccata Studio
1-2 October 2016
Review by Joelle Jacinto
I don’t like to read the programme synopsis of a work prior to seeing it, but I did just that at Toccata Studio’s 2020: I’m From 2020. I saw the first episode of 2020 in 2015, where composer/director/producer Ng Chor Guan collaborated with dancer/choreographer Steve Goh, lighting designer PC Sei from Hong Kong, and producer E-Jan Tan. In that production, both composer and choreographer appeared onstage as clones trying to navigate their way through a new world. I read the programme this time to see if the new production team, with the same producers and lighting designer, but different choreographer (Ting Ting Chang from Taiwan), and dancers (her TTC Dance Company and KL’s ASK, previously ASWARA, Dance Company) diverged from the first iteration. There were still clones, I read, but with a more definite story – at least, on paper.
I’ll be honest: I couldn’t identify the clones in this production. There were two sets of characters: the eight dancers, who for most of the evening wore black, to distinguish them from the non-dancers, several people in white who kick off the show scattered throughout DBKL Auditorium, counting out a series of random numbers until they reach 20. To what effect is unclear; after a while, I wrote them off as unnecessary, even somewhat irritating. I could not accept that they were the clones because in the programme the clones are the bad guys who we must fear, to be saved by the One from 2020. Yet these people in white, ranging from very young to young-at-heart, didn’t appear threatening. They were just there, somewhat clumsily making their way through life.
Once the people in white yell, “Twenty!” the auditorium plunges into darkness. Lights come slowly onstage and the dancers in street clothes start to walk across, stopping from time to time, as if they had forgotten something and were about to go back for it, then changing their minds. They all do this differently, collectively lost without knowing why. This disassociation is heightened when they start to dance – in a group, but each completely alone, even when they move in unison. Although mostly stoic, there is hidden angst brimming within. Perhaps this is what it’s like to be alive in 2020 – lost and angsty and having no reason to be. The world is empty and we are all alone. And then the aliens come.
This is one of the most stunning parts of the show: a spaceship descends from the sky on top of the stage. The effect was awesome, enhanced with the lights and the music, and then… it didn’t go anywhere. I learned later that it was broken on the night that I watched, and it was actually supposed to come down really low on the dancers. That would have helped to propel the story forward, but since it was stuck at the top of the proscenium, and the dancers didn’t react accordingly, it further confused my understanding of the story.
Pretend I saw the show as intended, with the spaceship working properly. Then it makes sense that these humans were abducted by aliens and time-traveled to a past where society still acknowledged each other and waltzed politely together, making connections and falling in love. In this scene, the men wear outlandish Baroque-style coats by costume designer Quito Yang, while the women in plain dresses are delicious enough with just their exquisite movement quality. I imagine these humans had become stuck in that era while unseen aliens made clones out of them and unleashed them onto the earth.
As the waltzers exit the stage, the people in white walk in. They freeze throughout the stage and then the dancers enter wearing black again. I don’t think of the dancers as the waltzing/time traveling humans anymore, but as the clones of those humans. They start manipulating the immobile bodies of the people in white, the remaining humans in the year 2020.
This seems an acceptable scenario, although I only deciphered it days after the performance, so I was not so lucid about this while watching. But suppose I understood all that while watching it, then what? Yes, still unclear and vague. Also, time travel, aliens in a spaceship, clones – must we stuff this work with all the science fiction tropes we can think of?
Somewhere along the way, I started not to care about the story and chose to look at the dancing, which was quite satisfying as these dancers are passionate and very technically skilled. Fauzi Amirudin was the standout, starting off two sections with a beautiful, affecting solo and pas de deux respectively. The dancers from Taiwan were expectedly sophisticated with their dance technique and it was nice to see the ADC men extend themselves to match. But because they all moved so well, I wished that the choreography pushed them further. I also felt the choreography didn’t fit with the music, which was often majestic and rich and filled with all sorts of potential, while the choreography happened separately, not even mindful that there was music playing at all.
There was one moment that I absolutely loved, though, where music and choreography and lighting all matched equally and gave me goosebumps. The stage was dark except a long, bright rectangle downstage where all the dancers stood in a line. With the music like a wall of sound, the dancers moved ever so slowly, magnifying their state of loneliness and perhaps their awareness of this. With more moments like that, the evening would have been even more satisfying.
I usually don’t read programme notes before a show because I do not want preconceived notions of what is going to happen. In this case, I expected a Neo-like character to save us from apathy or the clones. Finding none left me very frustrated. I also believe in the work speaking for itself. And while I’ve thought about this work over and under, I still don’t know what it was trying to say.
But 2020: I’m From 2020 is the second in a series. Considered as a sequel, rather than a stand-alone show, it makes better sense. It also promises that the future works will learn from the first two, and the creative team will agree in which direction to go. I am all for the success of this series, bold and ambitious and determined to push the limits of dance production and performance, that is very rare in KL. Better luck in future.
All photos by James Quah.